DEALING WITH DECLINE — Pete Bauer
This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 28, 2013. To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Ps 12.
Reacting to Corruption.
Everything is worse than it used to be: “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, for the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.” This sense that the former days were better and that the world is falling apart is nothing new. David, who is probably an older king at this point, (and whose reign was always considered a golden age by Israel), is now looking back to former days and expressing frustration about his governing officials, and about the society of Israel.
David sees a society where corruption and personal interest have taken over (seemingly). He expresses frustration, “Everyone lies to his neighbor. Their flattering lips speak with deception.” Of course, this is a bit of hyperbole, but we see what David is saying: people aren’t trustworthy.
Now, as an older king who is no longer out on campaign, David is concerned with faithfulness and justice. He is seeing corruption in his government, and he expresses disgust towards flatterers and arrogant officials – “May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues, we own our lips, who is our master”.
So as we look at this Psalm, we want to ask how a 3,000+ year old worship song helps us? If we believe that Psalm 12 is the word of God – then the question is – What is the Spirit of God saying to the church(es)?
Responding to Decline: What we see here is the response of a godly man to decline – which is something that, it seems, we are always facing. There are certainly unhelpful ways to deal with decline. People have based whole ministries on the idea of fighting decline – trying to take society back to some former time (which is really impossible). And the church cannot afford to live in the past. We cannot afford to be those who sit around and harrumph about the way things used to be.
David responds to the decline of his day by writing a worship song. More than that – he writes a worship song about the corruption and flattery and arrogance of those who are not living faithfully – a song that will be sung in the Temple worship – where his officials are worshipping alongside him. He makes his complaint in the context of the presence and the power of God. He suggests, in his song, that God is going to arise to protect the needy and the oppressed in his kingdom – which comes across as a warning to those corrupt officials who are listening. David sets this song in a lower octave in order to create a mournful tone (“Sheminith”), to move the worshipper to repentance.
But this is a very specific situation in another time, long ago. What can we learn about how we are to respond to decline from this Psalm?
Believe that God is Going to Act.
Because God Has Compassion on the Needy and Oppressed: “Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”
The first thing to see here is that David is not the only one who cares about oppression and justice and the needy. David sees this. He doesn’t pretend that society is falling apart and he is the only one who cares about it. He recognizes that God’s nature is to be just and compassionate – and, in fact, in that David himself is just and compassionate – he is only reflecting the nature and character of God.
We can expand this idea. Whatever we fear is being lost – God is much more passionate about that issue than we are. God sees more than we do. God is acting in ways we do not see – and God will act.
God Will Arise: “Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise, says the Lord” At first glance this seems to be suggesting that God is going to fix the problem – and so we do not have to worry about it. But that is neither what David is saying – nor is it what he is doing. So what is David doing?
First, note what David is not doing. He is not starting an inquisition or an anti-corruption task force in order to preserve the governing of God’s people. He is not raising money by telling people that if this problem is not addressed, the people of God may cease to be in the next generation.
David is confronting those who are connected to his life with a worship Psalm – and is pointing them to the word of God. So notice how Verse 6 seems to come out of nowhere – “The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.” David compares God’s word to silver – purified in the furnace. Two things come to mind…
- Purified silver is very valuable.
- The process of purifying silver is done by heating the silver, and scooping out the impurities, until the silver smith can see his face/ reflection clearly in the liquid silver.
This is very interesting because David is saying two things here…
First: David is saying that God is going to arise and bring about justice and help the oppressed and needy.
Second: David is encouraging those who are corrupt and arrogant to look into the word and see themselves – to see that they too are spiritually needy and even oppressed.
In essence, David is saying both that God will arise to help the poor and oppressed, and that God will arise to convict the spiritually poor and oppressed. That God cares about the corrupt official who is blinded by greed and the arrogant man who says – “I am my own master and I’ll do as I please” – and that they need delivering as much as those they oppress.
Be Raised Up as a Prophet and Priest.
So in part our response to decline is about believing that God will act – but also, as we have seen, David’s response is to act. And his action becomes a model for us. In short, David’s response is to point his officials, and others, to the word. This, in fact, is the calling of the church anyway. Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor… it is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” In other words, pointing people to the word is a major purpose of the followers of Jesus. David, citing the negative side of this says, “The wicked freely strut when what is vile is honored among men”.
This can feel overwhelming, but there are both helpful and unhelpful ways to do this. One helpful way of thinking about (organizing in our minds) the way we share the word is the idea of being prophets and priests. Prophets confront evil and falsehood. Priests stand between God and people and offer the gifts of God to those who desire to come to God. We have been given the privilege to offer the grace of Jesus – forgiveness of sins – to the world. That sounds good, but how would we ever be prepared enough to do it? An image from the passage suggests an effective and real way to do this – see verse 6.
“The words of God…”, says David, “… are flawless, like silver refined in the furnace of clay, purified seven times”. David is not making some scientific observation about Biblical accuracy – he is referring to the beauty, value, and mirror-like quality of the word. The image suggests that when we look into the word (prayerfully and honestly), we see truth about ourselves, about life. The word exposes us, confronts us – but also offers us forgiveness, restoration of our souls, a spiritual life that is satisfying. It is only, as James says, when we look into this mirror and respond to what we see there in faith and obedience and even worship – that we become prepared to speak and act as prophets or priests.
And to whom do we go? Who do we speak these things to? We speak them to the people whom God brings into our lives. We ask God first to show us what he is saying to us through the word – then to lead us into the situation(s) in which we are to speak that word – and then, as we find ourselves in those situations, to give us articulation and his Spirit to speak and say what God wants to say – whether as priest or as prophet. This is the way David chooses to confront corruption in his government and decline. This is the way that Jesus dealt with the world he came into – “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me”.