Who will bring me to the fortified city? Who will lead me to Edom? Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go forth, O God, with our armies. Oh, grant us help against the foe, for vain is the salvation of man! With God we shall do valiantly; it is he who will tread down our foes. (Psalm 60:9–12 ESV)
“You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” That’s what Carly Simon wrote and sang. To be vain, on a personal level, means to think too highly of one’s abilities, appearance or worth. However, there’s a deeper problem to be realized in the danger of vanity.
Biblically speaking, to be vain means something that has no godly purpose or produces no godly result.
That’s why one of the Ten Commandments commands adherents to not take the name of the Lord “...in vain...” (Exodus 20:7). As the New Living Translation says, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God...” Do not use God’s name in some way that has no godly purpose or in some way that does not produce some godly result.
Wow, how much of life could be called “vain”? More than we are comfortable to admit, I’d say.
In the book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon comes to a startling realization: “All is vanity!” (1:2b) Solomon had come to learn that life without godly purpose or godly result is simply vanity. Solomon explains and testifies for chapter after chapter of the things one can do in life that mean nothing without godly results as their motivation. Finally, Solomon reaches a conclusion: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13 ESV) Those things are not vain. They will produce something.
Citing Isaiah and Ezekiel, Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8-9 ESV, citing Isaiah 29:13 and Ezekiel 33:31) You see, dear friend, Jesus understood some claimed to worship God, but it was to no godly result. He warned us against the same.
The Bible is full of warnings and results of a life lived in vain, and a life filled with purpose and godly result. We were made for the latter; we were made for a life of purpose and godly result. We were not made to live in vanity, thinking too much of ourselves.
In today’s passage from Psalm 60, David tells us what we ought to plainly know, and that is if the armies of Israel are to do a godly thing, it is God who must do the doing. To rely on the knowledge, skill, power and schemes of man to accomplish godly ends is godless means. And even if man saves us from some bodily, temporal peril, man cannot save us on Judgment Day. Man’s salvation is a limited salvation, bound by scope and time. God’s salvation is unlimited.
We don’t want a life lived in dependence or fear of man. We want lives dependent on the Lord and reverent toward him. We don’t want lives of limited means and purposes. We want lives empowered by God and purposeful both in our days here on earth and in the ageless ages to come.
Yes, beloved, we were made for God’s good pleasure, to produce God’s good results. Anything less is vain. Are you so vain? Praise God, choose purpose, choose him, choose this day who you will serve. God is good! You were made to fill a purpose! Do not forfeit it to vanity.