I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalms 119:11 (NIV))
What was your first thought when you read this verse? It may reveal your approach to faith and to your relationship with God.
One place we could start when we talk about this verse is the idea of “hiding” the word in your heart. I have talked in other posts about the importance of regular Bible reading. So, I won’t use this time to repeat that message. Instead, let’s focus today on the second half of the verse, “that I might not sin against you.” This is the part that will give insight into your approach to faith and your relationship with God.
Do you think of the Bible as a rule book? The Jews of Jesus’ time did. That isn’t meant to be a criticism. They were good God-fearing people who wanted very much to please God. They believed following all the rules was the way to God’s heart. People who were very good at following the rules looked down on those who did were not good at following the rules. In Jesus time, those people were the scribes and Pharisees, the experts in the religious law. If you read the gospels, you know that Jesus’ harshest message was to that group of people. He was angry that they had taken God’s message and turned it into a rule book that neither they nor anyone else could follow.
Jesus message was different. Which is why the religious leaders, who made their living from teaching people to follow the rules, hated him. It is also why the folks who saw that it was impossible to follow all the rules loved him. Jesus told the people that the Bible was not a rule book, it is a love story. As people began to understand his message, it changed how they thought about the Bible and about God. They learned from Jesus that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was not a heavenly referee who watched them playing the game of life from the sidelines and blew his whistle and called a sin every time someone broke a rule. God was their loving father who created them and wanted them to know him. Yes, their relationship with God had been broken by sin. But, the way back was through confessing the failure and not through following the rules.
At one time, I too thought the Bible had a complete list of all God’s rules and regulations. I wanted to hide God’s word in my heart so that I might not sin against him by breaking the rules. Even though I believed that I was saved by grace, I put a lot of emphasis on following the rules because I also thought of God as a heavenly referee. But, the more I read the Bible the more I caught the profound simplicity of Jesus’ message. We find a great example of this when Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and asked what he believed was the most important rule out of all the rules God had given them. It is helpful to know that the Pharisees had identified over 600 rules that people needed to follow and from which Jesus could choose. The exchange is recorded in the gospel of Matthew. The Pharisees went to Jesus and asked him, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV))
If we look at today’s verse through this different understanding of the Bible, you can see how the verse gives insight into how you see God and the Bible. If the Bible is a rule book, you want to hide it in your heart so that you won’t break the rules and make God mad at you. If the Bible is a love story, you want to hide it in your heart because it tells you how much God cares for you. Because you know God cares for you, you want to live your life in a way that pleases him. You see that the two greatest rules are not rules at all, but the call to have a loving relationship with God and those he created.
When I was new in the faith, I thought it was important to study the Bible to uncover its intricate complexity. Over time, I have come to see instead the Bible’s wonderful simplicity. The Bible is not a list of complicated rules. It is a detailed answer to the question, “How do I love God with all my heart, soul and mind and love my neighbor myself?”