“God’s Good Word in the School of Affliction”
January 1, 2017
Every year for the past five or six years, on the first Sunday of January I have preached a sermon from Psalm 119 to encourage us to read and meditate on and memorize Scripture in the coming year. And I had planned to do that again this year on January 1.
And then in the space of two weeks at the end of December, Rita Langston passed away and three other families in our church body have experienced the sudden and unexpected death of a family member — Lee Slaughter’s father died of a brain hemorrhage 10 hours after a fall, Don Heep’s 30-year-old son died in a construction accident, and Joe Wiese’s sister-in-law died in a car accident.
And all these deaths made me pause and think, “should I preach a message on death and God’s sovereignty and goodness,” or “how should believers think about death?” Or something else similar?
And then I read the next passage in Psalm 119 that I was going to preach — the one I just read for us — and I realized that the Lord had provided the exact passage we needed to be encouraged with the power of the Scriptures and to be taught how to think about life and death issues.
The theme of this stanza (teth, vv. 65-72) is the goodness of God and His Word. A form of the Hebrew word for “good” is used 6x in this section: a verb form appears two times (vv. 68, 71), the adjective three times (vv. 65, 68, 72) and the noun once (v. 66). The first two lines (vv. 65-66) and the last two lines (vv. 71-72) and the middle line (v. 68) all start with the word “good.” And all those references to goodness are intertwined with the psalmist’s recognition of suffering in this world (vv. 67, 69-70, 71) — and twice he affirms the good benefits of suffering.
Several years ago I put together a chart of all the different ways that the psalmist in Psalm 119 responds to the Word of God — he is in awe of it, he believes in it, clings to it, is comforted by it, keeps it, longs for it, doesn’t forget it, treasures it, is zealous for it, and about 40 more responses. But in this stanza, the main thing the psalmist wants is to learn the Word — teach me (vv. 66, 68) and that I may learn (v. 71). It is as if he sees himself in school — the school of affliction — and he wants to learn the sustaining truths about God in that school.
The truth the psalmist is expounding is inescapable: God is good and His Word is good, even when we are suffering.
So we can summarize the theme of this stanza this way:
When suffering, learn from and cling to God’s good Word.
It is good to cling to God’s Word at all times because God is good; here are five propositions affirming the goodness of God at all times —
- God Has Done Good to Us (vv. 65-66)
- God is Good When We Suffer (v. 67)
- God is Always Good (v. 68)
- God is Good When We are Persecuted (vv. 69-71)
- God is Always Better Than Any Other “Goodness” (v. 72)
Download the rest of this sermon from Psalm 119:65-72.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website later today.