“I have treasured your word in my heart so that I may not sin against you.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Do you struggle with sin? From some of our recent conversations, I hope you understand better what I mean by that question. I’m not talking about your giving in to sin. What I’m asking is this: Do you genuinely endeavor to not sin? If you are a committed follower of Jesus, I suspect you do. How’s that battle going? Where are you finding success and what are the circumstances under which you fail the most frequently? What kind of tools are you using to aid you in your efforts? This morning, I’d like to tell you about one of the most important tools to have in your toolbox. Let’s talk this morning about how God’s word can keep us from sin.
This verse is one I had to memorize in Vacation Bible School more than once. I think it may have been included in just about every single one of the curricula I went through growing up. I haven’t seen it as much in more recent programs, but the theological themes of most VBS content creators have shifted over the last generation. That’s not to say memorizing this verse isn’t still important, but a great many of the VBS packages I experienced growing up were very focused on behavioral modification more so than whole life Gospel integration. That’s simply where the church was back then. Most people assumed on some measure of the Christian worldview and so what the church then really focused on was calling people to live with the faith they had already embraced which, for kids, meant behaving better than they did on their own.
The verse is from near the beginning of Psalm 119. Psalm 119 is one of the most unique entries in that wonderful collection. It is by far the longest psalm. In fact, at 176 verses, it is the longest single chapter in the entire Bible. Psalm 119 is longer than several other whole books. Somewhat appropriately, it is focused entirely on the surpassing greatness of God’s word. Literarily, it is a masterpiece. The psalm is divided up into 22 stanzas and forms an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. In each stanza all 8 verses begin with the relevant next letter of the alphabet. None of this comes through in English, but it’s pretty impressive looking in Hebrew. And, in every single one of its 176 verses there is a reference to God’s word in some form or fashion. All in all, it’s a pretty incredible work without even getting to its actual content.
This verse in particular is from a trio of verses that kick off the second stanza, Bet. While there is not often a great deal of a thematic link beyond their collective focus on God’s word from one verse to another, this trio of verses are all linked. Verse 9 asks how someone can maintain a path of purity in life. The answer is simple: By keeping God’s word. The next verse finds the author declaring his diligent seeking of the Lord and asks for His help in remaining faithful to those commands. Then we land here. After asking for help, this verse describes what he is doing to cover his part of this effort to remain on a path of purity.
And what has he done? He has treasured or hidden God’s word in his heart. Well, how does that help? How does God’s word help keep us from sin? Furthermore, what does it mean to treasure God’s word in our hearts in the first place? Let’s start with this last question. How do we treasure or hide God’s word in our hearts? How do you store up treasure anywhere? You start gathering your treasure there and keep on gathering it there until you have a lot of it. If you have ever had a piggy bank of any kind, you should understand this basic principle. You store up your money there by putting your money there and keeping it there. Then, when you get more money, you add that to the stash. The same goes with God’s word. We get it into our heart by engaging with it. This means reading it and studying it and praying it and talking about it and so on and so forth. As we do this, it gradually begins to seep its way from our minds to our hearts. There, it can start to shape the way we think and reason and interact with the world around us. But this can’t be a small investment if we want it to do anything positive for us. It needs to be a big and ongoing investment. We must commit ourselves to building up this treasure cache each and every day. Some days our deposits will be small, some days they will be larger, but the daily exercise is what matters so much.
If that’s how we get it there, how does it actually do anything beneficial for us? More specifically, how does it help keep us from sinning? Three ways. First, God’s word gives us a picture of what a life of righteousness looks like. We can’t stay away from sin until we have learned to discern what is the path of sin and what is the path of righteousness. Once we understand that better, we can choose to walk the one instead of the other. Second, throughout the Scriptures we are given numerous pictures of the results of choosing each path. We see people choose a path of sin and the results of that path. We also see people choosing a path of righteousness and the results of doing that. This helps us make a more informed choice. In any given moment, when the choice to sin is before us, we already know what the end of the path of sin will be. We know what the end of the path of righteousness will be.
Still, though, knowing those two things doesn’t seem to give us a lot of help in our struggle against sin. After all, you may be someone who has spent a lot of time in God’s word and yet you nonetheless find yourself choosing sin more often than you want even though you know the consequences of it. That’s why there’s one more piece of this puzzle. And this piece comes with a question: Are you really treasuring God’s word in your heart, or are you merely letting it muddle about in your mind? Are you engaging with it as a religious exercise or in pursuit of a relationship with the God who inspired it and whose Spirit is alive and active through it? If the former, it’s not going to do a whole lot of good for you – as perhaps you have been frustratingly experiencing. If the latter, though, then when you treasure God’s word in your heart, you are also letting in God’s Spirit. Once let loose in those wild confines, He can begin to do His shaping, sanctifying work. As that begins to happen, you will gradually find yourself drawn less to sin and more toward righteousness. In other words, you’ll sin less.
Now, this is no instant process. You won’t be an overnight success. But if you’ll commit to it and stay faithful to that commitment, it will eventually bear fruit. Those are sweet fruits indeed. My encouragement to you this morning, then, is simple: get started. There’s a whole life of real living to enjoy.