Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 1. This morning we begin a new series in the Psalms. We will call it “A Summer in the Psalms.”
If you joined us last Sunday in the adult Journey class, we talked about our focus and vision as a church. We noted that primarily we want to be a church that is grounded in God's Word. So, in an attempt to recover this emphasis, we've simplified some of the things that we were involved in so that we might focus our attention to the basics.
We reiterated that our ministry vision of making disciples must include our knowledge of God in His Word. In this class, we collectively discussed how our children's ministries, our Growth Groups, our relational discipleship ministry all reflect this priority. And yet, the primary way that we reflect this is in corporate worship. We are intentional that we read the Bible in our services, sing the Bible, pray the Bible and preach the Bible. These necessities are all God's expectations for his churches.
The Bible speaks of ensuring that we preach "the whole counsel of God." And you should know that we attempt to make this a reality. If you've been here for any length of time, you realize that we repeatedly go through an entire book of the Bible, and then move on to another. We go through Old Testament books and New Testament books. And if you're really paying attention, you also note that we deal with many different "kinds" of books. We've recently worked through Gospels, Pauline epistles, Minor Prophets, Old Testament narrative, etc.
I track our studies on an excel document. And I noted recently that one genre of God's Word that we haven’t sufficiently addressed is biblical poetry. So, here is an opportunity to explore yet another aspect of God’s Word. The Book of Psalms is familiar to most of us. We often encounter them in our devotional reading times. We sing them as songs. They often reflect great human emotion that other books do not. In fact, consider these words from John Calvin. "I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror."So as we begin our "Summer in the Psalms," consider the human experience and how we respond to the character of God.
Though we will not cover the book in its entirety, we will see a sampling of Psalms beginning in chapter 1. The first chapter has been considered as a snapshot of the entire book because it draws a very clear distinction between the righteous and the wicked. This in turn will be explained further throughout the book.
Jesus preached a sermon in Matthew 7 where he presents choices between the wide gate and the narrow gate, the wide road and the narrow road, two trees and types of fruit, two houses and two foundations. In similar fashion, the psalmist presents us with the contrast of the wicked and the righteous. And we are presented with the question, "Which are we? As we enter the sanctuary of the psalms to worship and petition the Lord, whose side are we on?"Thomas Watson has stated that "this psalm carries a blessedness in the frontispiece; it begins where we all hope to end; it may well be called a Christian's Guide, for it discovers the quicksands where the wicked sink down in perdition, and the firm ground on which the saints tread to glory." Let's read the text together as we get under way. READ.
The psalm begins with the words "blessed is the man." "Blessed" can mean 'under God's blessing, happy or fulfilled, or intrinsically right.' It is likely that the psalmist here has all of these things in mind in his opening. We note at the outset the confirmation that the psalms (as all of Scripture) is given to us by God for our good. It is God's desire that his people are blessed. So when a book of the Bible begins with the words, "blessed is this person," we should likely perk our ears and listen up. Who among us does not desire to be under God's blessing and happy and fulfilled in life? Isn't this our ultimate aim in life?
Interestingly enough, the psalmist begins by saying what the "blessed" person is not. He begins with the negative and will proceed to the positive in verse 2. Let's look at our first point, Cease and Desist.
"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;" Realize that when the psalmist refers to the wicked, he is not speaking to those who are as evil as possible. When we think "wicked" we think of demons, or the serial killers or rapists or whatever. In this context, he speaks of the "wicked" as ungodly - those that refuse to bow the knee to the God of the universe, the One we have come to worship this morning.
These would be those that live in our neighborhood, those we work with, go to school with, perhaps even in our homes. Throughout God's Word, there is a constant distinction made between those that repent and trust in Jesus, and those who do not. This would refer to the latter. The "wicked" are those who continue to worship themselves and not the God who made them.
As we look at this verse, we see three lines that describe what the blessed man does not do. And it would seem as though we could summarize these thoughts into three concepts. First, the blessed man does not think like the world. The psalmist says that he does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.
When a person comes to Christ, he or she repents of their former sinful lifestyle and commits to a new one. We have died to self and now live unto Jesus Christ. The Bible is clear that these are two very different paths. One sets out to serve self and the other, Jesus. To serve Jesus requires that we forsake the former things and live a life that reflects him - to be more like him.
We no longer think like the world. Whereas we may have previously considered advice from the world, we no longer do so. The goal of the world is to serve self. And so any advice from the wicked would be self-serving and not God-glorifying. The counsel of the wicked will set us up against the wisdom of God. Therefore, we no longer consider this an option. Why? Because we want to be happy and fulfilled and in line with God's plan for us.
The advice of the godless permeates our society. You already know it. You perceive it. It comes up on personal conversations, all over our media (television, movies, internet). They all cry out to 'live like this, you're missing out, it's a lot of fun..." But in the end, they do not leave you happy and fulfilled.
Notice also that there seems to be a bit of progression in these phrases. It would appear to be a downward spiral. Here we see that when we begin to consider the ways of the world, we set a course away from God.
Next, the blessed man does not live like the world. We don't think like the world and we don't live like the world. To get to this point of warning, we have begun to listen to the advice of the wicked and now stand in the same path. Remember... two different courses here. We have now turned from the path unto godliness unto the way of sinners.
First, we have merely turned our ear to listen. Now we have shifted our feet. We linger alongside those on this path. We must be clear that this does not refer to proximity. As Christians, we are called to engage the world for the sake of the gospel. Therefore, we do not remove ourself from all contact with the ungodly. That would be unbiblical. To 'stand in the way of sinners' refers to conformity. In the same way that Jesus was intentional to associate with the 'sinners and tax collectors', so are we to be intentionally involved in the lives of unbelievers. However, it is also important to note that Jesus did not imitate the lifestyle of those he engaged. It is always the temptation on the part of the Christian to better identify with the unbeliever, but this never involves our character. Jesus called the sinners to repentance so that they would imitate him, not the other way around.
Next, the blessed man of God does not 'sit in the seat of scoffers.' It would appear that this stage would involve conformity and even familiarity and comfortability with this lifestyle. The ungodly ridicules those that belong to the Lord.
The Christian should not find in the ungodly their most intimate acquaintances. Paul has said in 2 Corinthians 6, "Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God..."
The believer in Christ finds his greatest affinity with those that think biblically. Insofar as we are called to imitate him, we associate with those who also make this their pursuit. 2 Timothy 2.22 says that we are to 'flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. To have our most intimate of relationships those who are aligned with the world, sets us on a disastrous path.
In Ephesians 4, Paul had elaborated on the changed lives of the church in Ephesus. He exhorts them to no longer walk the way they had used to. He tells them to 'put off' certain qualities that belong to the unbeliever and to 'put on' the new self. The portion we just looked at could be considered the 'put off' of the Christian.
Let's now look at verse 2. Verse 2 begins with “but.” For the man who is blessed, his delight is in the law of the Lord. What comes into your mind when you hear the word ‘law?’ Some would think maybe the Ten Commandments or the other 600 plus laws that Moses laid out in the early books of the Bible. It is important for us to note that when the psalmist uses the term, it refers to instruction. “Torah” is the instruction that God gives to mankind as a guide for life. We will see this in coming weeks – notably next week from Psalm 19 and later in Psalm 119. It is true that this will also include the Ten Commandments and the other laws for they communicate the character of God and the response of man to him. But the term is broader than that and actually refers most specifically to God’s revelation, the Bible.
Something I would like for us to seriously consider this morning is your ‘delighting’ in God’s Word. If we’re honest, we recognize that we are supposed to read the Bible on a regular basis. We would admit that we are supposed to change in response to what we read. But can we say that we delight in it? Are we eager to dive in to our reading? Or is it drudgery and obligation?
Two things related to this… From what we read elsewhere, this is an indicative. In other words, the Bible communicates it in ‘matter of fact’ language. The one who loves God delights in his Word. It just is this way. Before being called by God and responding in faith, we do not ‘delight’ in the Bible. It wouldn’t make sense to because it condemns us. However, the child of God should delight in his Father’s Word.
This does not suggest that if you occasionally find it difficult to open and read and study and memorize that you are not a child of God. But if this is consistent, you need to reevaluate your relationship to him. Why?
Let’s consider what God’s Word is. 2 Timothy 3.16 tells us “16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” 2 Peter 2 tells us that
“21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:4 “4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
Do you understand what all of this means? What is the Bible? God’s Word! Who is God? He is the Creator of the universe. He is the one to whom every knee will bow. He is the one who has our eternity in the palms of his hands! He is the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last. And from what we have just read, this book we hold in our hands, the one that collects dust on our bookshelves, is God’s revelation to his creatures. He has spoken! Didn’t have to… but he did. God has revealed himself. He spoke to and through human authors so that we could know him, so that we could know how to have a relationship with him (remember… God who created everything!), gave us his Word so that we could be equipped for every good work, gave us his Word so that we would delight! In Him…
Psalm 112:1 “1 Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! Psalm 119:35 35 Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Psalm 119:47–48 47 for I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. 48 I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statute.
There is a God on the other end of this law. And He is our Father. He has made himself known to us! He has revealed to us salvation. And if that weren’t enough, he blesses us immeasurably as we delight in his Word.
John R. W. Stott states that “this delight “is an indication of the new birth, for ‘… the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so’ (Rom. 8:7). As a result of the inward, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, however, the godly find that they love the law of God simply because it conveys to them the will of their God. They do not rebel against its exacting demands; their whole being approves and endorses it. … Delighting in it, the godly will meditate in it, or pore over it, constantly, day and night.”
The psalmist adds here that the one blessed of God will meditate on his Word. The counsel of the wicked will tell you that meditation consists of emptying your minds and think on nothing. Biblical wisdom says otherwise. Psalm 119:97 97 Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Do you remember God speaking to Joshua when he was to succeed Moses? Do you remember what he said? Joshua 1:8 “8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”
What does it mean to meditate day and night on the Word of God? Is this all we’re supposed to do? Don’t we have jobs and families and community involvement? I can’t just sit around with my Bible open – meditating. So what does it look like?
It begins with delighting. And it consists of memorizing. Anybody here memorizing any Scripture? Isaiah 53… James 1… Doesn’t memorizing help you to meditate? I do most of my memorization as I go to bed at night. I can’t tell you how powerful it was for me to consider Isaiah 53 during the Easter season. As you consistently spend time reading, studying, memorizing, it becomes part of your thinking. So as you go to work Monday morning to your difficult boss or coworker, you can ‘count it all joy when you meet trials of various kinds because you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Right?
One recent illustration this week. During one of our meetings, Bob had shared about a recent conversation with another trucker. And he noted how this man would talk about how God was working through each of his circumstances. He interpreted everything through God’s Word and his life. This is where delighting and meditating lead.
Charles Spurgeon said that the one who meditates “takes a text and carries it with him all day long; and in the night-watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God. In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book.”
Then the psalmist gives us a visual. In verse 3, he indicates that this one is like a tree. Not just any tree. It is a tree that has roots to water. In a world that was largely agricultural, this image was relatable. Though the land may be dry and barren and the winds hot, if the tree is planted by streams of water, its roots will draw its nourishment and the tree will prosper.
The image is clear. The one who is immersed in God’s Word will be nourished as a tree that is rooted in its life source. It matters little what the heat of circumstances bring if we are anchored in the Scriptures. The one who delights in the law of the Lord has strength and stability in the storms of life. He manifests the virtues and qualities that are the fruit of the Spirit.
Jeremiah also includes a similar thought. Jeremiah 17:7–8 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
The psalmist says that “in all that he does, he prospers.” There is a true prosperity gospel. It is not the kind that you hear heralded from many of the pulpits you see on television in front of the masses. It is not the type of prosperity that makes God your vending machine – so that you flourish financially and physically. No, this prosperity is not outward, but inward. Charles Spurgeon states that “it is not outward prosperity which the Christian most desires and values; it is soul prosperity which he longs for.”
In verse 4, we have another image. “The wicked are not so…” Another contrast. This contrast is set against the flourishing tree. The wicked are like chaff. We got a taste of this in the Book of Ruth. The language reflects the practice of winnowing grain at harvest time. The grain would be tossed into the air with a pitchfork at the village threshing floor; the wind would separate the light chaff and husks and blow them away, while the more substantial grain fell back to the floor. Chaff is something light and useless, part of the crop, but a part to be disposed of by the farmer. The wicked are thus depicted in the simile as lightweights, persons without real substance or worth.”
The chapter closes with our last point, Separation. The wicked are the whose lives are not rooted in God’s Word. We know that there is a day of separation that is coming. John the Baptist had pointed this out in Matthew 3:12 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
One commentator understands the urgency when he writes: “If only those who are running away from God could see this! But they cannot, because they will not listen to God and the world is shouting the exact opposite of the Bible’s teaching. The world says that to be religious is foolishness. Religious people never have any fun or accomplish anything, the wicked say. If you want to amount to something and enjoy yourself doing it, get on the fast track of sin, reach out for whatever you want, and take it. Be happy. That is what the world teaches. But it is all a lie, which is exactly what Paul calls it in Romans 1 where he analyzes this fast downward spiral. Romans 1:25 “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Those who choose to live apart from God and his people will find that they have no part with them in eternity. Those who stand with the ungodly in this life will not be able to stand with the righteous at that time.
Spurgeon said that “Sinners cannot live in heaven. They would be out of their element. Sooner could a fish live upon a tree than the wicked in Paradise. Heaven would be an intolerable hell to an impenitent man, even if he could be allowed to enter; but such a privilege shall never be granted to the man who perseveres in his iniquities.”
There is only one man who lives this chapter out perfectly. At one point or another (likely more often than we’d like to admit), we listen to the counsel of the wicked and stand in the way of sinners and sit in the seat of scoffers. There are times when we do not delight in God’s law, but prefer our own. There are times when we are not rooted and flourishing, but we flounder and give in to the heat. We fail because of our unbelief.
The only man who kept this section perfectly is Jesus Christ. Though he was in close proximity to sinners, he did not conform to them. He called them to repent. Jesus delighted in his Father’s instruction. He meditated and quoted and fulfilled it. Jesus was fruitful because he was faithful.
And because he was faithful and obedient unto death, he has provided salvation for the one who trusts in him. And when a person trusts in him, he or she is given a new heart and a new desire and a new delight in God’s Word. We delight in his Word because he is our loving Father who desires to bless us for his name’s sake.
Which path have you chosen? Proverbs 14:12 12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Matthew 7:13–14 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Enter the narrow gate today. Let’s pray.