A Godly Example

A sermon preached at Covenant Presbyterian Church of Fort Smith, Arkansas on April 23, 2023.

            I will sing of steadfast love and justice;

                        to you, O LORD, I will make music.

            I will ponder the way that is blameless.

                        Oh when will you come to me?

            I will walk with integrity of heart

                        within my house;

            I will not set before my eyes

                        anything that is worthless.

            I hate the work of those who fall away;

                        it shall not cling to me.

            A perverse heart shall be far from me;

                        I will know nothing of evil.

            Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly

                        I will destroy.

            Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart

                        I will not endure.

            I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,

                        that they may dwell with me;

            he who walks in the way that is blameless

                        shall minister to me.

            No one who practices deceit

                        shall dwell in my house;

            no one who utters lies

                        shall continue before my eyes.

            Morning by morning I will destroy

                        all the wicked in the land,

            cutting off all the evildoers

                        from the city of the LORD (Psalm 101).[1]

In the baptism of a covenant child, three questions are asked of the believing parent or parents: First, “do you acknowledge your child’s need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, and the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit?” It is an affirmation of the atoning efficacy of Christ’s death and regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Second, “do you claim God’s covenant promises on (your child’s) behalf, and do you look in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ for (your child’s) salvation, as you do for your own? It is an affirmation that God has and continues to work covenantally with his people and that the child of a believing parent is made holy (2 Cor. 7:14), or set apart, and should receive the covenantal sign and seal of baptism, signifying the circumcision of Christ (Col. 2:11-12).

But it is the third question that I want us to consider more closely. It asks: “Do you now unreservedly dedicate your child to God, and promise, in humble reliance upon divine grace, that you will endeavor to set before (your child) a godly example, that you will pray with and for (your child), that you will teach (your child) the doctrines of our holy religion, and that you will strive, by all the means of God’s appointment, to bring (your child) up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?”[2] Like Hannah with Samuel, in this assent the child is dedicated to God (unreservedly!), which is a beautiful picture of trust in our sovereign God. In dedicating a child, the parent acknowledges that she is not the ultimate guardian of this child; the Lord is. The parent then moves into a support role under God: The dedicated child is entrusted to the Lord to be cared for through the means of the parent.

If God provides for the child dedicated to him, through you, what does this supporting role look like? It’s rooted in dependence upon the Lord’s provision. Parenting is tough enough, but raising a covenant child in a fallen world to the glory of God is impossible but for divine grace. By divine grace, you will faithfully pray for your child. By divine grace, you will teach your child the doctrines of Christianity. But if you are to bring your child up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord but do not set before your child a godly example, your teaching will fall on deaf ears and your praying will avail naught.                                 

When my paternal grandmother died, she left me among other things a small poem to remember as a father. It reads,

            A careful man I ought to be,

            A little fellow follows me.

            I dare not go astray,

            For fear he’ll go the self-same way.

            I cannot once escape his eyes,

            Whatever he sees me do, he tries.

            Like me, he says, he’s going to be,

            The little chap who follows me.

            He thinks that I am good and fine,

            Believes in every word of mine.

            The base in me he must not see,

            That little fellow who follows me.

            I must remember as I go,

            Thru summers’ sun and winters’ snow.

            I am building for the years to be,

            This little chap who follows me.[3]

What children learn from their parents is more often caught than taught, and as it is in the home so also in the church. In our baptismal liturgy, rightly is the congregation asked to acknowledge publicly the responsibility of assisting the parents in the Christian nurture of the child and promising with God’s help to be a helper to the child to the end that the child may confess Christ as Lord and Savior and come at last to His eternal kingdom.

Of course, ultimately, the salvation of our covenant children doesn’t depend on us but on the grace of God through faith in Christ, but we are the means through which God works. Proverbs says, “The righteous who walks in his integrity—blessed are his children after him!” (Prov. 20:7). We may deduce that part of the blessing children receive is a godly example. And so, given the importance of a godly example, I want us to look to the one hundred and first psalm, a psalm of David, which begins, perhaps characteristic of David, with singing.

Celebrate Singingly

We often sing of what we love. As a singer/songwriter, my oldest son has a song and album titled “Long Way from Home.” It’s really a love song to his home (and Momma) from the road (I’ve yet to listen to it without crying!). It hits home because of a love of home. We often sing of what we love.

Similarly, yet sacredly, David sings,

            I will sing of steadfast love and justice;

                        to you, O LORD, I will make music.

He sings of what he loves: God’s steadfast, his covenantally-faithful love, knowing, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). He sings of what he loves, God’s justice, or his judgments, as what God does is always righteous. These two attributes, steadfast love and justice, are the theme of David’s song and rightly so, for they are the theme of our salvation. God’s love and justice are clearly declared in the gospel, in which we gather and sing.

For example, listen carefully for God’s love and justice in what Paul writes to the Romans: “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom. 5:8-10). God’s eternal, covenantally faithful love for us is revealed in the satisfaction of his justice in the cross of Christ. And this is worth singing about, making music to the Lord, celebrating that we are loved and saved in Christ forever.

It is through this love and justice, of which we sing, that serves as the basis of our living with integrity before God and man. We do not live with integrity to win the favor of our heavenly Father. That’s Christ’s work, and it is finished. We do not live with integrity for fear of losing the eternal love of God. That’s Christ’s victory; he has secured it! No, we live with integrity, in humble reliance upon divine grace, because God loved us and sent his only begotten to die for us: “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). And part of the purpose of our assembled worship every Lord’s Day is to be reminded of these truths, to sing before the Lord in worship and in so doing singing to ourselves the truth of the gospel.

Pursue Piety

This, of course, requires reflection, consideration, pondering “the way that is blameless,” a life of integrity, a life that comes from the Lord, a life according to his Word. As in all things in the life of a believer, such a life is dependent upon the Spirit of God at work within us. There are indeed times when it feels as if the Lord has abandoned us to ourselves, leading us to plea with David, “Oh when will you come to me?” But the Spirit of Christ is indeed at work, even in our suffering, which produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, and Paul says that this “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5). And he whom we receive does not leave. He never walks away in frustration but continues in conforming us to Christ. And endurance, character, and hope all contribute to a godly example, as attributes of the Holy Spirit’s work. This David ponders, as should we: Is the Lord’s work in me evident in my example?

Our children need to see God’s work in our lives, how we handle success and adversity, and everything in between. How many of us have been encouraged by the example of a faithful saint amidst suffering? As we age, will we too serve as a godly example, or will we grow bitter from the dark providences we’re dealt? Will our growth in grace be apparent in the walk and talk of our integrity, or will we be characterized as grumpy and graceless?

            David says,

                        I will walk with integrity of heart

                                    within my house.

He will pursue piety even behind closed doors.

To paraphrase Charles Marshall, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.”[4] The point is that our integrity should not change whether someone is watching. A little fellow may follow me, but whether he’s there or not, God is. All of life is lived, coram Deo, before the face of God, and this should inform what we look at, who we follow, and how we live.

David says,

            I will not set before my eyes

                        anything that is worthless.

David knows what our Lord would later say, “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness” (Matt. 6:22-23). What the lamp of the body lets in impacts how you see the Lord, your neighbor, and yourself. If you are consistently looking at that which is characterized by this present darkness, do not be surprised that your heart and mind grow dark. And don’t be surprised when your example is followed.

This is also the case with those you follow, or who influence you. David says,

            I hate the work of those who fall away;

                        it shall not cling to me.

How much is your life influenced by those who do not share your faith, who do not know the Lord? Have the so-called influencers of your interests shaped your perspective into a curated world of worldliness? Do their views cling to you like leeches set to let you of Christ’s blood? If so, for David to say that he hates their work is understandable. We should hate it too Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matt. 6:24). Beloved, hate what is evil; beware of what clings.

But it’s not merely external awareness but heart examination: Have you allowed the world, the flesh, and devil to pervert your heart? David says,

            A perverse heart shall be far from me;

                        I will know nothing of evil.

Rightly did David pray, when convicted of his sin,

            Create in me a clean heart, O God,

                        And renew a right spirit within me (Ps. 51:10).

As the center of our being we are to guard our heart, for from it flow “the springs of life” (Prov. 4:23). David devotes himself to “know nothing of evil,” a comprehensive dedication of what he sees, says, and does.

I am reminded of the godly example of the first psalm, of the blessed man, who walks nor stands nor sits in the way of evil but instead delights himself in and meditates upon the Word of God (Ps. 1:1-2). The pursuit of piety is not merely hating evil but loving what is good, pondering “the way that is blameless.” Paul counsels the Philippians, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil 4:8). And delighting in and meditating upon God’s truth brings clarity: You see more clearly the distinction between evil and good, that you may fan the flame of righteousness and uproot unrighteousness.  

Uproot unrighteousness

The fifth verse of this psalm is a transition point, in which David’s zeal for integrity transitions from personal to communal. In verses one through four, we hear David the man; in verses five through eight, we hear David the king, who seeks to uproot unrighteousness throughout the kingdom. Note the language of war: “I will destroy” (5a); “I will not endure,” or tolerate (5b); “shall [not] dwell in my house … shall [not] continue before my eyes” (7); “destroy all the wicked … cutting off all the evildoers” (8). Like Joshua and the armies of Israel when they entered the promised land, David intends to purge evil from the land.

Fascinatingly, the sins he intends to purge are less overt, “secret” sins so to speak, such as slander, arrogance, deceit, lying. Why not obvious sins, such as murder, or adultery, sins that are easily discovered? David’s intent is to get to the heart of the matter. Murder is indeed sin, but Jesus said, “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment” (Matt. 5:22). Adultery is indeed sin, but Jesus said, “everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). In other words, by starting with sins of the heart, David intends to purge “all the wicked in the land” and cut “off all the evildoers” before sins of the heart become sins of the hand. He intends to uproot unrighteousness before it blossoms.

The description of David’s zeal, however, can sound foreign to modern ears. It can seem violent, harsh, intolerant, among other things. But this was the Lord’s covenanted kingdom, and he had anointed David king over it. God had given David the authority to cleanse the land. Today, you and I do not live in the covenanted kingdom of Israel nor are we the king of the land. We do not have the authority to destroy all the wicked in the land, but that does not negate the necessity to uproot unrighteousness where we do have authority.

Consider, for example, what we pray in the third petition of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” According to our Shorter Catechism, we are praying that “God, by his grace, would make us able and willing to know, obey, and submit to his will in all things, as the angels do in heaven.”[5] Just as David was zealous to purge the land of wickedness, there is much unconquered territory in the heart. Have you declared war against the wicked and evildoer of your flesh? Do you regularly purge the kingdom of your life? Are you guilty of slander, arrogance, deceit, lying but ignore them as less sinister evidence of your fallen self?

David says,

            I will look with favor on the faithful in the land,

                        that they may dwell with me;

            he who walks in the way that is blameless

                        shall minister to me.

As he uproots unrighteousness in the kingdom, he looks for the faithful to thrive, for the blameless to serve. Such is the authority of King Jesus over his kingdom, cleansing the land of our hearts for faithful service to him. This he calls us to do and empowers us to do, that by reliance upon divine grace, we will endeavor to serve as a godly example before our children and before the world. A godly example is more than a simple poem about who follows me – It’s a beautiful song of God’s steadfast love and justice sung to the beautiful melody of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

[1] Unless referenced otherwise, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2001).

[2] The Book of Church Order of the Presbyterian Church in America, Sixth Edition (Lawrenceville: The Committee for Christian Education and Publications, 2013), 56-5.

[3] My copy of this poem cites the poet as “unknown”. However, I have seen it referenced as it written by Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr.

[4] Charles Marshall, “Shattering the Glass Slipper,” quoted in “Quotes Misattributed to C.S. Lewis,”

[5] “The Shorter Catechism” Q. 103, The Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms (Lawrenceville: PCA Christian Education and Publications, 2007), 404.

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