A commentary on Psalm 119:33–40.
Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. Confirm to your servant your promise, that you may be feared. Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
As the 5th section of the psalm opens, the psalmist reiterates the same prayer he’s intimated before, for God’s law and Word to do its work that he might have life. (Ps. 119:37, 40) His prayer is urgent and the need is great, because he knows that his heart is naturally disinclined to “delight” in the commands and statutes of the Lord. This is the inference when he says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies” (Ps. 119:36) — that is, “turn my heart after Yours” — “make me a lover of Your Word.”
Our hearts are corrupt by nature, totally sinful without any goodness in them. You didn’t do anything to become a sinner, that’s how you were born. In Adam, all mankind fell. The curse of sin flows in your veins. The untaught bent of your heart is to reject and rebel against the Word and words of God. Therefore, the perpetual prayer of the believer must be like that of the psalmist here, when he cries, “Incline my heart to your testimonies!” “Give me an eagerness for Your Word!” It’s crucial that we come to this conclusion because many today posture that “self-help” is the answer to all your problems.
Many are convinced that if we can just fix ourselves, correct our problems, and become better, that all the dilemmas (both societal and personal) will subside. This, by the way, is why numerous “preachers” have transitioned their messages and ministries away from “life-transforming” to ones of “life-coaching.” Too many speakers and teachers across the nation have watered down their messages because they’ve watered down the problem: sin isn’t just something you can “do better” at, it’s a terminal disease, an inescapable curse that plagues everyone.
This is why the gospel can be considered “good news” — because it comes from outside of us. There wouldn’t be any good news if we, broken, sin-ridden humans, we conjuring up the news. It’d be merely more bad news in the garb of good. The gospel is good because it’s totally outside of us, outside of all our reasoning, logic, and nature. The gospel of great grace is the best news because it promises Jesus’s best for the worst of us — and that’s all of us.
Therefore, it’s of eternal importance for the believer in Jesus to cry out for the grace and strength to turn from his natural, sinful inclinations to those that are implanted in him by God’s Spirit. Notice all the petitions of the psalmist here in this section: “Teach me,” “Give me,” “Lead me,” “Incline my heart,” “Confirm me,” “Turn me.” What he’s desirous of is a totally new way of thinking, an entirely novel way of looking at the world. Hence, God’s Word. The Word of God gives to us, by the imparting of the Holy Spirit, new thoughts, desires, attitudes, new life! It’s our lifeline to the Lifeline, Jesus’s blood. We’re made aware of the good news because of Jesus’s Word of Grace, the Scriptures.
The Bible is filled with news of the very best sort, news that God’s best came to live and die for man’s worst. News that “there is no work that can take away sin: but sin is rather increased by works. For the justiciaries and merit-mongers, the more they labour and sweat to bring themselves out of sin, the deeper they are plunged therein. For there is no means to take away sin, but grace alone.” (Luther, 149) Praise be to God’s infinite Word of Grace!
- Martin Luther, A Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Philadelphia: Smith, English, & Co., 1860).