2020-11-22 The Way of the Righteous

The Way of the Righteous
Psalm 1
November 22, 2020

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;

       but his delight is in the law of the Lord,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

       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.

       The wicked are not so,

but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

       Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

       For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.[1]

The Word of God for people of God. Thanks be to God.

We all want to be happy, don’t we? Happiness is a guiding principle of our country. The Declaration of Independence enshrines the right to pursue happiness. Each and every one of us has the right to pursue happiness. And yet as a nation, we are unhappy. Statistics show that we are one of the least happy countries in the world. Often times we try to find happiness in material possessions. We buy more and more stuff hoping that will make us happy. We try to keep up with the Joneses hoping that as long as we keep up with them we’ll be happy. Other times we try to find happiness in our families. We think if we have the perfect family, then we’ll be happy. Or we try to find happiness in the perfect job.

What does the Bible have to say? The Bible says that happiness does not consist in having certain material possessions or the perfect family or the perfect job. The Bible says that happiness consists in following the instruction of God. Psalm 1 contrast two ways of living, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked, to show that true happiness is following the instruction of God and to encourage us to walk in the way righteousness by delighting in God’s word.

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. Blessed means “fortunate are those” or “privileged are those” or “happy”. What is the fortunate life according to the Bible? What is the privileged life?

The psalmist tells us what the blessed life is by contrasting it with the way of the wicked. He gives us three aspects that righteous avoid. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked. Walk is a Hebraism for how someone lives his or her life. We have a similar idiom saying, “You can talk the talk but can you walk the walk?” When we use that idiom we mean “you know all the right things to say, but can you back them up with how you live?” The psalmist is saying that happy is the man who does not follow the advice of the wicked.

The Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon writes, “He takes wiser counsel and walks in the commandments of the Lord his God. To him the ways of piety are paths of peace and pleasantness. His footsteps are ordered by the Word of God, and not by the cunning and wicked devices of carnal men.”[2]

Blessedness is not following the advice of the cunning of carnal men. Often times that advice seems to make sense. Sometimes those are the persons who are financially prosperous and socially powerful. And the advice goes against what the Bible says but it is tempting nonetheless because it comes from someone well off or socially powerful.  The psalmist says that the fortunate life does not follow the advice of the wicked.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners. Standing in the way doesn’t mean to block the path of sinners. Standing means to congregate with sinners. The image is of someone walking, following the advice of the wicked, and after having followed it for some time that person stops to hear more.

The image culminates with the phrase “nor sits not in the seat of scorner”. The person has gone from walking, to standing, and now to sitting. This person is fully enmeshed in this way of thinking. He now has taken a seat and judges according to this way of living.

When people are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God – the evil is rather practical than habitual – but after they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful.”[3]

Happy is man who does not do those things. John Calvin writes, “The sum of the whole is, that the servants of God must endeavour utterly to abhor the life of ungodly men.”[4]

Does that mean we should avoid the ungodly? Are we supposed to avoid the wicked like they have COVID? Throughout the ages, some Christians have thought that we should cut off all ties with sinners. When I was in college, one of the girls who was part of Cru with me wanted all of the leaders to completely avoid spending any personal time with open sinners. Is that what this passage is teaching us?

Jesus “ate with sinners and tax collectors”. That was one of the common complaints the Pharisees leveled at Jesus. Luke 15:1, 2 says, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them”. The people who were attracted to him were the ones the Pharisees had written off as unworthy of salvation. And if we are his disciples, we will eat with those our society thinks are unworthy, sinners and wicked.

So then what is this verse telling us? The psalmist is telling us that we are not to adopt the lifestyle of the wicked.[5] The blessed person is one who does not follow the advice of the wicked, or congregate with them to listen to more of their teaching, or join with them in teaching wicked and sinful things.

Instead the blessed person delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. The blessed person delights in the law of the Lord? Is the psalmist saying that the blessed person delights in knowing the ceremonial laws, like the purity laws? How many of us delight in the speed limit? Probably very few of us delight in the speed limit, especially when we are running late.

Law is the Hebrew word torah. And it is probably better translated here as instruction. The blessed person delights in the instruction of the Lord. “Torah is the Lord God’s graciously extended hand to steady us on our feet like a child learning to walk.”[6] When the psalmist wrote this, God’s instruction consisted of only Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. We have so much more now. We have the Old and New Testaments; 66 books all containing God’s instruction for us, guiding us in all aspects of our life. We are blessed to have the full revelation of God.

The psalmist says that the blessed person meditates on God’s instruction. The word for meditate is actually murmur. This person reads God’s instruction and murmurs it to himself or herself. The blessed person knows God’s work and knows it intimately.

The blessed person does not just meditate on God’s word occasionally; the blessed person does not just occasionally murmur God’s word. The psalmist says that blessed person meditates on the law of the Lord day and night. Day and night means to continually meditate God’s law. The blessed person continually murmur’s God’s instruction each and every day, all day so that it infuses his or her life.

How many of us know God’s word? How many of us meditate on God’s instruction, murmuring it to ourselves each and every day? According to Pew, only 35% of Americans read scripture weekly.[7] A good friend of mine has said evangelicals are Bible believers but not Bible readers. Do you read God’s instruction on a daily basis? Are you meditating on God’s word day and night? If not, let me encourage you to start reading your Bibles each and every day, knowing God’s word intimately. We have reading plans in the back, pick one up and begin today. It doesn’t matter that the year is nearly over. Start today. Delight in God’s word and murmur it to yourself so that you know it intimately. Recite passages of Scripture to yourself every morning and every evening. Remind yourself of the good news found in Scripture.

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. The psalmist compares the results of someone meditating day and night on God’s instruction to a tree planted by multiple streams of water. A tree planted near multiple sources of water would thrive. Israel is an arid climate. And a lot of the streams dry up during the summer months when there is no rain. If a tree is planted near one of those streams, it’ll die and wither. But if a tree is planted near three or four streams, it’ll thrive. There will be enough water flowing nearby that it will yield fruit in season and won’t wither during the dry months.

Those who meditate on God’s word daily will bear fruit. What is fruit for a Christian? Paul tells what fruit for a Christian is. In Galatians 5 the Apostle writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22, 23). As we meditate on God’s word, the Holy Spirit cultivates this fruit in us. He makes us loving toward one another, even and most especially when people do not love us in return. The Holy Spirit gives us a joy that surpasses understanding; a joy that lasts even during hard times. He gives us peace, meaning we know that in Christ we have peace with God; that through Christ’s atoning work on the cross we are reconciled to God. The Holy Spirit enables us to be patient with difficult people. He enables us to be kind, or longsuffering. The Holy Spirit enables us to be gentle with weak brothers and sisters who need a soft touch. He enables us to be self-controlled in our desires.

The more we murmur God’s instruction to ourselves, the more we bear this fruit. As we think deeply about God’s word, we will be conformed to his image. As we read the Bible, we will find grace upon grace in Christ. We will see that even when we fail to walk in accordance with God’s ways, there is grace in Christ. Meditating on God’s word each and every day is like multiple streams watering our soul so that we bear fruit.

Maybe you’re thinking, “There are parts of the Bible that are hard to swallow. They rub me the wrong way. Do I need to read those portions of the Bible?” The Apostle Paul tells his young protégé Timothy that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16). We should read the whole counsel of God, even the parts that are hard for us and rub us the wrong way.

More often than not, the parts of Scripture that we don’t like confront sin in our lives. Maybe it confronts sinful actions. Maybe it confronts sinful thinking and presuppositions. We don’t like having our sin exposed and confronted. So we avoid those parts of Scripture and at times try to rationalize them away.

Let me encourage you, read all of Scripture – even the parts that confront our sin. Know that that through those passages of Scripture, God the Holy Spirit reveals our sin to us. He uses those passages to show us where we have wandered from God’s paths. Then he reminds us the gospel, that Christ has borne all of the sins of everyone who believes. Then he enables us to walk in the way of the Lord as he has prepared from beforehand (Eph. 2:10). He causes us to bear fruit.

But it also enables us endure the dry season. The psalmist says that the leaf does not wither. Not all of the year is the rainy season. The summer months are dry. A tree that is planted near multiple streams, its leaf won’t wither.

Just because we are Christians that does not mean we will not endure suffering and trials in this life. Sadly some Christians think that if we have enough faith then we will not suffer and endure trials. What’s even worse is that some pastors teach that; they teach that the more faith you have the less trials you’ll face.

James, the brother of Jesus, writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” We will endure suffering and trials. We live in a fallen world. And because we live in a fallen world, we will experience trials and suffering. We will experience health issues, financial issues, family issues, and many other issues common to a fallen world. We may even experience trials because we are Christian and follow God’s instruction. But being in God’s word each and every day will enable us to endure them without withering.

Spurgeon writes, “[T]he man who delights in God’s Word, being taught by it, brings forth patience in the time of suffering, faith in the day of trial, and holy joy in the hour of prosperity”.[8]

The psalmist shifts. Now he contrasts the blessed man with the wicked. He writes, “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away”. Chaff is exact opposite of a well-watered, fruit bearing tree. Chaff is the dead and worthless portions of grain. And in ancient Israel, farmers would place the grain on the ground and drive a sledge over the grain, separating the grain from the chaff. Then they would take a winnowing fork and throw the grain and chaff into the air. The grain would fall back down to the ground while the wind would blow the chaff away.

The wicked are the exact opposite of the righteous. They walk contrary to God’s word, following their own cunning and wicked devices. They congregate with other sinners to hear more. And they ultimate sit with those who mock God and his ways and teach others to do the same.

One commentator writes, “The wicked are compared to chaff because they are unstable and worthless. They are not grounded in God’s teachings. They do not bear fruit. They are dead. ‘The life of the wicked, a life lived apart from God, is just as empty, just as meaningless and worthless as the chaff.’ The wicked life has no weight of worth, no root against the tempest, no abiding in God’s world.”[9]

Ultimately the wicked will not stand. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous”. They will be judged for their sin and rebellion. And they will not stand; they will be found guilty and sentenced for their sin.

That may not happen in this life. Sometimes in this life, the wicked prosper. Psalm 94:3-7 says, “O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast. They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage. They kill the widow and the sojourner, and murder the fatherless; and they say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”

Even our own experiences confirm that sometimes the wicked prosper in this life. They get away with their crimes. They think that God does not see them oppressing the vulnerable and teaching others to do the same. Many do not experience judgment for their sins and think that they have gotten away with it. But the wicked will be judged.

John the Baptist uses similar language in Matthew 3. As he is baptizing, Pharisees and Sadducees approach. Knowing that many of them were of them were whitewashed tombs, he called them to repent because the one coming after him was mightier than he and he will execute judgment. John the Baptist says, “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” (Matt. 3:12). John makes clear that even if the wicked prosper in this life, Jesus will execute judgment on them.

Maybe this morning you are living a life contrary to the word of God. Maybe you do not heed the instruction of God and think that you are getting away with it. Maybe you’re thinking God doesn’t see. God sees. And you are not getting away with anything. He will judge wickedness. Repent and live. God will judge wickedness; he will either judge wickedness at the cross where he puts the sin of believers on Christ or he will judge wickedness when he returns and all stand before Christ in judgment.

What about the righteous? The psalmist writes, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish”. Maybe your translation says, “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous”. Where it says “watch”, the word is literally “know intimately”. God knows the way of the righteous intimately because it is his way. It is the path that he leads his people in. Think of Psalm 23. He leads his people, the righteous in Christ, to green pastures where they will flourish.

The message of Psalm 1 is simple: there are two paths, the path of the wicked which leads to death and the path of the righteous, which leads to flourishing. The psalmist wants us to follow the path of the righteous by delighting in God’s word.

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount by telling a parable. He says, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:24-27).

The point of the parable is the same as the point of this psalm, delight in the instruction of the Lord and you will flourish. You will be like a tree transplanted beside multiple streams. You will be like a man who builds his house on the rock and can endure the trials of life. But if you do not delight in the word of God, you will be like chaff scattered to the wind; you will be like someone who builds a house on sand and cannot endure the wind and rains.

Read the Bible. Delight in God’s instruction. Meditate on it day and night. Blessed is the one who does that for he is like a tree planted near streams of water bearing fruit in season and its leaf does not wither.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 1:1–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[2] Charles H. Spurgeon, Psalms (Illinois; Crossway, 1993), 1.

[3] Ibid, 1.

[4] John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms Vol. 1 (Washington; Logos Bible Software, 2010), 3.

[5] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from Psalms (Michigan; Eerdmans, 2016), 63.

[6] Calvin Seerveld, “Reading and Hearing the Psalms: The Gut of the Bible,” Pro Rege (June 1999; pp. 20-31): 24.

[7] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/04/14/5-facts-on-how-americans-view-the-bible-and-other-religious-texts/

[8] Spurgeon, 2.

[9] Greidanus, 71.