The two ways
It was way past midnight and Bob still wasn't home. He'd been working late for the last few months, working hard with his new business partners to grow the business.
Bob's wife had been worried lately, and this particular evening she was more worried than usual. He'd never been this late before and he normally called to let her know he'd be late. In the early hours of the morning she called his cell phone yet again but still got no answer.
The reason was that Bob was on a high – the highest high he'd ever experienced in his entire life. You see, that evening his new business partners had invited him to a party to celebrate their recent success.
Many important businessmen where there, and Bob had so much wanted to please his new associates and keep the venture capital flowing ("keep the taps open" as he would say) that he hadn't said no when offered cocaine. He had just a little, but it was enough to tear his life apart.
CONTEXTUALIZATION & CREATION OF LONGING
Bob is a friend of mine, and though Bob is not his real name, his story is true. And though he fell into deep trouble, he is not unique – all of us are like Bob, in one way or another.
You see, like Bob, all of us take counsel and "get input" from those around us. And like Bob, we don't think too hard about whether the counsel we get is good or bad. Like Bob, ungodly counsel appeals to us, promising the most immediate success and rewards.
And, like Bob, we usually don't recognize how powerfully the counsel we receive affects our thinking and actions, especially when we want or need the approval of the one giving the counsel.
BIND TO SCRIPTURE
The Bible says much about these things and thoroughly addresses the challenges and temptations we all encounter. Yet, in all the Bible, few passages get to the heart of the issue as directly as Psalm 1. It shines as brilliant flashlight, lighting up the dark path ahead of us. And we need its light.
You see, because bad counsel so resonates with our sinful nature, we must rely on God to find the right way.
Psalm 1 shows us that there are two "ways" in life, the “way of the righteous” and “the way of the wicked”.
Unfortunately, because of our sinful nature, our internal compasses are broken and we naturally gravitate toward “the way of the wicked”.
Given our predicament, we might wonder "How can I avoid going down the wrong road?” It's fairly simple, really. God has graciously given a complete, step-by-step roadmap in Psalm 1.
1 Firstly, We must follow the way of the righteous (v1)
So, what must we do to follow the way of the righteous?
1.a We must not listen to the wicked
Look at the first part of verse 1… “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” This says that the blessed man is blessed because he doesn't follow the counsel, or advice, of the wicked.
Counsel, simply put, is words or ideas expressed by someone, with the goal of getting us to go in the direction they recommend. And when accepted, counsel changes our thinking.
Counsel is all about what we think. It’s like an archer, deciding where to point his arrow. Once counsel has done its work and the bow-string is let loose, the direction the arrow flies is predetermined. Likewise, once counsel has done its work and a man's thinking has been altered, the course of his life is set. And unless the counsel he receives changes, his course and destination are fixed.
1.b We must not behave like the wicked
The second half of verse 1, “nor stands in the way of sinners”, shows that the blessed man is careful about how he lives, and who he associates with. He doesn't hang out with sinners, with “those who have missed the mark or the way”, learning their counsel or enjoying ways. He certainly spends time among the lost, sharing God’s counsel with them, but he isn’t “one of them” and his ears are turned away from their counsel.
To “stand in the way of sinners” means to act and behave in the same way that they do. Spend enough time with someone and you’ll become like them with their counsel and ways becoming your thinking and actions as surely as osmosis moves fluid through the cells of your body.
In Proverbs we’re told, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.” (Proverbs 13:20). And 1 Corinthians says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’.”
1.c We must not become like the wicked
The last part of verse 1 says: “nor sits in the seat of scoffers”. Here the progression is complete – walking, standing, sitting; that is to say, thinking, acting, and now finally being. Bad ideas and counsel lead to sinful actions, which lead to being a scoffer – thinking, to action, to character.
If we are to follow the way of the righteous then we must recognize this sequence, the “path of the wicked”, and avoid it. To fail to recognize this progression is to ultimately find that you have become a scoffer – one who sins openly without any fear of God.
Verse 1 presents a clear picture of what to avoid if we want to find blessing. We're told to turn our ears away from the counsel of the wicked, not be influenced by or draw counsel from the lost, and avoid the catastrophe of becoming scoffers. Instead of laughing, joking with, and easing the consciences of sinners on their way to eternal damnation, we are to take the life and counsel of God to the lost.
The reason God gives us such instructions is simple – all of us have a sinful nature that makes us wants to run down the path to destruction at the first suggestion.
Imagine for a moment that you have a large, open barrel of highly flammable liquid strapped to your chest. And try as you might you cannot get it off. We can be sure that you’d avoid sparks and open flames like the plague, and you'd take great pains to avoid anyone who smoked or carried a lighter.
It might seem a silly picture, but the truth is that each of us carries just such a thing in our hearts. We each possess a fallen, sinful nature that delights in wicked counsel, bursting into life and gaining new strength with each mouthful of ungodly counsel it gets. Hence God's loving warnings to avoid the sparks of ungodly counsel, and the open flames of sinful association and being.
So what does this mean practically? How are we to avoid wicked counsel and association?
We can start by identifying all sources of ungodly counsel in our lives and commit to “turn off the taps”. Pray asking God to show you where ungodly counsel flows into your life. An obvious source is the lost from whom we might be seeking, instead of giving, counsel. The two strongest, and most overlooked, sources of bad counsel, however, are ourselves, and that most foul and potent counselor of all – the television.
The Bible says we are our own worst counselors; blind to our own faults and blind to the ungodliness of our own self-counsel. The Bible says “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” (Proverbs 14:12).
Not only are we our own worst counselors, but we also willingly fill ourselves with ungodly counsel. If you are an adult in North America, then TV is likely the single largest source of counsel in your life. By watching it, you allow thoughts, ideas, images and ways of thinking into your mind that would cause Christians of earlier generations to turn over in their graves.
Most of us would not let the people we see on TV into our homes, and certainly wouldn’t allow them to spend time alone with our children in a room with the door closed, yet we fill our minds daily with their ideas and way of thinking.
The US Department of Labor’s 2007 American Time Use Survey shows the average American watches TV for 3 hours per day. That’s nearly 70,000 hours, or 8 years of counsel by age 70. 8 years of watching and listening to people who, for the most part, hate God and scoff at His ways, can make you a scoffer good and proper.
So, grab pen and paper and create a “bad counsel” list and then purpose to cut off ungodly counsel. Tell someone and ask them to hold you accountable. Carefully choose what you watch on TV from what little good there may be, and think about whose ideas you’re absorbing. Do likewise with Internet usage.
Also, list where you get sinful counsel by association, by “standing in the way of sinners”. Do you go to parties with unbelieving friends, not with the express purpose of sharing the Gospel with the lost, but to have fun with the wicked? Do you go for drinks after work with unbelieving co-workers, not to show them the way to Christ, but to have fun among the lost, in their pursuit of one last drink on board a sinking Titanic?
Think about this carefully. Whenever and wherever you purposefully associate with those who reject God and His counsel with the goal of “just having some fun”, you are purposefully connecting yourself to a “bad-counsel infusion system”.
Now, anyone who looks at the blessed man, and is honest will notice a difference between the way we live and the man of verse 1. We draw counsel from all sorts of ungodly sources and find ourselves standing in the way of sinners, while he doesn’t.
We might resolve to “get focused” and “do what’s right’, but a little experience and honest assessment of our lives will show that God’s word to Jeremiah applies to us: “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23)
The way of the righteous is, truly, blessed. It just seems far off and out of reach. So what’s a man to do then?
Well, not only must we follow the way of the righteous, but …
2 Secondly, We must pursue the delight of the righteous (v2)
Verse 2 says, “…but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
· So, what exactly is his delight?
2.a His delight is in God's law…
…that is, in all the instruction given by God to man.
“Now, that's a strange thing to delight in”, you might think. This man not only likes reading the Bible and studying God's law, but he actually delights in it... it gives him pleasure. He desires it so much that he meditates on God's law day and night. That's quite a devotion to something as seemingly boring as reading God's law.
Yet, this is where his delight lies.
· So what makes the Law of God a delight?
2.b The One he sees while reading it.
Looking into the heavens with a powerful telescope reveals wonders that stir awe and reverence in us as see their scope and majesty. As we see the brilliant stars, the gloriously colored galaxies, swirling nebulae and giant gas clouds, we catch a glimpse of the glory of the Creator.
Looking into the perfect word of God, however, is like looking into the very throne-room of God, allowing one to see the Creator in all His glory, majesty and splendor. And to see Him is to love Him, and be filled with endless delight and joy. See Him but once, clearly, in the Holy Scriptures and like our blessed man, you too will delight in the Law of the LORD and will be drawn to it both day and night, calling all other “delights” rubbish. Like Paul, you’ll say “…I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:7)
· What does he obtain from his delight?
2.c All sound and godly counsel.
Imagine drinking from the crystal clear fountain of Him who created water… Filling one’s mind and heart with counsel from God’s law is just such a thing, an abundant and never-ending supply of wisdom and joy.
And now imagine drinking from a stinking sewage pipe. Drinking in a never ceasing flow of bad counsel, while expecting to become wise and find life wouldn’t be wise. Yet, leave your TV on, unchecked, and you will end up drinking from the sewer.
Drinking from the fountain of Him who sees and knows all brings health and life, while drinking from the sewer brings only sickness and death.
The delight of the righteous is the highest delight one can ever experience, and it is an eternal delight. Far more pleasurable than cocaine, it can be had for free and doesn't plunge a man into ruin, but instead causes his spirit to soar and fills him with life.
APPLICATION + GOSPEL
So how can we pursue the delight of the righteous? Fairly simply, actually, in two steps: First, get a copy of the Law of the LORD, that is, a Bible; and second, read it.
However, its here, at step 2, where the difficulty lies.
You see, as I've mentioned, we all have a fallen, sinful nature. And as a result, in our natural state, we are spiritually blind, dead in sin, and unable to see spiritual truth. Like a colleague I knew who had read the entire Bible through twice, and yet said "I see nothing special in the Bible - it's just another boring old history book".
Others, however, who previously felt the same, now testify of a time when they called out to God in prayer, asking Him to open their eyes and reveal truth to them. A man I know once described the change like this: "I could never understand the Bible. It was the most boring book I'd ever been forced to read. And yet, one day after I prayed to Jesus, confessing my sins, God opened my eyes. From that day, the Bible has been alive, with the pages seemingly burning with color and life... it's almost like looking into Heaven...”
Without God's illumination, without Him opening our eyes so we can see, we will not see what the blessed man saw, nor will we experience the delight of God.
If we are to experience it, then we must follow the way of the righteous, pursue the delight of the righteous, and…
3 Thirdly, We must experience the life of the righteous (v3, 4)
The psalmist tells us that the blessed man has an abundant, full, supernatural life that will last forever, while the wicked man does not, but instead will wither and be blown away.
Notice first that...
3.a The righteous is stable, fruitful and full of unending life
Look at verse 3... “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
Here we see the results of the blessed man's careful listening, living and delighting in God. His life is solid and stable, like a fully-grown tree with roots extending deep into the earth. And he is “planted” – that is, purposefully placed and cared for by the Master Gardener, God himself.
His solidity and stability are themselves stable and secure – he is planted by streams (plural) of water. He has all that he needs for continued life and growth and that supply is sure.
As a result, his life is fruitful, and valuable. And it bears fruit exactly when it should. That is, even the timing of things in his life is as it should be. Like a tree whose leaf never withers, evergreen, filled with life and growth all year round. In a nutshell, “in all that he does, he prospers”.
His prospering is no marvel, though – if an arrow is aimed and guided by the unseen hand of the counsel God, it is no surprise when it hits the target named Blessedness dead center.
Notice also that...
3.b The wicked are unstable, worthless and driven away
Verse 4 says “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” “The wicked are not so” is a broad and powerful negation of all we have read so far, but especially verse 3. By inverting verses 1 through 3, we can catch a glimpse of why “the wicked are not so”. Verses 1-3 might read:
1. Cursed is the man who walks in the counsel of the wicked, taking direction from those who are lost themselves and heading for destruction, who happily stands in the way of sinners, and sits in the seat of scoffers.
2. His delight is in TV, his own counsel, having fun with the lost… in fact, in anything but the law of the LORD, and apart from never paying it any attention, he scoffs at His law whenever it is mentioned.
3. He is like a dried up corn husk or tumbleweed, and like a slowly dying thorn bush, yielding thorns instead of fruit and whose leaves shrivel and die. All his apparent successes only edge him ever closer to destruction. His doom is sure."
The wicked man's life doesn't last, but fades away. He has neither root nor stability and is blown about by the winds of popular culture. And he will ultimately be driven away by the mighty breath of God's fierce judgment.
The two are exact opposites: the righteous is stable, the wicked is unstable; the righteous is full of life, the wicked withers; the righteous remains while the wicked vanishes suddenly, driven away by a sudden blast of wind.
“When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.” (Proverbs 10:25)
APPLICATION + GOSPEL LINK
Now, it is the Life of God filling the blessed man that makes him blessed, fruitful, stable and able to see wonders in God's law. And without this life in us, we have no more hope of escaping the coming storm than does the wicked man.
If we are blessed, then we will follow the way of the righteous, pursue the delight of the righteous and experience the life of the righteous, but these things do not make us blessed.
You might be thinking, “I thought you were telling us the way to be blessed?” I am indeed. We’ll see the source of blessedness in a moment.
First, though, we must see the end of the ways.
Verses 5 and 6 show us the final end of the two ways: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
For a long time in life, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked appear to run parallel. The wicked way often looks grassy and soft on the feet, and, at the outset, the wicked path is broad and comfortable. It is seems like “the way of fun”.
But here, in verses 5 and 6, the LORD reveals its end. There is a coming judgment and day of reckoning, and to that fearful gathering all mankind will be brought.
The blessed ones, those filled with the Life of God, will stand together in a glorious congregation, looking in wonder and adoration on Him who they had previously seen only through the telescope of God's Law.
The wicked ones, already withered from long years of living apart from God, will gasp in terror and horror before the splendor of the Great Judge of all the Earth. And God will give them what they have chosen – an eternity without Him, forever abandoned by God.
Oh how blessed it will be to be found among the righteous! And how terrible to be found among the wicked!
We’d all like to think that we'll be among the righteous. We're not perfect, but we're not Hitler either. Unfortunately, verse 1 contains bad news. You see, in the original Hebrew, the 3 verbs are in the past tense, and a literal translation reads:
"Blessed is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, and has not stood in the way of sinners, and has not sat in the seat of scoffers"
Bad news indeed – the key to blessing is perfection.
None of us, if we’re honest or sane, can say we’ve never heeded bad counsel, acted sinfully, or scoffed at God's law. Thus none of us meet the requirement for blessing and we all stand condemned among the wicked, waiting with bated breath for the fiery wind of God's fury to drive us away.
There is good news, however – Jesus of Nazareth. He is the source of blessedness and is the Life of the righteous. He alone fulfilled the demands of verse 1. He came to earth, lived a perfect life, died as a substitute for us, paid the penalty for our sins and opened the way for us to become righteous.
The Bible, filled with God's gracious counsel, tells us that without new life from Jesus we are all dead. Not physically, of course, but spiritually. We have all broken God's law... told lies, dishonored our parents, stolen, lusted, and deserve death.
The Bible also tells us that all who believe in Jesus will not die but will receive the everlasting life of the Blessed. It says that if anyone confesses his sin to Jesus, asking Him for forgiveness and submitting to Him as LORD (that is, listening to and obeying His counsel), then God will place His Holy Spirit into that person – the same Spirit Who allowed the blessed man to see God in His Law.
If you are not a believer in Jesus today, I plead with you… recognize your peril. Without Jesus, when the paths finally part, you will be destroyed with the wicked. But it need not be so. If you have never placed your trust in Jesus, afterward please speak to me or someone else who can pray with you and show you the way to Jesus.
And if you are a believer today, I plead with you… recognize the danger of filling yourself with ungodly counsel. Your eternal end may be secure, but ungodly counsel can ruin your life and make you most miserable. Remember my friend Bob? Well, Bob is a Christian who refused to heed godly counsel from Christian friends and pastors and instead listened to his own counsel and the counsel of worldly businessmen.
Follow the way of the righteous. Remember the fountain and the sewage pipe, and ask, “Which one am I drinking from?”