Have you been following the Black Lives Matter protests, speeches, and programs? If you are a person of color, I imagine you have been checking out tweets, posts, articles, and TV programs. On two evenings this week, I watched an online interview conducted by Oprah Winfrey titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” (1) Since I am not a person of color, I think it’s especially important to listen to those whose race often results in exclusion, oppression, or abuse. I’ve always been attracted to people of different races and color, and almost started a career based on the need for justice for minorities when I was in my twenties, but God had other plans for my life. I enjoyed working in Africa for almost two decades. Add to this my background in peaceful, civil disobedience in my 20s, and you can imagine that I am truly heartbroken for the racial dissonance in America. As a white person with all the privileges of my skin color, I confess to the tendency to think I actually know something about the situation; but I do not. So I am thankful for God’s kindness to humble me and help me receive his implied rebuke for my prideful self-righteousness in this week’s passage. “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” (Psalm 141:3-5) Let’s consider how the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebukes. If we embrace God’s wisdom, and his preventive and corrective kindness, we will be kinder to others.
About Psalm 141, James Boice writes, “Psalm 141 is a psalm in which every word and sentence is a prayer.” (2) In verses 3-5, David makes four requests for God’s restraint: over his lips, his heart, the temptation to join with others in sinful conduct, and his rejection of a well-intentioned, kind rebuke. David needed help to keep from sinning with his lips, an irreverent heart leading to wicked behavior, and denial of godly correction, as we all do. David’s prayer reminds me of Psalm 1:1-2 “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; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” In Psalm 141, David prays, “Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.” (v. 10) In Psalm 1, the blessed man walking with the Lord, “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.” (v. 3) David clearly wants to be the blessed man described in Psalm 1:3, which is why he needs to hear God’s corrective rebukes and those from others. “[Charles] Spurgeon…said, ‘When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God—the evil is rather practical than habitual—but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed.’” (3) But, when the Spirit guards our mouths, disinclines us to evil, and kindly blesses us with rebuffs, we become kinder, gentler, fruit-bearing Christians.
“The first thing David asks God to guard is his mouth so he will not speak sinfully or in a way that might harm others. There is no biblical writer that seems so conscious of the harm that words can do as David.” (4) “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” “Good men know the evil of tongue sins. When enemies are provoking, we are in danger of speaking unadvisedly. While we live in an evil world, and have such evil hearts, we have need to pray that we may neither be drawn nor driven to do any thing sinful.” (5) Much of the controversy over Black Lives Matter today has to do with words, so I try to pay careful attention when I am listening to speeches and reading tweets. Words matter, mine and yours matter. I could quickly write something that would either offend you or encourage you, but because I don’t know you, I’ll let the Lord speak; his words matter more.
It’s not enough, though, to control our speech, since our hearts are the source of our words. David knew that his heart would lead him into evil comradeship with ungodly men, resulting in his occupation with wicked deeds, as if they are tasty “delicacies.” (v. 4) “David makes his request for pure actions from the negative side, asking God to keep him from being ‘drawn to what is evil’ or taking ‘part in wicked deeds.’ This is what we pray for when we say the Lord’s Prayer, asking, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ (Matt. 6:13).” (6) We need a constant reminder of the gospel’s work in us, to help us appreciate and embrace God’s transforming us into new creatures who no longer react as hopeless victims of the world. Sometimes we put on “masks” of competency, success, spiritual strength, and intelligence to hide our vulnerability. But David never tries to hide his needs or act stoically. I wondered how much I mask my insecurities and weaknesses with a show of competence or organization. My new rescue puppy puts on a “mask” of aggression when he is afraid, looking like he wants to attack the other dogs before they attack him because he doesn’t know what else to do (according to a professional trainer for aggressive dogs). But we do know what to do—we are to humble ourselves and honestly admit to not knowing our hearts, not being different from anyone else. “…David is not too good for evil people; he is too much like them and therefore likely to be swept away by their wickedness if in their company. David swept away by evil company? If that was a danger for David, how much more so for you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying, ‘Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil’ and ‘Lead me not into temptation?’” (7)
One highly recommended way to avoid the dangers of sin is to pray The Lord’s Prayer daily. David uses another approach in v. 5, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” “We should be ready to welcome the rebuke of our heavenly Father, and also the reproof of our brethren. It shall not break my head, if it may but help to break my heart: we must show that we take it kindly…When the world is bitter, the word is sweet.” (8) David’s warning to receive rebukes sounds like Proverbs 27:6, which says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted.” As the Spirit guards our mouths and disinclines us to evil, he also kindly blesses us with correction. But thinking of criticisms as kindness is a shocking idea to our natural minds. Yet many of God’s rebukes are implied and subtle, not direct and sharp. The work of the gospel is to conform us to the kindness of Christ, for others’ sakes, and his glory,
Do you seek out those news reports, posts, tweets, and articles that conform to your present opinions, or do you look for new ideas that might transform your mind, perhaps even offer a kindly rebuke? Looking back, what would you consider the most significant and kindest transformation of your heart since Christ redeemed you? Is it the decreased desire for a specific idol or sin, a new interest in Scripture, being more other-centered, being less self-righteous or prideful, or another significant change? For a more Christ-like character in the future, what worldly or sinful conduct is most alluring to you? Will you pray for God’s help to resist the temptation to indulge yourself in it? Today, are you willing to accept God’s spiritual or practical rebukes? “…reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” (Proverbs 9:8a-9) Will you humble yourself to hear subtle or implied rebukes from others? The spiritual fruit of kindness does not grow in our blessings, but in our trials and challenges. Will you pray with the psalmist, “Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways?” (Psalm 119:37)
(1) Part 1 of Oprah’s interview can be found on this page, if you scroll down to the YouTube Link: https://www.popsugar.com/celebrity/ava-duvernay-black-lives-matter-discussion-with-oprah-video-47540396?stream_view=1#photo-47540405
(2) Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 141, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
(3) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 1:1-3.
(4) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.
(5) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:1-4, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html
(6) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.
(7) Boice, Ibid, Psalm 141.
(8) Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 141:5-10, https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-concise/psalms/141.html
June 12, 2020