Psalm 119:21-24

Our Comfort and Counselor In Persecution

All sermons preached by the webmaster may be freely copied, printed and distributed. We ask only that the site name and homepage URL be included in all copies distributed. Thankyou. This sermon was preached on Sunday 18/03/01 Am, by Kevin Matthews. It was the fifth sermon in a continuing series on Psalm 119.

 

 

In recent months we have been reading about the various persecutions occurring throughout the world. We have read about the senseless slaughters in Indonesia under the guise of ‘Jihad,’ of the harassment of believers in India as they attempt to render assistance to victims of the earthquake there, and of the labelling and outlawing of evangelical believers as cultists in France.

Of course there are many more examples of harassment and persecution of Christians throughout the world at the present time. In countless countries Christians are being pressured by the ever-increasing hostility of a world without Christ, to cast of the faith. These are Christian people ‘of whom the world was not worthy (Heb 11:38a).’

We ask ourselves the question almost every time we hear of such accounts, ‘how would I cope in the situation that these believers daily face? Would I stand for Christ and be counted, or would I collapse under the constant pressure exerted by the powers of anti-Christ?’

But believer, recognize this, you already face these very same powers at work in this country. Maybe they haven’t yet risen to the point where the very existence of the visible church in this country is threatened - but just maybe a more dangerous form of anti-Christ power lurks in our own backyard, that of a subtle deception and the spirit of compromise.

Into this very climate of anti-Christ and anti-Christian culture, you are called upon to live your lives for Christ, and daily to suffer the reproaches of a world that is hostile to everything that you count as dear. Sure, they may not kill you, but they do seek to kill your spirit through their words and actions none-the-less.

‘How will I cope with the power of a persecuting anti-Christ as seen in places like Indonesia, when it arises in this land, for I struggle with its present manifestation here?’ How? By first learning to cope with the present face of a persecuting anti-Christ in this land.

Psalm 119 teaches us the way to cope with the everyday occurrences in our own experience, and also the more terrible times. Today we look at Psalm 119:21-24 for God’s answer to our question on how to cope - we look at Psalm 119 to learn about our comfort and counselor in persecution.

 

1.The Proud Spirit of Persecution

There is a saying that goes something like:

‘Sticks and stone may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’

I’m sure you have heard that saying, and perhaps even used it. But in the harsh reality of an unbelieving world, words do hurt, and they do crush the spirit. Though they cannot break your bones legally here, unbelievers will do their very best to crush your spirits.

Perhaps you have been constantly called an idiot or a moron, perhaps there is endless ridicule, even violent outbursts from those who have had their consciences aroused by a word from you, or by the rebuke of your life to their ungodliness. Maybe you are the butt of every joke; forced to endure ceaseless immoral jokes and talk, and maybe have had innumerable temptations to sin placed blatantly before your eyes.

How hard it is to bear, and how often you want to cry out. So you utter those silent prayers to God, seeking His deliverance, and His enablement to resist the assaults of the evil one and his hordes, upon the stronghold of your faith.

In verse 23a David tells us that he too knows of this experience, for ‘Princes also did sit and speak against me,’ and in verse 22 he prays that God might ‘Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies.’ Even a godly king is prone to the wicked assaults of evil.

David is describing a world that is anti-God and anti His people. This is a world that pours contempt on the ways of the Lord, and on those who seek to live in them. It is a world of the ungodly that seems to be never able to cooperate better then when they are sitting together to ridicule the believer. Then whole nations are able to work together.

David is under a heavy burden of malicious reproach and contempt. The princes or people who are something in the Kingdom are speaking against him. Perhaps it was King Saul, or even his son Absalom, but whatever the occasion, people all around about David are speaking slanders concerning him. He is everywhere facing their daily reproach and contempt, and it becoming difficult to bear.

Such attacks come from the direction of those who are proud, from those who have set themselves up over God and His Word. From those who refuse to hear the voice of God in this world, and who will not have God to rule over them. They are the attacks of the wicked child at school upon the Sunday School attending Christian, the attacks of the immoral worker upon the non-participating Christian in the workplace, and the attacks of the professing Christian upon the committed believer in the Church. These are the proud who will not hear what God says.

Verse 21 says, ‘Thou hast rebuked the proud that are cursed, which do err from thy commandments.’ The proud are those who think that they are just it. They believe themselves to be something, not just over those who are around them, but even over God Himself. They take His crown for themselves, believing themselves to be their own god, and refuse to submit to Almighty God as the one who does in fact rule over them.

They are cursed of God, with an everlasting destruction waiting for them in the day of their visitation - yet on they march against every God-given way of life, and every Christian who dares to live the way God tells man to.

They stray from Your commandments the Psalmist tells us, reflecting on their own deceived pride, in that they reject the way of God, and pursue their own decisions and wisdom, thinking themselves better than God, and all this Christian stuff.

‘We don’t need God, we don’t need to hear about God and His ways, and we certainly don’t these Christians telling us about Him and what He expects,’ is the rally cry of the ungodly world. So these proud and arrogant people seek to strike out at all that is representative of God, and to remove it from the face of the earth so that they can live their ungodly lives free from the nagging of conscience that is aroused by Christians.

It is under this sort of pressure that David cries out to God, ‘Remove from me reproach and contempt; for I have kept thy testimonies (119:22).’ ‘Lord, please, take this away from me, please roll this burden of me for it is heavy to bear.’ It is like a heavy burden on David’s back pressing him down, and he cries out for it to be removed.

In fact it is for the Lord that David bears such attacks upon himself, for he says, ‘for I have kept thy testimonies (119:22b).’ If David had not been concerned for the testimonies of the Lord he would never have suffered the assaults of the wicked as he did, for the proud evil doers would never have any reason to be concerned with him. But because he does keep the testimonies, they are daily reminded by his abiding presence, that there is a God with whom they have to do, and that there day of reckoning is therefore coming.

‘If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also (Jn 15:19,20b).’

This is what the proud do not want, a reminder of their cursed lot, and so they constantly ridicule and despise Christians, constantly making Christians a laughing stock before men. Yet David would not cease from his path of obedience. ‘Lord, it is for your sake that I suffer this daily reproach.’

And we know something of this trial don’t we, especially when it comes from loved ones, from ones we count as dear to our heart. It is not an easy thing to be buffered each day by the countless slanders and ungodly reproaches of the world, especially if it be from those loved ones, and then also from those we work with, and also our enemies. From whichever direction they come, these assaults upon our faith become difficult to bear.

We should, as David did, take these things to the Lord in prayer. Who else has the power to silence these scoffing ones, to release us from the burden of such a heavy load? No arguments, and no outbursts of wrath from you or I will silence the hecklers, indeed, that will only encourage them onto more attacks. But God who is Sovereign is at work on our behalf, and we can take them to Him in prayer.

It may be that it is His purpose for us to persevere through this trial of our faith, and therefore He will not remove it from you - but know this, He will enable you to bear it.

And remember this brethren, God rebukes the proud - the cursed. These persecutors of your’s today have no tomorrow to continue their attacks. Tomorrow you will go on, but they will go into a Christless eternity to pay for their sins.

‘Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the LORD: though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished.(Pr 16:5).’

Remember what happened to such people as Haman, Pharaoh, and Herod. God visited these people with His wrath, and they suffer God’s wrath for their pride, and persecution of His people. So too will every proud persecutor of God’s people, for they dare to raise their hand against the apple of God’s eye.

‘For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch (Mal 4:1).’

Brethren, remember that the proud persecutors will not always have the upper hand, for the time of our deliverance will soon be here.

But we need to get a little closer to the fray. What about when we are in the very midst of persecution, what are we to do, how are we to react? David helps us here in this Psalm to know how to cope, and what to do.

 

2. The Christian’s Comfort in Persecution

‘But what about the here and now? How are we to cope? Yes we know the end of the wicked, but how can we cope in the mean time, when we are surrounded by the armies of the wicked one, and when such trouble overwhelms us - what can we do, how can we go on?’

These questions ought not to concern us as much as they do, for God has given us everything we need in order to live for Him in this life. It is at this point that we learn of some of the benefits of practising what David has already outlined for us as normal in the Christian life and walk.

Have you been memorising Scripture? You should be, for we have already considered Psalm 119:11 which says, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.’ It is a normal practice of the Christian life to memorise Scripture, and if you don’t you will fail to live as you ought in the Christian life.

Here we see another benefit, or reason to memorise Scripture - so that when faced with various forms of persecution in this life, we can think over the Scriptures we have memorised. By doing this, we can be greatly comforted in persecution.

In the midst of all this trial and tribulation, David says, ‘but thy servant did meditate in thy statutes (119:23b).’ This word statutes is another Word used to describe the Scriptures. It has the idea of permanence attached to it. In other words, David meditates on that which has an ongoing relevance.

Can you see why this meditation upon the statutes of Scripture is such a comfort in persecution? Is it not because persecution is a temporal thing only? Even though it is such a dreadful thing, persecution is still only temporal in nature. It has no ongoing significance, but God’s Word does, and in this Word you are constantly comforted by such knowledge.

This world is ever changing, and times of persecution also rise up and end - but God and His Word remain the same. There is stability with God and His Word, and in the midst of great turmoil, the Scriptures become a source of great comfort to the believer. Here in this book all the stress and anxiety brought on by persecution are stilled.

You will find the great truths that God cares for you, that He will not allow you to be tested more than you are able to bear, that He has given you another Helper, that He will give you the words to speak in the face of martyrdom, that there is a hope that cannot be compared to what you have now, and so on.

We are able to face the storm with steadfastness, borne of God and His Word, and we will never be moved. We find through the Word that:

‘God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with the swelling thereof. Selah (Ps 46:1-3).’

It matters not what the world will cast at us, with all that it can muster, for if God is with us we will endure. What a comfort it is to know that no one can snatch us from out of His hand. Have you memorised Scripture so that you can meditate upon it in such troublesome times? If you don’t do this then you will struggle when that time of trouble comes. Indeed, you will struggle even now in these times of lesser trouble, for you have rested not upon the Lord, but your own understanding and ways.

In times of trouble and persecution, no matter what form it might take - meditate on Scripture. Chew over the great statements of our God, and you will find the antidote to every fear and anxiety that may come upon you.

‘In the multitude of my thoughts within me thy comforts delight my soul (Ps 94:19).’

 

3. The Christian’s Counselor in Persecution.

‘But how are we to actually behave in these times of trouble? What are we to do? Are we to flee? Are we to stay? Are we to compromise and so live? What are we to do?’

Again, these are questions that ought not to greatly concern us as much as they do, for we already know the answer to the question of direction in times of trouble - and that is that we are to turn to God’s Word. And if we don’t have God’s Word because it has been taken from us, then we really should have it hidden in our hearts, that is memorised.

And again you see the necessity of memorising Scripture brethren. You see it isn’t just some luxury for those who have the time, or some pleasant pastime, but it is an absolute necessity for the Christian life. If you don’t memorise Scripture now, you will find yourselves in dire straits when the time of persecution comes.

Direction to live the Christian life comes from God’s Word, not just in good times, but in all times. The opening stanzas of Psalm 119 resound with teaching regarding direction for the Christian life as coming from the Word of God. This is so in good and bad times, in happy and sad times, on wet days and dry days, on well days and sick days - in all times and days!

‘I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches (119:14).' 'Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counsellors (119:24).’

This doesn’t mean that David just simply gets all frothy and bubbly when he reads the Word of God, but that the joy of his life is living in obedience to what God has said. Here is the thing for David, though saddened in times of persecution, he is gladdened by still being able to follow the testimonies of the Lord.

What was David to do when Saul came upon him to kill him? What was David to do when confronted by a man screaming insults at him?

‘Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (119:105).’

He was simply to do what God had told Him to do through His Word, and brethren, this is what we are to do. When faced with someone who continually slanders us, and reproaches us, take heed to the counsel of the Word of God.

‘Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good (Rom 12:19-21).’

It matters not whether the issue is big or small, always consult the Word of God, for it is your counselor in persecution. May God indeed be your Comfort and Counselor in the difficult trial of persecution.

‘Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory (Ps 73:24).’ Amen.

 

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UPDATED: 19 April 2014

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