I am a companion of all them that fear thee,
And of them that keep thy precepts (Psa 119.63).
“Birds of a feather flock together.” This truism springs from the plain fact that whenever you see a flock of birds, they are all of the same species. Isn’t that amazing in a way? Consider how many varieties there are of creatures flying through the skies, and you’ve never seen one flock made up of even two kinds, much less several! It’s the way God made them, a part of their nature.
Are people really that much different from birds? While not an absolute rule, it is generally true that people congeal around things they have in common. Therefore you can often make fairly reliable judgments about someone by knowing their closest friends and associates. This is a big problem for politicians who run with shady characters because people have a hunch that the lesser-known candidate must be pretty shady too.
It works the other way, too. We are warranted to have a high degree of confidence in the integrity of one who is closely bound together in friendship and cooperation with other people of proven integrity. “A man is known by the company he keeps.”
This biblical text affirms all this and much more, for the psalmist prayerfully testifies that he was joined to the godly as his innermost circle.
A DESCRIPTION OF THE GODLY
Recognizing Hebrew poetic parallelism in OT wisdom literature is a most important rule for sound interpretation. We have parallelism here in the description of the godly ones the psalmist had in mind. They were “them that fear thee [i.e., LORD, Yahweh, Jehovah; cf. 119.57]” and “them that keep thy [i.e., LORD, Yahweh, Jehovah] precepts.” This is not two groups but one group described in two different ways. Those who really fear the Lord are the very same ones who really keep His precepts and vice versa. It is impossible to fear the Lord, as here, without a real and practical commitment to keep His precepts, and to keep His precepts from the heart, without a deep reverence and love for Him. The inward grace of godly fear produces the outward display of godly conduct.
This is simply a particularly OT manner of designating the righteous (i.e., the being-saved ones) in contrast with the wicked (i.e., the perishing ones), for God sees everyone in one of these two groups. The NT often speaks in the same clear-cut way (e.g., 1 John 2.3-5; 3.10, 14).
The truth that godly fear and conscientious obedience to God’s Word necessarily go together has the most practical ramifications in judging our own and others’ spiritual state. Many who flatter themselves that they are Christian believers can come to a more accurate knowledge of their hearts by considering soberly how utterly devoid they are of sincere and scrupulous attention to keep God’s commandments for His glory, from gratitude for His grace toward them, and hope toward the realization of all His gospel promises to believers. On the other hand, true saints, more inclined by grace to sober self-examination and genuine humility before God, may be spared an unwarrantably harsh estimate of their own state by acknowledging with gratitude that though their obedience is incomplete and inconsistent, it is nonetheless real and sincere. The fruit of the Spirit’s grace through us proves the reality of His saving grace in us.
Likewise, we must form some spiritual and tentative conclusions about the spiritual states of others, and since their hearts are known only to God (1 Kgs 8.39), we must examine their conduct instead. They must profess faith, of course, for us to judge them godly, since those who openly deny faith in Jesus Christ may be fairly presumed as unbelievers. But beyond a profession, they must also show us their professed faith by their works, because there is no other way that we could discern it (Jas 2.18). “Faith” without works is dead and marks one as a hypocrite. The fruits of false prophets expose their bad hearts (Matt 7.15-20).
Does someone protest that Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Matt 7.1)? We answer that He also said, “Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7.24). Further, He did not absolutely prohibit making judgments about others, for this is necessary for us to live as Christians, but only of hypocritically judging others while we excuse ourselves from repentance for our own sins, as the succeeding verses plainly teach (Matt 7.2-5). When we have removed the log from our own eye, then, Jesus said, we will see clearly to take the speck out of our brother’s eye. This implies we should attend to our charitable responsibilities, not only to judge ourselves, but to help others as speck-removers.
Besides, the psalmist could not have testified as he did here without making spiritual judgments about others. Since his sentiment is godly, it cannot possibly be sinful to evaluate others spiritually.
A UNITY WITH THE GODLY
“I am a companion of all them that fear Thee, and of them that keep Thy precepts,” that is, of those who are genuinely godly. One must be able to distinguish with some discernment between the godly and the ungodly to do this.
The original for “companion,” like many words in Hebrew, is graphic, tangible, and symbolic. Its verbal form means “to unite, join, bind together, be coupled, be in league, have fellowship with.”1 Here it means “one in close association as a companion, partner, or friend, with focus on the elements that one has in common with others of the association.”2
Here, that is spiritual faith. The psalmist is expressing his deep agreement and sympathy with those who feared Yahweh and kept His precepts, and who had renounced idolatry. This was a confession of his own faith in the Lord. David himself was a God-fearing commandment-keeping man, and so fellowship with others of like mind was inevitable. “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3.3). That explains why so many professing Christians, not to mention ordinary sinners, do not draw so near to seriously godly people. It would be like a crow trying to soar with eagles—completely unnatural and unheard of.
This companionship was not only something he felt within but like other aspects of his faith, it had a practical manifestation on the outside. He worshipped together with his godly companions, both in public ordinances as Providence granted the opportunity, and in a discernable private life of integrity that fit the general pattern of his holy fellows. Friends, it is incumbent upon all professing adult Christians to demonstrate the sincerity of their faith by attaching themselves formally to a true local church, composed of others who are seriously godly, though they be at various levels of spiritual growth. It is a false spirituality that holds you aloof, if you are, from a vibrant commitment to your brethren in a particular local church, because you see its spots and blemishes. Our confession says,
The purest churches under heaven are subject to mixture and error; . . . All believers are bound to join themselves to particular churches, when and where they have opportunity so to do; . . . No church members, upon any offence taken by them, having performed their duty required of them towards the person they are offended at, ought to disturb any church-order, or absent themselves from the assemblies of the church, or administration of any ordinances, upon the account of such offence at any of their fellow members, but to wait upon Christ, in the further proceeding of the church.3
And those churches are entirely warranted (in fact they are duty-bound) to examine candidates for membership to discern the marks in them of authentic godliness, since also,
All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting [overthrowing] the foundation, or unholiness of conversation [conduct], are and may be called visible saints; and of such [only] ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
This is one of the most obvious practical examples when spiritually-minded believers must make judgments about whether others are godly. Only those with a credible [believable] profession of faith ought to be admitted into, and retained in, the membership of a local church. Being admitted into the church is not a license to coast spiritually. This kind of judging is an exercise of reverence for Christ, love toward His church, and compassion toward the world, since an “unholy church” is useless for edifying saints and saving sinners.
Note well one more thing, and that is the breadth of the psalmist’s love for his spiritual brethren. “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee”—not just the ones that struck his fancy. Godly people may be very different from each other in countless respects. There may be a hundred natural traits that make another Christian more or less attractive to us as potential friends, but we ought to love them all because they are spiritual brethren, and for the sake of Christ who loves them best of all. Shall we dismiss from our affections one for whom He poured out His precious blood to redeem? In fact, the glory of Christ appears even more spectacular when we embrace a fellow-Christian heartily toward whom we would have the fewest natural inclinations! Then the bond of fellowship is most manifestly spiritual and divine, not earthly. In Jesus’ name, I urge you to cross age, ethnic, socio-economic, national, and denominational lines that divide people from each other, and let there be true unity in Christ’s church! Flesh out this testimony in your own life, “I am a companion of all them that fear Thee!” Be joined to all the godly. The Lord help us do this for the glory of His name. Amen.
1. ESL #2266.
2. DBL #2492.
3. 1689 LBCF XXII.3, 12, 13.
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