by Shane Scott
Do you have a Sunday morning routine? A regular set of habits before you head to worship? When I was a child, my grandparents would make two stops as they drove to worship. First, they would pick up Sister Begley (for which I was grateful since she would give me two quarters, one for me and one for the collection). And second, they would drive through the car wash on the edge of town. I guess Pop believed that “cleanliness is next to godliness”!
Psalm 15 describes the way God wants us to prepare for worship, and it has nothing to do with what time you wake up, or what you have for breakfast, or how fancy you dress, or washing your car! Instead, it has to do with character, with integrity.
The psalm begins with two questions:
“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” (15:1).
The “tent” originally referred to the tabernacle. Later, 1 Kings 8:4 indicates there was some kind of tent in the temple structure. Broadly speaking it refers to the place where God’s presence was (Ps. 61:4).
More interesting is the word “sojourn.” Usually it refers to a stranger passing through a foreign land, dependent on the kindness of its residents. By describing worshipers this way, the psalmist reminds us that none of us is entitled to permanent home in God’s presence. We are utterly reliant on his grace (Ps. 39:12).
Yet at the same time, God invites us to “dwell on” his “holy hill,” Jerusalem – the city where God placed his name (Ps. 2:6). But as we will see, this psalm stresses that it is indeed a holy hill. Worship is not something we should approach casually. Coming into God’s presence is a privilege, due to his grace, and since grace always transforms, the person who comes to God will share his character (Ps. 5:1-4). Or in other words, to suppose that we can live any way we want the rest of the week and then show up on Sunday pretending to honor God is absurd (Jer. 7:8-11).
So then, who can come into God’s presence for worship?
The fundamental characteristic is simple: a person of integrity. “He who walks blamelessly (“with integrity” NASB) and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (15:2). This captures the full scope of behavior: how we walk, what we do, and the way we speak. All aspects of life are to be marked by integrity.
Think about the root of the word “integrity” – integrate. Some of you remember the cruel days of segregation, when races were kept separate. Integration brought that which was separated together. Likewise, integrity means that we keep together that which is easily segregated, namely what we are on the inside and how we act on the outside. The last part of verse two captures this: “speaks truth in his heart.” How he walks, what he does, and the way he speaks is integrated with his heart. What he does externally is integrated with what he is internally. That’s why integrity is sometimes defined as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” A person who is not integrated, whose outward actions do not reflect their inward heart, will only pretend to be holy when they think other people are watching. But an integrated person, who does outwardly what they believe inwardly, is consistent.
So, we could boil this down to saying that the requirement for worshiping God is that we are wholly holy. We are not just putting on a show on Sunday, but what we do at worship is reflective of the whole person we are on a regular basis.
To flesh out this concept, the psalmist mentions four areas of integrity.
Loyal to friends. “Who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (15:3). A person of no integrity finds it easy to pretend to be one thing in front of a friend but behind their back be completely different, slandering and insulting. That is a lack of integrity, a lack of the integrated character that God wants.
Honors the honorable. “In whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD” (15:4a). A “vile person” (“reprobate” NASB) refers to someone whom God has rejected for sinfulness. We can’t claim in our heart to love God and his word while at the same time adoring immoral conduct contrary to his word. Instead, we should give honor to whom honor is due, “those who fear the LORD.” This doesn’t mean that we are to be hateful toward sinners, but it does mean that our standards should be gauged by what God thinks.
Keeps commitments. “Who swears to his own hurt and does not change” (15:4c). In no area of my life is my heart segregated from my outward actions more than in this area. In my heart I have such good intentions, but my follow-through often falls short – especially when times get tough. But an integrated person keeps commitments, even if it hurts (Ecc. 5:1-5). Once we start being comfortable with making promises we don’t keep, we will find it easier and easier to segregate what we say in our heart from how we walk/do/speak, and that is the path to disaster.
Shows justice to the poor. “Who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent” (15:5a-b). How we handle money is a great test of integrity. The Law of Moses was clear that Israelites were not to loan money at interest since Israel understood better than anyone what it was like to be totally dependent on mercy from another (Lev. 25:35-38). Israel was not to segregate God’s kindness to it from kindness to someone in need. We can’t say that we love God who is just and righteous and yet treat others with injustice. That is not integrity.
This is the person that God invites to worship. A person of integrity, someone who is loyal to his friends, gives honor to the holy, keeps his commitments, and shows justice to the poor. Such a person will “never be moved” (15:5c). A person who is divided in their motives and behavior is inherently unstable, and just like a bridge without structural integrity collapses under stress, a person without moral integrity will shatter under adversity. But a person who is integrated, who does the will of God from the heart, can withstand chaotic circumstances because their foundation is secure.
And this is why the call to come to God with integrity is a great challenge, but an even greater blessing.