I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Sin is inherently deceitful. It fogs the mind and keeps you from objectively weighing costs and benefits. In a way, it's like the deadliest of addictive drugs: The more you indulge, the less sensitive you are to its deadly effects. As C. S. Lewis said, there's only been one Man in the history of humanity who's ever really understood the full power of sin. Lewis compared it to the Nazi army—You don’t find out how powerful it is by giving in to it, but by resisting it. Therefore, our Lord is the only one who's completely clear-headed when it comes to this subject. That’s why today’s reading is so useful, especially vss. 3-5. Let’s examine it in some more detail, shall we?
The Psalmist (David according to the superscript) starts out with a prayer concerning his mouth. Like James said, “Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.” Of course, none of us actually can meet that benchmark, so none of us are perfect. But it’s an important standard for which to strive. I think that all of us could stand to repeat this prayer, early and often.
Next he got to the heart of the matter, literally. He knew, just like our Savior, that “the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Why did he ask God to not let his heart be drawn to evil? Because unless the Lord directs our hearts, that’s the natural direction we’ll go. And it doesn’t just affect our speech—Solomon said that everything we do flows from the heart, so we need to guard it carefully.
I love how he characterizes temptation, by the way: “delicacies.” Sin always looks good, like your favorite type of candy. To our sinful nature, it’s really attractive. I think that a good cure would be the ability to see sin the way our Lord sees it.
And then we come to another mark of the psalmist’s spiritual maturity. It’s never fun to have someone else criticize you, even if it’s completely justified and completely necessary. Notice how he viewed it. He compares it to “striking” him, which would be pretty painful. But to him, it was a kindness, something a friend would do for another friend as a favor. He even compared it to “oil on [his] head,” which could be in the medicinal sense or an honor you bestow on a beloved friend. Either way, he sees "tough love" as a benefit, not something to avoid.
On a final note, we need to remember the context of this passage. When he wrote this, he wasn’t sitting at home alone in luxury, like when he fell into sin with Bathsheba. From the rest of the Psalm, it’s pretty clear that he was in danger from physical enemies, which was the setting for most of his writings. When the pressure was on, and he didn’t know whom to trust, he wanted to make sure that he didn’t end up bringing dishonor upon his Lord by giving into sin. If only he had kept this resolve in his later years, once things had calmed down a bit, he could've saved himself a lot of heartache. We’re usually at our best when there’s a bit of pressure on us, aren’t we?
There’s a lot of good teaching from this Psalm, so I’ll leave it to you how best to apply it. For me, I think turning vss. 3-4 into personal prayers would be a good start.
Lord Jesus, I want to see sin the way you do. To you, it’s not a “delicacy.” It’s what nailed you to the cross. Please cleanse out my heart, and let that cleansing overflow into a mouth that honors and pleases you.