There are two ways to state the ultimate goal of life, one positively and one negatively. Positively we could say: the ultimate goal of life is to glorify God by enjoying him forever. Or negatively, we could say: the ultimate goal of life is not to sin. They both mean the same thing because sinning is falling short of glorifying God by embracing other things as more enjoyable.
So if we could learn how to glorify God by enjoying him, we would know how not to sin. And if we could learn how not to sin, we would know how to glorify God by enjoying him.
Psalm 119:11 tells us one of the keys to not sinning. It says, speaking to God, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against thee.” The way not to sin is to treasure the word of God in your heart. Which means that the way to succeed in the ultimate goal of life — to live for the glory of God by enjoying him forever — is to treasure the word of God in your heart.
So let’s focus for a moment on what this means. Take the three key phrases: (1) Thy word; (2) I have treasured; (3) in my heart.
The word the psalmist has in mind is not a subjective impression that comes to his mind when he prays for God’s will to be revealed. It is the revelation of God in his written word, primarily the Torah, the books of Moses, but also the writings of the prophets whom God sent to Israel. You can see this in the way he piles up familiar words for God’s revealed written word in the context. For example, verse 10b: “Do not let me wander from thy commandments.” Verse 12: “Blessed art thou, O Lord; teach me thy statutes.” Verse 13: “With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of thy mouth.” Verse 14: “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies.” Verse 15: “I will meditate on thy precepts.”
“Sinning is falling short of glorifying God by embracing other things as more enjoyable.”
These words — commandments, statutes, ordinances, testimonies, precepts — are all words that the Bible uses to refer to the written word of God, especially in the books of Moses, but by implication to all God’s revealed written work. Today we would say “Thy word” refers to the Bible in its entirety. So what the psalmist is referring to in verse 11 is not subjective impressions but objective teachings of God in Scripture. “Thy word — that word I have treasured in my heart.”
‘In My Heart’
Next take the phrase “in my heart.” The point here is mainly to say: inside of me, not just on a tablet outside of me. The words of God are not just kept in writing for the psalmist to consult outside of himself. They are kept for his consulting inside of him — in his heart. The heart in the Old Testament is a place of both thinking and feeling (Genesis 6:5; Job 36:13). So these words of God are being treasured in a place where they can be thought about and felt.
‘I Have Treasured’
Finally take the middle phrase: “I have treasured.” “Thy word I have treasured in my heart.” You might ask, “How do you know that the word of God is ‘in the heart,’ rather than only the act of treasuring being in the heart while the word is on the scrolls outside the heart?” For example, I could say, “My wife have I treasured in my heart,” and would not mean that my wife is in my heart, but only that I treasure her with my heart.
The reason we know that the word of God is in the heart is that the Hebrew word “I have treasured” (tsaphan), in its more than thirty uses in the Old Testament, almost always means “hide” or “store.” It only secondarily comes to mean “to treasure” since hiding was what you did with your treasures in the days before there were banks (see Job 23:12; Proverbs 2:1). So we know that when the psalmist says, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart,” he does not just mean that the act of valuing happens in his heart, but that the word is being hidden and stored up there as something valuable — like a treasure.
So the teaching in this verse is that one way to keep from sinning — one way to attain the ultimate reason for being, to live for the glory of God by enjoying him forever — is to store up the word of God in our hearts as something very precious. When we have the word of God stored or hidden in our hearts, and treasure it like gold and silver, that word will function to keep us from sin.
Two Things that Keep Us from Sinning
It’s not just one thing, but two things that keep us from sinning and move us to glorify and enjoy God. It is not just having the word stored. Nor is it is just valuing the word. It is both. Both are crucial. We value the word and therefore we have it stored in our hearts. And the two together give us the power to stand against the temptations to sin. It is a (1) superior treasure, (2) present and active, that conquers sin.
So I believe that the Bible teaches us to memorize Scripture the way an ant gathers food in summer: because it is so valuable and will be needed in the winter months. “[The ant] prepares her food in the summer, and gathers her provision in the harvest” (Proverbs 6:8). Memorizing Scripture is not a discipline for its own sake. It is because the Scriptures are a treasure and will be needed before the day is done to help you escape a sinful attitude and live a life that glorifies God.
The Cruciality of Bible Memory
We on the staff believe that a church-wide Bible memory challenge will be revolutionary for our lives. Dallas Willard, who is famous for his book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, said,
As a pastor, teacher, and counselor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture. Personally, I would never undertake to pastor a church or guide a program of Christian education that did not involve a continuous program of memorization of the choicest passages of Scripture for people of all ages. (150)
That is what we are planning to do beginning today.
You Can Do It
You may doubt that you can do this, especially if you are older. But ask yourself this question: If I offered you $1,000 for every verse you memorized in the next week, how many do you think you could memorize? Yet God says of his word in Psalm 19:10–11, “They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them thy servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” The real value of the word is far greater than $1,000 a verse. The question is this: Do you believe it? Believing this will be the crucial motivation you need.
Nor is the task beneath you and only for children. The Lord Jesus memorized Scripture verbatim. We know he did, because when he was fasting in the wilderness there were no libraries or books, and with every temptation of the devil he quoted a passage of Scripture to defeat the devil (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10).
This is why we are calling the 52 passages prepared for all of us this year (one a week) “fighter verses.” Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations with the use of a memorized passage of Scripture. And in Ephesians 4:17, Paul called the word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” We cannot successfully overcome sin and Satan without the present treasure of precious words of God — “fighter verses.”
You can do this. When Dawson Trotman, the founder of the Navigators, became a Christian in 1926, he was driving a truck for a lumberyard in Los Angeles. While driving, he would work on memorizing a verse a day. During the first three years of his Christian life he memorized his first thousand verses (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 40–41). If he can do that, you can do 52 in a year.
Faith Feeds on Scripture all Day
How is your faith? Is it strong or weak? I have never known a strong Christian who did not have much Scripture memorized. There is a reason for this. God designed faith to feed on the promises of Scripture all day long. Faith depends for its life on steady access to precious Biblical truth. Look at how Proverbs 22:18–19 puts this: “It will be pleasant if you keep [the words of the wise] within you, that they may be ready on your lips. So that your trust may be in the Lord, I have taught you today, even you.”
How is your trust? Your confidence? Your peace and joy and assurance? Are they strong or weak? God says that he has given us his word so that it will be within us and that we may trust in him. Faith rises or falls to the degree that it feeds hourly on the treasure of God’s truth stored in the heart.
“We can’t overcome sin and Satan without the present treasure of the precious words of God.”
If you choose against Bible memory (not our program in particular) you choose against the food of faith and will, at best, become a weak Christian and, at worst, prove to be a false Christian. Far better to say with Psalm 119:9, “how I love thy law! It is my meditation all the day.”
I can’t think of a better way to encourage you to accept this year’s Scripture memory challenge than to tell you some stories from my own life of how valuable memorizing scripture has been.