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The Resolutions of a Godly Leader

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Sep 21, 2008

Psalm 101:1-8

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If you have Bibles, please open to the beginning at the Fifth Book of the Psalms. The Fifth Book of the Psalms begins at Psalm 107, but if you look at Psalm 101 all the way to Psalm 110, you will find parallels. And, as you’re opening your Bibles to Psalm 101, you may want to flip over to Psalm 110, for instance, and see both of these Psalms have to do with a king. And then if you look at Psalm 102 and Psalm 109, you’ll see that they have parallel themes and so on. So this is a little book of Psalms within the larger book of the Psalms, that overlaps two books of the Psalms! So there are all sorts of wonderful, intricate ways of laying out the Psalms that enlighten and illumine us to certain aspects that are being taught to us in these great passages of Scripture.

As you look at Psalm 101, it's not difficult to see that this is a Psalm in which the king of Israel is making certain resolutions about what kind of a king he's going to be and what kind of leadership he is going to give, and what kind of people he's going to surround himself with and what he's going to try and do among the people of the land. One of the commentators said it would be very interesting to put David's resolutions about himself and about the way he was going to govern up against that of modern politicians, and ask what they saw as the essence of their task as opposed to what David sees as the essence of his task, and I was sorely tempted to do that, especially with a national election coming up in November! But I resisted that temptation, and I'm going to go a different direction as we look at this Psalm.

It seems to me that the words of this Psalm, though very appropriate for someone who is a national leader or a state leader, or the leader of a city, that in fact the words of this Psalm are very appropriate for all of us in any position of authority and responsibility that we're given in the Christian life, whether it's in the nation or the community, or in the church or in the home. Wherever we're given authority and responsibility, the resolutions of David, the resolutions of this godly king, speak to us.

As we look at this passage, let me outline it for you in two parts. The first four verses pertain to David and his own character. The last four verses (vss. 5-8) pertain to the kinds of people that he is going to surround himself with, and what he plans to do among the people of the land. Derek Kidner says that Psalm 101:1-4 is about truth in the ruler, and Psalm 101:5-8 is about truth in the ranks — the ranks of those who are being ruled. So the two parts of the Psalm are the standards for the king (vss. 1-4) and the standards for his people (vss. 5-8).

In the course of this Psalm I'm going to draw your attention to six specific resolutions that King David makes to God about himself and about his rule, but I want us to think more broadly about the role of resolutions and vows in the Christian life. You may not have realized it, but vows and resolutions were taken and made during the service today by every communing member in the room. The parents of the children and you made a vow and a resolution in the course of the worship service today, and what I want to do is to show you that that is an action grounded in God's word. It is appropriate, good, right, and helpful for Christians to make vows, but it's also important for us to be utterly realistic about how vows work in the Christian life. I believe that this Psalm helps us greatly in that area. So that's what we're going to focus on today.

Now before we read God's word, let's ask for His blessing on it. Let's pray.

Our heavenly Father, open our eyes again. Speak to us by Your word so that as we read the words of a king who lived 3,000 years ago, it dawns upon our hearts that these words are not merely the words of an ancient Middle Eastern king, but they’re the words of God — fresh as if they had been printed today, but as enduring and true as You are in eternity. Speak Your word deep into our hearts, O God, and grant that we would respond to it as we ought. For we pray in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God from Psalm 101:

“A PSALM OF DAVID.

“I will sing of steadfast love and justice;

To You, O Lord, I will make music.

I will ponder the way that is blameless.

Oh when will You come to me?

I will walk with integrity of heart within my house;

I will not set before my eyes

Anything that is worthless.

I hate the work of those who fall away;

It shall not cling to me.

A perverse heart shall be far from me;

I will know nothing of evil.

“Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly

I will destroy.

Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart

I will not endure.

“I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,

That they may dwell with me;

He who walks in the way that is blameless

Shall minister to me.

“No one who practices deceit

Shall dwell in my house’

No one who utters lies

Shall continue before my eyes.

“Morning by morning I will destroy

All the wicked in the land,

Cutting off all the evildoers

From the city of the Lord.”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Do you make resolutions at the turn of the year? And are you like me? You have all sorts of grand designs for what you’re going to accomplish in the year to come, and by March you've forgotten or failed at most of them? Well, I'm not talking about resolutions about weight loss and other things of that nature. I'm thinking about spiritual resolutions. Do you make spiritual resolutions? The Bible indicates that it is a good and a wise, and even a necessary, thing for believers to make resolutions and vows to the Lord.

Some of you I know have read Jonathon Edwards’ famous resolutions. Some of the Sunday School classes, I think, when Brad Mercer was teaching here, actually studied Jonathon Edwards’ great resolutions. When he was nineteen years old, between June and August of 1723, he wrote out seventy resolutions for himself, and at the heading of those resolutions he resolved to read over those resolutions once a week for the rest of his life. They’re a fascinating collection of resolutions. I've printed them out…it takes about four pages in 12-point font single-spaced to record the resolutions that he made. Here's a taste of them. He said:

“Resolved, that I will do whatever I think to be most to God's glory and my own good in the whole of my duration here, without any consideration of time, whether now and ever so many myriads of ages hence…
Resolved, to do whatever I think to be my duty and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general…
Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I meet with, how many so ever and how great so ever…
Resolved to be continually endeavoring to find out some new way or invention to promote the aforementioned things…
Resolved that if I ever shall fall and grow dull so as to neglect to keep any part of these resolutions, to repent of all I can remember when I come to myself again…
Resolved never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God…
Resolved never to lose one moment of time, but to improve it the most profitable way I possibly can…
Resolved to live with all my might while I do live…
Resolved never to do anything which I should be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life…”

And on and on it goes! A nineteen-year-old wrote these, and mature Christians have been meditating on them ever since.

Some Christians say resolutions like that are unhelpful because you break them, and then you feel guilty when you break them; therefore, we shouldn't make these resolutions. Well, my friends, what we have before us in Psalm 101 is a series of resolutions by a Christian. And in fact, Jesus and Paul and many of the Old Testament and New Testament saints on numerous occasions made resolutions and vows, and I want to suggest to you today that if we do not plan and resolve to live a godly life, it's unlikely that we will. In other words, resolutions are an important and appropriate and healthy part of the Christian life, especially biblical, spiritual resolutions.

I. Resolutions are biblical.

Now let me draw your attention to three things as we study this passage together today, and that's first simply this: resolutions are biblical. Resolutions are biblical. Sometimes people, in seeing that Christians express intentions that they don't follow through on and then feel guilty about them, say, ‘You know, the best way to live the Christian life is not to make resolutions at all, because we’ll fail.’ In fact, they’ll say the best way to live the Christian life is to just stop trying to be good, because you can't be good; and if you try and be good then you’re going to feel guilty all the time, so just stop trying to be good!

Well, it's fascinating to me that that's not how the Bible depicts for us the Christian life. The Apostle Paul is filled in his writings with exhortations to us of things to do. He is filled by his own examples of vows that he has made, and here in Psalm 101 we have a godly Christian making resolutions and vows.

Look at the six things that David vows in this passage. First of all, he says, “I will sing of steadfast love and justice to You, O Lord….” He's saying that [he's] going to sing, because we sing about what we really care about. The reason that men sing love songs to women when they almost never sing otherwise is because they’re expressing what their heart really desires. And so when David says, “I’ll sing of steadfast love and justice” — something that you don't hear in the Top 40 very often these days — he's telling you, ‘I'm going to care about that more than anything else. I'm going to care about God's covenant love to us and our corresponding response in loyalty and love to God, and I'm going to care about the justice of God and so I'm going to show justice in this country.’ He's saying, ‘As a ruler it is going to be my first concern to care about lovingkindness and justice…God's covenant love to us and our loyalty to Him…God's establishment of justice and equity in human relations.’ In other words, David is going to say, ‘I'm going to rule conscious of my obligation to God, conscious of what God has done for us, and I'm going to attempt to emulate God in the way that I rule the country with lovingkindness and with justice.’

Then he resolves (vs. 2) to behave wisely: “I will ponder the way that is blameless.” What's he going to think about? ‘I'm going to think about what it means to live in integrity before God, to walk wholeheartedly before God, to be holy because God is holy. That's what I'm going to ponder.’

And then he says, “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house.” In other words, ‘I'm not just going to do this publicly, but the way I conduct myself in my own home is going to reflect this kind of integrity. You’re going to be able to see it in my house as well as in my public governance.’ It's interesting, isn't it, that that's exactly where Paul takes us when we're thinking about elders. He says look at their homes: see how he lives out the Christian life in his home, and make your judgment about what kind of a man he is from that.

Then, if you look at verse 3, he says ‘I'm not going to plan wickedness. Under my administration there's going to be no backroom, smoke filled scheming about devious things to do.’ Look at verse 3:

“I will not set before my eyes
Anything that is worthless.
I will hate the work of those who fall away;
It shall not cling to me.
A perverse heart shall be far from me;
I will know nothing of evil.”

He resolves not to practice or to plan or design things that are evil.

Then look at verses 5 and 7. Fourth, he says ‘I'm not going to associate with or employ the wicked.’ And he lists four kinds of people that are not going to serve in his administration. They are people who are obstinate and perverse, people who are slanderers, people who are arrogant and prideful, and people who are liars. He says, ‘They’re not going to work for my administration. I'm not going to socialize with them, I'm not going to enjoy their company, I'm not going to have them working for me.’

And then in verse 6, he says another resolution. This is his fifth resolution: ‘I will favor the upright.” ‘In my land,’ he says, ‘it's people who are faithful and upright who will get the king's blessing.’

“I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,
That they may dwell with me;
He who walks in the way that is blameless
Shall minister to me.”

So he says, ‘I'm going to reward the people that are doing good things; I'm not going to reward the wicked…I'm going to reward the people who are faithful and doing good things. That will lead to societal blessing.’

And then in verse 8, he makes it clear that he intends to administer justice in the land. Notice what he says:

“Morning by morning I will destroy
All the wicked in the land,
Cutting off all the evildoers
From the city of the Lord.”

That doesn't mean that David plans to go out every morning and kill people. What that means is that David, like a good judge, is going to condemn the guilty and acquit the innocent every morning. This is a picture of the work of judgeship. Remember Moses was called to judge day by day, and it was killing him. And his father-in-law came to him and he said, ‘Moses, you can't do this. You need elders to help you do this, because you’re going to kill yourself trying to do it. They need to be the ones that are dispensing the justice in the land.’ And so elders were appointed to help Moses in that task morning by morning of dispensing justice in the land. Well, David here is pledging that in his land the judges are going to dispense justice morning by morning, and in this way the wicked will be driven out and the righteous will be encouraged.

Now David makes all of these resolutions, and there is no criticism within the Psalm of the idea of David making these kinds of resolutions. Let me just say it again: If we do not plan and resolve to live the godly life, it is unlikely that we will.

Our aspirations are important in the Christian life. The things that we purpose to do are important in the Christian life, and we manifest this all over the place in the Christian church. When people get married, they are made to make vows. They do it before God and the whole congregation. And as one of our wise and godly elders says, the vows that they make, they break by the time they've walked out of the door of the church!

But does that mean that those vows are unimportant? Far from it. They serve as aspirations of what is right. It's very important that we make those vows. When we baptize children or when adults are baptized upon profession of faith, vows are taken by parents or by the person being baptized and by the congregation. We break those vows sometimes. Does that mean that we shouldn't use those vows? No. Those vows are important. They reflect significant aspirations in the Christian life. In fact, when we join this church every person who has joined this church has taken five vows. The center vow begins with these words: “I now resolve and promise….” [Do you remember that?] “I now resolve and promise that I will live as becomes a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

So resolutions are an important part of the Christian life. That's the first thing that I want you to see from this Psalm.

II. Resolutions are in and of themselves insufficient for the living of the Christian life.

But the second thing is this: Resolutions are in and of themselves insufficient for the living of the Christian life. Resolutions are good and necessary and appropriate and important, but in and of themselves they are insufficient for the living of the Christian life.

Are you like me? As you read through these words of David vowing to God as to what kind of king he would be, do you hear echoes of his very failures of every single one of these resolutions? Do you realize that in the course of David's life, at some point or another he failed these resolutions in every point?

You know, when I hear him say, ‘I'm not going to plan wickedness,’ my mind immediately flashes back to that day 3,000 years ago in the spring, in the time when kings go out to war, [he should have been at war with his men] when he was standing up on his roof, having slept very late in the morning, and he looked out across the rooftop and he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. And he started thinking about how he could take her for himself, even though she was not his wife and she was married to another. And he was a king. And he plotted and schemed and was involved in murder and every other manner of sin. In fact, he broke every single one of the Ten Commandments in the course of that.

So, my friends, it's important to understand that resolutions in and of themselves are not sufficient for the living of the Christian life. But before we reflect on that too quickly, let me just say this: Don't be too quick because of that to think that these resolutions were of no use to David or to his kingdom, because if you read the books of Kings and Chronicles, you will find out that David in his general fulfilling of these vows is accounted as the paragon of kingship in Israel, so that all other kings are measured against David as to their fulfilling the ideals that were expressed in this life. And so as you know, the phrase is repeated over and over in the history of Israel…how does it go? “But he did not do like his father David did.” And this is a criticism. And then for the good kings, what was said of him? “He did like his father David did.” And so David was successful enough in fulfilling these resolutions that all the other kings of Israel could be compared to him and against him as the standard of good kingship, and yet it's so obvious to us that David failed to fulfill even these resolutions.

My friends, this reminds us of why salvation must be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. When David broke his resolutions and when he broke the law of God in the incident of Bathsheba, it's so interesting to me that in Psalm 51 he doesn't say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me because I made some really good resolutions.’ He doesn't say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me because I've tried to keep those resolutions.’ He doesn't say, ‘Lord, I've tried to live a good life. I've tried to be a good king. Please forgive me.’ He says, ‘Lord, forgive me because of Your lovingkindness…because of Your steadfast love.’

In other words, David, though he resolves to live a certain way, and though he fails to live a certain way, when he fails he does not plead that he tried to live a certain way. He pleads God's grace and God's mercy. That's so important for us to understand because, my friends, on the Last Day it will be an utterly inadequate answer to the question ‘Why should you be a part of My everlasting kingdom?’ to say ‘I tried to live a good life.’ That will be an utterly insufficient answer, because there's only one king that has ever lived out these resolutions, and His name is the Lord Jesus Christ.

But the good news is, my friends, that if you will trust Him, God in His mercy will receive you into His kingdom and forgive you and make you His child, and keep you forever. It's so important for us to understand that resolutions do have an important part in the Christian life, but our trust, our confidence, is not in our resolutions or in our keeping of them. It is in the grace of God shown to us in the gospel of His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

III. Our dependence is not upon resolutions or ourselves, but upon the grace of God Himself.

And that leads me to my final point. Resolutions are good and appropriate. They’re biblical. Resolutions are not sufficient in and of themselves to bring about the quality of the Christian life that God sets forth in His word. Resolutions are good, but our dependence is not upon our resolutions or upon ourselves, but upon the grace of God himself.

Think of how we say it in the vows of membership:

“Q. Do you now resolve and promise…” [and what's the next phrase?] “…in humble reliance upon the grace of the Holy Spirit….?”

How good and wise and biblical were our Presbyterian forebears to put those words in before we ever get to “Do you now resolve and promise to live as becomes a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ?” because no matter how sincerely we resolve to be a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, we will fail.

So some people say it would be better not to resolve at all. Just stop trying to be good, because you can't be good. No, the Bible says do this: You go ahead and resolve. It's important for you to resolve; but your trust is not in the resolution or in your resolve, it is in the grace of the Holy Spirit. It's the Holy Spirit working in us which makes these resolutions effectual to sanctify us, to grow us up in grace.

So we resolve with all our might, but we depend upon the Holy Spirit. We steadfastly make vows but our confidence is not in our vows or in our success in fulfilling them, but in the work of God the Holy Spirit in us. We love our neighbors as ourselves, but we do not trust our loving our neighbor as ourselves as the basis of our acceptance with God. We trust in Christ; we rely upon the Holy Spirit; and then, we love our neighbors as ourselves. So when we vow to do these things it is a good and an important thing to do, but our confidence is always in the Lord working in us.

Well, my friends, there is so much to learn from this great Psalm and we have so little time together, but if you don't take anything away, take this away: If we do not plan and resolve to live the godly life, if we are not deliberate in our pursuit of holiness, it is unlikely that we will live the godly life and that we will attain holiness. But it will not be the strength of our own resolution that leads us to that growth in grace. It will be the Holy Spirit working in us by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ that enables us to grow in grace.

Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Work it deep into our hearts. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now let's sing to the only King that ever fulfilled those resolutions, using No. 310, Rejoice, the Lord is King!

[Congregation sings]

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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