Integrity: An Essential Element In Worship

What, really, is worship? Most discussions focus on its meaning or the elements of a worship service. Certainly, these are important, yet Psalm 15 insists that there is something else involved. This psalm focuses on a significant but rarely discussed issue in the practice of worship: personal integrity. Psalm 15 asserts that the one who can enter God’s presence to worship Him is the one who practices integrity as a way of life.

Psalm 15 begins with the worshipper asking about the requirements to enter the sanctuary to worship God (v. 1): “O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill?”[1] The words “abide” and “dwell” are fairly synonymous, and they indicate a settling down to rest, in this case, in God’s presence.[2] God’s “tent” refers to the tabernacle that David set up for the ark (2 Samuel 6:17). The “holy hill” is Mt. Zion. Both statements refer to the earthly place of God’s dwelling with Israel. The request is to be in God’s presence. Entering God’s presence is not taken lightly; God is not to be trifled with. So, who can enter God’s presence to worship Him properly?

The answer is somewhat unexpected. Nothing is said about sacrifices, gifts or offerings. Instead, the focus is entirely on the character of the worshipper. Several character traits are mentioned; it will be helpful to look at these virtues under three main categories.

The first set of virtues concern loyalty to the Lord as a basis for true worship. The true worshipper “walks with integrity” (v. 2). Integrity “implies what is whole, or whole-hearted, and sound.”[3] A major idea of integrity involves completeness, which results from having nothing lacking, a character unmixed with error or deception. This is a single-minded person, not one with divided loyalties; one who seeks to love the Lord with the whole of his being (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37). Next, the true worshipper “works righteousness” (v. 2). His life is conformed to the will of God; to perform righteous works means “to match one’s deeds to God’s will.”[4] Finally, the one seeking to dwell in God’s presence will stand loyally with whoever honors the Lord (v. 4). He rejects behavior that dishonors God. True worship does not divorce outward actions from inward character, for outward actions reflect the reality of one’s inner devotion to Christ. Worshipping God with integrity involves the whole person, resulting in whole-hearted loyalty to Jesus Christ.

The second category of virtues for properly worshipping God involves the tongue; indeed, half of the virtues mentioned have to do with speech. The main virtue seen here is that of honesty. On the positive side, the true worshipper “speaks truth in his heart” (v. 2). It is not simply that this man speaks what is correct; he speaks with sincerity and peace, which reflects a character conforming to God’s will and whole-hearted love for God. Consequently, this person “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (v. 4). He is a man faithful to his word who will do everything in his power to honor his promise. Stating things in negative terms, the one truly seeking to worship God refuses to slander (v. 3). Derek Kidner describes “slander” as going about to spy in order to spread scandalous information.[5] The one who seeks to enter God’s presence does not speak scandalously against another; he will do no evil or damage of any kind to his neighbor. Also, he will refuse to take up “a reproach against his friend” (v. 3). A reproach is a taunt that “carries a sense of social shame and rejection that is highly odious.”[6] Last, he will not “take a bribe against the innocent” (v. 5). Taking a bribe against the innocent would entail speaking falsely against one’s neighbor. The one seeking to abide in God’s presence refuses to work to the disadvantage of a brother or stranger; rather, his concern is for their welfare. In summary, the man who rightly wants to worship God will speak truth, honor his word, and refuse to use his words to damage others in any way.

A third virtue for the worshipper of God involves the treatment of others. All that was said about the use of the tongue could be repeated here, but the psalmist highlights the virtue of kindness (v. 5). Out of concern for a person in need, the worshipper of Christ will not practice usury against his neighbor, making the neighbor’s struggle even more difficult. The man or woman who seeks to dwell in God’s presence is one who treats friends and neighbors with kindness and concern for their welfare.

For the man whose life is one of integrity, the promise is made that he will “never be shaken” (v. 5). This does not mean that such a life will be free of difficulty, sickness or opposition. It does mean that such a person is stable and will not be moved off of his foundation. Christ, our foundation, can and does turn lament into comfort and victory.

We are faced with a haunting question. Is our worship of God genuine? Does God’s presence seem to be real in our worship? Is there evidence of spiritual growth? If the answer to these questions is “No,” then we may need to check our character. Attempting to worship God without integrity is not worshipping God.

[1] All Scripture references are from the New American Standard Bible.

[2] For the slight difference between these two words, see C. F. Keil and F. Delitsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, vol. 5, transl. James Martin (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, reprint 1984), 212.

[3] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, vol. 14a (Downers Grove: IVP, 1973), 81.

[4] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson, and Beth LaNeel Tanner, The Book of Psalms, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), 173.

[5] Kidner, 81.

[6] de-Claissé, Jacobson, and Tanner, 174.