At first glance, Psalm 86 (both 1-13 and the concluding verses of 14-17) have little to do with our neighbors. The text seems to deal mainly with the solitary inner life of an individual, and the last few verses (14-17) seem to locate the Psalmist’s trouble in other people (mainly his enemies who are also his neighbors). In these kinds of moments with Scripture, I think it’s good to remember larger principles as we read this text.
First, the principle that our interior life is important and connected to how we love others. Jesus tells us in Luke 6:45 that “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Work on the heart bears fruit outside the heart.
And second, the principle that we (both Israel than and us now) don’t fully realize that the telos (the final or highest goal) of our interior work is the love of God and a love of neighbor. Again, Jesus sums up all of Israel’s history with God when he says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40). Love of God and love of neighbor go hand in hand and are the fullest expression of an undivided heart. While King David (the writer of Psalm 86) is credited with being “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22), he missed out on the fullness of God’s presence because he chose war and blood over love of neighbor. God kept him from building a permanent temple in Jerusalem because of this disconnect between love of God and love of neighbor (see 1 Chronicles 22:6-10).
When our interior work finds its telos (the final or highest goal) in love of God and neighbor, we become undivided in our pursuit of Jesus.
About the Author
Isaac Gaff is the Managing Director of Worship and Creative Arts at Calvary UMC