“The Lord Tests The Righteous” (Psalm 11:5 sermon)

During the Civil War, they got a new orderly, a young man to carry messages to and from President Abraham Lincoln. Not long after he started, someone offered him $100 (which was a lot of money back in the 1860’s!) for a message he carried from the President. He wouldn’t do it. Then they offered him more, which he also refused. He held off until they offered him $200, then he whipped out a revolver and took the briber prisoner. Later he found out that the man who was trying to bribe him was really a secret-service agent, who had been employed to TEST him, to see if he’d be faithful with the Presidential messages or not! (Carl Sandburg, Abraham Lincoln, The Prairie Years and the War Years, p. 391)

Well, we go through a lot of tests in this world, don’t we? But the most important testing that we as Christians go through, is from the Lord Himself, as we see in Psalm 11 this morning, where it says in verse 5:

“The LORD tests the righteous and the wicked.”

One thing I can tell you about the time we are living in right now — and the word I keep hearing most often from people is the word “crazy” — people keep saying this is a “crazy” time — I don’t know what all is going on in this “crazy” time, but one thing I can tell you about it, is that we are being TESTED. These aren’t just random, purposeless “happenings” that are going on. We are being tested. And Psalm 11:5 teaches us something about that:
I. WHO is in charge

This verse tells us that “the LORD tests the righteous and the wicked.” God is in charge of the universe, and one thing we can know is that He is in the process of doing something with our current events. These things are not random. They are all incrementally working towards HIS purposes. God is orchestrating them.

This is one thing we see clearly here in Psalm 11. It is a Psalm written during (and for) a difficult time. It begins with David saying: “In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, ‘Flee as a bird to your mountain; for behold, the wicked bend the bow, they make ready their arrow upon the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart. If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
So the scenario there is that the wicked are attacking. It is a time of chaos, confusion, wickedness and moral upheaval. People are saying “even the foundations are being destroyed” When even “the foundations” are being destroyed, people are saying, “What can the righteous do?”

What is the answer in a time like that? Verse 4 simply says: “The LORD is in His holy temple. The LORD’s throne is in heaven.” With all the unrest, all the upheaval, all the attacks, all the uncertainty — GOD is on His throne. And not just “any” God — when you see the word “LORD” in all 4 capital letters like that, you know that in the Hebrew text it is the word YHWH, the personal name of the God of Abraham, the God who appeared to Moses and told him “I AM THAT I AM.” He is the God of the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets — AND the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said in the New Testament: “Before Abraham came into being I AM”! (from that same word “YHWH”). THIS God; the God of the Bible; the Lord Jesus; HE is on the throne. He was on the throne in David’s day, He is on the throne now, and He ever will be on the throne. HE is in charge; HE “works all things together according to the counsel of His will.” HE “causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

In the face of his tumultuous times, David simply holds on to his faith and says: “YHWH is in His holy temple.” That is where his faith is. God is in charge.

Well, WE live in times very much like these described in Psalm 11, don’t we? (That’s why I love the Psalms; they are SO applicable to us today!) With COVID-19, and civil unrest, and history being re-written, and moral foundations being destroyed, people today might say just they did in David’s time: “what can the righteous do?”

But our answer is the same as David’s: “YHWH is in His holy temple”! God is in charge. He’s on the throne. THAT is where our faith is.

Back in the 1700’s, John Newton, the author of the great hymn “Amazing Grace,” wrote to a friend and said:

“Moses and Joshua were (God’s) WILLING servants, but Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar were equally His servants, though they regarded Him not. They acted under His secret commission, and could do no more than He appointed them.” In other words, Newton was saying, even the pagan kings of Assyria and Babylon (Sennacherib & Nebuchadnezzar) who did not know God, were still being used by Him for HIS purposes.

And THEN Newton continued writing to his friend, and applied this concept to his day: “It is the same now (he said) with (Napoleon) Bonaparte. When I heard of his unexpected escape from Syria, and his arrival in France, I instantly concluded that the Lord had some important business for him to do. And when He has done His work, he will be laid aside, as many have been employed in (God’s) services have been before him.”(John Newton to Mrs. Hannah More, Letters of John Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 360)

John Newton could look at the world political and military events of his day and said: “God is up to something” through these things. If a Napoleon has risen up, then God has plans for Napoleon. He understood that although we see little bits and pieces of what is happening in our world, that GOD has an overall plan, and HE is causing everything to work together towards HIS purposes.

And it is the same today. GOD is in charge. There is no “random” virus or economic chaos on the loose in our world. God is doing something purposeful with this. HE is on the throne. And the Trumps and the Bidens and the Putins and all the others of what we call “great men” and “world leaders” are just pawns in His hand, just like Nebuchadnezzar and Sennacherib and Napoleon. As God said in Isaiah (5:26, 7:18) He will “whistle” for these nations and kings, and they will come and do HIS bidding.

That ought to give us confidence and hope in the days in which we live. When everyone else panics and says about our country, and about our times: “Oh, the foundations are being destroyed; what can the righteous do?”, let US always remember: “Yahweh is in His holy temple.” God’s on the throne. And everything is progressing towards HIS ultimate purposes in the world.
II. WHAT is He doing?

Psalm 11 says that what God is doing is TESTING. Verse 5 says: “the Lord TESTS the righteous.”

This word “test” here is a Hebrew word (bachan) which means “to examine, to test, to try.” It is used of how one tests gold to make sure that it is genuine.

— In Genesis 42:15 Joseph told his brothers that he would “test” them to see if they were spies, by whether they brought their younger brother back with them. His “test” would reveal whether they were genuine or not.

— In I Chronicles 29:17 David told God “I know, O my God, that You try the heart and delight in uprightness …”. David says God tries our hearts. That is what He does. THAT is the purpose of SO many things that happen in our lives. They are TESTS. SO many times in the face of events, we ask “WHY” is this happening. Here we find the answer: Often times, it is a test. “God tests the righteous.”

I’m sure many of you Texans know the name of William H. McRaven, who served as a career Navy SEAL, and was more recently chancellor of the University of Texas. In his book Sea Stories about his time in the NAVY SEALS he talked about what they call “Hell Week,” when the Navy SEAL candidates are put through a time of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion, after which, if they pass, they can move on to become SEALs. But at any point during the training, if they just couldn’t go on, they could “ring the bell”, which was always nearby, which meant that they quit and could go home, no questions asked. At one point, after they had been kept awake for about 3 days with no sleep, and were exhausted from hours of work, they were all commanded to go and stand in extremely cold water in the Pacific Ocean, and that if 5 of them would come out of the water and “ring the bell” and quit — then the rest of them could come out. But one of the men shouted, “Don’t anybody quit; this is a test. Don’t quit. They’re testing us.” And they all huddled together in the water, and encouraged each other to hang in there, and not to quit. What those men were faced with was extremely difficult — but that wise candidate also recognized that what they had been asked to do, was a test. They needed to recognize it for what it was. And they did, and most of them made it.

Now, the difference between the situation of those SEALS and our situations today, is that we often don’t realize that what we are going through is a test. These things are testing us. “The LORD tests the righteous.” That is what He is doing in our world, and in many of our lives, in this time.

Why are we going through this COVID-19 crisis? We know that God is on His throne, so we know that He is using this to move the world overall towards His desired end for it. But I also believe that in many ways, this is a test for the people of God.

First of all, our tests reveal whether we really are followers of Christ or not. James 1:12 says “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.” The most important thing God tests us for, is the genuineness of our salvation. Is our faith in Christ as our Lord & Savior real, or was it just an emotional or surface “decision” with no real root?
It’s just like Jesus taught in the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13: the sower sows the “seed” of the word of God into our lives, and Jesus said many people “receive it with joy,” but it has no real ROOT in their heart. It is just a “surface” thing. But He said when the trials and tests of life come, for many that faith is “swept away,” because it never really had any root. Now notice: He did NOT say that it once had a root and then came uprooted; Jesus said it NEVER had any root. It is not that they were once saved and then they weren’t; their falling away in time of trial demonstrated that the gospel never really did have any root in their heart.

So the first thing that trials test, is our basic faith in Jesus as Lord & Savior. Have you made a “profession of faith” as a commitment to Him? Have you ever admitted your sin, asked Jesus to be the Lord & Savior of your life? If you haven’t, you need to do that today. Call out to Him right now and ask Him to save you. But when you have — and those of you who have done that need to know this — you WILL be tested on it. God will allow tests in your life to see if your commitment was real; to see if the Gospel really has a root in your heart or not.

I remember a few years ago, my sister (who is a missionary in a foreign country which is closed to the gospel) said that a group of people in her country had accepted Christ, but they were now being persecuted. My first prayer was: “Lord, spare them this persecution.” But then He reminded me: “They HAVE to be tested, to see if their faith is genuine.” But it’s not only people overseas who get tested as to the reality of their faith. EVERY Christian gets tested on that, to show if your faith is real. What have these last months shown you, and God, and the world around you, about how real your commitment to Christ as your Lord & Savior is?

 

But then, these times also test us even as confirmed believers too.
As we have talked about some before, we have been seeing one thing after another “stripped away” from us in this time: activities, health, money, relationships, hobbies — in some cases loved ones — and maybe (gasp!), even FOOTBALL!! Why are we being stripped of so many things in these days? I believe it is just what Psalm 11 is talking about here. It is a test. God is not only working out His plan in our world, but He is especially testing us as His people.

So think about it: how would you respond differently to some of the things that are happening in our society today — and in your own life right now — if you knew that what was happening to you was a test? Some of us need to think that way with some of things that are going on. We need to to say our own soul (like we talked about a couple of Wednesday nights ago), “This is a test!” We need to shout out, like that SEAL candidate did: “This is a test.” Sometimes it might even help to literally just say it out loud to yourself: “This is a TEST!”:
— When you hear some more apparently bad news; say “This is a test!”
— When someone insults you or mistreats you; just say “This is a test!”
— When you’re tempted to be selfish; just say: “This is a test!”
Some of us need to memorize this verse, just like we are memorizing Psalm 101:3, and when something comes up, we need to just say it out loud: “The LORD tests the righteous.”

Be careful how you respond in any situation in your life right now. God is sifting us; He is testing us. It may be that right now, just like He did with Job, God is sitting up in heaven, saying to the devil and his minions, “Behold My servant (and He puts YOUR name in there) and He’s saying, “Watch them. See how they do with this! They are going to obey Me regardless.” That’s what’s happening here. Don’t get upset; don’t respond in an ungodly way; it’s a test. Be sure that you respond in these days in a way that glorifies God. Because “this is a test.” “The Lord tests the righteous.
III. What Is Being Revealed?

This question should really gain our attention — and should cause us to really evaluate ourselves: WHAT IS BEING REVEALED AS GOD TESTS US? Just like gold is revealed to be genuine during the testing process, so our inner nature is being uncovered in this process of testing. Our “dross” and impurities are going to rise to the surface, AND the “gold” in us is also going to be revealed. If that is the case, then what is being uncovered about YOU in this time? What is being revealed about YOUR heart through what we are experiencing in these days?

Perhaps not surprisingly, this word for “test” is used FIVE times throughout the Book of Job, including Job 23:10, where Job says: “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” That is what we WANT to show forth; that when we are tested, we want to make it obvious that we really ARE the people of God that we claim to be; we want the “gold” qualities that God has been building into our lives to “come forth,” in this time, as Job said.

But IS that what is happening in you? Think about it: what has been revealed about your heart and life during these last days? We have to understand, as Christians, THAT is the most important thing to come out of this time. What is it showing about our heart?!
— our physical health is not the most important thing being revealed in the COVID-19 crisis.
— the political impact is not the most important thing
— the economic impact is not the most important thing.
It is our HEART. What is being revealed about our HEART in these days is by far the most important thing that is happening. God is testing our hearts. And what is being revealed? How are we responding? How can you say that YOU have responded in this time?

— What priorities are being revealed? What have these times showed that is really important to you? What have you shown in the most important? Is it health? Money? Family? God Himself? His church? What is this testing time showing are really the most important things to you?
— And what is being revealed about your character? Are you showing humility towards God in this time — or pride?
— Have you been willing to bend to God’s will, whatever it is — or have you been insistent upon doing YOUR will?
— What have you been faithful to in this time — and what have you let go by the wayside?
— Are you spending more time with God these days — or less?
— Are you spending more time with television — or with family?
— What sin or compromise has been exposed in your life in this time?
— Have you been merciful towards other people in these days, or harsh and judgmental and self-righteous?
— Can you say that you have been more a peacemaker, or more of a troublemaker?
— Like we talked about Wednesday night, have you primarily looked out merely for your own personal interests during these days — or for the interests of others?

What has been demonstrated about your character during these last months of trials? We’ve got to understand that this COVID-19 episode is NOT just a “random” occurrence; but that God is doing something. And at least one of the things He is doing, is TESTING us. If that is so, and Bible would show us that it is, then WHAT IS BEING DEMONSTRATED ABOUT YOU, YOUR HEART, and YOUR CHARACTER IN THIS TIME? What are you showing God, the world, and yourself, in this time of testing?
CONCLUSION:
During the Revolutionary War, John Adams’ wife Abigail wrote to her friend Mercy Otis Warren, and referring to how George Washington was handling the difficulties of the war, she said: “I am apt to think that our later misfortunes have called out the hidden excellencies of our commander-in-chief.” And then she went on to quote the English poet Edward Young and said: “Affliction is the good man’s shining time.” (David McCullough, 1776 p. 291)

That’s pretty good, isn’t it? “Affliction is a good man’s shining time.” 
We’ve been in a time of “affliction” these past months. We don’t know all the answers as to why these things are happening, and what exactly God is doing, but one thing we do know: Psalm 11 tells us “YHWH tests the righteous.” We are being tested in this time of affliction. If “affliction is the good man’s shining time,” then the question is: What is your affliction revealing about YOU? Are you “shining?” What is being revealed about YOU, and your heart, during this test?

 

INVITATION:

What have the events of these last months showed about YOU?

— Has it confirmed that your faith is genuine? That you really ARE a Christian? Or has it cast doubt on it? Do you need to ask Christ to really save you today?

— And if you are a confirmed Christian person, what are the tests of these days revealing about your heart?
— Are you shining like gold?
— Or have you seen some “dross” rising to the top, that needs skimmed off? I think most of us would admit that we’ve got some things that have been revealed that don’t need to be there. We need to ask God to help us change some attitudes, some actions, some habits, that have shown themselves in this time. Ask Him to help you do that, with whatever He is speaking to YOU about, during this invitation time …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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2 Responses to “The Lord Tests The Righteous” (Psalm 11:5 sermon)

  1. Alan Brown says:

    Shawn, I read and meditated on the transcript of your sermon yesterday. Great message. It’s easy to get distracted and become discouraged with all that is going on in our world today. Truly we need to keep our focus on God and know that He is sovereign. Nothing comes as a surprise to Him or escapes Him. I believe our Lord is testing and sifting out His true followers. I want to be found faithful. Thank you for your encouragement. Prayed for you and your family just the other day. Forgot a few names (Paul’s family primarily, remember Sheba), but tried to call them by name.

    • Shawn Thomas says:

      Amen Alan. Thank you so much for your encouragement, and especially for your prayers for our family. And I know the Lord is going to help you pass the tests you face. Grateful for your faithfulness and example and ministry to me and many others. Still praying for you too!

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