“I call with all my heart; answer me, Lord, and I will obey your decrees.” So prays the psalmist in Psalm 119:145.
Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is all about the Bible. The writer tells us many things about the Word – what it is, what God wants to do for us through it, and most importantly, what our response should be to it.
Here’s an exercise I encourage you to do today. Read through Psalm 119 and look for the many different ways the psalmist describes his response to the Word. He answers the question, “How should I respond to the Word?” with the following: walk in it, consider it, learn it, live according to it, meditate on it, delight in it, long for it, understand it, choose it, set my heart on it, hold fast to it, trust in it, put my hope in it, seek it, speak of it, love it, remember it, give thanks for it, and believe in it.
And that’s just the first half of the psalm!
There is one particular response that appears more than any other: obey it. Arguably the most prominent theme in Psalm 119 is obedience to the Word of God. The psalmist mentions it at least 25 times – on average, at least once in every stanza.
Such a dominant theme begs the question, “What does it mean to obey the Word?”
The word “obey”, as found in the New International Version, can also be translated “keep”, which is usually how the English Standard Version (ESV) renders it. It’s a word that has several related meanings, including:
Take care of. In Genesis 2:15, God put Adam in the garden of Eden “to work it and keep it” (ESV).
Watch over and guard. In Genesis 3:24, after God drove Adam and Eve out of the garden, he put angels and a sword to “guard (or keep) the way to the tree of life” (ESV).
Preserve and protect. In Numbers 6:24, God told Moses that Aaron should use the following words when speaking to the people, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you”.
Observe and perform. In Exodus 12:24-25, on the night of the Exodus from Egypt, Moses told the Jews that God expects them to “observe/obey” (ESV/NIV) and “keep/observe” (ESV/NIV) the Passover celebration when they come into the promised land.
This last meaning, to observe and perform, is the most common meaning of the word “obey”, and the one we usually think of first when we encounter either “obey” or “keep” in the Bible. “Love the Lord your God and keep his requirements, his decrees, and his commands always” (Deuteronomy 11:1).
But please note that to obey/keep the Word involves much more than external behavior or adherence to the Ten Commandments. Certainly this is a critical component, and without it, there is no obedience. But to get the full scope of what God means by “obey”, let’s not overlook these other aspects – we are to not only “do” the Word, but also take care of it, watch over it, guard it, preserve it, and protect it.
Who is sufficient for such a task? Only by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit can we live up to these expectations.
Furthermore, Psalm 119 gives us much to think about with regard to how we obey the Bible. The end result of obedience is external behavior. But Christ-honoring obedience begins in the heart and must be the outward manifestation of genuine love for God.
We obey the Word because we love the Word. “I obey your statues, for I love them greatly” (Psalm 119:167). And we love the Word because we love God. If our motive for obedience is anything else, then our obedience displeases God and becomes an act of sinful hypocrisy. Note the word order in Deuteronomy 11:1, quoted above. It is no accident that “love” preceeds “keep”.
Do you see the fine line between obedience and sin? I can do what looks like an act of obedience, yet if my motive is not love for God, have I really obeyed God?
And so we must examine ourselves daily in this regard, and may this be our prayer, “Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (Psalm 119:34).
Obedience must be with the heart and from the heart. I take that to mean, at a minimum, that I obey God because I have a sincere desire to please him. I obey him because I truly want to obey him. And this obedience is the expression of a thankful heart. Because he has done so much for me, I want to live in a way that brings much praise, honor and glory to him.
Is this the cry of your heart? May it be so.