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How should Christians live… Psalm 15?

September 13, 2011

So if you remember back to when we looked at Psalm 14 (here),and we found the starting point for human beings wasn’t too good, we found that all people start by, in effect saying and acting like we are in charge, and thus we act like God doesn’t exist, something which David sees as rather foolish. We saw that the only way to be rescued from this thinking was by God’s own intervention, and that having joined His team if you like, the rest of the world may well turn against you. However, the Psalm ended by reminding us of the assurance of God’s victory, and thus the confidence we can have in Him. So Psalm 14 was really dealing with the question how can we be saved from our own foolishness,and is there any assurance for those that have joined God’s team?

Psalm 15 though moves on a step and answers the question, if we’ve chosen to be on God’s side,how then should we live? What are the character traits which we as Christians are to strive for and which we are to look for in our fellow Christians?How then should we live? Now it’s worth being clear from the outset, it’s not that if we do these things to a higher enough level then God will forgive us, that’s to have misunderstood the previous Psalm completely, no it’s that in being forgiven we respond by living God’s way, we show our gratitude and love for God in how we live. To put into New Testament language from James 2:

‘What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’

I guess in a way its a bit like when you love anyone, it’s easy to say you love them, but the truth comes out in the way you act. I’ve told Natalie, my fiancée that I love her, I’ve bought her a ring, and asked her to marry me and I’m fairly sure that Natalie appreciated that moment and of course the ring. But what Natalie should really be looking for to see if I love her, is whether I act like I do, whether I take care of her, whether I listen to her, whether I try to help her to follow God and whether I do the hard work it takes to be a good husband. If after asking her to marry me, she then found me flirting with other girls, and ignoring her when she needed me, well then she could be pretty sure that I didn’t really love her after all. In the same way, those who say they have accepted God’s love, and say they trust Him and love Him, will show the truth by how they live, and this is where Psalm 15 comes in.

Have a look down at verse 1:

‘LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary?
Who may live on your holy hill?’

The question is asked, what sort of people can live with you God. David is asking: ‘Can you give us an outline, can you give us the character description, of what we are to aim at?’ What a great question to ask God. Clearly this can only come from a person, who already trusts and loves God and who wants to please Him more and more, and the answer comes in verse 2:

‘He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous..’

Now this is I admit, a bit like me being given a list of what it is to be a perfect husband, or a perfect father, or a perfect child, and immediately thinking well that’s not me and being thus being tempted just to give up. The point of me being given the outline of the perfect husband though, isn’t to deflate me, and make me think I can never do it. But to give me something to aim at, to give me a bit of an idea what I should be trying to do, whilst of course recognising that I’m not going to hit the nail on the head every time. Here God, through David, gives us the outline of what it looks like to be a perfect Christian, so that we have something to go on, not so we get so downhearted that we give up before we’ve even started.

What then does it look like to, walk blamelessly and to do what is righteous? What in practical terms does verse 2 look like? Well David gives us four practical points, four glimpses of what the person who will live with God will be like, four characteristics which we believers can strive for and work towards.

  1. Speaking truthfully v2

The first mark is there at the end of verse 2, and it is truth-telling.

‘[He] who speaks the truth from his heart’

As we look round the world, whether it’s the news reporters only giving one side of the story, whether it’s the adverts making ridiculous claims, whether it’s the newspapers, politicians or celebrities, that are so caught up in their own lies that they don’t know what is true anymore, or whether it’s when we are caught doing something wrong, we know it is so very easy to be untruthful. BUT for God truth-telling is foundational to who He is, and He wants that for His people as well. When God says something, we know it is true, it may not be flattering, it may not be what we want to hear, it may cause a bad reaction,but we know that He speaks the truth. Because of this we can trust God absolutely, when he makes a promise, or tells us what will happen we know, that it will come to pass. And God wants those who are His, those who represent Him to the rest of the world, and those who will one day live with Him for eternity, to be committed to truth in the way that He is.

The temptations for us though are all too great, because we want to look good in front of people so we lie when we’ve made mistakes, we lie when the truth isn’t as flattering as it might be, we lie to gain an advantage, we lie to save money, and we lie to avoid hard work. I’m sure there are plenty more examples you could think of. But all of these reasons are because we care too much about what other people think and how we are perceived has become the most important thing to us. God wants people who trust Him, and who find their self-worth in Him, and such people have no reason to lie at all.

Living in such a way, is of course the best way to live, truth-telling promotes a trusting community, gives credence to the message of the gospel, and shows a very real difference to the world around us. No wonder God wants His people to be those who speak the truth.

  1. Protecting others welfare & reputation v3

The second mark can be found in verse 3:

‘[He] has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman…’

God calls on His people to protect the welfare and reputation of others. Caring for others, in what we say, how we speak, and what we do is to be a hallmark of a Christian. God so loved us, that He went far out of His way to ensure our welfare, He left heaven to live on earth, died on a cross so we could be rescued, and each day works for our spiritual benefit, as He works to make us more like Jesus. We are not to put ourselves above others, thinking that their name and reputation is merely our plaything, that we can abuse people in order to benefit ourselves, and name call so that we feel more secure. Such is the way of the world, but should never be the way of those to whom, their God and king, stooped so low, at great cost to his own reputation, so that we could be raised up.

The story of the prodigal sons may help here, the son who was sitting in the pig sty, covered in mud and starving, whose reputation was destroyed, and who was accepted back by his father, and his dignity restored despite his own wrong actions. Now what would we expect from such a son, when confronted by people at their lowest in life, how should that son act towards the lowest in society, how should that son act towards those who have messed up, how should that son treat those neighbours around him, should he abuse them and slander their name, or do you think as someone who has been so well treated, that He might treat others in the way his father had treated him?

As believers, who know the truth of Psalm 14, who know there is no one good, who know that we are all sinners in need of God’s grace, should we not be those who care for other’s welfare and never treat anyone badly, but rather treat others as we are treated by our father. Again such behaviour strengthens our church community, which has been built by truth-telling, and speaks to the world of the God who is our father. Such a community is attractive in its difference, and positivity, and becomes a place people want to be a part of, a place where He can be heard through His Word yes, but where His Word can be better understood as it is put into practice by His people.

  1. Promoting holiness v4

The fourth mark is seen in promoting holiness and is there in verse 4:

‘[He] who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD

The one who has true faith in God, who has been saved by that trust in Christ, choose the side of the believers, showing his allegiance to the world, and is one who wishes to see those fellow believers encouraged in their life and doctrine. Such a believer, is marked by the way they honour those who honour the Lord, who encourage those who are trusting in Christ, who helps them in their walk, and seeks to do his part in helping them persevere.

At Wellfield, my church, we work hard to encourage people to attend sunday morning services, Wednesday evening bibles studies, and social occasions during the week, not because we’re keeping score, and we want large numbers in order to feel successful, but because these are the times when people can be encouraged in their faith and holiness can be promoted. We honour those who honour the Lord, by walking with them, by visibly standing with them, by helping each other as we struggle from day-to-day, as we take each others burdens, and as we pray for each others holiness and faithfulness. It’s true that we might make more friends, if we went to the Sunday morning football match, or the Wednesday evening Zumba class, but by making church our priority, we honour and encourage our church family, and show each other how important following Christ is.

As we’ve gone through these marks, and there is still one to come, I wonder whether you felt daunted by what God asks of us, I know I do, but God hasn’t left us to do this by ourselves, and has not only given us Himself in the form of the Holy Spirit, but has given us a community to walk with us and to help us make this marks part of our lives.

  1. Seeking justice above personal gain (4c-5b)

The fourth and final mark is there at the end of verse 4 and verse 5:

‘[He]who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.’

The fourth mark is of a person who puts others interests before their own. Who does not merely promise in order to look good, to end that persons continual pestering of you, or simply as an unthinking comment, but as someone who takes promises seriously, and ensures that they are delivered on. The second two comments, show a person who will not take advantage of another, either when a person hits hard times, and needs a loan, or simply because the a person has an enemy who is willing to pay for it to go badly for another!

In more every day occurrences, this may be declaring everything you’ve earned, rather than defrauding the tax man, it may be admitting you’ve made the mistake when someone else is blamed, or it may be insisting upon a fair promotion procedure, when your boss just wants to give you the job. Here the believer is encouraged to put other people first, to seek justice for others, even when, or particularly when, this may have negative consequences to on themselves. It means keeping our word and following through on our promises, when it would be easier not to, when we’re feeling tired or just can’t really be bothered… This will mean being more careful in what we commit ourselves to, but having committed making sure we follow through, whenever possible, however small the commitment seems to us!

Now as we think about our lives this week, or even over the last few hours, I’m sure you will find like me, that you have failed, on at least one of these marks. But don’t worry, so has each one of us. David, as he wrote these words, and no actual examples to follow, seeing perhaps some who did well on, one or two of the marks, but no more. If truth be told, Jesus is the only one who has consistently and completely fulfilled all of these marks, and as believers living this side of the cross, we have His life as an example to follow, in how we are to live for God, but after Psalm 14 last week this will come as no surprise.

The fact, of our own imperfect lives, is not to be an excuse why we don’t strive to be more faithful, to live better and more consistent lives. Rather it gives us more reason to live… lives marked more and more by truth, the protection of others, the striving for and promotion of holiness, and the seeking after justice for one another. Just because we fail to live like this for every minute, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t encourage one another to try all the harder, not because through them we are seeking salvation, but because we want to live grateful lives in response for the salvation Jesus has already provided. These marks are representative of the God we follow, of the God seen in Christ and His life, the Christ who we are to become more and more like, and in so doing, we shine His light throughout our families and communities. Each time we fail, we are of course called back to the cross, and find forgiveness and the strength to pick ourselves up and begin again.

Our Psalm today finishes with the words:

‘He who does these things
will never be shaken.’

because the person living more and more in line with these marks, is becoming more and more in tune with Christ, more and more like Christ, and in so doing their faith is becoming stronger and more secure, in the process. I wonder if like me you have often asked God for more faith, or a removal of your doubt, well perhaps God answers by calling on us to live, more and more like Christ, as summed up in the marks of Psalm 15, and through such attempts and the dealing with the stumbles God grants us the faith we need to keep going, a faith which grows stronger and stronger in the process.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 13, 2011 2:00 pm

    Interesting thoughts Mike.

    ‘Sanctification’ as explained by Christian theology is usually described, if we’re honest, as hard work and self -discipline. I used to jump through all the spiritual exercises and hoops expected of me as a full time Christian worker – prayer/bible reading/church attendance/service etc but something just didn’t feel right in my spirit. Spinning the religious plates was definitely hard work if a boost to my religious ego.

    Today I believe that all the attributes of Divine Love or ‘fruit’ as Paul describes them are produced by Spirit within. I’ve never seen an apple tree strain hard or sweat to produce a lovely ripe Macintosh red and I guess I never will. The fruit comes from the tree’s DNA.

    Similarly I believe that Spirit within the ‘believer’ will bring forth His fruit in His way and time, without our spiritual boot camp approach to ‘holiness’ or ‘integrity’. All flows from the Divine Presence within.

    Many of us are like little children who keep digging up a recently planted seed to see if it’s germinating.

    Maybe we should let the Divine get on with His miraculous job within and set ourselves in the direction of Spirit love flow.

    Blessings

    Dylan

    • September 16, 2011 11:50 am

      Dylan take a look at Philippians Chapter 2:

      12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

      Certainly it is the Spirit that works in us to help us to be sanctified BUT we must work too, with the help of the Spirit and not just sit back. ‘Let go and let God’ is not a Christian maxim, we bust be involved in the work of sanctification and fight against sin the world and the devil.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • September 16, 2011 1:39 pm

        Mike, I’m interested how Pauline Christians love to help God out in the whole spiritual life.

        Any quotes from Yeshua on the fear and trembling thing?

        How do the usual religious disciplines help one overcome sin and the devil?

        I thought that Yeshua had done both all by Himself in the conservative evangelical interpretation of His death and resurrection.

        Just asking!

  2. September 14, 2011 11:20 am

    This post was absolutely inspiring! I have never seen the psalms used to outline how we should live as Christians and you did a fantastic job with these verses. Giving us the guidelines as to how we should behave and how Christ is there to forgive us and pick us up when we fail certainly encourages all of us to strive to walk more obediently with the Father each and every day.

    Thank you for this uplifting message!

    Blessings!

    • September 14, 2011 12:32 pm

      Thanks Martha, you’ve really encouraged me with your comment. I hope it helps to encourage you to live for Christ and to keep loving and following Him!

  3. September 16, 2011 11:21 am

    What an absolutely wonderful post Mike! Psalms is one of my favorite books in the Bible and go there often when I need to be lifted up 🙂 Thank you so much for sharing!

    • September 16, 2011 11:45 am

      Thanks Mary, really appreciate your comment. I hadn’t spent too much time in the Psalms to be honest but am learning to love them!

  4. September 16, 2011 11:22 am

    This was an interesting read, I mean how you put it all together. It just flowed and made sense. Something that doesn’t always happen enough these days 😛 Great write-up and look forward to seeing more!

    • September 16, 2011 11:46 am

      Thanks Anna, I do try and make my sermons simple and I’m glad you found that. One more on the way sometime next week!!!

  5. September 21, 2011 2:11 pm

    I definitely enjoyed this Psalm as well as your reflections on it…you’ve completely masticated God’s Word here…and I am completely satisfied 🙂

    We pray this Psalm in two choirs… the first verse is repeated like a question and the remaining verses are the answers…

    It’s among the best Psalms I’ve reflected on…

    • September 21, 2011 2:15 pm

      Thanks Melissa, the way your church sings the Psalms to each other sounds amazing! At our church we have read alternative verses to each other but singing sounds even better 🙂 Thanks for your encouraging words 🙂

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