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Pursuing Purity in an Impure World
Psalm 119:9 to 16
Grizzly bears are arguably the most significant animal threat to humans in America. Grizzly means golden-haired, but a famous pun was institutionalized by naturalist George Ord. He classified them, “not for their looks, but for their grisly character.” Grisly means “causing horror”. Ord classified the grizzly as urcas arctos horribilis–horrible American bears.
These deceptively docile-looking, fuzzy creatures are notorious for their dexterity at killing humans with a casual swat, but then also feasting on the carcass. Since they can move faster than the average cyclist, there is no use trying to outrun them. Your best defense, should you have the unhappy privilege of encountering one in the wild, is to lie in a fetal position, play dead, and hope it’s not hungry–unless you are Tim Treadwell.
Treadwell was nicknamed Grizzly Man. He spent 13 months in Alaska’s Katmai National Park living with bears. He captured some of the most intimate and spectacular footage of grizzlies. Over time, the bears began to accept him in their presence. He could walk right up to them and stroke them like a domestic pet. Treadwell was not afraid of the bears, nor were they afraid of him. And that became a problem.
Park officials viewed him as “misguided at best, and at worst, dangerous.” They were concerned that his example could lead others to believe the bears were harmless. All other bear experts agreed that the grizzlies were still wild, still dangerous, and that Treadwell was treading on thin ice by being near them.
The experts were right. In 2003, with his girlfriend Amie, tragedy struck. For no known reason, a bear suddenly killed both Treadwell and his girlfriend and ate them. The only part of his body found was a severed arm with his wristwatch still ticking, as if the bear wanted to make some macabre point that his time with them was running out.
“In the spiritual realm, we forget the dangerous threat of temptation. We snuggle up to sin and act as though it is not destructive. If you are not careful, sin and temptation are hunting for precious life” (Cripplegate, 9/16/2013).
Scripture is packed full of people who compromised with the world. Adam compromised God’s clear command, followed his wife’s sin, and brought sin into the world. Samson compromised and was impure with woman—he lost his strength, his eyesight, and his life (Judges 16:4 to 6, 16 to 31).
David compromised by committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdered Uriah and lost his infant son (2 Samuel 11). Solomon compromised his purity, married foreign wives, and lost the kingdom (1 Kings 11:1 to 8)–(MacArthur, p. 28 to 29).
How can we remain holy in an unholy world? Never has there been a more important question for our day. The answer is given in God’s word in Psalm 119:9 to 16. The Word of God is the key to purity in an impure world.
Psalm 119 is an acrostic poem with 22 sections of 8 verses each. The first word of each 8-verse stanza begins with consecutive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet has 22 letters—the first is aleph. This second stanza starts with beth, meaning house.
And as Herbert Lockyer notes, the underlying thought of the stanza is “making our heart a home for the Word of God.” In an impure world surrounded by filth and sin, greed and pride, God’s Word is the means to personal purity.
Much has been written on Psalm 119. In his Treasury of David, Spurgeon devotes 349 pages to it. Charles Bridges wrote 481 pages about it. The largest of all is the 3-volume work on Psalm 119 by Thomas Manton–each volume is from 500 to 600 pages in length, for a total of 1,677 pages (Boice, Psalms 107–150, p. 970).
William Wilberforce, British statesman who was largely responsible for the abolition of the slave trade, wrote in his diary in 1819, “Walked today from Hyde Park Corner, repeating the 119th Psalm in great comfort.” He had memorized it.
Henry Martyn, missionary to India, memorized Psalm 119 as an adult in 1804. He had a difficult life, but confessed that it was the Bible alone that gave him strength to keep going. David Livingstone, missionary to Africa, won a Bible from his Sunday school teacher by repeating Psalm 119 by heart–when he was only nine years old.
The most striking feature of Psalm 119 is that each verse of the psalm refers to the Word of God, the Bible, with only a small handful of exceptions (Boice, Psalms 107–150, p. 970–971). The theme is stated in verse 9–pure. The rhetorical question is asked–“How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer is given, “by guarding it according to your Word.”
“Young”–he begins with the young men. Youth is when habits are forming, friendships are created and decisions are made. What follows is a path given of exactly how this works. Verse 9b, by “guarding” it according to God’s Word. And these are the words he uses to refer to God’s Word:
Verse 16–Statues and Word
It is God’s Word that brings the believer to purity. Now what are we to do? Here is a path to personal purity in an impure world, making our heart a home for the Word of God. This is one of the greatest passages in all of Scripture for personal sanctification. In God’s Word, we find the path to personal purity.
1. Pursue God’s Word Verses 10 to 12
Verse 10, “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments.” It is with his entire being that he sought God–heart, lips, eyes, etc. A pursuit of God Himself—“I seek you” (Psalm 119:2).
The Word of God is the agent the Spirit of God used to regenerate the hearts of all of us who are saved. God Himself is revealed in His Word. From the fear of wandering from God Himself, he cries out, “Let me not wander from your commandments.”
The more a person pursues the God that is revealed in His Word, the more a person dreads straying into sin. Proverbs 19:27, “Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge,” he cries out to God.
The text again in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Hebrew is not so much emotional but rational, volitional–“stored up your word in my heart.” The heart is the place where decisions are made. The heart is the core of our being, the seat of understanding, the source of thought and reflection and the seat of the will.
Proverbs 7:1, “My son, keep my words, and treasure up my commandments, with you.” Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” He stores up the word in his heart for this purpose, verse 11, “That I might not sin against you.”
Why pursue personal purity? “To not sin against God”–all sin is against God. Like David said in Psalm 51:4,”For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before you. Against you, and you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”
As Scroggie said, the best thing—the Word, hidden in the best place—the heart, for the best purpose–to not sin against you. What path can we follow to personal purity? How do we say no to temptation in an impure world? What can keep us from debauchery & ruin? Answer: God’s Word.
Psalm 37:31, “The law of his God is in his heart and his steps do not slip.” Proverbs 2:10 to 12, “For wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to our soul; discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you.”
The path to purity becomes elusive when God’s Word is not treasured above the world. When you treasure God’s Word in the heart, it enables us to not sin against God. The source for personal purity is in Psalm 119:12, “Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes.” We have a great teacher.
Psalm 119:26, “When I told of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes.” And verse 33, “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.” Then verse 66, “Teach me good judgment and knowledge, for I believe in your commandments.”
Finally, verses 135 to 136, “Make your face shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes. My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law.”
There is an old story told of an Eskimo fisherman who came to town every Saturday afternoon. He always brought his two dogs with him–one was white and the other black. He had taught them to fight on command. Every Saturday in the town square the people would gather and these two dogs would fight and the fisherman would take bets.
On one Saturday the black dog would win, another Saturday the white dog would win–but the fisherman always won. His friends began to ask him how he did it. He said, “I starve one and feed the other. The one I feed always wins, because he is stronger.”
This is also true in regards to personal purity–what you feed wins. John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Psalm 119:9, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” The first path to personal purity–Pursue God’s Word.
2. Declare God’s Word Verse 13
“With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.” The one who is taught the Word of God in verse 12 is now the declarer of God’s Word, verbalizing God’s Word to others. What he was learning, he was to declare. In other words, the psalmist is not only pursuing God’s Word in his heart (verse 11), but he is also declaring God’s Word to others.
Colossians 3:16 to 17, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs.” You cannot declare what you do not possess.
Deuteronomy 6:5 to 7, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, that I command you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise.” Declaring God’s Word is a must for personal purity.
3. Delight in God’s Word Verse 14
“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” Because he’s pursuing and declaring God’s Word, he now delights in God’s Word, “as much as in all riches.” Verse 72, “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.”
Psalm 119:127, “Therefore I love thy commandments above gold, above fine gold.” Verse 162, “I rejoice at your word, like one who finds great spoil.” The psalmist believed God’s Word was above literal wealth. Wisdom is the byproduct. Proverbs 2:4, “If you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures.”
Proverbs 3:13 to 15, “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding. For the gain from her is better than the gain from silver, and her profit than gold. She is more precious than jewels; nothing you desire compares with her.” Proverbs 8:10, 11, 19, “Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than jewels; and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver.”
Jeremiah 15:16, “Thy words were found and I ate them, and thy words became for me a joy and the delight of my heart.” Job 23:12, “I have not departed from the command of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my necessary food.” We are to rejoice in God’s Word “as in all riches.” Rejoicing in God’s Word is the path of purity.
4. Meditate on God’s Word Verse 15
“I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.” Meditate literally means to read God’s Word in a methodical and meaningful way in order to understand and appropriate its truths–to ponder, to recall, to consider. This theme is repeated through Psalm 119.
Verse 23, “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.”
Verse 27, “Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.”
Verse 48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”
Verse 78, “As for me, I will meditate on your precepts.”
As Boice says, “It is far easier to memorize and retain material when a person is young than when he or she is older. Here is one of the sad failures of the contemporary church. If children and young people can memorize easily, memorization should be stressed by churches for those in the early years. Instead of doing this, many churches, along with the general culture, have been ‘dumbing down’ Christian education so that today children are barely taught anything in these vital early years. Instead of solid biblical theology, Bible memorization, and historic hymns, they are offered trivial stories, pointless games, and banal songs” (PS. 978).
Verse 97, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
Verse 99, “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.”
Verse 148, “My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.”
Charles Swindoll writes, “When I was in the Marines, I spent nearly a year and a half in the Orient. Some of the time I was stationed in Japan. Eight thousand lonely miles away from my wife & family. Lots of free time…and plenty of opportunities to drift into sexual escapades. Most of the men in my outfit regularly shacked up in the village. For those who didn’t want the hassle of a commitment to one woman, there was an island full of available one-nighters. Brightly lit bars, with absolutely gorgeous (externally, that is) females of any nationality you pleased, were open 7 nights a week, 365 days a year…The sensual temptation was fierce, to say the least.
“I was in my twenties. I was a Christian. I was also 100 percent human. It didn’t take me long to realize that unless I learned how to force my body to behave, I’d be no different from any other Marine on liberty. I developed ways to stay busy. I occupied my time with creative involvements. When walking along the streets, I walked fast. I refused to linger and allow my body to respond to the glaring come-on signals. My eyes looked straight ahead…sometimes I literally ran to my destination. I consciously forced myself to tune out the sensual music. I disciplined my mind through intensive reading, and a scripture memory program. I began most days praying for God’s strength to get me through. The battle was difficult, but the commitment to sexual purity paid rich dividends.”
Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”
Psalm 1:1 and 2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” This is vital for the pursuit of purity. When God’s Word is meditated upon, the lust of the world wanes.
Psalm 112:1, “How blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in His commandments.” Psalm 119:16, “I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” And verse 24, “Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” and verse 35, “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”
Psalm 119:47, “I find my delight in your commandments.” And verse 70, “I delight in your law.” Verse 77, “Your law is my delight.” Verse 143, “Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight.” And verse 92, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”
If you are pursuing, declaring, delighting, and meditating in God’s Word the psalmist says you will not forget the Word. Psalm 119:174, “Your law is my delight. Therefore, I will not forget your word.” Verse 61, “The chords of the wicked ensnare me, but I do not forget your law.” And verse 83, “For I have become like a wineskin in the smoke, yet I have not forgotten your statutes.”
Psalm 119:93, “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.” Verse 109, “I hold my life in my hand continually, but I do not forget your law.” And verse 141, “I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts.”
George Muller said, “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord. The first thing to be concerned about was not, how much I might serve the Lord, how I might glorify the Lord; but how I might get my soul into a happy state, and how my inner man may be nourished… I saw that the most important thing I had to do was to give myself to the reading of the Word of God and to meditation on it” (gracetabernacle.org).
Psalm 19:11, “By them Thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” We are warned against sin and temptation. John Bunyan had it right when he said, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from the book.”
This fourfold path to personal purity will enable the child of God to find purity in the midst of a cesspool of sin. You are to pursue God’s Word, to declare God’s Word, rejoice in God’s Word, and meditate upon God’s Word.
John Blanchard said, “We only have to be realistic and honest with ourselves to know how regularly we need to turn to the Bible. How often do we face temptation and pressure? Every day! Then how often do we need instruction, guidance and encouragement? Every day! To catch all these felt needs up into an even greater issue, how often do we need to see God’s face, hear His voice, feel His touch, know His power? The answer to all these questions is the same: every day!”
If we were to use my hand as an illustration of a firm grip on God’s Word, we could illustrate it this way. Hearing–putting yourself in the services. Reading–systematic and daily reading of the Word. Meditating–personalizing God’s promises. Memorizing–putting God’s Word into your heart. Studying–investigating and learning more of God’s Word.
“The future tense, ‘I will’, in the last line (in some translations, the future tense) shows how the psalmist passes from declaring what he has done or is in the habit of doing, to what he will do. What he says he will do is not neglect the Bible. He is determined to study it. Are you?” (Boice, Psalm 107–150, p. 981).
We need a fivefold grip–but many of you have a pinkie grip. Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
First John 2:14, “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the Word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” First Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”
“God’s holy, inspired Word, the Bible, reveals the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Its doctrines are holy. Its precepts are binding. Its histories are true. Its decisions are immutable.
“Read it to be wise. Believe it to be safe. Practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you and comfort to cheer you. It’s the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter.
“Here too, Heaven is opened and the gates of Hell are disclosed. Christ is its central subject. Our good is its design. The glory of God is its aim. It should fill your memory. It should rule your heart. It should guide your feet. Read it slowly, frequently, prayerfully. It’s a mine of wealth. It’s a paradise of glory and it’s a river of pleasure.
“It is given to you in life. It will be opened at the judgment. It will be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility. It will reward the greatest labor… Owned, it is riches; studied, it is wisdom; trusted, it is salvation; loved, it is character; obeyed, it is power. It is the Word of God that lives and abides forever” (Paul Steele, p. 24).
Best of all, the Book reveals to us the person of Christ, the Gospel, the way of salvation and the way to Heaven. An anonymous poet wrote . . .
“I find my Lord in the Book
Where ever I chance to look
He is the theme of the Bible
The center and heart of the book;
He is the rose of Sharon,
He is the lily fair,
Where ever I open my Bible
The Lord of the book is there.
He, at the book’s beginning,
Gave to the earth its form,
He is the Ark of shelter
Bearing the brunt of the storm,
The Burning Bush of the desert,
The budding of Aaron’s rod.
Where ever I look in the Bible
I see the Son of God.
The Ram upon Mt. Moriah,
The Ladder from earth to sky.
The Scarlet cord in the window,
And the serpent lifted high,
The smitten rock in the desert,
The Shepherd with staff and crook,
The face of my Lord I discover
Where ever I open the Book.
He is the Seed of the Woman,
The Savior Virgin-born;
He is the Son of David,
Whom men rejected with scorn,
His garments of grace and of beauty,
The stately Aaron deck,
Yet He is a priest forever,
For He is Melchizedek.
Lord of eternal glory
Whom John, the Apostle saw;
Light of the golden city,
Lamb without spot or flaw,
Bridegroom coming at midnight,
For whom the virgins look.
Where ever I open my bible,
I find my Lord in the Book.”