The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 7, 2021
We love our freedom. Thus, a part of us resents and resists God’s law, with all its constraints and commands about what to do and not to do. Our resentment and resistance is rooted in the false notion that we’re free just to the extent we’re free from constraint.
Tim Keller invites us to consider fish. Because a fish absorbs oxygen from water, not from air, it is free only if it is confined to water. If a fish is “freed” from the ocean and dropped on the sand to explore a new world of dry land, it loses its freedom to move about and eventually to live. The fish is not freer, but less free, if it does not remain within the restraints appropriate to its realities.
Likewise, birds, if they disregard the laws of aerodynamics, soon lose their freedom to fly and in fact die plummeting to the ground. Only by respecting the constraints of the laws of nature can they freely soar.
We human beings enjoy freedom, not by being freed from all restrictions, but by following the right ones, those that fit the reality of our nature and of the world – and who knows all that better than the Creator of it all?
That’s why David here celebrates “the law of the Lord”, the revelation of God’s commandments, as “sweeter than honey” and “more to be desired” than gold. Keeping within the constraints of God’s will by obeying His commands makes us wise and joyful. For His precepts are, this psalm says, “perfect” and “right”. Thus they “enlighten” our eyes and “revive” our souls.
But we could never find these perfect and right precepts apart from God’s word. For we are imperfect and not quite right. We can’t entirely trust our moral vision, our capacity to discern right from wrong.
When Jim Holm was in third grade, his eyes went bad, and he was condemned to live under a law, the law of near-sightedness which held him so tightly and deeply in its bondage that at the age of nine he was deemed legally blind. Jim was not free to see.
But one day, he said, “I discovered there was an even greater law that can overcome the law of near-sightedness. It is called the law of corrective lenses.” When Jim submitted to that law and wore glasses around the clock, he was liberated from the law of near-sightedness by a mightier law that enlightened his eyes.
The law of the Lord “enlightens” our eyes they might see how we should be and what we should do.
Of course, just seeing what’s right is not enough. We also need the power to do what’s right. But thanks be to God! According to the Bible,
God’s power resides in God’s word; and, by receiving God’s word with faith-filled submission and hope, we receive not just God’s truth but also God’s strength to live right.
The law of the Lord comes to us as a gift of God’s gratuitous, extravagant grace. It both shows us how crooked we are and straightens us out. It gives us both a bitter taste of how hopeless we are in ourselves and a honey-sweet taste of how hopeful God is over us. It reveals both how He calls us to a level of goodness we don’t achieve and how He extends to us a level of goodness we don’t deserve. The law of God is not all demand; it is all grace; and it gives life to our soul.
If you read any scripture in light of all scripture, it becomes clear that every command from God connects to a promise from God and that each promise from God connects to a command from God. Thus, for example, Jesus in John 14 both promises those who keep His commandments that they will know His love fully and commands those who know His love that they should keep His word fully. Trusting God’s promises and obeying God’s commandments end up being the two sides of the one coin of faith.
“The only thing that counts,” the Apostle Paul wrote 1,000 years after David wrote this psalm, “is faith working through love”. But our loving requires the guidance of God’s law. To love wisely and well we need the directives of God’s commandments.
When I was young, there were no car laws about child safety seats and restraint systems. As a result, a much larger percentage of kids lost their lives in automobile accidents then than now. For today the law forbids a kid’s riding in a vehicle without a buckled-up car seat.
Parents in the 50’s and 60’s didn’t love their kids less than parents today. They just needed the genuine and deep love they already had to be developed by increased awareness and accountability. They needed revelations about the risks they didn’t see and the law to lead them in how better to love their kids.
We will fulfill the call to love as we follow God’s law. Our submitting to God’s constraints may sometimes seem like a bitter pill to swallow, but truly it’s like sweet honey to savor. As this Psalm says, “In keeping [God’s commands] there is great reward! Let us pray.