We don’t know the background to this psalm, some believe it is related to the ark of the covenant being brought to Jerusalem, 2 Samuel 6:1-19, and others believe that it was a psalm that was used in worship.
The psalm was also possibly used to prepare worshipers when they came to the sanctuary of God to offer their sacrifices, or to serve as priests when they were assigned temple duty.
Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.
1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.
2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.
3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.
4. How it was used.
This heading simply tells us it was written by David.
Notice that David begins by asking two questions, ‘who may dwell in your sacred tent?’ Who may live on your holy mountain?’
The ‘sacred tent’ is a reference to the tabernacle, which represented the presence of God. The ‘holy mountain’ is a reference to Jerusalem which was built on Mount Zion, the place where God’s people lived.
In other words, David is asking, what kind of a person can live and have fellowship with God? But there’s a deeper question being asked here, what’s the point of your existence?
David is asking the most important question of all, what is the point of living a life without God? Or we could ask, why would anyone want to live a life with God continually being present in it?
We will never know what a person is really like unless we spend some good quality time with them because when we spend time with others, we soon get to know them, and we soon discover what’s really going on inside of them.
We soon discover what they really think about others and what they actually believe concerning the Bible. We soon discover if they are preaching one thing but practising another.
In other words, if we’re claiming that God is with us and God is influencing our lives, then our families, our friends, our work colleagues and neighbours should see that influence in our lives.
David tells us there are three things which identify us as having fellowship with God. He says if you want the world to know God is dwelling in you, then you must be ‘blameless’, ‘righteous’ and ‘truthful’.
Remember, to be blameless doesn’t mean sinless. When Paul is arguing with the legalizers in Philippi, he tells them he was blameless, Philippians 3:6, however, he was blameless in the sense that he did everything he had to do to be right with God according to the Law.
The law of Moses demanded that a person had to offer the appropriate sacrifice to be right with God, but now under the law of Christ, a person needs to be baptised and confess their sins to God.
When a person is blameless and right with God, then everything they say should come from a ‘pure heart’. If anyone wants to have fellowship with God, then the way we live, the way we walk and the way we talk, should show the world that we belong to God.
And the only way to achieve that is by putting into practice what the Hebrew writer tells us to do in Hebrews 12:1-2. The only way to achieve that is by putting into practice what Paul told the Colossians to do, set our hearts and minds on things above, Colossians 3:1-2.
The only way to live, walk and talk, a blameless, righteous and truthful life is by putting into practice what David says next.
Notice David says if we want to have fellowship with God, then we must be careful how we relate to others around us.
In other words, the focus of the Psalm isn’t so much on what our attitude towards God is like, the focus is on how we treat those around us. David tells us if anyone wants to have fellowship with God, then they should treat people with dignity and respect.
Slanderers are those people who love nothing more than to speak about others, in an effort to make themselves feel good by comparing themselves to others. We may not be able to stop others from gossiping about us, but as a Christian gossiping shouldn’t even be in our vocabulary, Proverbs 10:18.
There’s nothing positive about gossiping, it always tears people down, instead of building them up. All gossip does is harm people because it’s a sinful attempt to discredit someone’s values, actions or motives.
David says there are two types of people we like to gossip about, those who are our ‘neighbours’ and those we call our ‘friends’, Proverbs 11:13. Gossiping is never acceptable in God’s eyes, it doesn’t matter who it is, and it doesn’t matter who is doing the gossiping.
It doesn’t matter who is thinking about gossiping or actually doing the gossiping, it’s all sinful and it will prevent anyone from having fellowship with God.
Ask yourself the following questions and if you fail to answer these questions, then my advice to you is to keep silent and say nothing. My advice to you is to think first before you say anything.
T. Is it True? Proverbs 18:2
H. Is it Helpful? Ecclesiastes 10:12
I. Is it Inspiring? Ephesians 4:29
N. Is it Necessary? Proverbs 10:19
K. Is it Kind? Proverbs 15:4
If we want to have fellowship with God, gossiping should have no place in our life. The Christian shouldn’t want to harm anyone, the Christian shouldn’t want to try and disgrace anyone else.
David continues and tells us that people who are in fellowship with God, ‘don’t find any value in associating with those who are despised but want to be around God’s people’.
Don’t misunderstand what David is saying here. It would be a big mistake to suggest that he’s telling us to stay away from anyone who isn’t a Christian.
He’s saying that our interaction with others should be limited if their values, beliefs and actions are inconsistent with our Christian principles. David is saying that we shouldn’t try and follow anyone’s example if they are not followers of God, but the example we are to follow is found in those who fear God and follow God’s ways.
He continues and tells us that anyone who wants to have fellowship with God must be willing to ‘help those around them without changing their minds’.
When we promise to take care of anyone’s needs, we need to fulfil that promise, no matter how much it hurts. It may become very inconvenient for us, it may cost us money, and we may need to change our plans to fulfil that promise.
David says, if we want to have fellowship with God, we mustn’t only be concerned about people’s needs, we must meet those people’s needs. We can’t tell people we’re going to help them, and then later change our minds. Otherwise, people think Christians are no different from anyone else.
David continues and tells us that anyone who wants to have fellowship with God must be willing ‘to financially help others without adding interest.’
In the Old Testament God makes it clear, that if someone is in desperate need of money, then no interest should be charged, Exodus 22:25. Imagine someone comes to you for a loan because they are under great financial stress, what good does it do if you put them under even more financial stress by adding interest!
Lending people money is Biblically acceptable, especially among God’s people. I’m not encouraging Christians to start borrowing money from each other but what I am saying is that there are times when we all come under financial stress.
A person can lose their job and struggle to pay their electricity bill. A sudden death in the family may come and they can’t afford the funeral bills.
The church should always be willing to help without adding any extra pressure to interest repayments. Anyone who wants to have fellowship with God must be willing to help others out financially without looking to gain anything extra back for themselves.
David continues and says anyone who wants to have fellowship with God, mustn’t ‘take bribes or give false testimony against someone else.’
Now a bribe is all about perverting justice by trying to win someone’s favour, over someone else, Exodus 23:7-8 / Deuteronomy 16:19 / Deuteronomy 27:25.
Bribery isn’t always about the passing of money from one hand to another, it comes in all shapes and forms. Anyone who wants to have fellowship with God must be very careful not to accept bribes, whatever form it comes in, in order to discredit the innocent.
David finishes by telling us that ‘Whoever does these things will never be shaken.’ In other words, not only do we have fellowship with God, but God promises to hold us up.
The world wants to drag us down, the world wants to accuse us of all kinds of things and bring us to our knees but God says if you’re in fellowship with Him, and you’re treating those around you with dignity and respect, then it doesn’t matter what the world thinks, He’ll hold you up.
It’s God who gives us the strength to stay on our feet, it’s God who holds us up even when we can’t hold ourselves up any longer, Isaiah 41:10.
Humans were made in God’s image and that means we have the capacity for fellowship with our Creator. God walked with man in the garden, Genesis 3:8, and wanted people to live in His presence, Genesis 4:16.
It’s an incredible thought to think that He wants to have a close relationship with us and it’s a real privilege to be in fellowship not only with God but with the Son and the Holy Spirit, 1 Corinthians 1:9 / 2 Corinthians 13:14 / 1 John 1:3.
All this was only possible because Christ died on the cross and shed His blood for us, Romans 5:10. However, as David says, there are terms and conditions to that fellowship we enjoy with Him. We can’t live our lives continually sinning or doing our own thing and still claim to have fellowship with Him, 1 John 1:6.
The words of Elisha Albright Hoffman, who wrote the hymn, ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms’, are an appropriate finish to the study.
What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine.
O how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
O how bright the path grows from day to day.
What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
I have peace complete with my Lord so near.