A while back, someone asked me the meaning of Psalm 119:165. What does it mean that those who love the love of God shall not be offended? Are hurt feelings proof that someone does not love God's word? Let's look at the scripture and study it for a bit.
Psalm 119:165 - "Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them."
WHAT THE PASSAGE SAYS:
The passage teaches that two wonderful benefits come to those who love God's law. First, they will have great peace. Second, nothing will offend them.
WHAT THE PASSAGE MEANS:
This is settled by answering three questions. 1) What does it mean to love God's law? 2) What does is mean to have great peace? 3) What state is someone in when nothing offends him?
- What does it mean to love God's law?
- We love God's law when we accept it as the very words of God and "very pure" (Psalm 119:140). We love God's law when we choose it above the "vain thoughts" (Psalm 119:113) and "lying" (Psalm 119:163) of this world. We love God's law when we choose it above the "gold" (Psalm 119:127) of this world. We love God's law when we make it our "meditation all the day"(Psalm 119:97; see also Psalm 1:2; Jeremiah 15:16). We love God's law when we delight in doing the "commandments" (Psalm 119:47) found therein and lift them up in our lives (Psalm 119:48); when we keep His "testimonies"(Psalm 119:167). We love God's law when we delight in His judgments on the wicked (Psalm 119:119). We love God's law when we want it to transform us and "quicken" us (Psalm 119:159) according to His lovingkindness. This is only a summary taken from Psalm 119. The remainder of the Bible tells us much more about this great love of the believer.
- What does it mean to have great peace?
- When I truly love God's law both in word and deed, I will have great peace in my heart. I am not troubled by the conflicting philosophies of the world nor drawn by its weak and beggarly elements. I live by a higher principle and on a higher plain. I have a "great peace", a "perfect peace" (Isaiah 26:3), a peace that is "not as the world giveth" (John 14:27), a peace "which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).
- What state is someone in when nothing offends them?
The meaning of this phrase rests on the proper understanding of the word "offend" as used in the Bible. In modern English as commonly spoken, the meaning of the word "offend" has narrowed greatly. The presently accepted meaning is only a small portion of the earlier import of the word. However, as always, scripture properly compared with scripture, will bring its full meaning back to the surface. It is also helpful to look at the history of the word's usage.
Etymologically, the word "offend" means "to strike against". We still use the word in this respect when in sports or war we talk about taking the offensive. We also see the word history when we hear about someone who has to "fend" for himself. In its early usage in the English language, to offend meant to strike against something with your feet and stumble. By extension, it came to mean to cause someone else to stumble or fall. In the Bible, this is applied in the spiritual sense. Though some references to "offend" in scripture carry the commonly known meaning of "creating resentment, anger or displeasure", its special use in doctrinal passages refers to causing someone to stumble.
This understanding makes the Biblical teaching about plucking our the right eye or cutting off the right hand much clearer (Matthew 5:29-30). The stipulation is if your eye or your hand "offend thee" remove it. Also, by context Christ is referring to an offense that would "cast into hell". So, if your eye or hand would send you to hell, it would be better to remove them than to go to the awful fires of hell.
In the parable about the seed and the sower (Matthew 13:20-21), the seed that fell on stony places had "no root in himself" and "by and by he is offended." He is offended because he never has been truly redeemed. Also, when Christ stated on the night of His arrest, "All ye shall be offended because of me this night" (Matthew 26:31), He did not mean that they would get their feelings hurt. He meant that they would quit on Him and flee for safety.
Paul's teaching on how to deal with the weak brother states that nothing should be done "whereby the brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak" (Romans 14:21). We are to take heed lest our liberty "become a stumblingblock to them that are weak" (1 Corinthians 8:9). In these passages, the different forms of offend are used a number of times. Here, the meaning of "offend" is clear.
Back to Psalm 119:165
Now, back to Psalm 119:165. Many have made this passage to mean that, if I truly love the law of God, nothing anyone says or does will cause me resentment, anger or displeasure. In other words, I will never get my feelings hurt. Perhaps this can be somewhat drawn out of the verse, but it is a very narrow and limited understanding. If you want to teach this, perhaps it would be better to teach from the "Charity Chapter" – 1 Corinthians 13. It says much about how we should respond to others (v.4-7).
However, I do believe that there is a danger in teaching Psalm 199:165 in this way. There are statements and actions that should "offend" me in the narrow, modern sense of the word. I should be angered and displeased by some things. And, there are some things which people say and do that I should even resent as an affront to my God, to His word, to His work or to His people. We need to be careful not to use this teaching to create a wimpy "Christianity."
So, what does Psalm 199:165 say? It teaches that when I really love God's law (in the sense given above), nothing will become a stumblingblock to me to keep me from serving God and obeying His word. I will not quit on God as long as I love His law. Since the word "shall" in "nothing shall offend" is predictive, I know that loving God's law today is the best guarantee of future faithfulness on my part. The Bible teaches that a man must stop loving God's law before he falls in his service to Him. May God help us to love His law and never cease to do so.
One final comment: why not just change the word so that it will be more easily understood? For one thing, you cannot change a word in one place without messing up cross-references all over the Bible. However, there is another, more important, reason. There is no substitute for the word "offend" that will do the job. "Cause to stumble" is a phrase and is narrow in other ways. Read this quote from "Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible" (published in 1901 and considered one of the premier Bible dictionaries in the English language): "It is unfortunate that 'offend' and 'offence' have lost their early meanings. As the note above shows, we have no good word to take their place." "Offend" is still the best word in these passages. We just need to learn what it means--in the English language.