I have an early memory (which may be completely fabricated) from a family vacation in California. My parents took us on a ship going (I think) to Catalina Island from San Francisco.) During the voyage I got up and walked around the boat (I never have been good at sitting still for a long period of time). When I came back, someone was sitting where I had been sitting with my family. Feeling a little miffed at being so easily replaced in my family, I stood at the doorway which had a “lip” on it that you needed to step over (like most doorways on boats). An older woman (who was probably my age!) apparently didn’t see the lip and tripped, falling down. For some unknown reason she turned and looked at me and said, “That boy tripped me!” (Which only made me wish I HAD tripped her). I quickly made myself scarce. It is no fun to be falsely accused.
Like you, I have had people impugn my motives. I have been accused of meaning things by my words that I did not mean. I have had my character attacked. I have had people say things about me that just were not true. When this happens I am wounded (and angry) that others would think such things of me. I know you are too.
This morning we look at a Psalm that addresses this kind of situation. Commentators disagree on what Psalm 26 is talking about but it seems clear to me that David was being talked about in a way that was unflattering and untrue.
The occasion may have been when Saul’s son, King Ish-Bosheth, was killed. Some people may have charged that David was responsible for his death. The two kings were rivals, but David was not involved. David had always shown respect for those in authority even when they were hostile to him. David was innocent of these charges and innuendos. Whether or not this was the situation which prompted the Psalm, it must have been something like this. I believe we gain some important lessons from how David responds.
Turn First to the Lord
David did not try to “fix” the situation. He didn’t attack those who spoke painful words about him. He turned to the Lord. David began by saying,
1 Declare me innocent, O Lord,
for I have acted with integrity;
I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
David asked God to vindicate him and clear his name. In essence I think David was saying, “Lord, rise to my defense. You know the truth. You know that in this case I have been wrongly accused. I have lived with integrity and you know this is true.”
I do not believe David is saying he always lived with integrity. None of us do. However, in this case, David was innocent. He had acted in integrity in this instance.
In these times we should draw comfort from two things that are true:
- God knows the truth. He sees clearly. He has all the evidence. He knows our hearts.
- God’s judgment is the only one that ultimately matters.
There is only one judge of the universe. He knows we are innocent and He knows the other person has wronged us with their words. If we are right with the Lord, we are walking rightly . . . period. Likewise, if we are wrong with Him, it doesn’t matter what positive things others may say about us. The Lord will bring justice in the end.
David asked God to
2 Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me.
Test my motives and my heart.
David is confident of his innocence and invites God to examine him. It is a request to clear his name from what was wrongfully applied to his account. David asked God to be the arbitrator or the impartial and true judge in the situation. David believed he was being falsely slandered yet, he was open to the possibility that he may be in need of correction. He turned to the Lord and said: “Lord, examine me. If I am doing something wrong I will correct it. If I am not, please rise to my defense.”
Continue to Pursue a Life of Consistency
3 For I am always aware of your unfailing love,
and I have lived according to your truth.
When others attack us the best course is to simply keep on doing what is right. David did not let the false accusations cause him to stray from the course of seeking to live with integrity before the Lord. Please understand, consistency is not the same as perfection. It is about the course of our lives over the long haul. Someone has called the Christian life “a long journey in the same direction”.
Think about a great athlete. One day they will be called a hero who “saved the day”, the next others may say they are the person who “single-handedly lost the game”. Both of those things are exaggerations. The successful athlete is the one who is not governed by what others are saying and continues to work to develop their skill and give their best every day. That is the way the believer is to live: not re-acting to what others do but seeking to consistently keep walking with Christ.
The best way to prove our innocence is consistency.
- The only way to prove our integrity is to continue to live with integrity.
- The only way to prove we are not lazy is to consistently work with diligence.
- The only way to show that we are faithful to our spouse is to continue to work at building a good relationship with said spouse.
- The only way to show we are telling the truth is to continue to be a truth-teller in every area of our lives.
David argues for his consistency with a list like that we saw in Psalm 15.
4 I do not spend time with liars
or go along with hypocrites.
5 I hate the gatherings of those who do evil,
and I refuse to join in with the wicked.
6 I wash my hands to declare my innocence.
I come to your altar, O Lord,
7 singing a song of thanksgiving
and telling of all your wonders.
8 I love your sanctuary, Lord,
the place where your glorious presence dwells.
David points to several things that reveal his character. He is not saying that he deserves salvation because he is a good man. David did not believe he could earn God’s favor by being good. David understood that it was only because of God’s mercy and grace that he could stand in His presence. David points to these behaviors as a way of giving evidence for the true nature of his character and his faith. He shows the sincerity of his desire to serve and honor the Lord by doing an inventory of his life. Look at what he says.
He He Was Careful About His Friends (v.4-5) David did not associate with liars or hypocrites and does not even socialize with those who dishonor God by the way they live. He viewed these people and behaviors as dishonoring to God and does not want to be part of it.
We know that Jesus has called us to befriend those who are lost. We are supposed to try to build bridges to broken people. Obviously, lost people will never come to know about Christ if Christians treat them like they are contagious. However, there is an important distinction here: we can be in the world; we can be friendly toward those who do not follow Christ; without embracing their values or following their patterns of behavior. It is a difficult balance to maintain.
There are two reasons we must be careful. First, it is easier to pull someone down than it is to lift them up. This isn’t just about leverage. It is because of our sin nature. Wicked people (those who do not follow Christ) call us back into a world in which we used to feel quite comfortable but which undermines our holiness. It is like an alcoholic going out with former drinking buddies.
C. S. Lewis has an excellent chapter on this problem in Reflections on the Psalms. It is on what he calls “connivance.” He writes wisely,
“Many people have a very strong desire to meet celebrated or ‘important’ people, including those whom they disapprove. … But I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful and so forth. Not because we are ‘too good’ for them. In a sense because we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces.”3
Second, it is about reputation. We will be seen as being like those with whom we associate. Right or wrong, our reputation is impacted by the company we keep. We preach this to our children all the time. We understand that if our children hang out with “the wrong people” they are going to gain a poor reputation. That doesn’t change when we become an adult. Our associations will sometimes open us up to charges that are not true.
What does the company you keep say about you?
He Tried to Live According to a Standard of Holiness (6a). The idea of washing your hands was a declaration of innocence (think of Pilate washing his hands before delivering Jesus over to the crowd). David declared that he had been faithful, he walked in the way he was supposed to go.
Most of us know when we are really doing our best, and when we are only doing what we have to do to “get by”. The person who walks consistently before the Lord is not simply trying to be as good as the rest of the people. The person who proves he is a genuine believer is the one who makes choices consistent with living faithfully. They put God’s way before their own desires; they live by His priorities rather than the priorities of their sinful desires. They rest in God’s ability rather than trying to “fix things” on their own. Their goal is to measure themselves not by the standard of the world but by the standard of Christ.
When people look at the way you live, the choices you make, the priorities which govern your life, and the priority which you give to God in your daily living, what do they conclude about the genuineness of your walk with Christ?
He Honored God Publicly (6b-8) David says he was consistent in his worship. He came regularly to God’s altar and sang songs of thanksgiving; he proclaimed God’s goodness publicly and he loved going into the sanctuary of the Lord to meet with God. He gave himself to serve the Lord.
A person who has a godly integrity is one who doesn’t merely worship because it is the “right thing to do”. They worship because they love the Lord. They love the Lord’s people. They love the chance to celebrate the Lord and honor Him with their words and their lives. They worship not only on Sunday, but even daily in their own homes.
There are many who will tell you that they don’t need to be involved in a church because they can worship God just as well at home (or on the Golf Course, or in Bed, or in the woods, etc) as they can with God’s people. This is a lame excuse for not doing what is right. The Bible is clear that the true believer is the one who does not “neglect meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another.”(Heb. 10:25)
This is not about duty; it is about delight, health and survival. The person who is truly honoring the Lord in their lives is one who also relishes the idea of honoring Him with others. These people are eager to sing God’s praises and to encourage God’s people. We need the fellowship of the body of Christ to keep us health and to prop us up in the hard times of life.
Rest in the Lord (9-12)
9 Don’t let me suffer the fate of sinners.
Don’t condemn me along with murderers.
10 Their hands are dirty with evil schemes,
and they constantly take bribes.
11 But I am not like that; I live with integrity.
So redeem me and show me mercy.
12 Now I stand on solid ground,
and I will publicly praise the Lord.
David looked to the Lord for vindication. He trusted God to rally to His defense. In verse 12 he shows that he is confident that God will vindicate him before his critics. It may not be today. It may not be tomorrow. However, God will vindicate those who have been falsely accused, those who have been slandered, and those who have been unjustly attacked. He will expose the falsehood in the words (and lives) of others.
Paul reiterates the same thing when he says, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . . .Nothing”. In this time when David is getting beat up by those making false accusations David rests in the fact that God is faithful.
Mother Teresa prayed a prayer that captures the essence of Psalm 26,
Father, people can often be unreasonable, irrational and self-centered.
Help me to forgive them anyway.
Father, if I am successful, I will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
Help me to succeed anyway.
Father, if I am honest and sincere, people may deceive me.
Help me to be honest and sincere anyway.
Father, what I spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
Help me to create anyway. . .
Father, the good I do today, will be forgotten tomorrow.
Help me to do good anyway.
Father, if I give the best I have, it will never be enough.
Help me to give my best anyway.
Father, in the final analysis
Help me to remember it is only between you and me.
It is hard to remember through the ups and downs of life that in the end, there is only one opinion that matters. There is only one Judge of all mankind. It is the Lord who knows our heart and who knows the truth. He knows our minds and our intentions. In the end, before all creation, He will vindicate all who have been falsely accused and He will expose the pretenders.
That doesn’t mean the false accusations don’t hurt. Our reputations are important. False words wound us in many ways. What we must try to remember is that these things are temporary. The sense of victory for those who seek to do us harm will not last. And neither will the hurt. The Lord will make things right . . . eventually.
There are three responses to this passage. First, there is a call to a personal examination as a check on our own behavior. We should ask ourselves some questions: First, am I guilty of slandering others? Am I hurting others by what I say? Do I pass on information that is questionable? Do I get all the facts and consider all sides of an issue before I draw damaging conclusions? Do I give people the benefit of the doubt or do I assume the worst? Do I talk TO them before I ever say anything ABOUT them?
Second, examine your spiritual integrity. Are we really as innocent as we think in the issue that is bringing pain and pressure? (Sometimes we are.) Can we say that at least in this instance we are pure in motives and sincere in our desire to honor the Lord? Do we strive to live consistently as people of integrity? Are we careful about the influences on our lives? Is our worship sincere? Does our behavior match our profession? People of questionable character will seldom get the benefit of the doubt from others.
Finally, Live out your faith. We must remember that life ultimately is lived before an audience of One. Even if the whole world is against us unjustly, the Lord knows the truth and will vindicate us in the end.
I hope and pray that you never experience the pointed finger or poisonous words of false accusation. However, if you do, I pray that you will remember Psalm 26 and instead of panicking, or falling apart, you will entrust yourself to Him who is truth, who knows the truth, and who will declare the truth someday before the whole world. The wicked will be exposed. The innocent will be vindicated.
In the time of conflict, trial, and difficulty it all comes down to this: Can we, will we, trust the One who knows our hearts?