Epiphany Question: Why Do We Study Scripture?

 

logoDo you remember the story of the cheating marathon runner back in 1991? The headline in the newspaper, when the story broke, read: “Marathoner Loses by a Mustache.” You have heard of people losing or winning races by a nose, but a mustache? Well, in 1991, an Algerian runner named Abbes Tehami entered and won the Brussels Marathon. He won by a long shot, easily defeating all the other racers. But as folks were congratulating him on his victory, they began to wonder where his mustache had gone. It appeared that he had started the race w/ a mustache and ended the race w/o one. Checking eyewitness accounts, it quickly became evident that the mustache belonged to Tehami’s coach. It turns out that his coach had run the first seven-and-a-half miles of the race for Tehami, and then he dropped out of the pack and disappeared into the woods, where he passed off the race number to his pupil. Race officials said they looked about the same, only one had a mustache. Needless to say they did not collect their winnings. These 2 men thought their scheme could win the day, and it did. But, their wisdom did not turn out, and they reaped what they sowed. You wonder what series of events or thinking lead them to that point.

The truth is we all long for fulfillment and recognition. We thirst for enlightenment, like a dry sponge. And if we are not careful, we soak in the easiest or most accessible thing that feeds that fulfillment, and end up receiving a poor substitute that feeds falsehood, and does not satisfy.

We are now in our 3rd week of the church season of Epiphany. In Epiphany we celebrate the presence of Jesus among us. And we have been asking: Now that Messiah is here among us, what shall we do? The answer we have found is Worship. So we have been examining why we do what we do at our worship gatherings. Why do we eat together? Why do we sing songs and offer prayers? And this week we ask: Why do we study God’s word when we gather? We will do so by looking at Psalm 119? My hope is that by examining the various aspects of our worship gatherings we will find our greater authenticity in worship, and we will grow in our relationship w/ Jesus.

 

Text

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible. It is an acrostic poem that focuses on the 2 things: The transformative role of submission to God’s instruction, and the desperate need for God’s help. Each of the 22 stanzas of this poem offers a meditation on different aspects of God’s word. I want to focus on 3 of these stanzas. But as an introduction, lets look at the 1st 8 verses of Psalm 119. It says:

1 Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. 2 Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart- 3 they do no wrong but follow his ways. 4 You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed. 5 Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! 6 Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. 7 I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. 8 I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

It says how blessed or joyful are those who live according to Gods ways. These folks discover joy, and are blessed w/ integrity because they follow His commands. v. 4 serves as an introduction to the entire Psalm, saying in the NLT: You have charged us to keep your commandments carefully.” From here, the Psalmist goes on the hash out the various benefits, reasons, and thoughts on following the ways of God. So I would like to offer a sample platter today of Psalm 119, asking: What is gained by studying Gods word?

The 1st stanza on our sample platter is Psalm 119:25-30:

25 I am laid low in the dust; preserve my life according to your word. 26 I gave an account of my ways and you answered me; teach me your decrees. 27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts, that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds. 28 My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word. 29 Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me and teach me your law. 30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. 31 I hold fast to your statutes, Lord; do not let me be put to shame. 32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding.

WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE? Here we see the humility of the Psalmist. He is weary, beat down, and full of sorrow. But where does he place his hope? He asks for preservation of his life, clinging to the promises of God found in His word. In the face of weakness, he is asking for strength and understanding of God’s law. He has decided that the answer to his sorrow and weakness is a focus on God’s ways. God’s ways have given him encouragement. He has the empowerment to live rightly, keeping him from deceit and unsatisfying answers. God’s words allow the Psalmist to keep truth, so when deceitful practices present themselves, he is not lead astray, but rather gains understanding. If I were to answer the question, WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE, from vs. 25-30, I would say God’s ways offer us empowerment in the midst of sorrow, to keep going while we rest in God’s hope.

The 2nd stanza on our sample platter is 119:33-40. In this stanza we see again how the Psalmist is leaning on Gods help to make it.

33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. 35 Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. 36 Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. 38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. 39 Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. 40 How I long for your precepts! In your righteousness preserve my life.

WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE? The Psalmist is asking God to help him follow God’s ways. He asks for understanding, so he might live w/ integrity. He asks for help b/c he has found that living as God directs has brought him delight and happiness. vs. 37-40 tells us that God’s word will help him preserve his life, and renew his life. If I were to answer the question, WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE, from vs.33-40, I would say that it brings about right living – not b/c we are good boys and girls and follow the rules, but b/c through studying God’s word we get to know Him. We are reminded of His promises and covenant w/ us, and we see His goodness, and as a result we cannot help following His ways. We avoid being seduced by selfish gain (v. 36), receive protection from disgrace, and receive sustenance.[1]

The last stanza on our sample platter is 119:89-96. This stanza again displays the trust of the Psalmist in God, and the benefits of His ways.

89 Your word, Lord, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. 90 Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures. 91 Your laws endure to this day, for all things serve you. 92 If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction. 93 I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life. 94 Save me, for I am yours; I have sought out your precepts. 95 The wicked are waiting to destroy me, but I will ponder your statutes. 96 To all perfection I see a limit, but your commands are boundless

WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE? Here the Psalmist proclaims the glory of God, declaring the endurance of God’s word. In v. 92, he declared that if he had not delighted in God’s law, he would have died in his affliction and sorrow. On the other side of the coin, in v. 93, he declares that God’s ways not only save him from death, but give life. This is why he cries out for God to save him. If I were to answer the question, WHAT IS GAINED FROM STUDYING SCRIPTURE, from vs. 89-96, I would say Salvation – not that the words save, but the One giving the words. God’s ways bring rescue, both today and in every day living, and also eternally.

So that is our sample platter for Psalm 119. We have seen from that God uses His word to give: Empowerment, Right living, and salvation, both today and forever. Psalm 119:105-112 serves as a good summery statement. It says:

105 Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. 106 I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws. 107 I have suffered much; preserve my life, Lord, according to your word. 108 Accept, Lord, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. 109 Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law. 110 The wicked have set a snare for me, but I have not strayed from your precepts. 111 Your statutes are my heritage forever; they are the joy of my heart. 112 My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end.

God’s word is light on a dark path. He uses it to preserve and give life. v. 109 in the NLT says: My life constantly hangs in the balance, but I will not stop obeying your instructions.” When danger arises and temptations come, the Psalmist places his hope in God’s ways. God uses His word to allow us to stay focused and not fall into deceit, and uses it to bring life and true enlightenment.

 

Today

The truth is, that by nature we are thirsty to be enlightened, and by nature we gravitate to the path of least resistance. Our culture today craves information. Cable networks specialize on certain interests or perspectives (ex. The Food network, The Game Show Channel, conservative and liberal news stations, etc.). Social media is full of top 10 lists for everything under the sun – from the 10 favorite Seinfeld quotes, to the top blunders of the NFL season. Social media is full of one sided, unbalanced articles on politics and religion. And then we confidently assert opinions we agree w/ from these sources, as if they are authoritative. We believe more information brings clarity to life, but we tend to gravitate toward information and opinions that we already hold and will affirm our already preconceived notions. If our sister has highlights in her hair, we go to her to see if we should get highlights. If our neighbor has a sweet new Ford pickup, we go to him first and ask him if he would recommend Ford to us. We do not ask the guy fighting hard to get out of debt his opinion about whether we should get a loan for a new boat.

This reminds me of the story of the schoolteacher lost her life savings in a business scheme that had been elaborately explained by a swindler. When her investment disappeared and her dream was shattered, she went to the Better Business Bureau. “Why on earth did you not come to us first?” the official asked. “Did you not know about the Better Business Bureau?” “Oh, yes,” said the lady sadly. “I have always known about you. But I did not come because I was afraid you would tell me not to do it.”[2]

The truth is, that by nature we are thirsty to be enlightened, and gravitate toward the path of least resistance. And often times, we know where the life giving answers lie, but we do not turn there for fear of what it will say. The good news is that God uses His word to bring life and true enlightenment. Placing our hopes in cable news or social media as the source of life will leave us dry. Relying on our own unchecked personal opinions leads to selfishness, at the expense of community, family, and self. The reason we study scripture is b/c God uses it to bring life and real clarity. And true life in God brings down strongholds, and gives freedom

In Epiphany we celebrate the presence of God in our midst. And now that He is here among us we are called to worship Him. An aspect of the worship is orienting us in God’s ways, in God’s word. And, as we are rooted in His word, God reveals Himself to us and we grow to know Him more, which brings empowerment in the face of sorrow. It brings about healthy and wise living. And, it orients us in His hope, His salvation. These are things that cannot be found in ourselves alone, or other information sources. So may we be known as a people of His word, who live out His ways. In midst of a world of false promises, may we be found faithful to the promises of life found in Jesus alone.

 

Amen.

 

[1] Barry, J. D., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Mangum, D., & Whitehead, M. M. (2012). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 119:33–40). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[2] http://www.sermonillustrations.com

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