Theme: The Importance of Moral Character
From this week’s lessons, we learn what virtues to practice and vices to reject in order to be the kind of godly leaders and servants God has called us to be.
Scripture: Psalm 101:1-8
The next characteristic we find David talking about in this psalm is personal moral character, which he refers to as having a “blameless heart” and leading a “blameless life” (v. 2). These are divided by the stanza breaks in the New International Version, but they belong together since the only way to lead a blameless life is to have a blameless heart. In other words, as Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34)—and acts as well.
What strikes me as significant about David’s description of blameless moral conduct at this point is how he assumes its existence naturally apart from any puzzle as to what leading a blameless life is. This is entirely different from how people approach ethics in our relativistic times.
Not long ago my attention was drawn to a column by Meg Greenfield, a columnist who writes regularly for Newsweek magazine. It was titled, “Right and Wrong in Washington.” It was a penetrating exposure of what is wrong in government when we require—as we increasingly seem to require—ethics officers, committees or specialists to tell us what proper moral behavior should be. People should know what is right and wrong, she argued. But today they say, “‘I asked the ethics office and they said it didn’t fall within the category of impermissible activity.’ Or, more frequently, when there is a flap about something that has already occurred, they say, ‘We have directed the ethics office to look into it and report back to us in 60 days.’ Good old ’60 days’—for something that your ordinary, morally sentient person wouldn’t need 60 seconds to figure out.”1
There is none of that moral escapism with David. There is no excusing himself for not knowing what the right way is. He did not always walk in that right way, but if he did not, he acknowledged that it was he who had deviated, not that the standards were unclear. His goal was to walk “with blameless heart” and to set “no vile thing” before his eyes.
That last phrase (“no vile thing”) takes us a step further in studying the standards David is unfolding, for they bring in the negative side of the virtues with which the psalm began. Love (mercy), justice and a blameless life! These are his themes. But now, having affirmed the positive virtues, David also rejects the negatives, writing, “The deeds of faithless men I hate; they will not cling to me. Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.”
A number of vices are suggested by these stanzas.
1. “Faithless men” (v. 3). Faithless behavior meaning failing to keep faith, that is, breaking agreements. In regard to human agreements it means being dishonest or untrustworthy. In regard to God it has to do with being an apostate, one who has renounced the faith he once held. It is the exact opposite of the “covenant love” (hesed) idea introduced in verse 1.
2. “Men of perverse heart” (v. 4). Perverse means wicked, but with the added idea of having turned aside from what is known to be good, true or morally right. It also has the idea of willfully diverting someone or some proposed course of action from those ends.
1Meg Greenfield, “Right and Wrong in Washington: Why Do Our Officials Need Specialists to Tell the Difference?” Newsweek, February 13, 1995, p. 88.
What does Matthew 12:34 mean?
Explain what is significant about David’s description of blameless moral conduct.
What are two vices suggested by verses 3, 4?
Reflection: Are you as honest in evaluating your actions as David was? How can you develop a heart that seeks purity?