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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:The wise know the difference between the righteous and the wicked
Text:Psalms 1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-12-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 111:1-3

Hymn 11:9 (after the Law of God)

Psalm 111:4-5

Psalm 1

Psalm 150

Scripture reading: Genesis 50:15-21

Text: Psalm 1

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

When we think of the Psalms we often think of a song of praise to God.  Psalm 1 isn’t like that.  It’s what we call a wisdom Psalm.  It’s more like the Proverbs than it’s like many of the Psalms.  This Psalm was written to teach God’s people something about wisdom.  It was put at the beginning of the book of Psalms as a sort of doorway.  As you enter the book, you’re reminded how there are two kinds of people in this world.  There are those who are wise, those who are righteous in God’s sight.  But then are also the fools, those who stand condemned before a holy God.  This Psalm lays out the difference between the two.  So, I’ll preach God’s Word to you with this theme and division:

The wise know the difference between the righteous and the wicked

God teaches how it’s in their:

1.  Associates

2.  Attitude towards God’s Word

3.  Appointed end.

Psalm 1 begins with a declaration about a certain kind of person.  It says “Blessed is the man who…”  We could fill that out a little bit more and say, “O the sheer happiness of the person who…”  The word in Hebrew that’s translated as “Blessed” refers to a state of existence characterized by sheer joy and happiness.  You envy such a person. 

The first verse describes this person with three negatives.  For a person to fit this description they stay away from three roads that have “no entry” signs posted in front of them.  And these roads or paths stand for three different kinds of associations. 

First off, the blessed person doesn’t “walk in the counsel of the wicked.”  Walking in the counsel of the wicked means listening to the advice of people who are unfaithful and disobedient to the LORD.  The blessed ones aren’t ever listening to the advice of those at war with God. 

The Psalmist then adds that they don’t stand in the way of sinners.  Notice the progression here.  We’ve gone from walking to standing.  When you stand, you’re lingering, hanging around.  You’re beginning to feel more comfortable with those who are God’s enemies.  You don’t mind to hang up your jacket and stay a while.  Those who have sheer happiness from God aren’t like this. 

Nor do they sit in the seat of scoffers.  Again, there’s this progression:  walking, standing, and now sitting.  Sitting in the seat of mockers means a person has taken their place.  Sitting in that spot means you’ve identified yourself with that particular crowd.  And this crowd is a bad bunch – they’re scoffers or mockers.  Who do they mock?  Naturally, they’re mockers of God.  They’re not interested in praising their Creator, instead they take their joy and delight in making jokes about him, ignoring him, and just otherwise living as his enemy. 

These wicked, these sinners, these scoffers, they’re all people who have taken their stand against God.  The way to blessedness, the way to sheer happiness, steers clear away from associations with these kinds of people.  Believers know how the company you keep can say a lot about what lives in your heart.  Believers know how the company you keep can also affect what lives in your heart and your life.  You could think here of what Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Do not be deceived:  ‘Bad company ruins good morals.’” 

It’s easy to see how this teaching applies to our lives.  Since the Psalm defines it in negative terms, we can do that too.  We have to think first about Christ.  We’ve been redeemed by him.  We have union with him.  We’re in Christ.  The description that we have here fits completely with his character and it’s meant to then fit with our character in him.  So, if we’re united to Christ, how can we ever place ourselves in the counsel of the wicked?  What are some ways we might do that?  I’ll mention one way.  Perhaps you can think for yourself of other ways.  Let’s say you’ve hit a rough spot in your marriage.  You have some people you work with.  They’re not Christians.  From the way they talk and live, you know they don’t value marriage.  They don’t share your values or beliefs.  But you ask for their advice on your marriage problems.  There’s no blessedness in that.    

Then there’s also standing in the way of sinners.  This is a lingering, a hanging around from time to time.  You go to places on the Internet where you have no place being.  You indulge yourself in things that don’t fit with your identity in Christ.  Whether online or in person, you associate yourself with people and things that simply don’t fit with who you are.  Blessedness will escape you. 

And how much more if you sit in the seat of mockers!  This is where you take the final step and make your real commitment public.  You’re not really committed to Christ.  You’re committed to being with those who find their identity in pride and rebellion.  There’s a sense in which stolen bread is sweet – you’ll enjoy it for a time, but ultimately this is not the way of blessedness either. 

Loved ones, those in Christ follow a different path.  If we love Christ, we’ll want to walk as he did – we’ll want to walk in the counsel of the righteous.  We’ll want to stand in the way of those committed to our Lord.  More and more, we earnestly desire to sit among those who are worshippers of God.  In other words, if we love Christ, we’ll also love his church, his people.  

This Psalm teaches redeemed people that there’s blessedness in fellowship with one another.  Fellow believers need one another.  This is what we confess in the Belgic Confession.  We confess in article 28 that no one should withdraw from the church of Christ, “content to be by himself, no matter what his state or quality may be.  But all and everyone are obliged to join it and unite with it, maintaining the unity of the Church.”  Those who find their righteousness in Christ are going to associate with others who do the same.  In that way, God will use us as instruments for change in the lives of one another. 

The second verse begins with that small word “But.”  In the original this is an emphatic expression.  There’s a big contrast here.  The righteous don’t find their happiness in associating with rebels.  Instead, they find a delight and happiness in the law of God.  Now that’s not a specific reference to the Ten Commandments or to any other part of the Bible that says, “You shall do this,” or “You shall not do that…”  Rather, this is a poetic way of referring to the whole Bible.  We could say that the blessed man delights in God’s Word. 

There’s an implicit contrast here with the wicked.  They couldn’t care less about God and so they couldn’t care less about what he says in the Bible.  It’s like in an election campaign.  If there’s a particular party you’re never going to vote for, you’re not going to be spending a lot of time at their website looking at their campaign platform.  You’re committed to NOT voting for them and so you couldn’t care less what they stand for.   The wicked are the same in their commitment against God.  They don’t give any attention to what he says. 

This is where the blessed, the righteous are different.  They find delight in God’s Word.  The word for “delight” is used elsewhere in the Old Testament to refer to costly jewels and treasure.  Just like someone would find joy in seeing diamonds, so the blessed ones find their joy and delight in God’s Word.  They treasure it and value it.

The second half of verse 2 says that the blessed one meditates on God’s law day and night.  The word used for meditating describes a kind of mumbling or reading to oneself.  The one who meditates is constantly going over what God’s Word says in his heart.  He might also be talking out loud to himself.  Day and night, constantly, this person is reflecting on what God has said. 

Again, it’s not too difficult to apply this to our lives.  The way of sheer happiness involves a positive attitude towards God’s revelation in the Bible.  This positive attitude results in actions. 

I remember once reading a story about a man in the United States.  He’d grown up in a non-Christian family and then through some means, I don’t remember how, God brought him to repentance and conversion.  Shortly after his conversion, he was involved in a terrible accident.  There was an explosion and he was badly burned.  He became blind and lost both his arms.  His faith in Christ remained.  Though he could no longer read normally, he still wanted to read his Bible.  He learned to read Braille – remember he lost his arms – he learned to read Braille with his tongue.  He was so bent on reading Scripture that he did whatever it took, even if that meant reading the Bible with his tongue.  Does that same delight in God’s Word also fill our hearts?  Or do we perhaps begin to take the Bible for granted? 

We’re so much richer than the Psalmist who penned Psalm 1.  He knew part of God’s revelation.  He knew the promises that were there, promises leading to the Messiah.  But we know the fulfillment of those promises.  We know all about Jesus Christ from the New Testament.  And we do love him, don’t we?  The whole Bible points us to him.  And so then, because of our deep love for him, we ought to be spending as much time with the Word as we can.  We should be making regular use of our Bibles, for instance in doing personal devotions.  That’s something that brings blessedness to our lives.  The Holy Spirit works through the Word to bring us growth and progress in holiness.   

And what about meditation?  I suspect that many of us don’t have this as part of our lives.  What does meditation look like for New Testament believers?  It can have different faces, but here’s one:  meditation can work with Scripture passages you’ve memorized.  We should make memorization of Scripture a regular habit.  When we have Scripture memorized, we can recall it and meditate on it – reflect on it, chew it over – wherever we might be. 

Someone once compared the Bible to a love letter.  When you get a love letter, you read it over and over again.  You delight in the words of your lover.  The Bible is a love letter from God.  He loves us deeply.  We love him too, don’t we?  Won’t our love then compel us to dwell on his Word, to delight in it, to meditate on it?  Because it’s in his Word that we learn more about who our lover is and what he’s done. 

The Psalm uses two powerful images to contrast the appointed ends of the righteous and the wicked.  First we get the positive image about the righteous.  The righteous, the one who is blessed, he’s like a tree planted by streams of water.  Living in a place with a lot of green trees, we don’t have too much difficulty imagining the sight.  But put yourself in the context of the Psalmist.  Imagine a very dry climate with not a lot of green vegetation, at least not a lot that stays around all year.  There a tree that stays green all the time is something remarkable.  A tree with flowing streams of water beside it all the time is something out of the ordinary.  This is what the righteous man can be compared to.  He’s blessed, but he’s also a blessing.  After all, trees give shelter, healing, and life.  Green trees produce fruit that also benefits others. 

The image of the tree is a powerful picture of God’s design for believers.  He wants them to be firmly rooted in the ground so nothing can blow them over.  God wants believers to be productive and fruitful.  God’s plan for believers is that they would be blessed and a blessing for others – that they’d produce food for hungry people. 

The opposite image is equally powerful.  The wicked are completely unlike a green tree.  Instead, they’re like chaff.  Chaff is dead plant material.  It’s dry, separated, tiny, it’s blown apart, disintegrating.  Chaff should be burned, but more often it just gets blown around by any wind which passes by.  Chaff is rootless and dead.  That’s the picture of the wicked in this Psalm.  That’s why verse 5 tells us the wicked will not stand in the judgment.  That’s why verse 6 says the way of the wicked will perish.  There’s no life in them now and there never will be.  There’s no hope for the wicked. 

The righteous will stand in the judgment.  The righteous will stand in the assembly of the righteous.  God watches over their ways – actually, the Hebrew says God knows the way of the righteous.  God has an intimate care and concern for them. 

There are two questions we should ask.  First of all, why?  What really makes the difference between the righteous and the wicked?  We all know that there are no perfect people.  We realize that there’s an ideal set out in this Psalm that none of us can attain to consistently.  That’s where Christ comes in the picture again.  Christ is the only one who has consistently followed the wisdom of God in this Psalm.  He never walked in the counsel of the wicked, never stood in the way of sinners, never sat in the seat of mockers.  Christ delighted to do the will of his Father.  Christ was and is the tree planted by streams of waters that bears fruit for the life of all who believe.  Christ bears fruit, he gives food and drink to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  So, when we sing this Psalm, we should be thinking first about Christ and his perfections.  Reflect on who he is and what he’s done for us and in our place. 

But then we also have to take things one step further.  Because, again, we are in Christ by faith.  Christ’s perfections are ours.  Because of that, we’re righteous in God’s eyes.  God sees people who are clothed with the white robes of Christ’s righteousness.  It’s only because of Christ and who we are in him that we’ll be able to stand in the final Day of Judgment.  It’s only because of Christ and who we are in him that we can stand at any time

That brings us to the second question.  The Psalm says that whatever the righteous man does will prosper.  The Psalm says that the one who avoids the wicked will be blessed.  Then how do we explain the suffering of God’s people then and now?  We can all think of examples from our own lives and from the Bible of people who suffer and then suffer more.  They don’t seem to prosper.  They don’t seem to be receiving blessings from God.  The one whose body is struggling with cancer doesn’t seem to be a green tree full of life and vigour. 

The answer begins by realizing that this psalm gives us a general rule.  Wisdom literature in the Bible is like that.  There are general rules and these general rules have exceptions.  But generally, we can expect the righteous, those who are in Christ to receive blessings.  We can expect that they’ll prosper and things will go well for them. 

Furthermore, what does it mean to prosper and to be blessed?  Does that necessarily mean you’re always given good health?  Think of Joseph.  A man who was a sinner, yet he also desired to follow the Lord.  Hebrews 11 tells us he believed the promises, therefore we can say he was righteous in God’s eyes.  Did things always go so smoothly in his life?  You know the story of Joseph and his brothers – Joseph’s brothers sold him to human traffickers who took him to Egypt.  You know the story of Joseph in Potiphar’s house – how Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and then accused him of attempted rape when he refused.  But at the end of it all, Joseph could look back and see God’s hand in it for good.  God’s blessings sometimes come to us in mysterious ways.  We sometimes have a hard time seeing our blessings in the middle of our suffering, or the blessings that will come through our suffering and at the end of our suffering.    

The problem is our inability to see the big picture.  At its root, this has less to do with our sinfulness and more to do with our humanity.  We’re creatures, not the Creator.  We can’t grasp and understand everything our sovereign God plans for our lives.  We want to know.  Knowledge is power and control.  But we have to believe the simple truth that our God loves us and cares for us.  We have to be willing to believe in his love and power.  We have to trust that even though we can’t fathom it, he is still for us, even in the middle of a rough time in our lives.  All because of God’s love for us in Christ.  Because of the cross.  The cross proves his love more than anything else can.  The cross is his answer to our questions.  “Focus on the cross,” he says, “and you’ll know that I do love you.”      

Loved ones, the difference between the righteous and the wicked boils down to who Christ is for them.  That presents us with a choice.  Which picture in this Psalm is the picture of our lives?  Are we, by God’s grace and power, the tree which is alive, the tree which is firmly rooted, the tree which bears fruit for God and our neighbour?  Or are we the chaff fit only for burning?  Are we in Christ, and so alive?  Or are we resting in our own strength and power and so dead?  These are questions that this Psalm leads us to ask of ourselves.  May God help us all with his Holy Spirit so we can answer in the way of true blessedness.  AMEN.  




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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