Sermon preached on Psalm 1 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/8/2012 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blessed is the Man”
Here we have Psalm 1. A psalm that serves as the entrance into the entire Psalter. A psalm long recognized for its beauty both in terms of its poetry and content. Standing at the beginning of the Psalter, it calls us to the way we must approach the psalms. It calls us to the way we must approach all of life. We cannot truly worship God without going down the path of life commended in this passage. And so what we have in this psalm is a theme found in several places in Scripture. It’s the theme of two ways. There are two ways you can go in life. Two directions. Two paths. Which will you take? One leads a good way. The other quite the opposite. Jesus spoke of such a choice too in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus spoke of the two ways. One way, he said, was wide and broad, but it leads to destruction. The other way, Jesus said, was narrow and difficult, but it leads to life. This is what this psalm presents to us. Two different ways. As in the words of verse 6, it’s the way of the righteous, versus the way of the ungodly. This will what we’ll consider today. We’ll consider first what these two different ways entail. Second, we’ll consider the outcome of these two different ways. Finally, we’ll consider how to live out Psalm 1′s admonition.
But before we dig into this psalm, let me offer a helpful side note. What we have here in Psalm 1 is an idealized picture of how God’s way is the best way, and ultimately the only real way of any true value. We should not understand this concept simplistically. Some who have understood passages like this simplistically, have come up with a prosperity theology. That effectively says if you but order your life in God’s way, you will have health and wealth and virtually no problems and only prosperity in this life. That, however, doesn’t fit with the reality of life or the Biblical witness. Just read the books of Job and Ecclesiastes and you’ll find that things are a little more complex than that. The Bible is clear – sometimes in this world, the wicked seem to prosper for a time and the righteous do suffer for a time. We just studied that a bit in our series through Malachi. A Biblical worldview has to accommodate that, and in fact the Bible does accommodate that in its teaching. That being said, Psalm 1 doesn’t deal with that fact in any detail. And since we’ve dealt with that subject a decent bit recently, I’m not going to delve into it very deeply today again. Rather, I will just say that Psalm 1 presents that the way of the righteous is ultimately the best way. That’s true, even if the way of the wicked might at times in this life seem more advantageous. The point of this psalm, and Scripture as a whole, is that it is not ultimately the best way. Rather Psalm 1 says that if you want it to go well with you, then go God’s way. This we will see in our passage for today.
So, then, let’s begin first by comparing the two ways. What does each way look like? The psalms are divided up into three sections. Verses 1-3 deal with the way of the righteous. Verses 4-5 deal with the way of the ungodly. Verse 6 is a final summary verse. Let’s look first then at the way of the righteous. What does that way look like? Verse 1 starts the description. Interestingly, it begins by telling us what righteousness does not look like. It does not look like the way of the wicked. Verse 2 will then tell us in positive terms what the way of the righteous does look like. This might seem strange at initial glance, to start with what righteousness is not, but it actually does make sense. It follows the common pattern of life. If you are going to live godly, you have to first stop living ungodly. That’s what repentance is all about – you turn from going down the wrong way and start going down the right way. This is somewhat similar to the put off and put on language we see in Paul’s letters. Godliness means you have to first put off the old man’s ways; the ways that reveled in sin. You then replace those sinful things with godly alternatives. So, it’s actually quite true to life for Psalm 1 to start by telling us what righteous living is not.
And so verse 1 tells us this in a very poetic way. Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. Hebrew poetry has a lot of parallelism, and this psalm employs it with a bit more complexity than what is typical. Here in verse 1, the parallelism comes in three sets, and each of those sets has three items. They all complement and contrast each other to get at this description of what not to do in life. The message is clear – don’t be like the wicked. But look at the language used. The first set – don’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly. The walking language there designates a lifestyle, an ongoing pattern or habit. It’s how you operate. Well, it says don’t live as one who takes in the counsel, the advice, of the wicked. Note that this is not a warning about getting bad advice. You can get bad advice from anyone. It’s about trusting in the advice of those who don’t follow God. It’s not saying that sometimes an ungodly person might not have some wise thing to consider. But it’s getting at the difference between the godly worldview and the pagan worldview. We should not find our moral direction and compass from those who don’t know the LORD. Even the wisest of the wicked, are going to be advising you from a different perspective. Their counsel isn’t going to be concerned about how your glorify God and enjoy him forever. But that must be our focus on how we live our life.
The second set is similar here in verse 1. Don’t stand in the path of sinners. The first set used the language of walking. This has the contrast of standing, but it’s standing in the path. In the way. Don’t hang around on the road that sinners are taking. This isn’t a geographical note, of course. It’s saying that sinners are going down the path of just that – sin. Don’t hang around that path of sin. This is not saying that you can’t evangelize sinners – of course we are told to do that. It’s talking about your ethical living. The blessed man of God is not one who will be at home with sin. And what is sin? Do the kids know their catechism question here? Sin is any lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God. The opposite to being righteous, is being one who breaks God’s law, and the bible calls that sin.
The third set in verse 1 is don’t sit in the seat of the scornful. Here the imagery changes again – not walking or standing, but sitting. Don’t sit in this seat; don’t become entrenched in that way – the seat of those who scorn. Scorners can also be translated as scoffers. These are the people who are entrenched in their hostility toward God that they speak against him. They mock God and his ways and show their contempt of righteousness. We saw this recently in Malachi where people were mocking God and saying his ways were evil and unjust. Of course those people in Malachi were wrong. People like to sit around and criticize and complain, and even direct that toward God. Especially when things don’t go the way they think they should. We must not join with them in their derision.
And so our walking, our standing, and our sitting, must not be with those opposed to God and his holy way. Instead verse 2 tells us what the way of the righteous should look like. “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” This then is positively stating the way of God. The psalmist says it comes back to God’s law. The Hebrew word for law here in verse 2 is torah, and here likely refers to more than just what God gave at Mt. Sinai, but all the revealed Scripture that instructs his people. But notice that the righteous man delights in God’s law. Often humans can think of laws as not something to delight in, but something that is constraining. Laws constrain our freedom. And yet we should rejoice in a good law. And God’s laws are certainly good and perfect in the best way. And yet this shows the contrast between the wicked and righteous. The wicked are not going to find joy in the law of God. No one is going to truly delight in the law of God unless they’ve first been born again. Unless the Spirit of God has touched their heart and changed it from the inside. Then you go from love of self and love of sin to love of God and love for his law. Now sure, most people who are not Christian are not going to choose those labels to describe themselves. Most of the time people are blinded to their own underlying attitude toward God’s law until they are confronted by it. But for those who’ve had their hearts changed by God, we should have a new attitude toward God’s Word and his laws. This why John in 1 John 5:3 says that because we love God, we love his commands and that we don’t find them burdensome. Rather they become our delight. So much so, that they become our meditation day and night. The blessed man of God is one who loves the law and is constantly thinking about it. Thinking about what it means and how it’s applied to each and every situation. Whether you are walking, standing, or sitting, God’s teachings and commands are on your mind. Your actions are dictated by it. Your passions are informed by it. It defines you.
So this is the way of the righteous as described by Psalm 1. What then about the way of the wicked? What does that way look like? Well, when you get to the section on the wicked, verses 4-5, what do we find? Well, we find that the psalm doesn’t offer any further explicit details on what the way of the ungodly looks like. And yet it’s clear, isn’t it? The labels used of the ungodly in this passage tell us all we need to know. And verse 1 had already offered some description of them too. The ungodly here are characterized as those who do not keep God’s laws. The word translated repeatedly in this passage as ungodly could also be translated as the wicked or as a criminal. He’s someone who is a transgressor – a transgressor of God’s law. The second label in verse 1 – sinner – is self explanatory. Someone who sins against God’s law. Someone who in omission or commission break’s God’s law. The third label of scoffers are then ultimately someone who has held God’s law in contempt. He has no regard for God and his ways. And so the way of the ungodly is ultimately the opposite of the righteous. As such, we see that verse 2 is really the contrasting marker. It all boils down to God’s law and God’s Word. The way of the righteous is the way of God’s law and his Word. The way of the ungodly is the way of living in opposition to God’s law.
What then is the outcome of these two ways? This passage tells us about the outcome in several ways. First is a summary given in verse 1 and in contrast with verse 4. Blessing. Blessed is the way of the righteous man. But verse 4, “Not so,” the wicked. Literally, the words “not so” are emphatically placed at the start of that verse in the Hebrew. Blessed is this man who delights in the law. Not so, the ungodly. They are opposite. The blessedness described here can also be translated as happiness. Happy is the man who does not walk in the way of the wicked. This happiness described here is not a fickle emotion, however. It is the deep seated peace and joy and contentment and bliss from a life made well and good by God. That’s the outcome of the man of God, and it is not the outcome of the ungodly.
But the psalm goes on to illustrate the different outcomes between the two ways. Poetic imagery is used here to make the point. Two images. For the way of the righteous, it’s the image of firmly planted tree, planted right next to a stream. For the way of the wicked it’s of chaff being blown away. Two contrasting images. For the way of the righteous, it’s indeed one of great prosperity. There could be desert conditions all around, but if a tree is planted near a stream, it will get the water it needs and do well. And that’s the description of this tree. It’s a tree doing very well. Its leaf does not wither and it produces fruit in its season. A leaf reflects the health of a tree – a withered one or a diseased leaf typically represents a problem with the tree. Healthy trees ultimately give off fruit, which is what is described here. The tree imagery is interpreted for us at the end of verse 3, in whatever he does, he prospers.
As I said earlier, I don’t think this means that righteous will never have any difficulties or troubles in this life. You get a hint of that by the mention that fruit will come in its season. The fruit doesn’t come right away, but it does come at the right time. In God’s good timing. Scripture likes to use this fruit imagery in many places, and in many ways, and that helps us to understand this verse even more. Galatians 5:22 talks about the fruit of the Spirit, listing out a number of godly virtues. Colossians 1:10 talks about the fruit borne in our good works. Hebrews 12 talks about the fruit of righteousness that God brings even through fatherly chastening in our life. Hebrews 13 talks about the praise of God being the fruit of our lips. Romans 15:28 describes the financial gifts of the saints as fruit. I could go on. Scripture is very fruity. At least in terms of talking about the outcome of going God’s way in our life. Simply put, when we walk in God’s way, when we learn to love and follow his word in our life, we will thrive in godliness. We will flourish in living out the things of God. Our sanctification will be advanced. The end of it all will be glory – being perfected by God for an eternity spent with him.
But again, the opposite is the case for the wicked. Their image of being chaff that is blown away is also similar to many other passages of Scripture. Chaff is what you have left over after a harvest. With grain, the chaff is the dry, hard, protective casings surrounding the grain. You don’t eat it. No, that’s what threshing does. It removes that chaff to get to the grain which is the good stuff. The chaff is basically trash. You get rid of it. It’s worthless. The wind either blows it away, or you burn it up. That’s the imagery of verse 4 to describe the outcome of the way of the wicked. Verse 5 then interprets the imagery for us. They won’t stand in the judgment, nor in the congregation of the righteous. More poetic parallelism that gets at their fate. To not stand at the judgment means that when God judges their living, they will be condemned; found guilty. This can happen along the way of their life at different points. But it will certainly happen on the final day of judgment. This is why any temporary appearance in this life of the wicked succeeding, is at best temporary. They won’t get away with it in the end. Judgment will come, and they will not be able to stand up under it. In a similar vein, they won’t be able to stand or sit among the congregation of the righteous. The idea of the congregation here, is that of holy assembling together. This too is true to some degree now, and certainly into eternity. Today, those who are openly in rejection to God are not allowed a place as members in God’s church. Though they are at least allowed to come and observe what’s going on when his people gather in holy assembly. Yet after the final day of judgment, God’s people will be gathered together as his congregation for eternity. The righteous will be gathered up from the ends of the earth. On that day, the wicked will not be counted among that number. They will separated out as sheep and goats are separated. They will be cast into the lake of fire forever.
And so this psalm ends summarizing in verse 6 what it has made so clear. The LORD knows the way of the righteous. But the way of the ungodly shall perish. The wicked will not escape the punishment. As Jesus has said – the way of the wicked has a destination. It’s the destination of destruction. But God’s way is such a good one. It’s one where God knows them. To the wicked at the end, Jesus will say, depart from me, I never knew you, you who practice lawlessness. But to the righteous, he has known us, and will welcome us into a glorious eternity.
And so then, how do we live out this psalm? What does it mean for us to live the blessed life described in this passage? Where do we start in order to go the way described here? Well, let me start with a different question. Who has lived out psalm 1? Who in history has perfectly lived out psalm 1? Is there a man of God of old that has done this? Was it Abraham? No, he lied about his wife which put her in a very compromising situation just for his own personal safety. Was it Moses? No, he killed a man and didn’t follow God’s command when he struck that rock. Was it David? No, just remember the event with Bathsheba. Such pillars of the faith, and yet it cannot be said that they lived out perfectly psalm 1. And yet there was one man who lived this out perfectly. Jesus Christ. Blessed is that man, the one man, Jesus Christ. And yet, he’s the only one who’s lived it out perfectly. None of us, no not one of us, can make that claim. None of us can truly expect the perfectly blessed life based on our own keeping of psalm 1. We’ve all shown how we fall short of the ideal of Psalm 1.
How then can any of us expect to find the blessed life through the way of Psalm 1? Only through Jesus Christ. Only through this one truly blessed man. If we are to go the way of righteousness described in Psalm 1, it will only be through Jesus. We will need his help in our life. We’ll need his life-changing grace in our life – that we would truly begin to love God’s law. And we’ll need his sin-forgiving grace in our lives when we do go the wrong way. We’ll need his Spirit to work ongoing conversion in our lives as we keep looking to turn from the wrong way and head down the right way. So that we could bear much fruit. This is what we have in Jesus. Two quotes in the New Testament encourage us on this. First, in John 15:16, Jesus says that he chooses his disciples and appoints them to bear fruit – fruit that will last. And so if we are going to bear fruit, it will be because, Christ, the one who truly knows righteousness, is working this fruit in us. And the second quote – is Philippians 1:11. There it says that the fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus. The fruit of righteousness comes through Jesus. That’s how we can have the outcome described in this passage. In and through Christ!
And so do you understand my point? No one on their own will live out Psalm 1 to its fullness. Man on their own keeps choosing the wrong way; the way of wickedness. But the Bible shows that Christ went the righteous way of Psalm 1 perfectly. He now stands and calls to you to come and follow him. He will take you through the road of righteousness. You see, Jesus came not only to forgive us of our sins through his death on the cross. He also came so that we would begin to go down the road of righteousness. That’s why he said in Matthew 7:24 that everyone who hears his words and does them, will be like the wise man who built his house upon the rock. And he said that everyone who hears his words but does not do them, will be like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand. Again, there’s the idea of the two ways. Psalm 1 has told us that there are two ways. Jesus spoke of it too. But Psalm 1 leaves us wondering if we’ll be able to make it down that road of righteousness. But in Jesus, he has declared the way. Jesus said, “I am the way.” I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the Father, except through me. And so, Jesus is the way we live out Psalm 1. We follow him, and trust him, and he leads us along the path of righteousness. He guides us as the shepherd as we listed to his words. This doesn’t mean we won’t try to stray along the way – no, sheep like to do that. But let us as the sheep keep our eyes and ears fixed on the shepherd. He will see us through this way; the way of righteousness. The way of a blessed, prosperous, life. The way commended to us in Psalm 1. Without Christ, no man will follow the righteous way of Psalm 1. Without Christ all are doomed to the destruction of the wicked described in Psalm 1. With Christ, however, we will bear much fruit. With Christ, we will experience the blessed life of Psalm 1. With Christ we can begin the life of growing in righteousness. With Christ, we can do all things through him who gives us strength!
And how beautiful the outcome will be. Revelation 22 tells us about where Christ is taking us. This is our eternal abode. He’s taking us to that place described in Revelation as the New Jerusalem. The place described there as having a river flowing from the throne of God and the Christ. A river that on both sides has the tree of life. A tree who it says the leaves are for the healing of the saints. A tree that bears fruit every month – no longer will we have to wait for the right season to bear fruit. In eternity, every day the fruit will be in season! Every day we’ll enjoy the blessings of this tree of life, firmly planted along the river of life. Do you see the blessed imagery of Psalm 1 used in Revelation 22 to describe eternity? In other words, the Bible confirms this. The way of Christ is the way of Psalm 1. The way that leads to this blessed life and eternal prosperity.
Let us then go the way of Christ. Let us believe in him, trust in him, that we might be found in him and in his righteousness. This is how it will go well with you. God’s way! Let us live the way of blessing. Blessings that come in their due season in this life. And blessings that will always be in season in our eternal life. God’s way is the best way. Wickedness does not ultimately pay off. The way of Christ is the way it will go well for us. Let us live by it. Let us teach this way to our children, and share it with our neighbors. Let us take up the words of Christ in the Word and meditate on them day and night and learn to love them more and more. Amen.
Copyright (c) 2012 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.