The Lord is my Witness

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What was your initial reaction when you read this Psalm? I must admit that when I first read this Psalm, I thought it sounded a bit arrogant, verse 1:

I have led a blameless life. I have trusted the Lord without wavering.

It also sounded self-righteous, verse 4:

 I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites.

But the more I have dug into this Psalm, the more clearly I have seen that my first impressions were completely wrong!

I got it wrong, because I started off by asking the wrong questions! When we read any of David's Psalms, there are two background questions we need to ask:

What situation is David facing?

Sometimes this question is very easy to answer. Fourteen of the 73 Psalms of David are linked directly with specific episodes in David's life. For example, turn to Psalm 34. The introduction is part of God's Word. It says:

Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away, and he left.

With those 14 Psalms, it's easy to understand the background. But with the other Psalms, we have to do a little detective work!

As we read through Psalm 26, we can pick up clues about what situation David is in:  He cries out to God for 'vindication'. (v.1) He says he is blameless. (v.1)  He contrasts his behaviour with that of others around him in. (v.4-5) The situation in Psalm 26 is that David is facing slander and he is protesting his innocence to God.

Slander just means to say something false about someone in order to hurt them.  So to face slander is to be in a situation where people are saying false things about you in order to hurt you. That's what happening to David. He's in a situation where he is being falsely accused of doing something he has not done – or being something that he is not. And in Psalm 26 David is taking his case to God in prayer. So, the answer to question 1 is that David is facing slander.

The second question to ask when reading a Psalm is this:

What parallel situations do we face today?

I just want to pause briefly for a few moments now. I would like you to consider this question:

What experiences have you had of slander? (that's people saying false things about you to harm you) It may be because of your Christian faith – or it could be for another reason. I'll give you a few moments to consider this.

This morning, I spoke in depth with two Christians about this issue of slander. They knew exactly what I was talking about. Both of them had experienced slander at work.

One of them had been in a tough situation several years ago. He had responsibility to introduce the government's new legal requirements into his business. But two of his colleagues didn't like it. They didn't want to change the way they did things. So they made up all sorts of allegations and rumours against this man to get him kicked out. At one point they even brought in outside experts to try and dish dirt on him. But he stood firm, was found to be completely clean and kept his job.

The other person I talked to didn't have such a dramatic tale to tell, but just explained the frustration of regular slander he faced at work. He said it happened regularly: "People think I've done something wrong, but I haven't". That's slander in the workplace. But that's not the only area...

I was surprised when the second person I talked to mentioned slander within the church. He had learnt from bitter experience the danger of 'friendly fire'. He said: "Outside of the church, you expect slander, but not inside." But I should not have surprised. In five places in the New Testament letters, believers are commanded not to slander others. And in James 4:11, Christians are commanded not to slander one another. Slander within the church was an issue back then. It is now for us too.

Then there's slander in the media... If you wouldn't call yourself a Christian here this evening, I'm sure you're you don't need me to tell you that Christians don't get a good press. Here are two BBC headlines over the last week:

'HIV patients told by Pentecostal pastors to 'rely on God''

'Diocese of York abuse enquiry opens clergy files'

Christians often look stupid and hypocritical in the media. Sometimes there's good reason for that, but not always.... For example, on issue of gay marriage, Christians are often thought of as being 'homophobic'. Why? Simply because we disagree with gay marriage. We love the LGBT community. We long for them to come to know Jesus. We have gay friends. But we stand against homosexual practice – along with all other sex outside of heterosexual marriage. But we are misunderstood. People think it's impossible to disagree with someone's sexual behaviour and yet still love them. So Christians are slandered. We are called 'homophobic'.

So, slander in the workplace, in the church, in the media – and maybe around friends and family too – that's the kind of situation Psalm 26 speaks into. My goal this evening is simple....

If you wouldn't call yourself a Christian, I want you to be straight with you. If you become a Christian, you will be slandered. But you will also have a heavenly Father who you can take your injustice to in prayer. You will learn how you can do that this evening. If you're already a Christian person, what I want to do is to show you how respond to slander. I want you to develop the reflex of bringing your case to God.

Let's look at Psalm 26 and learn together. We'll firstly dive into the Psalms, then consider how it points forward to the Lord Jesus, then we'll spend more time in application at the end.

David's response to slander

1.     David asserts his integrity before God (v.1-3) 

David's first response to slander is to assert his integrity before God. David asserts his integrity before God. Let me read verses 1-3.

Vindicate me,

(The word 'vindicate' means to clear someone from accusation and suspicion.)

 Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.

David wants God to defend his cause against the false charges he is facing. There's an English Proverb which says: "There's no smoke without fire." That's exactly what people around David are thinking. Lots of people are bringing charges against David. Some of them must be true. There's no smoke without fire.

But David says no! He prays: "O Lord! There's lots of smoke here, but no fire! The charges against me are unfounded! Vindicate me, O Lord! Come and be my defence lawyer.O Lord, set the record straight. Clear my name from these false accusations. Although others say I am in the wrong, show me to be in the right. Take up my cause."

The way he appeals for God's help is remarkable. Notice – he doesn't say what we would expect him to say: Vindicate me, O Lord, for you are merciful! He says: Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord without wavering. What's going on here?

When David says he has led a 'blameless' life, he doesn't mean a 'perfect' life. He can't mean that, because in Psalm 25:11, which you looked at last week, he says:

 For the sake of your name, O LORD, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.

David is not defending himself against the charge of all sin, but he does defend himself against the particular false charges the enemy is accusing him of. And he does so by asserting his integrity before God:

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have led a blameless life.

But he doesn't stop there. He isn't just not guilty as charged. David goes further in asserting his integrity.

Verse 1. He trusts God without wavering.

Verse 3.He walks continually in God's truth.

David consistently follows God. He's not on the ball one day and then off the next. Look also at verse 2:

Test me, O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind

By nature all of us shrink from examination. Think of students dreading their final exams…. That horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach when you start revising… Think of teachers dreading the Ofsted inspection…. The frantic preparations, the tidying up of the classrooms… Think of office worker dreading the annual appraisal… Will I have my job for another year or not? We naturally dread examination. But David is quite different. In verse 2, he is saying to God: "Bring it on!" He willingly submits himself to any form of examination which the Lord sees fit to employ. This is not an expression of arrogance, but of integrity.

From verses 1-3, we see that David is really in earnest. David asserts his integrity before God, because he wants God to publicly clear his name from slander. David asserts his integrity before God.

2.     David proves his integrity before God (v.4-10) 

David's second response to slander is to prove his integrity before God. (v.4-10) He does this in a sandwich-style argument! In verses 4-5, he says negatively what he does notdo – and who he doesn't associate with. In verses 6-8, he says positively what he doesdo and who he does associate with. Then in verses 9-10, he prays negatively for God to not judge him along with those who reject him.

Let's start with verses 4-5.

 I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.

As we read this, it may send our alarm bells ringing: "Hang on a minute! Didn't Jesus hang out with sinners and tax collectors? Isn't this voice of a self-righteous Pharisee rather than a true believer?"  The key is to consider the context of the Psalms. Psalm 1, verse 1 says:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

In the language of the Psalms, 'sitting' with wicked people means sharing with them,  listening to their advice, working together with them and siding with them. So look again at Psalm 26 verses 4-5.

I do not sit with deceitful men, nor do I consort with hypocrites;  I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.

In the Psalms, it's put in black and white language.  You either 'sit' with the wicked who reject God or you 'sit' with God's people who follow God. And we face the same choice today. Who will we associate with? Who will we identify with? Of course as Christians, we certainly shouldn't cut ourselves off from society around us. In fact the reverse is true: we're commanded to be salt and light in our communities. But that's not David's point here. David's business here is to prove his integrity. He is saying that he has not taken on the values of the world around him. He has not identified himself as one of them. He has not followed them in their rejection of God. That's the same for us today. For example, do we reject the lie that money can give us a safe and happy future? Or do we follow the crowd – and go on ignoring God and eternity?

But David doesn't just prove his integrity by saying negatively what he hates – he also proves it positively from what he loves. Look at verses 6-8.

 I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, O LORD,  proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds.  I love the house where you live, O LORD, the place where your glory dwells.

Now a lot of the language here is temple language. You might remember some of this from your series on Exodus! David is not a priest, but in verses 6-8, David is using the temple language to express his devotion to God. He loves to approach God. He loves to praise him along with others.

For us today, Jesus has replaced the temple, but the principles are just the same. Do we love God? Do we love to sing of his goodness? Do we love to tell others about him? That's the other side of what proving our integrity before God looks like. That's how David proves his integrity before God.

And he finishes this section of the Psalm with a prayer:

  Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with bloodthirsty men, 10 in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes.

David has asserted his integrity. He has proven it. And he prays for God to treat him as one who follows him – not as one who rejects him. If you're not a Christian here this evening, notice that David takes God's judgement seriously. It's not something the mediaeval Church made up. It's real. Please find out more about God's judgement and how Jesus can rescue you from it.

David proves his integrity.

3. David praises God (v.11-12)

My third point is simply this: David praises God. Look at verses 11-12:

 But I lead (ESV= I shall lead) a blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me. My feet stand on level ground; in the great assembly I will praise the LORD.

In Psalm 26, David has been on a prayer journey:

In verse 1, he looked back and asked for vindication.

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have led a blameless life.

Then in verse 11, he looks forward to his life and says:

But I lead (shall lead) and blameless life; redeem me and be merciful to me.

In verse 1, he was in anguish:

Vindicate me, O Lord

Then in verse 12, he is full of joy:

I will praise the Lord.

Charles Spurgeon put it beautifully: "the song began in a minor (key), but it has now reached the major key." Indeed, David is praising God! Verse 12:

 My feet stand on level ground (a picture of safety); in the great assembly I will praise the Lord.

David is publicly celebrating God's kindness to him. He wants to tell others how good God has been to him. He wants to invite them to go to God when they face slander.

The remarkable thing is that there's nothing in the Psalm to suggest that God has already answered David's prayer! David still remains a slandered man. But the difference is that he has committed his situation to God in prayer – and he can trust God to do what's best in his situation.

Before we move on from Psalm 26, let me ask you a question. How do you react when you face slander? Do you fight back? Maybe starting a slander war… Do you do nothing? You stoically say: "Oh! It's nothing! Water off a duck's back – even though it's very painful."

Friends, surely we're missing out on a glorious invitation if we don't pour out our hearts to God – the one who made us, knows us, loves us and judges us. Having looked at Psalm 26, why would you do anything else before praying to your loving heavenly Father? If you're facing false accusations from others and it hurts, bring your case to God.

-Assert your integrity

-Prove your integrity

-Praise God

Of course, it's then wise to turn to friends and others for help – that's right and good – but don't miss out on the joy, comfort and relief of pouring out your heart to God. Then go and tell those you trust and ask them to pray for you. Respond to slander by bringing your case to God. That's what David did. And that's also what Jesus did.

Jesus' response to slander

We need to careful of reading Jesus into every Psalm. But if there are clear links, let's not be ashamed to make them. Turn with me to 1 Peter 2:20-24.

if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness

We can see how Psalm 26 points forward to Jesus in 3 ways:

1. Jesus was slandered

Verse 23:

When they hurled their insults at him

David was slandered. So was Jesus. Throughout his life, he was accused of being a mad man and an evil man. As he died on the Cross, people mocked and slandered him, believing that he was a failure. Jesus knows what it's like to be slandered. He is saying to us this evening: "Have you been slandered? Yes – well, I know what it's like. Come and ask me for help."

2. Jesus was totally innocent

Verse 22:

He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.

David in Psalm 26 was blameless, but Jesus was totally innocent.

3. Jesus brought his case to God

Verse 23:

he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

David brought his case to God. So did Jesus.

Our response to slander

And when we face slander, we are called to follow the example of David – and of Jesus: Verse 21:

Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

So what should you do when you are unemployed, seeking work and people accuse you of 'playing the system'? Or called 'judgemental' by your friends because you refuse to download films illegally from the internet? Or called 'homophobic' just because you oppose gay marriage? Or called a 'harsh' parent because you have firm boundaries for your children? Or called a 'dinosaur' because you take the Bible very seriously?

What should you do? Take Psalm 26 to heart. Remember it. Pray through it. David responded to slander by bringing his case to God. So did Jesus. Jesus responded to slander by bringing his case to God. So when you face slander, Don't fight back! Don't pretend it's doesn't hurt! Bring your case to God in prayer and finish by praising God! That's how to respond to slander as a Christian. Why not take the opportunity to pray through Psalm 26 for yourself – after the service, or back home if you prefer. Take the time after the service finishes to talk with others about times when you've faced slander and how you've dealt with it. Or ask advice about a situation you're facing right now.

Respond to slander by bringing your case to God.

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