Was Psalm 69:9 Jesus' Life Verse?
by Alex Crain
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)
There’s a good chance you won’t find the term “life verse” in a theological dictionary. For anyone who hasn’t heard the phrase before, “life verse” has become a semi-popular term used by Christians to describe the fact that a certain part of the Bible can be a long-term, recurring source of encouragement… perhaps, throughout one’s entire life.
I’ve heard some Christians say that the act of singling out a life verse can lower a person’s view of the rest of Scripture. In other words, a life verse can be a bad thing. That seems a little picky though. Really, how bad can it be for a Christian to recognize the good effect that a certain Bible verse has on his attitude toward God, life, and whatever problems he’s facing? Besides, doesn’t it sound a little pompous to say, “My life verse is the BIBLE?”
To be honest, I’ve never given much thought about the merits or demerits of life verses. More than once I’ve had to stop and ask myself why I am even writing a devotional about them. But here’s what sparked my interest in the subject. Recently, I saw a phrase in Romans 15:1 that made me curious if Jesus, perhaps, had a life verse during His time on earth.
Paul quotes an Old Testament phrase in Romans 15:3 that Jesus (apparently) had the habit of thinking on as He walked the earth. If this is so, I’m not sure how Paul would have known this. We can speculate that perhaps other people who were close to Jesus during His earthly life may have observed Him quoting it on a fairly regular basis. Maybe Paul overheard something about it during the days he spent visiting the other apostles. Or, possibly, it was revealed to Paul directly during his three-year period of discipleship before he ever met any of the early church leaders in Jerusalem (cf. Galatians 1:15).
Whatever helped Paul to learn about the mental habits of Jesus, what is clear is that the Lord Jesus Christ characteristically overcame temptation for any and all self-indulgence. “Christ did not please Himself,” is the near context of the Old Testament quote that Paul cites next. The way that the rest of the verse strikes me is that Paul seems to imply that Jesus overcame temptation while meditating on a phrase from Psalms 69:9, which says: “The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.” This passage from Psalm 69 would have been a clear reminder to Jesus that the scorn He received on earth was actually the scorn that people bear in their hearts for God. Such a verse would align His expectations about this life and reinforce Him in His earthly mission.
Now, notice what Paul tells the Romans immediately after his quotation from Psalm 69. See especially verse 4…
2 “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me." 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
“For whatever was written…” is a phrase that conveys reasoning. Paul is making an argument for something here. Teasing out his argument a little, I believe Paul is saying:
“Look at Christ’s example of how He dwelt on Psalm 69:9. Scripture gives encouragement and instructs our thinking. It was this biblical perspective that propelled the Lord Jesus with endurance to fulfill the Father’s will and not live for Himself. That’s what you and I are to do.”
Remember, Paul was writing to Jewish and Gentile Christians around 56 AD who were all meeting in segregated house groups throughout Rome. They weren’t exactly the picture of Christian charity and unity. They were looking out for their own preferences—“pleasing themselves” to borrow the language of Romans 15:3. A few chapters back, in Romans 12:1Paul pointed out that they were to be transformed by renewing their minds. Now, in chapter 15, Paul seems to show how that’s exactly what Jesus did.
Whether or not Jesus had a “life verse,” He did let Scripture “dwell richly” in Him (Colossians 3:16). And that’s what Christians are to do as well. Isn’t it interesting that Paul doesn’t just command it? He gives not only reasons but an example—the example of Christ Himself.
Intersecting Faith and Life: Looking at Christ’s example here, how can we doubt or downplay the role of meditating on God’s Word moment by moment as we go through life? In His humanity, Jesus let the truth of God’s Word constantly shape His perspective. This filled Him with encouragement and hope. Let’s do the same today.
See this word study on “Hope” at BibleStudyTools.com.
The Characters of Christmas is a podcast created to help you take a fresh look at the Christmas story by getting to know the minor characters that played a part in Jesus’ birth. It is the companion to Dan Darling's book "The Characters of Christmas: The Unlikely People Caught Up in the Story of Jesus."