"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything."
Colossians 1:18

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Friday, July 12, 2013

God's Word and the Passionate Non-Pharisee

Not so long ago, we discussed the danger of pulling apart the strands of love and truth in the lifeline called Christianity.  As "knowledge" is frequently and foolishly vilified in many churches of today, it seems desirable to harken back to this subject from a slightly different path, to create a short tally of the immense and enlivening benefits that arise from understanding God's Word.  Psalm 119, unsurprisingly, has much to offer in this matter.  Here are four actions, all crucial to the believer, which an understanding of God's Word unlocks for us.  I will state them as commands to frame their critical nature in our lives; amen?

1.  Apprehend His glory.  "Make me understand the way of Your precepts, so I will meditate on Your wonders." (v. 27) We are happily used to seeing God's glory in the pages of His book, but perhaps it does not always occur to us to see His glory in His precepts.  Situated in those commands, though, are such wonders as His unwavering righteousness, His absolute wisdom, His sovereign hand, and His untiring justice.  These lie at the very heart of our Lord's character, and they radiate from His Word in very real and personal ways, because those very precepts are what shape our actions and choices as believers.  This is one of the invaluable ways in which God's glory becomes infused in our mission as His people - this is glory that we cannot afford to forgo.

2.  Passionately discern.  "From Your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way." (v. 104) Here again, understanding is centered around the precepts in God's Word, but here the result is hatred of "every false way."  This is discernment of the most powerful sort.  It is discernment that informs literally every moral decision we must make, and it is discernment that is founded in a ferocious and dogged pursuit of God's righteous standards.  Notice the psalmist does not say, "I do not really like every false way"; he says, "I hate every false way."  Evil is repugnant to him; it offends him and excites a vehement and passionate reaction. He hates what is evil because he cherishes what is good (cf. Phil. 4:8).  Dare we attempt this class of spiritual discretion without understanding God's Word?  This is not sterile and pharisaical book knowledge, friends.

3.  Fervently obey.  "Give me understanding, that I may observe Your law and keep it with all my heart." (v. 34) At first blush, this is very obvious - we understand the Bible and we therefore obey God - but look again.  Not only does it help us to obey, but to obey with all our hearts.  This is fervent, zealous obedience, as opposed to begrudging, joyless obedience - as John describes it in 1 John 5:3:  "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome." 

We must examine this more closely for a moment - how indeed can a book accomplish such zeal as we see in the discernment and obedience described here?  First, it is because God's people read His book in the company of the Holy Spirit, who works powerfully through the Word.  We recall how similar the commands of "be filled with the Spirit" and "let the Word of Christ richly dwell within you" truly are (Eph. 5:18 & Col. 3:16).  God's Word and God's Spirit work together, or they do not work at all (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-14).

Second, as we read God's Word, and God's Spirit works within us, we encounter none other than God Himself on the pages.  We behold His priorities, His perfections, and His precepts, and so we are given all the reason in the world (or properly, in Christendom) to love His beauty, to understand His commands, to pursue His righteousness, and to fear His judgments.  This is why we had to begin this blog with God's glory - it is the impetus, the force that imparts true spiritual momentum.

4.  Partake of true life.  "Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live." (v. 44) As God's Word is immutably righteous, being laid down and preserved by He who is immutably righteous, it imparts spiritual life to those who understand it.  We do not, as Moses tells us, "live by bread alone," but rather, "by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord." (Deut. 8:3b) We cannot be pulled out of our Ephesians 2:1 spiritual death into Ephesians 2:5 spiritual life without an understanding of the Word.  Once God has given us life, we cannot grow and continue in that life without an understanding of the Word.  Would we scoff or ignore the very book that unlocks life itself?  By no means.

God has blessed us beyond measure with His Word, and it becomes us in every respect to seek a knowledge of it.  We must not fear becoming Pharisees simply for poring over its wealth, but we must see it as the divinely-appointed flame that truly ignites our hearts.  As a final note, do you see how every last one of these blessings (God's glory, obedience, discernment, and spiritual life) represents something that is beyond our natural inclinations?  We would not give glory to another, would not trouble to improve our discernment, and so forth, were it not for the work of the Spirit through His Word.  It is remarkable how the Lord turns us right side up, with powerful blessings which come through the Bible.


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