“No Worthless Thing” (Psalm 101:3 sermon)

On this Father’s Day, we can remember one of the great “Father/Son” teams in American history, John Adams, and his son, John Quincy Adams, both of whom served as President of the United States. When he was only ten years old, John Quincy had the opportunity to go overseas with his father when John was appointed ambassador to France. His mother, Abigail, would remain at home with the other children. Abigail was a wise Christian women, and she believed that this was the chance of a lifetime for little Johnny, but she also admitted that she had a “thousand fears” for him. “Assuredly he would encounter temptation, she wrote, but to exclude him from temptation would be to exclude him from the world in which he was to live.”  (David McCullough, John Adams, p. 176)

Just like John Quincy Adams, you and I live today in a world which is full of temptations and snares — possibly more today than ever before. The important thing for us as God’s children, is that we recognize those temptations, and make some commitments to help us and those we love, to fight against them. Psalm 101:3 today is one of the great verses in the Bible which will help equip us to fight against temptation: 

“I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”

I.  The Context of Holiness

We always need to be careful about just “plucking” a particular verse out of context and preaching on it, so let’s look at the context of this verse in Psalm 101. The context is that this whole Psalm speaks about a commitment to holiness:

— David begins in :1 saying that he will sing of lovingkindness and justice

— then he says in :2 “I will give heed to the blameless way” and he says, “When will You come to me?” — he realizes that to have a close relationship with God, he must “give heed to the blameless way” and live a holy life.

— In :3 he talks about his commitment to set no worthless thing before his eyes (a vital commitment to holiness, which will be our focus this morning)

— Then in :4 he says he wants to know no evil

— And finally in :5 and to the end of the chapter he talks about how he will maintain holiness in his relationships, another vital commitment to holiness.

So this whole Psalm is about how David was committed to a life of holiness.

It is vital for the child of God to have a commitment to holiness. Holiness is a central part of the Christian life.
— NOT because it “earns us credit” towards heaven

— NOT because it makes us part of an exclusive “club” of those who get to be “holier than thou” and look down on others

— BUT because God is holy. Those who want to know and have fellowship with Him, must be holy. Just like David said to the Lord in :2, “When will You come to me?” He knew he HAD to have this commitment to holiness if he wanted a close relationship with the Lord.

In one of the most repeated verses in all of the Old Testament, God told His people: “You shall be holy, for I, YHWH your God am holy.” God is a holy God, and if we are going to be His people, we must be holy as well. 

I John 1 makes that very clear. It says: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”

SO we must “walk in the light” — in holiness and truth — if we want to have fellowship with God. 

In the 1940’s, actor Cary Grant asked a fellow screen star, Phyllis Brooks, to marry him. In his biography, Phyllis Brooks shared how she would go to boxing matches with Cary Grant almost every Friday night. She said, “Cary enjoyed them a lot. I didn’t. But I’d go any place he wanted to go. I just wanted to be with him.”  That says a lot, doesn’t it? Sometimes you do things because you want to be with the person who does them.

That is a pretty good description of why the Christian should want to be holy — we should want to be holy because GOD is holy. That is how He is; theologians tell us that holiness is perhaps THE single most distinguishing characteristic of God. God is holy. So if we want to be with Him, then we must be holy as well. 

Again, we’re not to be holy to give us “credit” for heaven, or so that we can feel superior to others; we are to be holy is so that we can have close fellowship with God. THAT is what holiness is about.

Now, in the ultimate sense, of course, NONE of us can really be holy before God. We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. This is why God sent Jesus, to die on the cross and to save us fro our sins, and to declare us holy before God by HIS righteous work on our behalf.

But even once we have been “declared” righteous before God by faith in Christ, that does not mean that we are to “let up” in our personal pursuit of holiness. We are still to strive to become holy in our life and practice because of what He has done for us, and because we desire to have unclouded fellowship with Him.  

So THAT is the context, then, in which we find Psalm 101:3. This whole Psalm is about specific commitments we should make to holiness so that we can have a close, unclouded fellowship with God. So now let’s look at what this verse says to us specifically about one of the most important commitments you can make towards holiness in your walk with God: 


II.  A Specific Commitment To Holiness

Here in Psalm 101:3 we find a very specific commitment to personal holiness. It says: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” 

This is one of the most important commitments to holiness that a person can have: to be careful to guard the things they set in front of their eyes.
He says: “I will set NO worthless thing before my eyes.” What does this mean?

The words “worthless thing” are, in Hebrew “a thing” of “belial.” 

“Belial” is a Hebrew word that literally means, “not,” “of profit.”

It is used several times in the Old Testament to describe certain people, who are called “worthless men,” or “sons of belial.” 

— Deut. 13:13 speaks of “worthless men … (who) seduced the inhabitants of their city saying, ‘let us go and serve other gods …”  

— Deut. 15:9 “beware that there is no BASE thought in your heart …” A “base” thought is a thought of “belial.” It is a “worthless,” “evil” thought.

— Judges 19:22 of “sons of belial” who wanted to take a man who was staying as a guest in another man’s house, so that they might commit immorality with him. These men who had such evil, perverted passions were “sons of belial,” worthless, immoral, evil men. 

— I Samuel refers to Nabal, the husband of Abigail, as a “son of Belial”, a worthless man who was proud and foolish and ungrateful. 

So “belial” refers to drunkenness, immorality, lying, wicked thoughts, foolishness — anything that is “base” or “worthless” or “evil.”  This isn’t just speaking about one thing; as Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch comment, it refers to any “morally worthless or vile matter whatsoever.”

So the Bible says that the important commitment here is to set NO “worthless thing,” no “thing of belial” — not “just a little” — nothing worthless, nothing immoral, base, or worldly, before us. It is a commitment to avoid ANYTHING like that, that could be set in front of us.

And he specifically says, he will set none of these worthless, evil things, “before my EYES.” This is important. The temptation to be drawn in by what we SEE is one of the primary schemes of our spiritual enemy. Think about it:

— Visual enticement was instrumental at the very first temptation to sin in the Garden of Eden. Do you remember in Genesis 3, it says that Eve “SAW’ that the fruit was good for food, and specifically that it was a “delight to the EYES,” and she took it. Her eyes drew her in to that temptation. 

— David, who wrote this very Psalm, sadly came to a time later in his life when the Bible says he “saw” Bathsheba bathing on her rooftop, and he was drawn in to that sin.

— I John 2:16, speaking about different categories of sin, refers to “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the EYES and the boastful pride of life.”

Our eyes are the gateway to our mind, to our decision-making.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:22 “For the lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore the ear is clear, the whole body will be full of light. But if the eye is weak, the whole body will be full of darkness.” 

Jesus is saying here your EYES are one of the keys to the direction of your life. What you set in front of your eyes will determine what you will be influenced by and what you will become.  

I’ve read that because horses have eyes on the side of their head, their peripheral vision is very great, and it so easy for them to become distracted. So there are times when the owner will put “blinders” on a horse, to keep him focused on what is right ahead of him: the race to be won, or whatever — or sometimes they will cover a horse’s eyes entirely, for example, if they are trying to get him out of a burning building or field, so he won’t be terrified by what he sees and refuse to move.

We are like that too. Jesus says our eyes are the lamp of our whole life. So the Bible says here: be careful: DO NOT SET any worthless (ungodly, spiritually harmful, immoral, unprofitable) things before your eyes. It’s one of THE single most important commitments you can make to a life of holiness. 


III. Applications of this Commitment:

So that is the overall principle: DON’T set “worthless things” before your eyes. Now, having established that principle, there are SO many applications that we can make from it to our lives today. As I said, it doesn’t just refer to any one particular thing that we need to guard against. It literally means, “ANY spiritually worthless or harmful thing.” And that includes a LOT of things these days, doesn’t it? There are all kinds of things we need to refrain from putting in front of our eyes. I’m going to mention a few applications right now, but there are many more than I am going to mention, so I want you be very sensitive to the Spirit of God speaking to YOUR heart over the next few minutes about how YOU need to apply this principle specifically in your own life. It may be something that I’m not even going to talk about, but you listen for God to whisper in your heart how YOU need to apply this verse in your own life. 

— First of all, obviously this includes what we watch on television and on our computers and phones: movies, and tv shows. How many of the things we watch would fall under the category of what Psalm 101:3 would call “worthless things”? So many shows are either immoral, crude, ungodly, or just plain “worthless” — of no “value” of any kind whatsoever.

I told Cheryl the other day: how long has it been since we watched a regular tv show on Hulu? We literally have not had it on in months. With all the sports cancelled due to COVID, there is nothing to watch. We cancelled Netflix a few weeks ago because there were no decent shows. They kept sending me emails which said: “You may be interested in” (such and such show). And I’m like, No, I’m not! They are “worthless.” In all honesty, how many of the shows you’re watching on tv do you think Psalm 101:3 would call “worthless” — they’re either immoral or crude, or at the best, just “worthless” — not doing you any particular good?  

See, we need to remember that “worthless thing” here does mean just “bad;” the root word literally means “NOT of profit.”  So it could just mean something that is not “bad” per se, it’s just that there’s no real “good”, no “profit” in it. You could be doing something better instead:  you could be reading a book that would inform you; or you could be out exercising and strengthening your body; you could spend time playing with your family — or even be out fishing and getting food for your family and others.   

Whenever we’re watching television, we would do well to ask ourselves:

“Is there something more WORTHWHILE I should be doing or reading watching — instead of this?”

I’ve heard a number of people say, during the last weeks of COVID-19 and rioting, that they are turning the tv off; there’s just too much bad or depressing stuff on there. Quite honestly, just as a general rule, most of us need to watch far less tv than we do. (About 6 hours a day in the average American home). And how much of it is “profitable” for us? Many of us would do well to set this verse RIGHT on top of our television set; “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes.” 

— Then one of the most important applications of this verse for us today has to do with what we “surf” on the internet, including but not limited to, internet pornography. Pornography in America today has exploded with the proliferation of the internet. No longer do you have to go to some seedy “XXX bookstore” to get pornography; you can just quietly access it in the privacy of your own home and “no one knows.” And you talk about a “pandemic;” pornography is a pandemic today! It is rampant. 

One survey done in 2018 (Daspe et al) of adults between 18-35 indicated that 98% of young men in that age group had used pornography in the last 6 months, 80% that week. I’ve seen surveys which indicate that 2/3 of the men you see in CHURCH every Sunday are using pornography — and even a third of PASTORS are hooked on internet pornography!  It is dangerous; it is pervasive; and it is addicting. 

IT IS A TRAP.  David says here “It shall not fasten its grip on me.” There is a GRIP that this visual temptation can get on you. It can trap you. It will lure you in, and it will enslave you. Statisticaly speaking, there are MANY people in the sound of my voice right now, who are enslaved to pornography. And that is not an exaggeration; there is scientific research that backs that up. When you use pornography, it releases certain chemicals in the brain that lead to a genuine addiction. 

In 2015 “Researchers Love, Laier, Brand, Hatch, and Hajela conducted and published a review of several studies exploring the neuroscience of internet pornography. (In other words, how your brain is affected by pornography.) What they found and reported is compelling. Studies examining the neuroimaging results of subjects who viewed internet pornography reveal brain region activation similar to craving and drug cue reactions for alcohol, cocaine, and nicotine.” (Love, T., Laier, C., Brand, M., Hatch, L., & Hajela, R. (2015). Neuroscience of internet pornography addiction: A Review and update. Behavioral Sciences, (5), 388-423.)

Due to the chemicals released in your brain when you watch pornography, you can become as chemically addicted to pornography as you can can to alcohol or cocaine!  It is not just an isolated sin. People literally become enslaved to pornography. It has a “grip” on them, as David says here.  

Thankfully I read about this a number of years ago, and it helped me never to want to be involved with that temptation.  Whenever a picture or ad flashes up on the internet or wherever; I think: “I do NOT want to take that first step; and become addicted to that, just like I don’t want to become addicted to cocaine or alcohol.”  That’s what David is basically saying here: I do NOT want this evil to “fasten its grip on me.” This is one of THE biggest spiritual problems facing men and especially young men today. We’ve got to be aware of this Satanic temptation; we’ve got to take steps to prevent it — whether it is screening/accountability software for our computers or cell phones, or whatever — and we all need to have this pre-determined commitment like David does here, that you will not set it before your eyes, and you will not let it “fasten its grip” on you! 

— This applies to what we read in books as well. Some people may say, “Well I don’t watch all that trash on tv like some people do.” No, but you can read about it in books just the same, can’t you?  And remember, it doesn’t refer just to what we might call “trashy” books; it could be just “unprofitable”; “worthless” things. A lot of people read things that might not be “bad,” in a sense; they’re just not doing them any GOOD. Whenever you read, you should ask yourself: “Is this doing me any good?” Is it intellectually and morally and spiritually uplifting?  

A few years ago Cheryl heard an author speak who made a great impression on her, and the author said that in a good book there should always be what is called a “moral thread;” that the writing should show the difference between right and wrong. That’s something good to look for: “Is there a moral thread in what I am reading” Or is it what Psalm 101 would call “worthless”?

Well, there are SO many potential applications here, and I don’t have time to speak about them all. Satan has put so many “traps” out there for us: 

— on tv commercials (you can be watching a decent show, or a football game, and all of the sudden there is a vile ad flashing right in front of you.

— Or you are doing a legitimate search on the internet — and some picture or website will pop up. 

— Or you’re in line at the grocery store, and there is a magazine — or a billboard — he has SO many traps out there these days. 

Our commitment has to be, that we will not set these “worthless things” before our eyes. I trust that God has spoken to you about at least one area in your life where you personally need to make this commitment today.


— The best, first step, like David here, is to make this commitment NOT to set worthless things before your eyes.  

— And of course God’s word can help us with that commitment.  Jesus in Matthew 4 taught us to fend off temptations with the word of God. Every time He was tempted by the devil, He responded: “It is written …” and then He quoted a verse of scripture.  We can and should do the same thing. Jesus was modeling for us, as the Son of Man, how WE should fight temptation. Quote the word of God. And this scripture we are studying today is one of the BEST “swords” God has put in our “arsenal.” MEMORIZE this verse: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.” 

We’ve made memory verse cards with this verse that you can take home. Carry it with you. Read it over and over, until you can quote it by memory. And then, most importantly, USE IT whenever you are tempted: not only with pornography; maybe that’s not your weakness; maybe it is with shows you shouldn’t watch, that do not honor God, or are just a waste of time. As I said, many of us would do well to make a card and set this verse on top of your television, or to adhere it to the top of your computer screen, or over your bookshelf: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes …”. Fight off the temptations of the enemy with “the sword of the Spirit,” the word of God, and “DO NOT LET the work of those who fall away, fasten its grip on YOU!” 

— Then also we need to be committed to PRAY. John Newton, the author of “Amazing Grace, wrote to a young man, (Daniel West) back in the 1700’s, and he told him: “You know your weak side; endeavour to set a double guard of prayer there.” (John Newton to Daniel West, Esq., Letters of Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 127) Pray that you will be guarded against these temptations, and for strength against them.

This is JUST what Jesus is talking about in the Model Prayer, when He teaches us to pray “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You know the things that tempt you; so PRAY against them: God lead me not into places that tempt me; lead me not to PUT things before my eyes that tempt me. “Lead ME not into temptation.” AND pray for your husband or wife, and kids, and grandkids, and others that you care about; pray that THEY would not be led into temptation as well. This prayer of spiritual protection is one of the most important prayers you can pray — and that’s why Jesus included it in the Model Prayer.  We need to learn to practice it!

— Then, we need to be committed to REPLACE the “worthless things” we might set in front of our eyes, with something better. Philippians 4:8 tells us: “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence, and anything worthy of praise, dwell on THESE things.”

He’s saying put GODLY things before your eyes. Begin with your Bible reading every day — put God’s word in front of you — but it’s not limited to that; it continues with everything you put before your eyes all day long. Find GOOD books, good music, edifying things to replace those “worthless things” that you are committed not to set in front of your eyes.  

NOW: as many of you know, what is very sad, and also very ironic here — is that this is a “Psalm of David,” who made this commitment — and David ended up failing, didn’t he — and he ended up falling in this VERY area: II Samuel 11 says one day “he SAW a woman bathing” — Bathsheba — and he fell into temptation and sin. The work of those who fall away DID “fasten its grip on him” and it cost him. It led him down a long road of continued sin; it destroyed his family; it cost him the kingdom for a time, and it gave God’s enemies the opportunity to blaspheme. David himself fell short in this very thing.

All of which both warns us, and gives us hope. This commitment is SO important — I truly believe it is one of THE most important commitments you can make, if you are serious about getting closer to God. You’ve got to control what you set in front of your eyes.    But the truth is, we will all fall short, perhaps daily. WHEN WE DO, thank God that we have the Gospel! Thank God that Jesus came to die on the cross, to pay for our sins: the sins of our eyes, and every other sin.  If we will truly repent in our heart, and ask His forgiveness; He will be faithful, and He will “cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” When we fall, we need to fall on the Gospel.



BUT that doesn’t mean that we just “give up” and give in. No, this is too important. For many of us, it is a matter of spiritual life or death. 

Wednesday night before our Facebook Live prayer meeting, the cat wanted out, so I opened the front door and let her outside. After I closed the door, I looked out the window, and I could see why she wanted out. There was a squirrel just down the front sidewalk of our house, sitting there eating. The cat froze, poised to strike. I opened the door and yelled at the squirrel: “Hey, you’d better move!” But he just sat there, looking right at the cat, like it was nothing. I yelled, “Hey!” But just then he put his head down to eat something else — and when he did, the cat sprung. 

I ran out there to shoo the cat away, but it was too late. As I saw the quivering, dying body of that squirrel, it occurred to me that this is a sad picture of too many of our lives. Too many of us, even as God’s people, are just sitting here, playing around, looking at sin right in the face. And the pastor’s warning us, and God’s word is warning us, but we just sit there looking at it. And it’s going to cost us.

— It will cost some of us any hope for a genuinely close walk with God.

— It’s gonna cost some of us our marriage and family

— It will cost some of us our reputation, and our potential for the future. 

— it may even cost some of us our lives … and end up sending some of us to hell. 

DO NOT play around with this. It is serious. Make the commitment of Psalm 101:3, YOUR commitment: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes; I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not fasten its grip on me.”



— I pray that you are listening to the Spirit of God, and that He has shown you at least ONE area of your life you need to apply this. It may be something I’ve mentioned, or something entirely different that He has just spoken to your heart about through His Spirit. Be sure to ask God: “What ONE step do I need to take today, in response to Your word?”  And then during this invitation time ask Him to give you the grace and power to DO it.

— Be sure you get one of these cards and carry it, memorize it, and QUOTE it whenever you are tempted.

— PRAY for someone on your heart whose life is being affected by the temptations of the eye … make this a time of intercession for them

— Most importantly, if you know you’ve sinned, but you have never received the forgiveness God has for you in the Gospel of Jesus, ask Him to save you, right now …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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2 Responses to “No Worthless Thing” (Psalm 101:3 sermon)

  1. Pastor Paul says:

    a most delightful, relevant word for today. HIS blessings on this ministry HE’s entrusted to you!

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