by Mike Ratliff
He. Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life! (Psalms 119:33-40)
Being a Bible teacher for many years has been a wonderful blessing. One thing that really blesses my Soul is when I encounter disciples who have a deep hunger for the truth. Some I have taught just want to have their ears tickled or just to be part of the class. On the other hand, some have a deep and desperate hunger for God. He placed that within them. I do the best I can as God gives me grace, but I am a lousy teacher compared to God Himself.
The first line in this stanza is, “Teach me, O LORD, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end.” The psalmist asks God to be his teacher. This is not presumption. Does God want to teach us? Sure He does. The Psalms are full of calls to God to teach us so we can know the way to go. Here are a few.
Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalms 25:4-5)
Teach me your way, O LORD, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies. (Psalms 27:11)
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalms 51:6)
Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. (Psalms 86:11)
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. (Psalms 90:8-12)
Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O LORD, and whom you teach out of your law, to give him rest from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked. (Psalms 94:12-13)
God is the discipler of those who are His. That means those who are Born Again by the grace of God are in a constant state of sanctification. The Holy Spirit does it all through the grace of God. God’s teaching is part of this process. Our minds are renewed or renovated as God grants us repentance so we can grow in grace and thereby become more Christ-like.
The Hebrew word used in this verse for “Teach” carries with it the idea of laying a foundation. When constructing a building the strength of it will only be as stout as the foundation is firm. When God is our teacher, He lays the foundation whereupon He expounds His living Word. That means our firm foundation is the Word Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ. He is our rock upon which God, our teacher, extends His grace to us to teach our stubborn hearts the truth.
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it. (Matthew 7:24-27)
Those who rely on their own comfortable doctrines instead of the revealed Word of God, the doctrines of grace, are actually in rebellion against God’s will. Any attempt to elevate man and his puny and corrupt will to the level of God’s perfect will or perhaps even higher is building on a foundation of sand. The focus of the doctrines of grace is God’s glory and sovereignty. The doctrines of men are man focused. How can any of that glorify God?
Why does the psalmist ask God to teach him? He states he will be able to keep them to the end if God will teach him. Why? This act of grace enlarges the heart of man unto Christlikeness. This is talking about the ability of the Spirit-led to walk in the Spirit. Who does not sin? Only those who walk in the Spirit can do it. When they become self-focused, and they will, that ability ceases. The Spirit-led are capable of obeying all of God's commands because of their joy empowered will, but the Soul-led believer can obey God only inconsistently because they have little, if any, joy. What is the difference? God’s grace makes all the difference. This is all restated in the second line of this stanza, “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.” The reason we desperately need God to extend His grace and teach us is so we can be obedient to all He commands. Can we obey the Lord outside of Him empowering us to do so? No, we cannot. Who is glorified when we hear and obey the Lord by His grace? He is. How could our religiosity that is done completely within our own strength glorify Him? When we exercise our wills to obey the Lord we are deciding or choosing all within God’s grace. Remember, the Born Again's will is subject to God’s will. That means the regenerate heart has the ability to choose to not sin. The unregenerate cannot do this. Why? They are completely outside of God’s grace. This does not mean all unregenerate people are evil when compared to the values of the world. What this means is the unregenerate do not have God's grace to give them the ability to obey Him.
The third line in this stanza is, “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” We often overlook the overwhelming sense of peace and joy that is ours even in the midst of tests and trials which would destroy those outside of God’s grace. When God enables us to endure in our troubles and we obediently submit to His leading and teaching we find our character has learned to choose God's peace and joy through the exercise of our wills. This choice makes no sense to the unregenerate. They would choose negative emotions to compensate. However, the Spirit-led have a character constantly growing in grace. This Christ-like character becomes apparent to those who observe them in the fires of sanctification. God uses His Saints this way, according to His will and by His grace. He is sovereign and we have no right or business challenging His authority or “right” to do with us as He pleases.
The fourth line in this stanza is, “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Should we ask God to change our character so we will have the ability to obey Him as we turn away from all temptation? You betcha! When we finally realize our wills are 100% subject to God’s will we should experience an amazing freedom. Since this has become apparent to my heart I have a higher level of confidence to choose to not sin when I am tempted. God then extends His Grace to me and I walk in victory. I pity anyone who operates in this hostile environment by their own abilities as they try to live this Christian life. Why? They are doomed to fail. What happens if we ask God to help us as we obediently submit to His will? Will He do it for us? It sure works for me. However, if we are struggling with focus we will struggle in this area. This reveals that we are still operating from pride much of the time. Operating from pride is always sin. It is always rebellion to God’s will. How can we take pride out of the equation? God must give us the grace and we must submit to His will. This humbles us and opens our hearts for His good work done there. Our part is our willingness to obey then seamlessly do it. God will give us the grace to do this. The opposite is ugly.
And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. (Ezekiel 33:31)
This verse is explaining how the exiles in Babylon were acting towards God’s prophet, Ezekiel. They would come to him to hear God’s truth, but they did not intend to obey any of it. All they were after was to be seen as religious and pious, but as soon as they were out of there they would do everything the way they desired in their own hard hearts. We must not do this if we are to grow in grace. How do we avoid it? Ask God to enable our hearts to obey Him then follow through in obedience by exercising our wills. Yes, that is all there is to it. Is it easy? It will always appear to be costly with our eyes of flesh. However, with our spiritual eyes we see things differently. If we are Spirit-led, God will give us the ability to see things from the eternal perspective. That means we will not be like those hardhearted people who simply want to appear religious and will not obey one thing God says.
The fifth line in this stanza is, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” The successful God glorifying walk requires empowerment by His grace. The psalmist tells us in this statement we have to have God’s grace in order to deny what our flesh wants. The opposite of pursing fleshly things is going hard after God. How can we live in this flesh mad 21st Century world and remain pure and obedient to our Lord? We cannot do it with our own strength. We will eventually fail. We have to have God’s grace to walk through our days and not fall into fleshly pursuits. This is our Walk by Faith. This is walking in the Spirit. When we walk through our days practicing the presence of God we become empowered to walk righteously by exercising our wills by His grace.
He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, who despises the gain of oppressions, who shakes his hands, lest they hold a bribe, who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed and shuts his eyes from looking on evil, he will dwell on the heights; his place of defense will be the fortresses of rocks; his bread will be given him; his water will be sure. (Isaiah 33:15-16)
The sixth line in this stanza is, “Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared.” Another way to state this verse is, “Establish your Word unto your servant, who is devoted to your fear.” This is a cry for God to write His Law or Word on his heart because he fears God and wants to walk accordingly. Why would we want to walk through this life fearing God like that? Fearing God is a very wise thing for us to do. We must start by fearing God in our quest for godliness. To become Spirit-led and to maintain it we must become devoted to fearing God and walking according to that fear. If we do this, God will bless us, by His grace, with wisdom. He will also draw us into the steps of becoming and being Spirit-led. He will use these processes to cut away our ungodliness from our hearts and replace it with His own character. Interestingly, the more we grow in grace the more we become devoted to this fear.
I do not cower and weep in anguish before my Lord in servile, whipped puppy, fear. I worship and adore Him as I delight in Him though. I am completely devoted to serving Him as His bondservant. As His servant, I am at His disposal at all times. I go the way He directs me. I stop when He says stop. I fear my Lord because He is my master and my savior and I obey Him by exercising my will by His grace. I am nowhere without Him. His grace makes my world go around. His grace enables me to do all this. Without His grace, I would be a very fleshly, religious, and joyless person. Who wants that?
The seventh line in this stanza is, “Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good.” We are all guilty of fleshly actions that our enemy uses to shame us. The Lord’s good sanctifying work in our hearts, though, will cut away that hard layer of spiritual blindness separating our conscience from our Soul. This enlightens our hearts to God’s value system. This enables us to become Spirit-led because our devotion to the Lord grows to unimaginable levels. I love God with my entire being. I want Him to be glorified in me. I want Him to be glorified at all times. When we are in love with God like this, our focus is on Him not us. When that is true God draws us close and hides us in Him. What a great place to be! Our view of our circumstances is very different when we are hidden in God’s grace. We see God’s ways as the only way.
The eighth line in this stanza is, “Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!” Our salvation comes by His grace. God imparts His own righteousness to us at that moment. We do not deserve that. We can do nothing to earn it. The psalmist states very well our desperate need for God to give us life by His grace. Outside of God’s grace, we are spiritually, stone cold dead. That means no spiritual life at all. At the moment of salvation, He extends His grace to us and brings us to life in Him. His Law has shown us our need and His grace has saved us, as we believed. He gave us the faith to believe and granted the repentance that cleansed us.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved