Recently I was invited to preach at a church which had set aside a month to celebrate the importance of Scripture. Before I preached, Linda came to the platform and explained how, several years before, she had been reading Hebrews 10 and saw for the first time the remedy for her guilty conscience—the blood of Christ. Although she had never memorized Scripture before, she asked the Lord to help her memorize that chapter. Then another, and then the whole Book of Hebrews. It took her seven and a half years.
She explained to us that by memorizing Scripture, “I took it from my head to my inner being. I felt like I ate the Word of God.” Then she proceeded to quote Heb. 10:1-25 for us all. Afterwards, she told us she’d also memorized Philippians, Colossians, James, and 1 John.
With that remarkable set-up, I preached from the first verses of Psalm 119 which begins,
Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,
who walk according to the law of the LORD.
There are eight synonyms for Scripture in Psalm 119, and almost all of them are repeated in every one of the psalm’s twenty-two sections: law, testimonies, ways, precepts, statutes, commands, ordinances (judgments), and word. At first, they seem to loom like a stern floor-to-ceiling law library. Just as foreboding is the psalmist’s word blameless and its intimidating fellow-phrases like keep his statutes and fully obey.
But the law of the LORD is not like any other legal code. It reflects not only God’s perfect standards of right and wrong but also his heart, “compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love.” The torah of God, spreading like a vast river through Old and New Testaments, calls us to precepts of salvation as well as statutes of moral duties. Likewise, that weighty word, blameless, comes sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, for “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
An extraordinary gift of our pastoral calling are hours devoted to the study of the Bible. But study is not enough. We, of all people, must also embody what we read and preach or we’re liable to do more harm than good. As Jeremiah, Ezekiel, John, and Linda all put it, we must “eat this book.”
When your words came, I ate them;
They were my joy and my heart’s delight,
For I bear your name, LORD God Almighty. (Jer. 15:16, cf. Ezek. 3:2; Rev. 10:9)
In Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson wrote, “What I want to say, countering the devil, is that in order to read the Scriptures adequately and accurately, it is necessary at the same time to live them.”[i] Pastors handle Scripture so often we’re tempted to slack off on the digesting.
But then there’s that jubilant word, blessed. Hebrew has two words translated bless. One means a gift with no strings attached, as in “The Lord bless you.” The other, used here, is God’s generous response to our effort, our Scripture-nourished, Spirit-mentored walk with (as diplomas often put it) “all the rights, privileges, and responsibilities appertaining thereto.”
All believers learn that walking blamelessly “according to the law of the Lord” can be difficult—even given the abounding grace of Jesus. The special challenge for pastors is that our people watch our walk. They can often see if our lives match our sermons; see if we’re eating right. When our lives are well-nourished our people will be drawn to our diet and the taste of our God-blessed life.
Be ye glad!
[i] Peterson, Eugene, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, p. xii.
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.