My Hebrew professor, Ron Allen, used to say, “Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.” The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life. They are full of praise to God, laments, complaints, cries for help, and bold declarations of confidence in God. The Psalms are prophetic, pointing us to the ultimate Blessed Man, the quintessential Righteous Man, David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. Among all the Psalms, one that stands out to me, one that I find myself quoting, is Psalm 16. It is prophetic, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see decay” (16:10). Peter quotes this text in Acts. The Psalm also extols the believer’s portion, which is God himself (16:5). David says that he continually puts the Lord before him, that must mean in his thoughts and affections, and because of that, he is never shaken (16:8). Right thoughts of God lead to stability in life. David also extols the joy there is in God’s presence with memorable, affecting words, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). This Psalm is rich. Derek Kidner rightly says, “The theme of having one’s affections centered on God give this psalm its unity and ardor.”
There is one part of this Psalm that caught my attention this morning, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (16:3). David sees something in the saints, that is believers. The word he uses to describe them is interesting, as it is variously translated, “majestic ones,” “excellent ones,” “noble ones.” David is drawn to God’s people. He sees in them something desirable, he delights in them. Spurgeon, taking the Psalmist to be ultimately Jesus, says, “He who knows them best says of them, ‘in whom is all my delight.’ They count themselves to be less than nothing, and yet he makes much of them and sets his heart towards them.” What do God’s people have going for them? Why should they be our delight? The living God is their refuge, he is their good, he is their chosen portion, he is their counselor, their hope and their joy. Even the lowest of believers have this glorious God and all that he is. What David delights in, in God’s people, is God in them and God for them. It is God who beautifies his people, making them a delight.
What do we think of God’s people? Are they our delight? Or do we grumble against them for being “hypocrites,” (thus always indicting ourselves in such charges!). Do we take more pleasure in being around worldlings who serve the god of this age more than God’s holy ones? Worldlings are the very ones running after others gods (16:4). Do we admire the godless and the sinner because of their success and dismiss the children of God? Do we avoid God’s people? By the way, most of the time when we avoid God’s people, it is not really because we think we are better than them, although that is what we might say, but rather, it is because we are convicted by them. How we feel about other Christians is an indicator ultimately of what we think of God. There is no such thing as esteeming God and despising his people. They are his people, his children, he knows them, loves them and is sanctifying them. No worldling can make such claims! Certainly, some of God’s people are more mature than others, wiser than others, more pleasant than others, more sanctified than others, but they all have one thing in common, they all belong to the same God, redeemed by the same Savior.
So are the saints your delight? If not, why not? If not, then the Psalmist would simply say to you that you are looking at the wrong things in them and most likely, the wrong things in yourself. Set the Lord before you, let your heart be glad in him, rejoice in his work, most especially among his people and join this rag-tag bunch of struggling sinners who are the majestic ones in all the earth. When we see God’s beauty in them, we will delight in them as we should.
Our hearts always break when one departs from their faith and refuses to listen to any of the steps of discipline outlined in Matt. 18:15-20. There is private confrontation which goes unheeded. There is an additional two or three witnesses and they have seen the impenitence and their admonitions go unheeded. Finally, the church is informed and becomes active in seeking the offender’s repentance. The praying church, in her pleading, is ignored. The very voice of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is ignored.
The final step of obligation is to put out the offender. This is an ecclesiastical judgment which reflects the judgment of Christ, hence the significance of “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there in the midst.” Jesus adds His testimony to the witnesses. Jesus then says the decision the church has made had already been made in heaven (Matt. 18:18-20). It is a sobering event. It is indeed an event. It is a sobering obligation if the church is to be faithful. Faithfulness is not always easy or comfortable. Sometimes faithfulness brings tears.
But what happens when the offender repents? Jesus says, “You have won Your brother.” Although this phrase is not repeated in each step, it is most definitely implied. If he listens to the two or three witnesses, you have won your brother. If he listens to the church, you have won your brother. You have won your brother is another way of saying that the offender, because he listened to Jesus through the church, shows he is a brother. How sweet is this repentance! It is the best possible outcome when someone strays. It is a joyful event. It is a saving event.
My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (James 5:19-20).
When a saving event like this happens, someone has been “the brand plucked from the burning” (Zech. 3:1-2). The one who has turned has been snatched from Satan’s clutches. However, Satan is not done. There is another danger the church faces when a sinner repents. That danger comes not from taking sin too lightly (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:1-5), but from being more scrupulous than God. Some are shocked that certain people can commit certain sins. A thorough reading of the Bible would disabuse us of such shock, but it nevertheless remains among those who have a streak of self-righteousness. Paul addresses the danger of successful discipline in 2 Cor. 2:5-11.
Paul is dealing with a grievous offender in 2 Cor. In all likelihood, this offender is not the same man in 1 Cor. 5, but rather one who sinned, probably against Paul and the Corinthian body. The sorrow this man caused, the disappointment he inflicted, was immense. The body responded to Paul’s instruction and disciplined this man. And he repented! But some were not satisfied. Some believed that his repentance was not good enough, the punishment and consequences were not severe enough. Paul then exhorts the Corinthians to “forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him” (2 Cor. 2:7-8). For Paul, forgiveness and affirmation of love was a test of the Corinthians’ obedience. Just as sure as discipline was a test of obedience (would they do what they were supposed to do?) so also love and forgiveness was a test of obedience.
Paul says he has forgiven and they should too. Then Paul tells them what is at stake. “So that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Cor. 2:11). If the Corinthians would not forgive and love this man, they were opening themselves to the strategy of Satan. If a church refuses to discipline, then Satan takes advantage of the church. But if the church seeks to faithfully deal with offenders, then that advantage is removed.
But Satan does not throw in the towel. He looks for a new angle. The new angle is to cause the offender excessive sorrow through the unforgiveness and lack of acceptance by the body. If the offender is grieved by the lack of forgiveness, then he is not rejoicing in grace. If he is not rejoicing in grace, then he is not moving ahead. Satan’s scheme now shifts to the attitudes within the body. If he cannot ensnare them through taking sin too lightly, then he will ensnare them by causing them to have different standards than Jesus Christ.
Once the offender repents, the matter is done. Certainly, the repentance must have the marks of godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10). Certainly, there may be consequences because of the sin, especially if the man is in leadership. Certainly, there may be counseling and help so that the repentant offender stays on the right track.
But it is not the church’s job to exact a pound of flesh, or to impose one more ounce of discipline than is warranted in the Word. So, let us, who take God’s Word seriously, take all of God’s Word seriously and make certain that when discipline is successful we don’t allow Satan to make that a danger to the church. Let us be as zealous in our forgiveness and acceptance as we were in our rebukes in seeking their repentance.
One of the good kings of Judah was King Jehoshaphat. But Jehoshaphat’s life was a roller-coaster of faith. In 2 Chron. 18 Jehoshaphat makes an unfortunate alliance with wicked King Ahab of the northern kingdom. The two kings had agreed to go up against Ramoth-gilead together. Since Jehoshaphat was a godly king, he told Ahab that they should seek the will of the Lord. Ahab, in typical fashion, gathers 400 prophets who were “yes men.” Jehoshaphat easily discerns that the so-called prophets were just cheerleaders for Ahab and so he asks, “Isn’t there a prophet of Yahweh here anymore? Let’s ask him” (2 Chron. 18:6). What follows is humorous. Ahab concedes that there is such a prophet, but “I hate him because he never prophesies good about me, but only disaster” (18:7). This prophet, Micaiah, is summoned since he wasn’t invited to the original council of 400 conmen. As he is summoned, the messenger says to him, paraphrasing, “Look, all the other guys have a good word to the king, so make sure you follow suit.”
I imagine the scene with Micaiah dragging his feet as he approaches the two kings. He looks at his watch, yawns, and then says in an uninterested, monotone, “Yep, go ahead, you will win.” Ahab then says, “How many times must I make you swear not to tell me anything but the truth in the name of Yahweh?” Huh? This is funny because this is precisely not Ahab’s problem with Micaiah. It is hard to tell why Ahab says this, but he opens himself up to hearing the truth. Micaiah then predicts destruction. Ahab turns to Jehoshaphat and says, “See, what did I tell you about this guy!” Micaiah then says the God sent a lying spirit in the mouths of the 400. He gets smacked and imprisoned for his truth-telling. Ahab tells him he will not get out of prison until he comes back safely. Micaiah then says, “Well, if I ever get out of prison it will only be because God didn’t speak through me.”
As I read this passage, I thought, what did Jehoshaphat think? He wanted a true prophet. He clearly got one. He asked for the truth and he got it. But then, the passage says, without any commentary, that the king of Israel and Judah’s King Jehoshaphat went to battle (18:28). After the battle goes badly, as prophesied, Jehoshaphat returns home and is rebuked by a prophet. “Do you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the LORD’s wrath is upon you” (19:2). Jehoshaphat wanted to hear the Word of the Lord, but then because he didn’t heed the Word, he was rebuked by it. Jehoshaphat had a heart for God and although the text doesn’t say explicitly, he obviously repented. The fruit of his heart for God was displayed in the reforms he brought to Judah. Furthermore, in the next chapter (2 Chron. 20), Jehoshaphat prays a moving, God-glorifying prayer as he was surrounded by the Moabites and Ammonites. His closing line is magnificent, “We do not know what to do, but we look to You” (20:12).
God comes through and is faithful to His servant and His people. God blessed Jehoshaphat’s kingdom (20:30). His life is summarized as doing right in the LORD’s sight (20:32). But then he makes an alliance, towards the end of his life, with Israel’s King Ahaziah. Once more a prophet comes and rebukes him (20:37). This is a curious journey. He wants to hear from God in his first alliance, but does not heed what he hears. In his second alliance, he didn’t even seek the Lord’s will. In between, he does good works and trusts God in a time of national crisis. He seems like a walking contradiction.
But here is the point of application that we all need to hear. We love God’s Word. We love hearing God’s Word. We know the importance of God’s Word. And yet, how many times do we say we want to know God’s will through His Word and then when he graciously gives it, we go ahead and do what we were going to do all along? There is no virtue in piously wanting to hear God’s Word without an intention to heed it.
May God help us to not simply be people who appreciate a good sermon, or love the Word, without being committed to do what God tells us to do. If we are determined to follow our will, fulfill our plans or our agenda, with no regard to what God says, then let’s not claim that we really want the Word of the Lord. Instead, let’s be a people who love to hear the Word and love to heed the Word. Let’s be a people whose chief purpose is to do the will of the Lord.