Psalm 12, Strength in "No" Numbers
I began leading the youth group a little over a year ago. I have helped out with a number of different youth groups over the years and have witnessed a lot of different scenarios and happenings. For example, when i was in youth group in Lovington, New Mexico, there was something we had a lot of which i have not yet had to experience in this youth group, and I’m very thankful for that. What is it, you ask? Drama. And not just any kind of drama, but a very specific brand which is unlike anything else, teen drama. The kind of drama that starts out with giggling and flirting but ends up ripping through your church like a wildfire because Johnny and Susie break each other’s hearts and both do terrible things, and parents get involved and also say terrible things. I am very thankful that I haven’t had to deal with that here. In my home church however, teen drama was what drowned out the new car smell of the church for me.
My best friend started dating a girl in the church. For the sake of ease, let’s call these two people Johnny and Susie. Johnny was not from a christian home and was a new believer. Susie’s father was a deacon in the church and taught the Sunday school class for the older teens. Susie’s father is a wonderful man and was like a second father to a lot of people, Johnny and myself included. He especially spent a lot of time and effort into being a Godly example for Johnny. But then things went south. Johnny and Susie both did a number of foolish and hurtful things and they broke up. Then the “he said, she said” got rolling along with the gossip train. Along with that, they still were in close contact with each other so the drama continued for a good two years or more. Being close to Johnny, I heard his side of things many times. One of Johnny’s biggest complaints was against Susie’s father for not advocating for Johnny so Susie would get back together with him. It all sounds very silly even speaking about it now, but it certainly didn’t seem silly for Johnny. He began to see flaws and shortcomings in Susie’s father. Johnny had almost lost all respect for this great man who had been a great mentor, teacher and friend.
This church and youth group was the first place that I really witnessed people pursuing God with their whole hearts. As the drama unfolded, it was as if the veil was lifted. After being in the church for three years, I finally began to see the sin and short comings of so many people. Friendships crumbled. Reputations were tarnished. God’s work in people’s lives was overshadowed. Everything seemed to be coming undone. This had been my home. It was safe. It was good. There was love and growth. I felt very alone because I didn’t know what to think about a lot of the people who I thought fully surrendered every area of their life to God. Where was the power of God? Where was the hope of the Gospel? It seemed to vanish and I was alone. Many of us have to face this; this place where we come face to face not only with our sin, but the sin of our heroes, the people that we expected more from. When we come to this place, we can feel alone. That is what we see in our text tonight, Psalm 12.
[READ Psalm 12] Psalm 12 begins with a desperate plea, “Save, O LORD” David says, help, God! Rescue me! I’m dying! Save me because the Godly people who obey you are all gone. I’m alone! This theme of isolation is very common in the Psalms. We are only in Psalm 12, yet we’ve already discussed this idea of isolation a number of times. The depravity and destruction of sin overwhelms. It is everywhere. It is even in our very hearts as every man has sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. As shepherds of this church, Joshua, Al, and myself are very diligent to be looking for the sin that dwells with in us that we might surrender it to Christ and be purged of it. Speaking for myself, because sin is everywhere it’s not hard to find, and it can be discouraging at times to always be aware of the destruction that looms around each corner of each person’s sin. It’s very easy to feel like we’re losing. It’s becoming more and more infrequent to hear about the good, the life, and the spiritual growth that God is bringing. What’s much more common is to hear gossip and more stories about crazy church splits and families leaving the church and breaking the covenant between them for reasons that are ultimately self serving. Everywhere there’s another rumor, another person who’s unhappy and ready to leave the church. A list of wrongdoings that just piles up higher and higher, The constant fear that God’s work is just one more incident away from being drowned out; this idea that all “the faithful have vanished”. David was obviously not the only man in Israel who loved he Lord, but sin causes isolation. We know this. This is the fundamental truth which caused our separation from God in the first place. In God we find love, unity, and perfection. Sin cannot be a part of that without ruining it, thus it isolates us from everything good. We also see in this verse that sin does not only harm ourselves in a safe and self contained box, but it pours out like poison and hurts everyone around us.
In verse 2, we see the sin which is isolating David. It is not his own sin, but the sin of others, other people who claim to follow and serve God. “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” Dishonesty. People are loose with their lips to hand out compliments and sweet words that are not true and do not reflect their heart. We know that sin is sin. We know that every sin, no matter how unnoticeable it may be is just as wrong and damning as the very obvious sins that bring tremendous consequences. We know this, yet we still might find ourselves thinking “hey, out of all the sins that could be committed in the lives of our church, things can be a whole lot worse that a little flattery. Maybe David needs to come off his high horse and have a little grace”. We’re Canadians. We don’t like to give bad news. We don’t like conflict. We won’t want people to feel bad, and more importantly, we don’t want to say anything that might provoke someone to make us feel bad. So what do we do? We say what we need to say to keep peace, or perhaps that means we keep silent altogether and allowing sin to go unchecked when we actually had the opportunity to correct it in grace.
As we look a little further into this song, we see the greater consequences of these “small” sins. Vs. 4 “those who say, ‘With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us.” Flattery, along with any lie, is a willful unshackling and separation from the solid rock of truth. No one can willfully commit that crime without themselves being deceived. In our pride, we think that we can still stand and our words be believed, even if they’re based on the shifting sand of falsehood. We rely on our own words, not truth, because our words can talk us out of anything and afford us all the things we want. Therefore, any form of lying is an embracement of pride. That pride deceives us and leads us to believe that we are our own masters. We can speak lies and have them received as truth. We then create our own reality, one in which we are master and creator. We can live in the truth which we are able to have others believe. So “small and innocent” flattery can lead to pride which rejects our need to be in humble submission to the God of whole and perfect truth.
In verse 5 we see the flatterer contrasted with the God of truth. “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the Lord; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.” The flatterers have become prideful. They are liars and oppressors. They have oppressed the poor through their lies. But the God of truth acts differently. He is a God of action. He promises salvation for the poor and oppressed. Our lies oppress, but God’s truth gives freedom. God is truth, it’s who He is. And God gives true freedom, it’s what He does.
This requires some attention. David is writing a song in which he pleads for help because the sins of pride, deception, and complete disregard for integrity have so taken hold and infected the followers of God that it has tainted the whole people to a degree. This sin has brought oppression and isolation. It has isolated those who want to serve God. It has also put the flatterers in opposition to God, isolating them from His protection. In contrast, God stands on perfect truth desiring to show love, freedom, salvation, and protection.
We observe in this that salvation is not in numbers. The isolation of sin magnifies our helplessness as individuals on our own strength indeed, but that does not mean that a reversal of that isolation would be our salvation. Having a big church doesn’t mean we’re fine. Having lots of numbers, lots of money, lots of ministries, lots of friends, lots of good works, lots of compliments and good PR. These things can all be good. They can be blessings. God can use them. But having these things does not save us. They cannot be our firm foundation. Who does David cry out to for salvation? God! Who is the one who saves and protects when all the world is preying on the weak. God is the one who arises! Safety in numbers is not completely true for us. Our safety is ultimately in Christ.
That being said, it does not negate the fact that God does use His people as vessels for His work. A passage that I refer to very often is Revelation 3:8, Christ speaks to the church in Philadelphia, “I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Christ says I know you have but little power. This a body of believers that is perhaps small, or just very weak in the actual abilities and capabilities, or perhaps even both. And yet, out of the seven specific churches addressed in Revelation, which also correlate to types of churches, this is one of only two churches for which Christ did not have a word of condemnation. Their salvation certainly wasn’t in numbers, but in the Lord. What is their commendation? That they have been faithful. Faith is not a work. So their achievement and commendation is that they have trusted God to save them and sustain them. Safety not in numbers, but in Christ.
When we live faithfully, with integrity, we also protect and enhance the purity and ministry of our church. When we stand on truth, we stand on the Gospel of love and freedom. We stand on words that bring unity as we collectively purge out the sin from us. We stand on truth that empowers us to continue this work of God no matter how “outnumbered” we may feel in order to be vessels of His saving grace. With every false word, with every selfish motive, we put up another brick, another wall. We divide the body and cut someone off from the power of God which is manifested in His unified body.
Back to Psalm 12. Verse 6, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.” A quote I found earlier this week summarizes this verse in this way “The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as alloy to precious ore”. God’s word has lost nothing. The dross of our own biased and imperfect interpretations are taken away and God’s word continues on in purity and truth forever. Every one of God’s promises holds true. Forever. It is perfect. This truth is absolutely essential. In this song we see a cry for rescue and a promise to do so and it all holds together because God speaks only truth and is truth. I know you’ve heard this statement 5 million times, but I will keep saying it because it needs to be said. That is why we keep striving after His word, and digging into it, and memorizing it, and encouraging others to study it. There are questions, “what are you reading? What are you learning? What is God teaching you?” These are questions that we avoid because we’re sometimes embarrassed by our answers. For that reason, we criticize the person who asks it. We say they’re awkward, or holier than thou, or unauthentic. But knowing who God is, and how we are to seek Him and serve Him, these are the exact questions we should be asking. They should be commonplace. You’re out to coffee with another believer, sharing a dessert at care group, sitting down to a meal downstairs... ask these questions! Invite them! Seek the truth of conversations that rely on God’s word. Compliments make us feel good, but victory does not lie within any person’s praise. In the same manner, criticism and correction is not our ultimate failure and demise. God is the only one who can save, so listen to Him, and encourage each other to listen to Him.
The certainty of God’ word brings David full assurance of God’s deliverance. Verse 7, “You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever”. He then ends the psalm on a more somber note, “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man”. But this somber reminder of the evil that lurks is not as powerful and fearful as it was in the beginning of the psalm as these words come on the heels of promise of the God who keeps His word promises eternal salvation.
The work of sin in Johnny and Susie’s lives was devastating. It hindered many. It caused
many to sin. It cut many people off from each other. I lost relationships I thought would remain.
Every sin we commit will hurt someone else, but 1 John 1:5-7 gives this hope:
5This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. 6If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
God brings fellowship and unity. We are not saved by any number, no matter how big. We are not ruined by any number, no matter how small. We are not saved by any amount of praise nor ruined by any amount of failures and the gossip and rumors and even hatred that we receive. We also are not saved by our heroes in the faith. When they fail us, and they will, we cannot let their sin nullify the promises of God. We need mentors, but standing on their example alone is still standing on shifting sand compared to the promises of God alone. We are saved through the unifying and cleansing blood of Jesus. So stand and live on the truth of that promise. When we do that, even our fallen heroes will be extended the lifesaver to be pulled to solid ground.