George MacDonald was a Scottish poet and theologian who lived and wrote in the 1800’s. His poignant writings were a great influence on J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and many others. MacDonald wrote the following on the importance of obedience:
“Simply to do what we ought, is an altogether higher, diviner, more potent, more creative thing, than to write the grandest poem, paint the most beautiful picture, carve the mightiest statue, build the most worshipping temple, or dream out the most enchanting commotion of melody and harmony.”
That’s perhaps a more poetic way of saying what Samuel did to Saul in I Samuel: “To obey is better than sacrifice.” God wants obedience from us, more than He wants many of the other things we would prefer to offer Him instead. In fact, God brings situations into our lives to help us learn to obey Him by faith. Hebrews 5:8 says of Jesus, “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered.” Jesus learned to obey the Father in every situation that was presented to Him in His earthly life – and we are presented with those same kinds of opportunities. God uses our life situations to teach us to obey Him by faith.
Psalm 119:57-64 teaches us much about obedience. As you may know, Psalm 119 is an acrostic – the first word in each eight-verse section of the Psalm begins with the same letter of the Hebrew alphabet. (Many of your Bibles will have the sections labeled “Aleph”, “Beth”, etc., and ending with “Tau”, which are the names of the Hebrew letters.) Additionally, you can often see in each section of 8 verses, some kind of theme. The theme of :57-64 is obedience. We learn a number of things about obedience from these verses:
I. The MOTIVE for obedience:
:57 “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words”.
When it says “The LORD is my portion”, it is analogy to the division of the Promised Land among the people of Israel. Every family got a portion of land, which was given to them by lot. What the Psalmist was saying here is that his ‘portion’ was the LORD – HE was his inheritance. We see this same idea expressed in several places in scripture:
Psalm 16 says: “YHWH is the portion of my inheritance and my cup; You support my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” Again, he is saying there that GOD is his “portion” – He is the “inheritance” which he has been given “by lot.” Basically what he is saying is that God is the most important thing in his life – his most valuable “possession” or “inheritance” – the way that some people would look at the “family business”, or the “family homestead.”
So when the Psalmist says here in Psalm 119 “The LORD is my portion; I have promised to keep Your words”, he is saying that is going to obey God because He is his highest good; his greatest treasure. This is his motive for obeying. And it should be ours too.
It is important that we understand what our motive for obedience should be. We are NOT to obey God in order to somehow gain favor with Him, as a “credit” that will make us right with Him, or gain us a place in heaven. Unfortunately, I think that “credit” is really at the heart of many people’s obedience to God: “Look how I read my Bible every day; Look how many times I go to church; look how much money I give; look how I abstain from this or that” – as if God were going to be impressed by what we are doing! We are not to obey God to try to gain “credit” with Him and be made right with Him. Rather, genuine Christians obey because we are already made right with Him; because He is our greatest good – and we want to do all that we can to obey Him because He is.
It would be like the only son of a rich father, heir to the family business, who loved his father and wanted to perform his wishes. He wouldn’t obey in order to inherit the family business; he already had that. He would just want to obey because he loved his dad. That should our motive for obeying the Lord. We should obey our God in the same way: because we love Him, and we don’t want anything to come between us and Him, which might hinder the relationship between us and the most important person in our lives. Because God Himself is our ultimate reward, we should want to obey Him. This is the motive of our obedience.
II. The EVALUATION of obedience.
:59 “I considered my ways, and turned my feet to your testimonies.”
If you are going to be serious about obeying God, you have to consider your ways. How are you doing in your obedience to God? Unfortunately, many of us don’t really stop and consider how we are living.
Twice in Haggai Chapter 1, God uses these very words with the people ofIsrael, and tells them: “Consider your ways!” He said to them: “You have sown much, but you harvest little … he who earns, earns wages to put into a pocket with holes.” So God says, “Consider your ways!” Look at what is happening in your life. Shouldn’t you stop and evaluate why things are the way they are with you? “Consider your ways” God says again. They were all living in paneled houses while the house of God lay desolate. God said they needed to CONSIDER what was going on with their lives; that what was happening to them was a result of their lack of obedience. It is striking that twice in this passage, God said, “Consider your ways … consider your ways.” Evidently, they had not been considering their ways. They were just going about the course of their lives without really thinking about what they were doing, what was happening to them, and why.
Unfortunately, that is how many of us are. We just live from day to day without really taking time to stop and “consider our ways”, and evaluate how we are doing in our obedience to God.
The Psalmist says here: “I considered my ways.” How do you think he did that? Undoubtedly he did it in the word of God. Verse 64 here says “Teach me Your statutes.” This whole Psalm is a tribute to the word of God. Surely he continually looked into the scriptures to see what God had commanded, and how his life measured up to it. He “considered his ways” in the word of God. Are you doing that? You shouldn’t just “read your Bible” every day – but use it to help you really “consider your ways” as you read it: are you DOING what it commands you to do? Are you doing what it commands you NOT to do? Don’t just “read the word”; “consider your ways” as you read it. And then do what he says here: “TURN YOUR FEET to OBEY His testimonies”! If you don’t do that, you are wasting your time in the word of God. James tells us in Chapter 1 that we are not to just “look in the mirror” of the word and walk away – we are to CHANGE the way we do things because of what we see there. Use the scriptures every day to help you “consider” – and change – your ways.
III. The MOMENT of obedience
:60 “I hastened and did not delay to keep Your commandments”
When God gives us a command to obey, we need to obey it immediately. There are often very good reasons to obey God immediately. We see examples of that in scripture:
— When the angel warned Joseph in Matthew to take Mary and the child Jesus fromBethlehem, Joseph immediately arose and left. It was vital that he did so – the Child could have been killed had he not. His immediate obedience was vital.
— When Philip was told by the angel in Acts 8 to leave the revival that was going on in Samaria and go to the desert, :27 says “He arose and went.” He instantly obeyed. And it was vital that he did. When he went south on that road, he came across the Ethiopian Treasurer, whom he was able to lead to the Lord. And history tells us that a strong church arose in Ethiopia, undoubtedly as a result of Philip’s instant obedience. Had he delayed, he might have missed that Divine Appointment.
We need to realize that it is important for us to obey God instantly. If we delay, we may miss a witnessing opportunity. If we postpone obedience, we might place ourselves in a position of temptation that God wanted to spare us from. If we wait, we might miss a providential provision God wants to give us – or give someone else through us! We do not always know what is depending upon our obedience.
When we were in the “dark year” after seminary, one month we were barely able to pay our rent, and had no money left over for other bills – or food. In the midst of that crisis, we got a letter in the mail from a friend of ours from Oklahoma– with some money in it, that she said the Lord had laid on her heart to send us. I am glad that when God told her to send that money, she didn’t wait another month, or do it “when she got around to it.” I don’t know how we would have made it. Her instant obedience was vital for us in that situation. When God gives us a command, we do not always know what is riding on our immediate obedience to Him.
But even if we do not know of specific outcomes which may be affected by our delayed obedience, it is important to obey God immediately because He is our King, and He deserves our instant obedience. To delay is rebellion against Him, and we must not allow that disobedience to hinder our fellowship with Him. We need to get in the habit of instant obedience.
Is there something God has told you to do? Is there an area of your life that you know you need to correct, to get in line with His word? Has He impressed on you the importance of helping someone with something, or to minister in some way, or to forgive someone, or to pray for something? Don’t say, “I’ll do it some time.” Do it now. Remember the old expression: delayed obedience is disobedience! The time of our obedience must be now!
IV. :61 The TRIAL of obedience
:61 “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your Law”
Here the Psalmist tells us that even though he finds himself in midst of the most difficult trials, he is still committed to obey God. “The cords of the wicked have encircled me, but I have not forgotten Your Law.” Evil men had evidently trapped him in some way – but he said that was no excuse for him not to keep God’s word. Trials and difficulties are not to be used as an excuse to compromise the standards He has given you. It is easy to throw morality to the wind in the face of emergencies, and say: “Well, I just had to do this because I had no other choice; I had to save myself.”
We find an example of this from the life of King Saul in I Samuel 13. Samuel had told Saul to wait 7 days, and he would come and offer a sacrifice to the Lord before they were going to have a battle with the Philistines. But the days came and went, and Samuel did not show up. The Philistines were drawing near, and Saul’s men were deserting – more of them every day. Saul felt like he couldn’t wait any longer. He said in :9 “Bring to me the burnt offering and the peace offerings.” And he offered the burnt offering. Then Samuel came, and he asked Saul: “What have you done?” Saul explained the situation to him, and said that because of the emergency, “I forced myself and offered the burnt offering.” Samuel told him: “You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you … now your kingdom shall not endure.”
Sometimes God allows our obedience to be put on trial, to see if we will obey Him no matter what. Saul failed his test. The patriarch Abraham passed his – he put his most precious son on the altar when God tested him. You and I will also come to times when our obedience is tested by our circumstances. Maybe your obedience to God is being tested by some circumstances right now. Ask God for His grace to help you obey Him even when it is most difficult – that you might pass the trial of your obedience.
V. The FELLOWSHIP of obedience.
:63 “I am a companion of all who fear You, and of those who keep Your precepts”.
Here is an important point: the people you fellowship with will either encourage or hinder your obedience!
I Corinthians 15:33 says “Bad company corrupts good morals.” The Bible is not shy about saying that the people you hang out with will affect the way you walk with God. How many testimonies have you heard from people who said that their “friends” dragged them down, back into drugs, alcohol, crime, etc. The fact is, there are people of whom you need to say, “I can’t hang out with them.” There are people whom you can try to witness to, and minister to – but they can’t be your closest friends. The people you are really friends with need to be people who are seeking to obey God like you are.
Now a number of you here tonight might say: “I would never hang out with people who are doing drugs, or who drink, or who are openly immoral.” But that is not the extent of the application of this text. He says, “I am a companion … of those who keep your precepts.” You should purposefully look for people to include in your life who are seeking to obey God the way that you want to. Unfortunately, many of us who would never be caught with so-called “ungodly” friends are still being dragged down by so-called “Christian” friends who are not committed to obedience. There are many Christians and church members who are compromised, lackadaisical, and lukewarm in their obedience to God. Some of you need to respond to this scripture tonight and re-evaluate some of the friendships you currently have. You need to purposefully spend time with people who will encourage your obedience to God, not hinder it. One of the most important commitments you can make to obedience is that your friendships will be with people who are serious about obeying God’s word. If you do not, it will be virtually impossible for you to consistently obey.
VI. GRACE and obedience
:58 “I entreated Thy favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to Thy word.
These words “favor” and “gracious” are similar; they both have to do with the grace of God. What does that have to do with obedience? It makes an important point: in the middle of this segment of Psalm 119 which talks about the importance of obeying God, it reminds us that as importance as obedience is – we are not saved by our obedience, but by the grace of God. Despite all that he says about WHY he obeys, and how quickly he must obey, etc., yet when it comes down to it, he knows he is not saved by his obedience, but he calls on the grace of God to save him. “Be gracious to me according to Thy word.” Those words “Be gracious” are, interestingly enough, the very same words which David uses to open Psalm 51, where he confesses his sin with Bathsheba, and asks for God’s grace and forgiveness. There is no trace of hope of salvation by works in Psalm 51; David totally throws himself on the grace of God.
And that is just what the Psalmist does here in Psalm 119, too. He demonstrates in this Psalm how important obedience is – and it is! But he also knows that his hope for salvation does not rest on his obedience, but upon the grace of God.
And that is where our hope must be, too. Obedience is important to you – but you also must realize that you will never be saved by your obedience. You will only be saved by the grace of God, as Ephesians 2 says: “It is by grace that you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is just as the old hymn says:
“Not the labors of my hands can fulfill Thy Law’s demands
Could my zeal no respite know; could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee.”
It is vitally important that you obey God – but despite all your best efforts, you WILL fall short. And when you do, you can find comfort that you are not saved by your obedience, but by throwing yourself on the grace of God, which will always be there for you!
We have seen a challenge in this scripture to “examine ourselves” regarding our obedience to God. Let’s take some time to do that right now …
— have you even evaluated your obedience at all? Have you given any thought to what your obedience to God has been like? Use this time to do that – and then continue it in God’s word tomorrow …
— WHY are you obeying God? Hoping to get “credit” with Him, “get” something from Him? Or because you love Him?
— Have you delayed to keep His commands to you? Is there something right now that you know you need to do, but have put it off?
— Are you going through a trial? Has the trial you have been in, caused you to want to compromise in some way?
— What about your friends? Some of you need to evaluate some friendships – are they helping or hurting your commitment to obey God?
— Maybe you need to realize that you will never be saved by your obedience, and that tonight you need to really put your trust in Jesus as your Savior.