Chew On God’s Word
We are two weeks from the start of this year’s season of Lent. The time each year we celebrate the suffering of Jesus, which ultimately included His death as the sacrifice for our sins.
Jesus’ death was the ultimate example of suffering. However, there are other examples of Jesus suffering. Some of those other examples will be presented in the Lenten sermons coming up.
In the interim, two messages on the importance of God’s word, including today the importance of chewing on God’s word. A phrase brought to mind by a devotional some time back in Our Daily Bread.
Here is the devotional. The author, named James, received from his wife a puppy, who was given the name Max. One day, when Max was spending time with James in the study - as James was concentrating on his writing - he heard the sound of paper ripping behind the desk.
When James turned around, there was the puppy. All around the dog were the remnants of a book.
Suddenly Max was not as cute as he had at first appeared to be, but Max’s veterinarian explained. Max was going through his chewing phase. As puppies lose their milk teeth and permanent ones grow, they soothe their gums by chewing almost anything.
Knowing that, James had to watch Max carefully to make sure the puppy was not chewing on something that could harm him, instead pointing him to healthy alternatives.
James, the author, adds this. Max’s urge to chew, and James’ responsibility to watch him, is an important reminder what we are to do spiritually. On what do we chew in our minds and hearts? Is what we chew on good for us? Is it non-damaging to things - to people - around us?
Who watches us by pointing us to what is good? Who is responsible for our spiritual health? God. And what is good for us to chew on? Spiritually, it is the word of God that is good for us.
To prove that, let’s consider a handful of passages in this message, beginning with one in the Old Testament. Psalm 119:9.
The verse opens with a question. How can a young man keep his way pure?
Isn’t it interesting it is not just young men today - young women as well - who can have trouble staying pure? We know that is an issue today for multiple reasons.
I can think of, for instance, some of today’s popular music. Maybe I should not mention this because I do not listen to much of it, but I have heard some of it brings up what the Bible teaches is immoral. As that happens, it can make immorality seem common and therefore acceptable.
I know there are movies that portray immoral behaviors as commonplace, making them seem acceptable.
I can see the magazine covers in grocery store check out lanes. Some topics headlined are about things I do not, never have, and never will talk about in public.
And of course if any of those things are criticized, society in general so easily accuses the complainers of being prudes or goody-two-shoes or out of touch.
That is some of what goes on today, but as today’s first verse implies, there were temptations even in Old Testament times. Speaking of Old Testament Bible times, the Book of Proverbs, right after the Psalms, has several verses advising young men to avoid women of the world. Women who do not have the best interests of young men in mind. Women who try to seduce young men, making them impure.
There were and are dangers all around for both young men and young women. The dangers extend to men and women not-s0-young as well. I might add it seems no one is immune to the dangers. Not even ministers. I understand credentials committees often get updated lists of ministers who have had moral failures.
There are dangers all around all of us, no matter our age or what we do. So the question is valid. How can anyone keep his or her way pure?
The answer. By guarding it - by guarding your way - according to God’s word.
There was a comment at a recent Bible study that asked how can we be like Jesus if we do not read about Him in the Bible. For this message, how can we live according to God’s word if we do not read it? Applying that to today’s opening devotional, we are to chew on the word of God. Not just take it and swallow it, but chew on it, meaning to spend time thinking about it. As a puppy chewing on things soothes its gums, so chewing on God’s word can soothe our lives, keeping our ways good and moral.
The result is given in verse 11 of Psalm 119. “I have laid up Your word, O God, in my heart. “That is another way of challenging us to chew on God’s word. “I have laid up Your word, that I may not sin against You, O God.”
We of course know that if we sin, we can be forgiven. All who repent of their sins - all who are so sorry they make the decision to turn away from whatever it is they have done wrong - will be forgiven. That is a promise from Jesus, who serves as our advocate before God.
We know we can be forgiven, but part of loving God is the desire to avoid hurting Him. To avoid violating what He has taught us about the best ways to live. To avoid doing anything other than pleasing Him.
So our goal should be - must be - to lead pure lives. The way to do that is to chew on God’s word. Read it, think about it, apply it, even when tempted to do otherwise.
How can we keep our way pure? By guarding our way according to God’s word. Having pure lives is one reason to chew on God’s word.
A similar teaching is found in the New Testament in II Timothy 3:16-17.
“All Scripture [all of the word of God in the Old Testament and the New Testament] is inspired by God.”
What is in the Bible was written by a wide variety of people. But those people were directed by God to write the history and the teachings found in the Bible’s pages. It is God, not Paul or David or any of the other writers, who inspired all Scripture.
Why? So all that is written can be “profitable.” Not just some words to fill some pages, but words that will be of benefit to all who read - all who chew on - those words.
Profitable in a number of ways.
Teaching. Teaching ourselves how to live in ways that are best for God, for others, and for ourselves, and us teaching others.
That is one of the joys of preaching. It gives me the opportunity to teach others the wonders of God’s word. As I have stated over the years, I learn more in preparing a message than I could ever have time to share. So yes, by chewing on God’s word, I am teaching myself as well as, hopefully, others.
Reproof. That word means the expression of disapproval. Not disapproval as a person, but, in this context, disapproval of some action or word or thought. Relating that to the previous passage, reproof for anything that even hints at immorality. We can know if something needs to be reproved. We can know by chewing on God’s word. Reading it and thinking about, thereby knowing it, and applying it.
Correction. It is not enough just to know what we do wrong. We need to also know how to do better and be better. It is the word of God that can correct us in that way. That makes God’s word profitable for us.
For training in righteousness. Training brings to mind a strict regimen. A focus of thought and energy. Something we are dedicated to do regularly. How important for us to be all those things concerning righteousness, defined as being in a right relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves. We can know what it means to live righteously. The way to know is to train ourselves in the word of God.
We should want to be profited in all those ways so we, as God’s people, may be “complete, equipped for every good work.” Every work that will honor God and/or help others. Every work that will satisfy us spiritually.
How can we grow spiritually? By chewing on God’s word. A similar teaching is found in another verse in the New Testament, this time Romans 15:4.
“For whatever was written in former days…” That refers to the Old Testament. The wonder is that we also have the New Testament, which gives us even more of God’s word, in the New Testament that coming from and about Jesus.
Whatever was written in the Bible “was written for our instruction.” Again, the Bible is not just a bunch of words filling a bunch of pages. The words have purpose. The purpose is to teach us how to live in ways that are best for God, for others, and for ourselves.
“That by steadfastness [by being dedicated to regularly chewing on God’s word] and by the encouragement of the Scriptures…” It is true, is it not, that the Bible includes, not only instructions, but also promises for those who follow the instructions? The encouragement, for instance, of salvation and peace. “That by steadfastness and encouragement, we [also] might have hope.”
Again thinking of today’s world, there is not a lot of hope being communicated.
Even as the economy soars, there are so many experts who remind us it cannot keep going strong. We know that, but the doom threatens to take away whatever good feelings a strong economy might bring.
Even though war with Iran was dodged a few weeks ago, there are so many commentators who remind us it could have gone the other way. We know that, too, but can’t we feel good that war was avoided that time?
Even though everyone was excited about Scott Frost becoming Nebraska’s head football coach, we are reminded it may take a long time to get our program turned around. On the grand scale of things, football is at the very low end of importance, but I thought I would throw that one in.
There is not a lot of hope being communicated. Indeed, the world situation in general would seem to deny any reason for hope. But spiritually, we can and do have hope. Hope for living pure lives. Hope for being equipped for all good works. Hope for at least spiritual encouragement. Hope based on the word of God, which we are to chew on regularly.
Which takes us back to the Old Testament, once again to Psalm 119, this time verse 105. “God’s word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.”
Lamp, in my mind, refers to what is inside a house. How important light is inside a house. It helps us see with whom we live. It keeps us from running into things like furniture and walls. It adds warmth and a feeling of comfort.
A light to my path, in my mind, refers to how we walk through life.
Many years ago, there used to be, along Sheridan Boulevard here in Lincoln, a stretch that had virtually no street lights. There were a few lights, but they were, as I remember, maybe two blocks apart. Even with headlights on, that was such a dark stretch of street at night, it was difficult for me to see where I was going.
Then the normal amount of street lights were installed. Suddenly I could see where I was going when I drove that street. I had light for my path.
The promise in verse 105 of Psalm 119 is that none of us needs to stumble through life. We can walk in the light of God’s word, knowing we are on the right path. And when we get home, it does not have to be a dark place. The word of God can add warmth and comfort to where we live, and to our families.
All we have to do is read and think about and learn and obey God’s word, which God will help us do.
One more passage, this one from The Message version of the Bible. In Psalm 1 there is wording that fits today’s message quite well. Here are verses 1 and 2. “How well God must like you. You don’t hang out at Sin Saloon. You don’t slink along Dead-End Road. You don’t go to Smart-Mouth College. Instead, you thrill to God’s Word. You chew on Scripture day and night.”
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Remember Max? As a puppy, he chewed on things. That was part of his maturing. It was up to his master James to make sure Max chewed on things that would be helpful.
Isn’t it interesting that it is not just puppies who chew on things? Grown dogs chew on things as well. Things like bones or rawhide strips. Guess what. It is not just baby Christians who need to chew on the word of God. So do those who are older Christians. As dogs keep chewing, so should we - so must we - keep chewing. For us, chewing on the word of God. Again, doing so regularly. Being dedicated to doing so.
The closing song for today is Open Our Eyes, Lord. As we sing, let’s make sure we are doing our part, which includes reading the Bible. Let’s then pray that as we read, our eyes will be open to what is taught in the Bible. Let’s pray for open ears so we can hear one another teach about how to live. Teachings we all learn from the Bible.
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus,
To reach out and touch Him,
And say that we love Him.
Open our ears, Lord, and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus.
I hope today’s message has been instructive for you. That you feel challenged to keep reading or start reading God’s word.
Please know that today’s message is also teaching and challenging me to keep reading the Bible. I am not a puppy, but as stated, even adult dogs need to keep chewing .
For me, I am using the Bible reading plan of reading three chapters of the Gospels each day, allowing all four Gospels to be read in a month, then repeating it.
If you have not yet started a Bible reading plan, you can start now. If you miss a day or two, pick up where you left off. Do not feel bad. Just keep going so together, as we chew on God’s word, we can continue to grow in our faith in Jesus. Amen.