A Song of Foundations
1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
With this message we begin a new series in the Psalms.
We hope to discover together the richness of what many regard as the richest part of Scripture. Charles Spurgeon called the Psalms the Treasury of David, and a treasury is a place where riches are kept.
The Psalms are particularly appropriate for our day because they are the folksongs of the Bible. This is a generation that loves folksongs. These Psalms relate the experiences of believers of the past, reflecting the emotional upsets, problems, and disturbances which saints of old have gone through. They tell how they found their way through and they are wonderful, therefore, for helping us in our emotional pressures. There is no book like the Psalms to meet the need of the heart when it is discouraged and defeated, or when it is elated and encouraged. To express these emotional feelings this book is absolutely without peer. They are helpful simply because they teach us how to find our way through many types of problems. These marvelous folksongs are much like the ballad style of music that we hear so much today, simply recounting experiences that various men and women of the past have gone through.
Most of the Psalms, as you know, were written by David, but not all. Some were written by his choir leaders in Jerusalem, and the names of Asaph, Jeduthun, Ethan, and others appearing in the Psalms are royal choirmasters. One or two were written by Moses, and one or two by King Solomon. There are several Psalms whose authors it is impossible to identify. The whole book is a collection that has been put together by the ancient Hebrews in order that we might understand what the people of God have gone through and how they found their way out.
Many of you may not know that the Psalms divide into five books which are similar in theme to the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). The first book of Psalms ends with Psalm 41 and echoes the theme of Genesis, an introduction to human life and a revelation of the needs of the human heart. It is the book of foundations. The second book of Psalms begins with 42 and runs through Psalm 72. This corresponds to the book of Exodus. That is the book of redemption, the story of God's moving in human history to change and redeem people and save them from themselves. The third book begins with Psalm 73 and goes through Psalm 89. It is like the book of Leviticus, the book in which Israel learned how to draw near to God, how to worship him through the provision God made for his people, the tabernacle. Then Psalm 90 to Psalm 106 constitutes the fourth book which goes along with the book of Numbers, the book of wilderness wandering, of testing and failure. Finally, the fifth book covers Psalm 107 to 150 and is like the book of Deuteronomy, the second law, i.e., the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus which sets us free from the law of sin and death. It describes the way by which God finally accomplishes the redemption and sanctification of his people, the changing of human beings into the kind of men and women he originally designed.
In this present series we shall consider first the introductory Psalms to each of the five books.
Now Psalm 1, which we will look at this morning, introduces the whole collection of the Psalms but especially the first book, the book that accords with Genesis. This Psalm is a description of the wicked and the righteous. It describes the God-centered life and the self-centered life. When the Psalm talks about the wicked it is not referring to murderers, rapists, or dope pushers, the kind of people we usually think of as wicked. We often think of some notorious person, such as a gangster or hoodlum, as being wicked. But the Psalmist does not mean that. The term really means the ungodly, the man who has little or no time for God in his life; someone who has ruled God out of his affairs and his thinking even though God is the greatest Being in the universe, the One who makes sense out of life, the One around whom all of life revolves. To eliminate such a Being from your thinking is to be wicked, to be ungodly. But in contrast, the God-centered life is set before us, and the results which come from godliness. That is the simplest division of the Psalm, two balanced parts.
Let us look together at what is said about the God-centered life. David cries out,
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 end night. (Psalms 1:1-2 RSV)
That is a description of the God-centered life. Quite appropriately it begins with the word, "Happy." In our version the word is "Blessed," but blessed is one of those code words which only Christians use -- it really means "happy." Here, then, we have the secret of happiness. You may recognize that that is exactly the way the Lord Jesus began the greatest sermon ever uttered before men, the Sermon on the Mount. It begins with what we call the Beatitudes (another code word which means "the Blessings"). These Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11) are the secrets of blessing or happiness. "Blessed are the poor in spirit (happy are the poor in spirit), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Happy are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Happy are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled, etc." So, here in Psalm 1, the Psalmist is giving to us the clue to happiness. "O the blessedness," he says, "O the happiness of the man who lives like this."
Then he gives us a description of this man's life, both negatively and positively. First is the negative: "who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers." He gathers up in three key words the varied aspects of life: who walks, who stands, who sits.
Some of you have read a little book by Watchman Nee called, Sit, Walk, and Stand. It is a wonderful description of the life of a believer in Jesus Christ. But here is the Old Testament description of unbelievers, the ungodly, who also walk, stand, and sit.
Notice also the progress of evil. He speaks of the wicked, of sinners, and of the scoffers. What this Psalmist is pointing out to us is that the ungodly are characterized by a totally different way of life. To walk is a reference to the decisions which must be made all day long. We all know how it is. We take steps all day long, making decisions about all kinds of matters. That is walking, taking a series of steps. To stand is a picture of the commitments we make to various causes. We give ourselves to certain things, we take our stand upon certain important matters. To sit is a picture of the settled attitude of the heart, the continuous disposition of life.
Now, says the Psalmist, the man who has found the secret of happiness can be recognized by the fact that he does not walk in the way of the wicked, i.e., he does not make decisions as do the ungodly. He has rejected the philosophy of the ungodly. What is that philosophy? How would you describe the philosophy by which the world runs, the ungodly world? Perhaps it can be put into three simple propositions: "Me first;" "Get it now;" "Nothing bad will happen." Is that not the philosophy of the world? That is the counsel of the ungodly, the wicked. The man who has learned the secret of happiness rejects that. He does not make his decisions on that basis.
Second, he does not stand in the way of sinners. This word for sinners is a most interesting word in the Hebrew. It is a word which means, "to make a loud noise," or "to cause a tumult." It is the idea of provoking a riot, of creating a disturbance, making trouble, etc. The Psalmist says you can recognize the godly man in that he does not make trouble. He does not provoke riots, he is not at work causing disturbances; he is obedient to the laws of life and of the land. He does not "stand in the way of" those who live to cause trouble. That does not mean that he resists them; the word "stand" does not mean "stand against." It means he does not "hang around the vicinity of" those who are going in that way. He has rejected all that.
Third, he does not sit in the seat of the scornful, i.e., those who blame everyone else for what is wrong and never blame themselves. We all know how easily that kind of attitude comes to our heart. If anything goes wrong it's always somebody else at fault, isn't it? Parents blame the children, the children blame the parents, and they both blame the schools. The schools blame the parents and the government. The government blames the hippies; the hippies blame the establishment. One nation blames another nation. Everyone is blaming everyone else. That is the philosophy of the world, is it not? These are the scornful, the scoffers, the cynics, who cast a baleful eye at life in general and blame others for their problems.
But the godly man has rejected that attitude. On the contrary, his life is characterized by positive things. He is selfless in his motivations, obedient in his actions (obedient to law), and he does not adopt the role of the critic but is cheerful and accepting of whatever comes as from the hand of God.
I love that description of a Christian which says,
A Christian is one who is:
Continually cheerful, and
Constantly in trouble.
This is exactly what the Psalmist describes. It is an unusual life, is it not? I think most of us, hearing this, say to ourselves, "Do I meet that description?"
But, that is the negative side. Now look at the positive side. "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." Here is the reason why this man is able to reject the world's philosophy. It is because he has learned to delight in the law of the Lord. Now "the law of the Lord" is, in the Psalms, another name for the Scriptures. It means more than the Law of Moses; it includes the whole revelation of God. The positive thing about this godly person is that he has learned that in the book of God he is given a completely different view of life than that he gets from the world. In the book he is told the truth about life. He has learned to delight in the fact that here is a book that tells him the truth, and shows him a whole new way of life, a new philosophy. And more than that, it reveals a power by which he can fulfill it. If all that was said here were this description of the godly man in the first two verses, most of us would agree that this man thinks too much of himself. He thinks he is better than the rest. He does not act like others because he thinks he is better. But this second verse makes clear that that is not the reason why he lives the way he does. It is because he has discovered the truth about himself out of the law of God.
I was very encouraged a couple of weeks ago in Dallas to hear the story of one of the young men from this church who gave his testimony in a Dallas church. He told how he became a Christian during the Billy Graham Crusade in 1958 at the Cow Palace and then started looking for a church home. He went to several churches but did not feel at home. He had been an unchurched man till that time, and did not like the ones he visited as a Christian. Then one day he came here. The very first Sunday he was here I was speaking and I did something I have never done again, but it struck him most forcibly. I read from First Corinthians 6, these verses:
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 RSV)
He said he was greatly impressed when, after having read those verses, I said to the congregation, "Now that is a description of the Christians in Corinth and the life they once had led. I would like to ask if there are any here who have had this kind of a background. How many in this congregation have done some of the things listed here?" And I read the list again: immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, greedy, revilers, and robbers. He said that one by one, all over the congregation people began to stand to their feet. More than half the congregation was standing, and he took one look at this great crowd and said, "These are my kind of people." Yes, "Such were some of you. But you are washed, you are sanctified, (made clean), you are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God." That is what this man of the first Psalm discovers when he reads the law of God. He learns not only that God demands a certain perfection, but he also learns the process by which that perfection is made possible. It is through the Redeemer whom God will send, whose life he learns to share, by faith. He learns to appropriate the strength of that coming Lord. One of the delightful things about the Psalms is the many times we find this truth expressed, the fact that the Old Testament saint has learned to draw upon the greatness and glory of God in the midst of life.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalms 27:1 RSV)
All through these Psalms it is revealed that this is what he has learned. He has learned to meditate on it day and night. That does not mean that he goes around thinking about scripture and repeating them over and over all day long. That is a mechanical understanding of this verse. What it means is that this man has learned that a wonderful new life is made possible by God and is available for any situation. He keeps appropriating it all day and all night, whenever he needs it. Whenever he needs strength he draws upon the Lord for it. He does not attempt to mobilize his resources or to find some kind of encouragement from outsiders and thus to depend upon external circumstances for peace and rest; he learns to draw only upon the strength of God. That is what makes the difference. This is the secret of the godly life. This is the way any of us can learn to be selfless, obedient, and cheerful under every circumstance.
Now the Psalmist goes on to give us the evaluation of this kind of life,
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. (Psalms 1:3 RSV)
I remember many years ago when I was first beginning my work here, we held a youth conference in the Sierra Nevada. There a young man came to me and took me aside. We stood together underneath a great Douglas fir and he said, "Pastor, I don't know what is the matter with me. I want to be a good Christian, and I try hard, but somehow I just never seem to make it. I'm always doing the wrong thing. I just can't live like a Christian." I said to him, "Well, there may be several reasons for that, but let me ask you this, first of all: What about your private life with the Lord? How well do you know the Lord? How much do you delight in reading his word and then spending time talking to him? Because, after all, it's not the time spent in reading the word that's important, but it's the time spent in enjoying the presence of God that strengthens you." He hung his head and said, "Well, I admit I don't do very much of that." Just then this very phrase from the Psalms flashed into my mind, "He shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water." I stepped back and said to him, "Look at this tree we're under. What does it remind you of? What are the qualities this tree suggests to you?" He looked at the tremendous Douglas fir, towering up into the heavens above, and said, "Well, the first thing is, it's strong." I said, "Yes. Anything else?" "Well," he said, "it's beautiful." I said, "Exactly! Beauty and strength. Those are the two things you admire about this tree. And those are exactly the two things you want in your own life, aren't they? Beauty and strength?" He said, "Right." "Well," I said, "tell me this: What makes this tree beautiful and strong? Where does it get its beauty and its strength?" He stopped for a moment and looked at the tree, then he said, "Well, from the roots, I guess." I asked him, "Can you see the roots?" "No," he said, "You can't." Then he said, "I get it! That is the hidden part of life, but it is the secret of this tree's beauty and strength, isn't it?"
That is exactly what this Psalmist is saying. The man who is godly has learned, in the hidden inner parts of his life, to draw upon the grace and glory and strength of God. His roots run deep into rich and moist soil, and this is what makes him beautiful and strong. He is like a tree planted by rivers of water. And he is fruitful, "He brings forth fruit in its season." That is probably a reference to the fruit of the Spirit which is described for us in the New Testament. It is the character of God and that is always the same in either the Old or the New Testament: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, etc.
"His leaf does not wither." That means he is always vital, always an exciting kind of person. He is never dull, never dreary, never boring; he is an exciting, vital person because he is in touch with a vital God. Finally, all that he does prospers, i.e., he is effective. What he puts his hand to he accomplishes because he is not doing it in his own strength but in the strength of another, a hidden Other, from whose resources he is continuously drawing. That, you see, is the godly life. That is the secret of happiness. The man who learns to live that way is a happy person. It does not make any difference what his outward circumstances may be, because happiness does not consist in the abundance of things which you possess, as Jesus tells us. This man is happy because he has learned the secret of happiness.
Now, more briefly, in contrast to this he describes the man who has no time for God.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away. (Psalms 1:4 RSV)
It takes two verses to describe the secret of the godly life; it only takes two words to describe the life of the ungodly: "not so." They are not like the godly man. They believe in the philosophy of the world, the counsel of the ungodly (Me first; Get it now; Nothing bad will happen). They live on that basis and make their decisions on that basis. They are involved in small or large acts of rebellion. They are in violation of the fundamental laws of life, yet they blame everyone else for their troubles. "The ungodly are not so (not like the godly) but, (and here is the evaluation of their life), are like the chaff which the wind drives away."
I do not think you city folks understand chaff. In Montana every fall we had harvesters who came around with a thrashing rig. The bundles of wheat would be thrown into this machine. The straw would be blown out onto the stack and the wheat would come dribbling out to be poured into trucks or wagons and taken away to the granary. But floating around in the air everywhere was chaff. It was the awfullest stuff you ever saw. It stuck to the skin wherever you sweat; on the back of your neck and down your shirt. It created frightful itching. It was universally regarded as the most worthless stuff there ever was. In reading Psalm one I was struck by the fact that clear back in David's day, a thousand years before Christ, the only thing they could think of to do with it was to blow it away, "the chaff which the wind blows away." And still, two thousand years after Christ, the only thing we can do with chaff is to blow it away. That's what the thrashing rig tries to do. It attempts to blow it up onto the straw stack and get it out of the way for it is worthless. And that is God's evaluation of the life which has no room for God. It is like chaff. Oh, it may be very impressive in the eyes of the world. Such a man may have a beautiful home, drive several big cars, have many luxuries, and be regarded as a wheel and thus go around in circles. But in God's evaluation, his life is worthless. He has never fulfilled a single thing for which God put him here in this world. His life is so much wasted time as far as God is concerned, worthless, like the chaff which the wind drives away.
As a result, there are two things said of him. "He shall not stand in the judgment." That means the daily judgment of God, the evaluation that God makes constantly of our lives. This man has no standing in that at all. His life is regarded as worthless. Everything he does is so much wasted labor. Nor will he be "in the congregation of the righteous." That is a reference to the final judgment. When all the redeemed are gathered together this man will be absent. He may even have been religious. I rather think he was. But, you remember, Jesus said that "Many-many-shall say in that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? And did we not do many mighty works and cast out demons in your name?"' (Matthew 7:22 RSV). And he shall say, "Depart from me; I never knew you," (Matthew 7:23 RSV). I never knew you. This man shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous, because he has never put God at the center of his life.
Then the Psalm concludes with this tremendous word of explanation. Why does all this happen in this way? Why is it that though outwardly a man's life may be very impressive, inwardly it may be nothing but a hollow shell, empty and worthless? The answer is, "The Lord knows the way of the righteous," (Psalms 1:6a RSV). The Lord knows that path, he is watching over that man, guiding him, guarding him, and keeping him (or her). "But the way of the wicked [the ungodly] will perish," (Psalms 1:6b RSV). That means it will dribble out into nothing. "His lamp shall go out in obscurity," says the prophet, a very tremendous phrase. I do not think this has ever been demonstrated more strikingly than in the days of the New Testament. There came a time when the Apostle Paul stood as a prisoner before Nero Caesar. Nero was at that time a most dissolute, vain, cruel, inhuman, implacable monster. He is regarded now by historians as one of the most vile and contemptible rulers ever to sit upon a throne. He even commanded that the body of his own mother be ripped apart that he might see the womb that had borne him. He once saw a handsome young man in his court and he ordered him castrated and used him as a woman the rest of his life. Yet his name was known all over the empire. He was Caesar. The whole of the Roman world bowed to his will. The life of that mighty empire revolved around this man, Nero Caesar. Then there stood before him this obscure little Jew, Paul the Apostle, from a despised Roman province. No one knew him. He had scarcely been heard of except in a few isolated places where he had caused certain trouble. He was a prisoner in chains, standing before this mighty emperor. Yet, as it has been well pointed out, the amazing thing is that today we name our sons Paul, and our dogs, Nero.
...the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Psalms 1:6 RSV)
Father, we cannot read these words without asking ourselves the question: Have we discovered the secret of happiness? Are we allowing this marvelous provision for producing godlikeness to be at work in us? Or does a great deal of our life still consist of ungodliness so that we are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Are great areas of our life worthless and wasted because we are living on the principles and precepts of the world around us?
Lord, we thank you for having come to teach us the way of godliness, and to show us how your life can be manifest in us. As we come to this Communion table we come, Lord Jesus, to remind ourselves anew of the way of the cross, the way of a new life, the way of constantly judging the evil of the flesh and constantly appropriating the goodness of the Spirit, the fullness of power that he gives. Father, we pray that you will help us to lay hold more fully of this life, that our lives, in the day of judgment, will find value; that we shall stand in the congregation of the righteous; that we may live the remaining years of our life, our Father, under your eye, in your loving fatherly care, for you know the way of the righteous, and that the way of the wicked will perish. This we ask in Jesus' name, Amen.
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