5 Apr 2008

Ten Commandments of True Worship: Thoughts on Ps 15

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Exegesis, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Ministry, Preaching, Psalms, Spiritual Disciplines, Worship
He (we’ll call him Jeff) had never gone to church in his life, but after six weeks of attending our congregation, he told me that while he didn’t understand the language we used and often failed to grasp the significance of what we did, one thing was clear to him. The more he came to “worship” the more he felt his life was wrong. He concluded either his life must change or stop coming to worship. He changed his life.
She (we’ll call her Tina) had attended ‘church’ all her life. She came to me to tell me she would not be back. Sunday offered her no connection with the rest of the week. It seemed remote from the realities of Monday morning. What especially appalled her were people who talked about one kind of life and lived another. The hypocrisy, in others and herself, was too much. She left.
One drawn, the other repelled. One convicted to change. Another to leave. One saw the connection between worship assembly and the other six days. The other saw no connection at all. These experiences raise significant questions in my mind and probably yours too. What relationship does the worship assembly have to ethics, or discipleship (also a form of worship). Does one effect the other?. What does the Bible teach us about worship? How does my life qualify me for the worship assembly before God? And is the reverse also true?
We begin our study with Psalm 15. Ps. 15 is sometimes called “The Ten Commandments of True Worship” and the title fits. In ancient Israel when a worshiper would come to the Tabernacle, and latter to the Temple, he/she knew certain conditions were to be fulfilled to have God accept his/her worship. The priests used this psalm (and Ps. 24) to teach Israelites what was expected of them before they came to worship. Let’s read it together:
LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous who speaks the truth from the heart and has no slander on his tongue,who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.
The psalm asks, and answers, one of the most important questions of our lives. “Who may worship God, who may come into his presence?”
It is a question of fellowship or communion.
Coming into the presence of the LORD is not a right! It is an awesome privilege! The psalmist’s question then is crucial — WHO may come into the glory of God’s throne and worship? We know that God is everywhere so there is a sense in which we are always in God’s presence.
But the Bible teaches there are times when people come into the presence of God in a very unique and special way. Moses at the burning bush entered the presence of God and the ground itself became holy (Ex. 3). Adam and Eve hid from the presence of God. Isaiah (ch.6) entered the presence as did Ezekiel (1-2).
When we gather together as a Body and worship we enter into the LORD’S presence in that special way (cf. Hebrews 12.18ff; Rev. 4-5). Something special is taking place as God’s people assembly in his presence. Something that is not taking place in the world. We are entering in to a new dimension so to speak. We sing the song ‘Holy Ground” that captures what we are talking about graphically. We are doing holy business, in the presence of a holy God. Entering into Yahweh’s presence is not to be taken lightly and indeed that is why Ps. 15 was written. Who can enter that presence? Who can worship the LORD? Who can enter into his Presence?
THE ANSWER (15: 2-5a)
The answer to the question is not in terms of a certain race or a certain class of people. Instead we have a sketch of the character of a person who has been transformed by God, someone who like Jeff knew he needed to change after coming to worship God.
In verses 2-5a we have a series of six positive statements and four negative ones. Six things we are to be doing and four we are not to be doing. The most interesting aspect of this description is that it is not `doctrinal’ as we have traditionally used the word. Instead the list has to do with the way I’ve lived my life during the week and especially the way I’ve used my mouth!
A. Positive Conditions (v.2) ……………………B. Negative Conditions v.3
1) blameless walk ………………………………..4) no slander on tongue
2) does what is right ……………………………5) no wrong to neighbor
3) speaks truthfully from heart …………..6) casts no slur
C. Positive Conditions (v.4) ………………..D. Negative Conditions v.5
7) despises evil …………………………………..9) no usury
8) keeps word even when it hurts …….10) takes no bribes
What the psalmist is describing here is an upright or just person. That is person who respects his neighbor with his/her heart and tongue. The psalm lays out some general conditions and then explains further what those conditions mean. Like what does it mean to walk blamelessly? It means to speak truthfully, it means not using our mouths in damaging ways against others, it means not gossiping against my neighbor or sister in Christ. It means to keep my word — even when it hurts. It means to uphold justice in the community with fair and equitable business practices especially in regard to the poor.
These are all conditions of coming into the presence of God because the LORD is a God of truthfulness and integrity. He is a God of justice and those who come into his presence will mirror those traits.
We see that God is concerned with our lives. He wants holy people, not just saved people. Holy people will look like, act like and think like Yahweh. Take the emphasis on the uses of the tongue in this psalm. Fully half (five of the conditions) are related to the mouth — sort of lopsided. But God speaks the truth, he always seeks to lift us up in his arms — not tear us down.
He has given us the gift of speech to encourage one another and praise him. James wrote that the tongue is hardest of all things to control. With it we murder our brother and then turn and worship the LORD. The psalmist says it can not be! God will not accept worship from the tongue that slanders, slurs and gossips about a fellow traveler. Because that tongue is a lying tongue, lying to God and to its fellow traveler. So David says if you want to enter God’s presence keep your heart clean. If you do that, your tongue will be clean and your worship will please the LORD.
He says watch you life make sure what makes you hot is what makes God hot — have the courage to stand up for what is right. Keep you word — even when it hurts! God did. He promised Eve he would find a way to heal the chasm between our sin and his holiness. God’s word cost him his only Son — I imagine that hurt, don’t you.
Our instructor in true worship tells us that if we strive to live out our faith in God we will always be welcome in worship, if we are transformed into his image. “He who does these things will never be shaken.”‘ We have a standing invitation to come into the holy of holies. Basking in the presence depends on my life during the week.
For some Psalm 15 is bad news! We should rather see it as a challenge from God to be what he knows we are capable of being through the power of his Spirit. The psalm tells us what is possible. God’s presence intends for us to be holy people, but it is also the power to make us into holy people. Like Jeff when he entered God’s Presence he was changed. Corporate Worship illuminated the areas of life that needed to be radically altered. So yes we must live in such a way that prepares us for that encounter with God as we gather with his people. On the other hand when we examine ourselves we see how badly we have failed and stand in need of forgiveness.
Failing to fulfill the Ten Commandments of True Worship; we realize we must come before God in assembly and find forgiveness through his Son’s blood. So worship changes our lives. The longer we are in his presence the more like him we become. The longer we are here the more we realize how sinful we really are and we humbly bow before his throne and he in his magnificent mercy grants grace to us.

So take the gathering seriously!
Take your life seriously!
They go hand in hand!

I still haven’t figured out which comes first — but you can’t have one without the other.

14 Responses to “Ten Commandments of True Worship: Thoughts on Ps 15”

  1. ben overby Says:

    From someone with a great appreciation for Ps. 15 I feel as much like Tina as I do Jeff. That is, I feel both pulled toward and pushed from. And it has nothing to do with God or authentic worship but everything to do with 45 years of cliches and rhythms that are not only disconnected to the 6 days, but the rest of God’s creation as well. Moving to Columbus, GA, my family has no intention of even considering a church of Christ. But the other options aren’t terribly inviting either. It’s not so much the hypocrisy; heck we’re all sinners and some of us actually realize it. It’s the way we crowd Jesus out of the experience with sermons that say too much, songs that say too little, and symbols that say all the wrong things. I thank God that He can be found outside church buildings or else we’d all be doomed!

    Peace to you my brother,

    Ben Overby

  2. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Ben … I am Jeff and Tina quite often myself. My prayers go with you.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  3. Bob Bliss Says:

    True worship is true worship. Great study. Hopefully I’ll remember your post here when I preach on Psalm 15 again. It is one of my favorites. We are all Jeff and Tina at times. Hopefully I’m faithful all the time.

  4. David Says:

    Sometimes I wonder whether our focus in churches of Christ on things like getting the ‘five acts of worship’ right makes it easy to fall into that trap of the disconnect, like one of the other comments mentioned. For example, we debate endlessly the meaning of psallo in Ephesians 5:19 and make that the most important thing while ignoring the ethical standards spoken about through the rest of that chapter in the context of the church. In my experience I can’t recall ever hearing a sermon concerning WHY true worship is important (other than ‘you gotta do it right or face the wrath of Nadab & Abihu), only a focus on the HOWs.

    For all the worship wars that we have in Churches of Christ today, unless those seeking a change keep focused on the holistic idea of a worshiping life, any changes will in the end be irrelevant, because the same mistakes will continue to be made.

    BTW, Bobby, I just got through A Gathered People this week. Deep stuff, good stuff. Can I say that I almost wish it would have been longer?

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks Ben for giving the churches of Christ a break.

    Bobby, many of your cronies will say, “how meant that hurt.”

    Now you know how I felt with Ben’s comments.

    Why always criticize the churches of Christ and still wear the name?

  6. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Wow. What a brave anonymous comment.

    I never knew I had any “cronies!” Sounds terrible whatever they are 🙂
    I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    Why is that something is always a “criticism” when a brother or a sister believes there is room for improvement or growth in knowledge and righteousness? One wonders if such a critic of the “criticism” ever read First Corinthians.

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  7. Alan Says:

    A lot to think about Bobby as usual.

    By the way, I like the nice clean look to your blog. Easy on the eyes.

  8. Greg Says:

    “Anonymous” makes a good case in point for Ben’s statement! There is nothing about his (anonymous’) statement or attitude that would draw me to his church. I preached for 30 years in the churches of Christ, but I never once wore the name, “Church of Christ.” I wear the name of Christ and only by His grace can I do that. I have no allegiance to our historical movement, but great allegiance to the Bride of Christ and she extends far beyond the boundaries imposed by “anonymous.” May his tribe decrease.

  9. nick gill Says:

    I don’t intend to nit-pick, but I seem to have an editorial gene.

    You tell us before your chart that there are 6 positive and 4 negative conditions…

    but the chart lists 5 positive and 5 negative…

    Did the formatting come out wrong, or am I somewhat dense?

    I read 3 positives in v.2; 3 negatives in v.3; 2 positives in v.4; and 2 negatives in v.5 for a 5 & 5 balance.

    This is beautiful pastoral writing, by the way, from the overflow of your wounded and beautiful heart.

    in HIS love,

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Nick you are exceedingly gracious. Thank you for those kind words.

    BTW, how is the KC class coming?

    Seeking Shalom,
    Bobby V

  11. Matthew Says:

    Bobby, how is that thesis reading coming. I still have a lot more issues to deal with, but would still love your thoughts on the work.

  12. preacherman Says:

    I am still going to have to chew this over. I don’t know if I am Jeff or Tina. I am confused. God welcomes us all doesn’t he? Haven’t we all sinned. Didn’t Jesus say you who are without sin cast the first stone? He offers forgiveness and lives.

    I think as we are living in post-Christian society we need to let others know who Jesus is that he is loving, forgiving and merciful. I think maybe we are both like Jeff and Tina in times in our lives yet God offers us grace and a relationship with Him. I am so thankful that God is loving and gracious. I do think we need to change and strive to be like Jesus. We should let the world know that no one is perfect and no matter how mad we get and frustrated we get at others who disappoint us and let us down there is still hope of a God who desires a relationship with all men. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about? A personal relationship with God and being connect to his Kingdom on earth.
    I don’t know if I am making any sense so I’ll quit.
    I love you Bobby.
    You are always in my prayers brother.
    Thank you for the difference you have made in my life.
    In Him,
    Kinney Mabry

  13. Bryan Says:

    Due to this blog, Psalm 15 is now my favorite Psalm. With God’s blessing I plan to use it in our next home group discussions. Thank you!


  14. nick gill Says:

    KC class is going alright.

    Have you read “Eat This Book” by Eugene Peterson?

    He describes a dilemma experienced, I’m sure, by most of us who have fallen in love with God’s Word. It was out of this frustration, he says, that THE MESSAGE was born.

    He was teaching Galatians in Sunday AM Bible class, and people were more interested in their coffee than in this nitroglycerine word from Paul! So he decides that he is going to teach the class how to read it in GREEK! If they can hear it with the punch Paul originally wrote, perhaps THEN they’ll GET IT!

    His wife smiles sweetly at him and says, “I can’t think of a better way to empty a Bible class.”

    So he went the other direction, and translated it into THEIR language. Voila, ten years later, THE MESSAGE.

    I feel like I’m having the same struggle with KC; it is volatile and important material, and we are failing to translate it into language that will impact our class.

    We’re on Special Providence right now, the very heart of Harding’s faith.

    in HIS love,

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