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O For Wholehearted Obedience

O For Wholehearted Obedience

A brief study of Psalm 119:33-40, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 June 2013


One of the most intriguing and mysterious aspects of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ is His humanity. Many assume that the Lord Jesus knew everything and was as wise as He could be from infancy. But this is not what the inspired Scriptures teaches us. In Luke 2:52, we are told that the child “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” In Hebrews 5, we are told that He “offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears” (v. 7) and that He “learned… obedience by the things which he suffered” (v. 8).

This background is important if we are to understand how the psalms could be the word of Christ—not just words that He has given us to sing, but words He could take with sincerity in His own lips.

This is very true for Psalm 119, which is a collection of songs given to us to sing in union with Christ concerning our pilgrim walk. Herein is “The Righteous One’s Alphabet of True Godliness.”

What is true for the collection is true in the fifth song in this collection. This is given for us to sing in union with Christ vis-a-vis our experience as believers, but these very words would have been used by our Saviour in His own pilgrim journey.

The heart of this song is found in verse 34—“Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.” Indeed, this song contains a heartfelt prayer that we may be enabled to obey God our Father wholeheartedly. We may entitle it: “O For Wholehearted Obedience!” Our Lord must have used this psalm Himself as He “learned obedience.”

There are eight closely related petitions in this psalm. There are various ways to organise them, but perhaps the most natural way is to divide them into three groups to divide the song into three logical parts.

·         First, from verses 33-35, we are given to express our desire to observe God’s commandments wholeheartedly.

·         Secondly, from verses 36-37, we are given to pray that the Lord will steer us away from anything that prevent our wholehearted obedience.

·         Thirdly, from verses 38-40, we are given to confess the deepest longing in our heart of hearts.

1. An Expression of Desire to Walk in God’s Ways
(v. 33-35)

33 Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes; and I shall keep it unto the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart. 35 Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight.

Herein are three related petitions, each augmented with an argument.

 

First, we ask the Lord to teach us His commandments. “Teach me, O LORD, the way of thy statutes” (v. 33a). We are by nature foolish. Except the Lord by His providence and by His Spirit teaches us the right way, we shall continue to wander in darkness and sorrow. But if the Lord hears our cries and teaches us, then let us resolve never to let go of them. Let us resolve to do as we are given to confess: “I shall keep it unto the end” (v. 33b).

Secondly, we are taught to ask the Lord for understanding so that we may observe His laws wholeheartedly (v. 34). How would the Lord give us understanding? He gives us understanding especially by His Spirit illumining our minds and cultivating faith; and by sending His servants to expound His truth to us. But when we have received understanding, then it behoves us to hold fast to what we have learned, and to walk obediently and gratefully therein. So we are given to sing “I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (v. 34b). 

Thirdly, we encouraged to ask the Lord to so order our steps that we walk in His ways: “Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight” (v. 35). Our life is like a journey. At every juncture, at every cross-road, we have to make a decision as to which fork to take. But left to ourselves we are prone to make the wrong choices. We are prone to wander. This is despite the fact that in our heart of hearts, as those who have been regenerated, we delight to walk in God’s ways.

The problem, you see, is the remnant of corruption in our heart. Like a neglected child, the old man is always vying for attention. If we are not careful, we get persuaded by him and we choose to fulfil the lust of our flesh rather than to seek the honour of our God.

For this same reason, we need also to ask the LORD to steer us away from sinful attitudes and temptation.

2. A Plea to Steer away from Spiritual Hindrances
(vv. 36-37)

Here are two petitions. Firstly,…

 36 Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not to covetousness.

Our Lord teaches us to pray: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The idea here is the same. Covetousness may seem to be the least heinous sin condemned in the Ten Commandments. But it is actually the most prevalent problem. Many are led away from the Lord because their heart coveted after something else. It may be honour and prestige; it may be a job or recognition, or it may be wealth or a relationship. Whatever it is, as soon as our heart covets after it, we are weakened in our resolve to follow the Lord. We are drawn like a fly to putrid meat.

Our Lord who was tempted at all points like as we are, and yet without sin, understands. Therefore, by His Spirit, He gives us these words to sing in union with Him that we may be reminded of our weakness and be kept from falling.

The second petition, likewise is:

 37 Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity; and quicken thou me in thy way.

Our eyes are the windows to our soul. We are often tempted first by our sight. Therefore, let us learn to ask the Lord to turn away our eyes from beholding vain and wicked things, even things that may lead us astray. Rather let us desire to be quickened or enlivened in the way of the Lord. Let us ask the Lord to impress upon our minds of how profitable it is to engage in spiritual exercises that we may lay aside all excuses and quicken our steps in the direction of obedience.

Oh how we need to learn to pray this prayer for the lust of the eyes so often tugs at our heart to draw us away from the Lord. The television is a vanity in many ways, yet it pulls us away from and makes us slothful and reluctant to come apart to spend time with the Lord. Think about it. Have you struggled to switch off the TV when it is time for family worship? Or have you sought a perishable crown on the Lord’s Day when you could have an imperishable crown? Have you sought the vain approval of man when you could have won the approval the eternal King of kings.

Oh how we need to turn our eyes to the right direction.

3. A Confession of Deep Longing (vv. 38-40)

38 Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who is devoted to thy fear. 39 Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good. 40 Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness.

Here are again three petitions arising out of a heart that has been renewed by the Spirit of God.

Firstly, verse 38—“Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who [is devoted] to thy fear.

Only one who has the spirit of adoption indwelling in him can say these words, for only such a person can honestly claim to be devoted to the fear of the Lord. We have been redeemed and adopted as the sons and daughters of God that we might worship Him and serve Him. We are in that sense devoted or appointed to the fear of the LORD.

But as we have seen, and as we know by experience, we are prone to wander, bent on backsliding, subject to doubts. We hate it when that happens. It robs us of our comfort, fills our heart with guilt and prevents us from approaching God with faith. We are even at a loss as to how to pray when such confusion floods our heart.

The Lord knows, and so He has given us these words to confess unto the Father: “Stablish thy word unto thy servant, who [is devoted] to thy fear” (v. 38). To stablish the word is literally to make the word to stand firm, to confirm, to make it appear firm and true to our consciousness. The Word is, of course, true, but unless the Lord gives us faith we will not believe, and unless the Lord stablishes it in our heart, we will continue to be troubled by doubt to one degree or another.

Secondly, we are given to confess, “Turn away my reproach which I fear: for thy judgments are good” (v. 38). Commentators debate whether we are to understand the reproach as being due to our failures, or due to our doing right. I think it is likely that it is a reference to the fear that we might by our failures or indiscretion give occasion to the enemies of the Lord to condemn us and to blaspheme God. Oh how easy it is for this to happen if we are not careful!

Therefore, let us ask our Father to watch over us, to turn away our reproach, to help us to walk circumspectly. His “judgements are good” (v. 38b). The last thing we want to happen is that through our failures, God’s name is blasphemed and His word condemned by the foolish. We desire rather for the world to know that God’s judgements are good and right.

But now finally, we are given to restate the desire of our heart of hearts, verse 40—Behold, I have longed after thy precepts: quicken me in thy righteousness.” “Lord, Thou knows all things, thou dost know how I love thy law and desire to walk in thy ways. Help Lord, make me to walk in thy ways even thy righteous ways. O that Thou would grant me wholehearted obedience today that I may walk with thee with joy and confidence all the days of my life!”

Conclusion

This is the 5th song in Psalm 119. Oh may the Lord grant us the spiritual clarity in our mind to use it in our prayers and also to sing it in union with one another as we seek to encourage and admonish one another with His word. Oh that we may all enjoy wholehearted obedience to our loving Heavenly Father and our Elder Brother who laid down His life for us in obedience to the Father and in love for us. Amen.

—JJ Lim