January 5, 1997
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
THY WORD I HAVE TREASURED IN MY HEART
How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word.
10 With all my heart I have sought Thee; Do not let me wander from Thy
commandments. 11 Thy word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin
against Thee. 12 Blessed art Thou, O LORD; Teach me Thy statutes. 13 With
my lips I have told of All the ordinances of Thy mouth. 14 I have rejoiced in the
way of Thy testimonies, As much as in all riches. 15 I will meditate on Thy
precepts, And regard Thy ways. 16 I shall delight in Thy statutes; I shall not
forget Thy word.
The Ultimate Goal of Life
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
Verse 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."
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 30-some 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
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.1
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, Do you believe this?
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.2 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,
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.
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, "O 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.
[For those reading this manuscript, I do not include, in the following, the entire
anecdote or explanation, but only a brief reference and the text that I learned and
the situation where it proved precious. For time's sake I was only able to tell some
of these stories as a conclusion to the sermon. Others were told on the following
Wednesday night. The version is RSV because this is what I have used for Bible
memory since 1966, and it is very hard to change.]
1. My mother's early preparation for me to leave home and walk with God: Proverbs
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all
your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
2. The verse that navigated me through a change in career plans in 1966: Galatians
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in
me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me
and gave himself for me.
3. My father's send-off as I left New York for graduate school in Germany: Isaiah
Fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen
you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
4. My bike ride to theological seminars in Germany: Psalm 23.
Der HERR ist mein Hirte, mir wird nichts mangeln. 2 Er weidet mich auf einer
grünen Aue und führet mich zum frischen Wasser. 3 Er erquicket meine Seele. Er
führet mich auf rechter Straße um seines Namens willen. 4 Und ob ich schon
wanderte im finstern Tal, fürchte ich kein Unglück; denn du bist bei mir, dein
Stecken und Stab trösten mich. 5 Du bereitest vor mir einen Tisch im Angesicht
meiner Feinde. Du salbest mein Haupt mit Öl und schenkest mir voll ein. 6 Gutes
und Barmherzigkeit werden mir folgen mein Leben lang, und ich werde bleiben im
Hause des HERRN immerdar.
5. In my early days as a pastor, the weapon against discouragement: Psalm 42:5-
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope
in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
6. Deloris Erickson's near-death: Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will
not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart
of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with
its tumult. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the
holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be
moved; God will help her right early. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he
utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob
is our refuge. Selah 8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has wrought
desolations in the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks
the bow, and shatters the spear, he burns the chariots with fire! 10 "Be still, and
know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!" 11
The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
7. The fountain of encouragement I go back to keep the value of memorizing clear:
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the
way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the
LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by
streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In
all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the
wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners
in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the LORD knows the way of the
righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
8. A season in my life when this passage preserved my God-centeredness against
many dangers: Psalm 73:25-26.
Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is nothing upon earth that I desire
besides thee. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.
9. Preparation for suffering in the will of God: Romans 5:3-5 (Job 1:21; 2:10).
More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces
endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and
hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
10. Passage I use most often when I am in the presence of death: Romans 14:7-9.
None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the
Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die,
we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord
both of the dead and of the living.
11. Most often used to encourage myself in the presence of failing strength and
faculties: 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature
is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us
an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the
things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen
are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
12. Most often used to encourage myself that God will hear and answer prayer:
Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened
to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who
knocks it will be opened. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will
give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who
are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your
Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
13. Most often used to encourage myself that God has it all under control and it will
turn out for my good: Romans 8:28-32.
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are
called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born
among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those
whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not
spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with
1 Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (San Francisco: Harper and Row,
1988), p. 150.
2 Taken from Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado
Springs: Navpress, 1991), pp. 40-41.