Some people think that Christianity is only about what you believe. It is an academic issue. However, the Christian faith is not just academic, it is also practical. It relates to everyday life and impacts everything we do. This is one of the reasons we begin a brief (for us) overview of the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms speaks to our experience of life. If you will, it “meets us where we are” and then leads us to the Lord.
The book of Psalms is similar to a hymnal. It is a gathering of individual songs or prayers written by a variety of authors. The majority of the Psalms are attributed to King David, but he is not the only author. The 150 Psalms are varied. There are psalms of worship; there are cries out for help; expressions of confusion; confession of sin; and celebrations of victory. There are even Psalms where the author pleads with God to destroy his enemies.
Some of you are ready to despair because you know that there are 150 Psalms. This means we will be in the Psalms for over 3 years! We are not going to look at all 150 Psalms but only a sampling. You can do this with the book of Psalms because it is not like most of the other books we study. You don’t need to go through them systematically to maintain a sense of context. Most every Psalm stands independent from the others.
We begin our study with Psalm 1. Many believe this Psalm is put first by the editor of the Psalms for good reason. The first Psalm gives us a general summary of the entire book of Psalms. Some Psalms identify the author. This is one that does not.
Let’s look at the six verses that make up the Psalm.
1 Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
4 But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
5 They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
6 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.
The author teaches that our destination in life is determined by the path we take. In contemporary thought people often declare that there are many paths to truth. The Psalmist disagrees. There are two perceptions of reality (either natural or supernatural); there are only two Kingdoms in the world (the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan). There are only two roads (Jesus calls them the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life). We either serve the Lord, or we do not. We pay attention to His commands or we ignore or discard them. There is no middle ground.
The Psalmist paints the world in black and white. He does not say that every issue is easy to determine. Not everything is crystal clear in life. HOWEVER, everything does boil down to two choices: we either follow the Lord or we do not. We walk with Him or we do not. There is no middle road.
Defining The Wicked
The Psalmist begins by stating, “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers“ [NLT] A better translation of that first phrase is the word, “Blessed”. The word means “favored by God”. The person who does not fall in with the wicked is one who will knows God’s favor in life and in eternity.
We need define the words: “wicked”, “sinners” and “mockers”. We tend to define such people as those who are “way worse than I am”.
The Bible however defines the “wicked” as those who rebel against or ignore the Lord. In other words wicked people are those who do not walk in His ways and ignore His instructions. They make themselves (or someone or something else) the center of their life.
So, a wicked person (according to the Bible) can just as easily be a successful businessman or a “really nice guy” or a person who has a wanton disregard for human life! Wickedness is not about income, position or reputation. It is about the heart! The degree of wickedness may differ but the core of the person is the same: they are a practical atheist or God-hater.
Jeremiah records God’s words,
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
who rely on human strength
and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
6 They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
in an uninhabited salty land. (Jer. 17:5-6)
Jeremiah says the wicked person is the one who puts their trust in other people or their own strength or ingenuity. Wickedness has less to do with “acts” than it does “attitudes”.
There seems to be a progression in the way the Psalmist describes those who follow the way of the wicked. It starts with mere hearing; it starts by listening to (or giving interested attention to) the advice of the wicked. The second step is “standing” with the wicked. They have gotten our attention and we are attracted to their mindset. Third we “sit with the wicked”. At this point the wicked have won us over to their way of thinking. We now rebelliously embrace their way of looking at life and the world.
Paul describes the wicked this way,
They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. (Romans 1:32)
Paul describes those who sit with the wicked. In this process of moving away from God and toward the wicked, we inevitably drift from the Word of God. We feel free to dismiss parts of the Bible we “don’t agree with”. In other words our philosophy, our values, our approach to life is influenced much more by the authority of the people around us than it is by the Word of God.
The Psalmist warns us that even though this lifestyle may win the favor of those in the world, it ultimately will lead to destruction either in this life or the next.
Those Who Delight In The Law Of God
The Psalmist contrasts the one who is led by the wicked with those who “delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.”
We are not talking about those who read the Bible every day in their time of devotion. That is a good thing to do. However, those who are blessed delight in; meditate on or reflect on the Word of God day and night. They look forward to reading God’s Word. They think about what they read. They try to bend their lives to its instruction. They trust God’s truth. Consequently, they also follow the Savior revealed to us in the Bible: Jesus. They have been made new by God’s Spirit.
The word translated “Law” is the Hebrew word Torah. Torah actually means “instruction”. This is important because God’s Word is not about “rules”, it is about guidance and the counsel of God. The Law is meant to reveal and develop within us the heart of God.
This is an important thing to understand because we tend to bristle when someone tells us we “have to” do something. Our immediate response in such cases is, “No, I don’t HAVE TO do anything.” Though God does have authority over us, His Word is not meant to be a club to beat us into submission. It is better to think of the Bible like a wise friend or counselor who helps you think things through and make good decisions.
The Bible speaks to us with a truthfulness that many find offensive. Rather than listen to what God is telling them they call the Bible names! They say it is outdated, narrow-minded, culturally limited, or the product of uncivilized people. The reason for this is that even though they say they want the truth, “They can’t handle the truth!” (Apologies to the movie: “A Few Good Men”). The unsaved person wants to believe that they are a good person who needs a break, rather than a sinful people, who needs to be rescued.
One of the evidences that God has truly transformed your heart is that you will begin to appreciate and even hunger for His Word. The true follower listens intently to God’s Word and adjusts their life to conform with it, rather than seeking to alter God’s Truth to conform with their life or viewpoint.
The Psalmist draws a picture of the results of these two choices. First, he says the person who delights in the Instruction of God is like a tree planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”
A tree that can draw on a source of nourishment (such as the river) never needs to worry about the dry times. That tree will always be nourished. Likewise, the person who delights in the Word of God has a source of nourishment that is not dependent on circumstances. Whether life is good or bad (at the moment) this person is still able to gain nourishment and strength from God’s Word.
In the times of crisis the root system of a person’s life is revealed. If the roots are shallow, the times of crisis may destroy them. However, if the roots are deep, people can baffle us the strength they have to meet unspeakable trials.
This is clearly evident in the persecuted church around the globe. What believers endure and how they can even flourish is only explained by the work of God’s Spirit. We have seen it in some parents who have sick children who have a strength that can only come from God.
Those who delight in God’s instruction prosper in every situation. That doesn’t mean they don’t have difficulty. It means they continue to flourish and grow even in the difficult times. Why? We are told in verse 6: “For the Lord watches over the path of the godly.” God is near and active in the life of the One who is walking with Him. He is infusing us with strength and guiding us by His wisdom.
The other picture is of those who follow the advice of the wicked. The Psalmist describes them like chaff. It is an illustration from farming. When the grain was harvested it would be crushed by animals usually on hills that catch the best breezes. Once the grain was crushed it was tossed into the air. The wheat (which is heavier) would fall to the ground and the chaff (or the husk) was blown away by the wind.
The Psalmist says this is what the wicked are like. They are empty and will serve no lasting purpose. They will make no real difference and will quickly be forgotten. In times of hardship they are often undone because they have no root system. Everything in which they put their trust is superficial.
Solomon wrote the book of the Bible named Ecclesiastes. In this book he examined the ways of the world. He looked at the pursuit of riches, the benefits of higher learning, the advantages of power, and the draw of pleasure. He was in a position to indulge in all these areas that drive so many in our society. His conclusion: “Meaningless, meaningless, it is all meaningless”. Solomon concluded that people who live life for these things can only hope that they have a little bit of enjoyment for a season because that’s all these things can deliver.
Solomon pointed to a better way: He tells us to “remember our Creator while we are young” and to “Fear God and obey his commands”. In other words, Solomon came to the same conclusion as our Psalmist . . . the sooner we begin to turn toward the Lord and follow His Word, the better off we will be. Those who listen to the wicked (those who give no regard to the Lord) are heading down a dead-end street. Only those who delight in God’s Word will find what they are looking for. Deep down, whether we realize it or not, what we are all looking for is something eternal, real, and lasting. We are really looking for the Lord.
The first Psalm is not hard to understand. It boils life down to two choices. There is a wide road (the popular road) and there is a narrow road. Every day we make a choice about which road we will choose and what direction we will travel. Our attitudes, our actions, our values, and the long-term impact of our lives will be molded either by the Lord or by those who dismiss the Lord (the wicked).
The world around us is seductive. It is very tempting to believe that life would be more fulfilling if we had more stuff, were part of a different social group, had a better job, or could have more “fun” (usually meaning live more recklessly). After all, the people on the commercials always look happy.
We must remind ourselves every day that the way of the wicked may look attractive but it is superficial. Your life can be just as empty in a big house, in a large office, or in the public spotlight as if you had to sleep on the street or spent your life overdosed on drugs. You can be respected and cheered by the world and still be out of fellowship with God.
So here’s the question: Whom do you follow? Who is it that has your ear? To whom have you given the position of greatest influence in your life? Is it the Lord, or is it anyone or anything else? No matter how attractive the voice, if it is not the Lord and His Word, you are headed toward destruction rather than life.
If you are not trying to study the Bible, if you are not at least making the effort to seek God in prayer, then it would seem that you can’t be following the Lord. How can you follow One with whom you have so little communication? Your current practice will give you a pretty good clue as to which road you are currently traveling.
Is there evidence in your life that you have been made new by faith in Christ? If not, I hope you will take a good look at what it means to be a follower of Christ. Is it time for you to make a change? Do you need to embrace the grace of God? Do you need to alter the priorities of your life? We cannot make ourselves good but we can choose where we will anchor our lives. Many people never stop to think about where they are going or who they are following. They just go with the current of life. That is a mistake! You will undoubtedly end up on the path that leads to destruction.
So take a minute. Look at your life. See where you are and then determine who you will follow. Ask yourself what you it is that you want from life: deep roots or immediate pleasures? Popularity or Discipleship? Absolute truth or the will of the Majority? Are you willing to trust and follow Christ or are you going to trust your own ability?
There are only two choices (no matter how you may justify things): Serve and follow the Lord, or go the other way. It is one or the other. One way leads to emptiness and destruction. The other leads to blessing and life. Choose carefully, because it’s the biggest choice of your life.