113 I hate vain thoughts: but thy law do I love.
114 Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.
115 Depart from me, ye evildoers: for I will keep the commandments of my God.
116 Uphold me according unto thy word, that I may live: and let me not be ashamed of my hope.
117 Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe: and I will have respect unto thy statutes continually.
118 Thou hast trodden down all them that err from thy statutes: for their deceit is falsehood.
119 Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross: therefore I love thy testimonies.
120 My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments.
We push aside distracting thoughts and considerations in order that we might fear God and keep His commandments.
The fear of God’s judgment and the consideration of God’s powerful acts trump all other distracting thoughts for the Christian. It is hard to be concerned about the giants descending upon Noah to destroy him and his family while the rain is falling and the flood is rising. God is about to destroy the world. Why should we or Noah be concerned about the giants? We are far more focused upon what God is doing than anything else.
Vain thoughts include things like unfounded surmising about others, deceitful doctrines, sexual lusts and vile musings, and other foolishness. It seems that these things are constantly plaguing our minds and working to stumble believers. How many times in a day does your mind wander into something unprofitable? These thoughts may tempt us to further sin, sour our attitudes, or corrupt our behavior. Any true believer is sickened by these things. The solution is to fill your mind with that which is pure, true, beautiful, and righteous. In short, the Word of God purifies our mind and purges the sewer water out of it. That is why the Psalmist says, “I hate vain thoughts, but I love your law!”
What person is exempt from the barrage of temptations? This life can break us down mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Every church and every person are vulnerable to the varying winds of doctrine. Malevolent, powerful spirits wander about, seeking whom they can devour. We have seen some great men whom we admired come crashing down. One of the most important leaders in the worldwide (evangelical) church committed suicide several years ago, striking fear in the hearts of God’s people everywhere. True believers will seek refuge in God alone (verse 114). They will steadfastly hope in the promises of God’s Word.
Vain thoughts distract us from our true priorities and commitments. But so do ungodly companions who are not the least bit interested in the kingdom of God. If you have ever associated with unbelievers, you know that their conversations usually disintegrate into trading filthy jokes, empty boastings, promotion of idolatry and materialism, and generally unedifying banter. This is especially prevalent on the internet today. Trite conversations on the web distract from the important matters and open the door towards minimizing sin, judgment, and Christ’s redemption. Should a professing believer marinate his mind in this conversation for months and years on end, he will gradually take on the thought patterns and the outlook of unbelievers. True believers eventually realize the incompatibility of unbelieving companionship and the Christian life of walking in God’s ways. (1 Cor. 15:33)
There is no getting away from the fact that only God saves. We do not pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps in this salvation business, nor do we merit our own salvation. These descriptions of faith are essential to the Christian life. Separating faith and obedience always produces either merit-oriented externalisms and legalism or antinomian, unrighteous lifestyles. Both are fruitless and give Christianity a bad name. It is only when God holds us up that we are able to keep His commandments. If we are not resting on Him, we cannot obey Him in our marriages, our child-raising, our work life, and our church life. Trying to keep the statutes of God without resting on Him in faith will prove to be futile over and over again.
These are ferocious words, but very true. Sooner or later, every wicked man is brought low. In the 1970s, a very powerful and deceitful prophet hobnobbed with the Governor of California (Jerry Brown), the California speaker of the house (Willie Brown), the Mayor of San Francisco, and the President’s family. An outspoken communist and pseudo-religious prophet, he lured many into his web of deceit. Eventually, this man masterminded a mass suicide and murder in a place called Jonestown in Guyana. Jim Jones died on November 18th, 1978, at 47 years of age. This is just one picture of what God does to men who major in deceitfulness and err from his statutes.
Sometimes it seems that wicked men get away with their wicked agendas for a very long time. In the case just mentioned, Jim Jones deceived somewhere around 1,000 people. But what can we say about those who deceived millions and billions of people? Men like Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre were far more influential, although just as adamantly opposed to the Bible and the true Christ. In his last published work, Nietzsche referred to himself as the “Antichrist.” Several months later, he was declared clinically insane and remained in that state for the last eleven years of his life. Indeed, God does put away all the wicked of the earth.
Men who are governed by their own opinions are dangerous. We would all be dangerous men if we were more interested in our own opinions than the corrective truths of God’s Word. Thus, the Word of God is an anchor of truth for us in the raging waters of deceit. It is our belief in God’s Word that distinguishes us from the wicked and preserves our souls from hell. The truths and propositions of Scripture are important and critical if we would find our way to heaven!
As the Psalmist considers the horrible end of the wicked, he cannot help but shudder once or twice. God is not one to be trifled with. He means what He says in His commands to us, and we can see how deadly serious He is about it when He judges the wicked for breaking His laws. If you could hear the screams of the wicked as they are cast into hellfire, you would tremble a little before the Holy Judge of the earth, and certainly hesitate to violate His commandments.
Christians in the Western World hardly fear God very much. Their hands do not tremble much when they hold a plaque bearing the words of the Ten Commandments. Maybe they don’t realize that people go to hell for breaking these commandments with true hatred for God. We are thankful that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and that we will not have to pay the penalty for our sins. Nonetheless, this should in no way decrease our respect for God’s laws and judgments. It should rather increase our respect for the holiness and righteousness of almighty God.
Too much of modern life is just plain trite and empty. Cheap internet banter, excess entertainment, media reports, and everything else that doesn’t begin the conversation in the fear of God only cheapens the discussion. At the very least, our worship should begin with the fear of God. The preaching should open up the stark realities of sin, death, and judgment. All of a sudden, the conversation becomes very important because we are discussing ultimate truth concerning ultimate reality.
1. Give several examples of vain thoughts. How do vain thoughts hamper our worship?
2. How do evildoers discourage us from keeping the commandments of God?
3. How do we keep the commandments of God? What has to happen first (according to verse 116)?
4. What happened to the cult leader, Jim Jones? What happened to Friedrich Nietzsche?
5. What is it that the Psalmist fears?
1. How is our respect for the Ten Commandments and fear of God’s judgments demonstrated?
2. Is your mind and life controlled by vain thoughts? What is the best way to purge our minds of useless, vain thoughts?