The Word That Goes With You

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Proverbs 6:22-23

When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life.

Proverbs 6:22-23, RSV

“When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you.” We wonder, when we hear those words from the ancient Book of Proverbs, chapter 6, verse 22, who “they” means. Who is it that will lead us, watch over us, and talk with us? The answer, surprisingly, is: the words that God gives us in the Scriptures, His messages to us in the Bible.

In this specific passage the “words” are commands of parents, but they are much more than that. They represent the family handing down a tradition, passing on the commands they have received from God. The words thus are more than folk wisdom, more than a cultural heritage. They are so vital and precious that they are to be bound upon the heart, fastened around the neck, held fast and never abandoned.

We especially notice here what these words do. That’s what I want to think about with you today, the power of the Bible. Listen to these words of a famous twentieth century theologian, “The whole truth is that Holy Scripture, in its utterly insignificant appearance, has more power than all the rest of the world together.” Do you believe that? Do you think of the Bible as awesomely powerful?

If you expose yourself to it in a serious way, you’ll discover a peculiar dynamism in the words of Scripture. Someone has called it “a book which has power to turn the tables on the critical inquirer. You sit on the bank and throw your line over its waters, baited with your questions, and you may pull out some pretty little fish and possibly go home and write learned treatises about them. But one fine day, something uncanny in the Bible swallows your hook and pulls you into the water for a life and death struggle.” Many people have had an experience like that. They come to the Bible with their questions. They subject it to their powers of critical judgment. But suddenly they find the roles reversed. Now they are on trial and the Bible is weighing them in the balance.

Let’s try to get a glimpse today of what the Bible can do in your life and mine. The first thought about the words of Scripture is that “when you walk, they will lead you.” That reminds me of an interesting bit of graffiti I saw described. It pictured a radio with a message coming out of the speaker: “This life is a test. It is only a test. Had this been an actual life, you would have received instructions as to what to do and where to go.” That points to an elemental human need, doesn’t it? Every device we buy comes with directions. For people like me, that’s an absolute necessity. If someone doesn’t show me or explain to me how a thing functions, I’ll never get it going. And if God has really intended human life to be significant, He must have given us some instructions about what to do and where to go. Those we find in the priceless gift of His Word.

REVEALING OUR SIN

The writer of the Proverbs is thinking especially about the function of God’s commands. What value do the commandments of God have for your life and mine? For one thing, they show us the reality of our moral failure. They point out where we have fallen short. Or to use the Bible’s language, they convict us of sin.

Listen to the apostle Paul describing what happened in his life: “If it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, `You shall not covet.’ But sin finding opportunity in the commandment wrought in me all kinds of covetousness.”

The commandment acts like a kind of mirror. It shows us things about ourselves that we weren’t aware of before. When the law forbids something, it sets off a kind of storm inside us. We become aware of strong inner resistance to obeying that command. I often think about that in connection with the third commandment of the Decalogue, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” I wonder if anyone would really have thought of taking God’s name in vain if it hadn’t been expressly forbidden. There are all kinds of people who do it out of habit, of course, but the habit starts with direct resistance to a command. We somehow want to do it just because it’s forbidden. In that way the law convicts us of sin. We’ve nowhere to run, no place to hide. The commandment says, “I’ve got you there.”

In showing us our sin, the commandments provide another marvelous service. They prepare us to receive Christ. He didn’t “come to call the righteous,” He said, “but sinners to repentance.” Only those who know they are law-breakers, who know they have rebelled against God’s commands, are interested in His call. Only those who realize they have sinned are moved to seek a Savior. And so the law paves the way for the gospel. The law is a kind of school-master, Paul says, to lead us to Christ, so that in Him we may find forgiveness for our sin, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to begin a new life.

GUIDING OUR GRATITUDE

But when we have come to Christ, when we have become the children of God through faith in Him, then the law becomes also a guide to our grateful living. It’s not a means of salvation. It was never meant to be. We don’t earn God’s favor by trying to keep it. Rather, we try to keep it because He has already shown His favor toward us in Christ. But a Christian man or woman, forgiven through the sacrifice of Jesus, renewed by His indwelling Spirit, finds in the commandments a blessed guide.

Someone objects, “I don’t need the commandments. The only thing that really matters is love. Didn’t Jesus say that love is the great commandment?” Indeed He did say that. But love is not something different from what the commandments have in view. Love is a comprehensive way of describing what the commandments are all about.

Sometimes when we talk with people, we discover that there are many different ideas about what love means. For many it seems rather vague and ill-defined. Do you want to know what love really is? Look at Jesus Christ. There is God’s love in action. Do you want to know how love acts in concrete situations? Look again at the character of Christ – and also at the commandments. If you love people, for example, you won’t want to harm or kill them. You won’t rob the affections of someone else’s spouse. You won’t steal from them or slander them. You’ll rather seek to do them good. The commandments give definite guidelines about how love operates.

So we don’t have to start from scratch in every ethical decision. We have some clear light about what pleases God and what doesn’t. And we get that from the words of Scripture. “When you walk, they will guide you.” The psalmist celebrates that guidance: “Thy commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me… Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”

KEEPING OUR HEARTS

Here’s another great affirmation: “When you sleep they will watch over you.” Now what does that mean? How do the words of Scripture watch over us when we’re asleep?

Do you remember what Jesus said once about His words? “The words I speak unto you; they are spirit and they are life.” His words, He lets us know, are alive. They have the quickening breath of God in them. And those words, He goes on, can abide in us and work in us. Once internalized, they have a power to keep us back from sinning. Remember the psalmist’s words: “Thy word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee”?

God’s Word has also a cleansing function. The apostle talks about the “washing of water by the word.” Even when we’re asleep, even when we’re not thinking consciously about the words of Scripture, they go on cleansing us and watching over us.

If you’re at all like me, what you have in your mind as you’re going to sleep will affect how you rest, and even sometimes what you dream. If we go to bed anxious, for example, we may sleep fitfully. If we turn in with excited anticipation about a key appointment or a sporting contest, we may have trouble slowing down our minds and emotions to get to sleep at all. If we’re feeling estranged from those we love, we may have a miserable night. But if we’ve taken in the Word that day, and lie down with the words of Scripture in our thoughts, we may find that making a significant difference in our night’s rest.

If we are believers in Jesus Christ, we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit. He is at work in the depths of our lives making us over into the image of Christ. He delights to use in that process the words of Scripture, and carries on that sanctifying work in us not just when we’re awake but even as we sleep. These living words of God are constantly being used by the Spirit to restrain evil, to cast out fear, to breathe renewal. And if you have listened to the Word while you’re awake, those words will watch over you when you sleep.

MAKING GOD REAL TO US

Here’s the final promise: “When you awake, they will talk with you.” Think of that: the words of Scripture carrying on a conversation with us! This is surely true when we open the Bible and listen to what God is saying to us, true when we meditate on the Word, memorize it, internalize it. A kind of inner dialogue goes on: God speaks; we respond. The Word shapes our thought, responds to our questions, and becomes a vehicle for communion with God Himself.

This is the supreme power of the Bible, friends, its power to make God real to us, its power to bring us to Him, to help us know Him and commune with Him. That’s what we mean when we call the Scriptures a “means of grace.” God uses the Word to bring us into relationship, into personal communication, with Himself.

Roger Auque, a Frenchman who was held as a hostage in Lebanon for almost a year, reports that during his captivity he was given a copy of the Bible in English. He tells movingly how it kept him from losing his sanity. Although he was not a believer before his capture, he was comforted by the Bible’s message while chained for 23 hours a day, not being allowed to see the light of day and being denied water for long stretches of time. Listen to his witness: “The one who gave me a Bible did me a blessed service. I prayed every day. I learned the psalms in English by heart. The fact of being able to read the Bible kept me sane, and I am sure that it was God who set me free.”

In the Bible, in the words of the Psalms, this man met the living, liberating Lord. In his solitary confinement, the words of Scripture spoke with him and drew him to God. Wonderful!

Have you noticed all the way through how the words of Scripture seem to take on a quasi-personal character here? The Bible has that quality because it is God’s Word. We read in the Scriptures both about the word of Christ dwelling in us richly and about Christ Himself abiding within us. The two are very closely related. It’s when we receive the word of the gospel by faith that Christ takes up His abode in our hearts. Whatever the words of the Lord are said to do, the Lord Himself is doing. When we walk, He will guide us. When we sleep, He will keep us. And when we walk, He through that same Word will talk with us.

Oh, friends, believe in the Christ revealed in the Scriptures. Let His words dwell in you richly, and you will find the power of the Bible in your life as you find Christ Himself all the way along in life your gracious Companion, your Keeper, and your Guide.

PRAYER: Father, we thank You for the priceless gift of the Holy Scriptures, the heaven drawn picture of Christ, the living Word. May every person who shares the broadcast today so trust in Jesus Christ and take to heart the Word He gives that they may find the blessed experience of this passage made real for them, that the Word will guide them and watch over them and talk with them as they walk along the way with Christ. In His Name. Amen.