The Blessed Man (Sermon)
There’s an insurance commercial which makes me chuckle every time I see it. It starts off with four teenagers frantically running through the woods on a dark night. They stop when they see a house and one of them says, “Let’s hide in the attic.” Another responds, “No, in the basement.” The third says, “Why can’t we just get in the running car?” The final teenager gets a shocked look on his face and says, “Are you crazy? Let’s hide behind the chainsaws,” as he points to a shed filled with dozens of chainsaws.
As they go running to hide behind the chainsaws, the narrator says, “If you’re in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It’s what you do.” It’s funny because they clearly make the wrong choice—they pick hiding behind the chainsaws instead of driving away in the car. The reason the commercial works is because the right choice is so obvious.
The poor decision-making in the commercial underscores an assumption we make about ourselves. We assume we will make the right decision if it’s obvious. We believe that if we have all the facts, we will make the right decision each time. But we don’t actually make the right decision every time, do we? We can probably all look back at decisions we made and ask ourselves, “Why did I do that? That was such a dumb decision. I knew better.”
Psalm 1 is a well-known and well-loved psalm, and it revolves around a decision. The first word of the psalm is blessed and the last word is perish. It presents two drastically different ways to live—one that leads to blessing, and one that leads to perishing.
If I led you to an intersection and told you that one road led to health, wealth, comfort and a long life, and the other road led to sickness, poverty, tragedy, and and early death, would you need a lot of time to decide which road you wanted to take? Or would the decision be pretty easy?
This morning as we study this psalm, I want you to consider which road you’ve chosen. Are you on the way of blessing or the way of perishing? There is way to live that leads to life and favor, and a way that leads to death and failure. Which way are you living?
Psalms 1:1-6 (CSB) How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
Two Different Ways: The Way of Blessing and the Way of Perishing
The psalm begins with the world blessed, and that’s the major focus throughout these six verses. There is a way to live a life blessed by God. What a wonderful introduction to a book. God wants to bless you, and He doesn’t make it a secret. He spells it out clearly so you know exactly what He means. He puts it down in black and white, so clear and simple even a child can understand it.
Now before we go any further, we need to think about this word blessing for just a moment. Can you earn a blessing? If you do something to earn it, then it’s not a blessing anymore—it’s a wage. A blessing by its very nature has to be a gift—unearned and undeserved. Also, can you bless yourself? Not in any meaningful way. You can certainly love yourself and even serve yourself, but a blessing comes from someone else. Right away we see that the way of blessing is one of grace—undeserved favor granted from someone great to someone in need.
As the Psalmist explains the way of blessing, he begins with a negative. He explains what the blessed person does not do. He doesn’t walk, stand, and sit with the wicked, sinners, and mockers. Since Psalms is poetry, we would be wise not to try to make these three phrases say more than the author intended. We shouldn’t parse them so finely that we miss the overall thrust of the verse. The point is that blessing doesn’t come from listening to those who oppose God and His Word.
One Old Testament commentator says these three phrases encompass “thinking, behaving, and belonging.”[i] The Psalmist is not warning us to avoid any conversation with sinners. If that were the case, none of us would have heard the gospel. It took a believer sharing the gospel with us when were sinners for us to become Christians. He’s not even warning us about friendship with non-Christians, a necessary part of loving our neighbors. He’s warning us about thinking, behaving, and belonging like someone who opposes what God says.
There is a way of living opposed to God which does not lead to blessing.
The word walk implies a “habitual lifestyle.”
The word stand means taking a stand with someone.
The word sit demonstrates an attachment, a lengthy association.[ii]
The concern is not a passing influence, but a consistent, persistent attachment to those who deny and even mock what God commands. In Proverbs, we find warnings about mockers. Mockers are fools (Pro. 9:8; 14:6), they don’t respond to instruction (9:7; 15:2), and they stir up strife because of the way they insult other people (22:10).[iii] Why would a Christian—a child of God—listen to someone who mocks their Father? And why would our Father bless those who mock and belittle what He commands?
It seems obvious, it seems clear that listening to mockers is not the way of blessing. Why would anyone do it? Why would anyone take counsel from the wicked? Why would anyone take their stand with sinners? Why would anyone associate with those who mock God and His Word? Listen to John Piper’s answer:
“Nobody walks in the way of the wicked out of duty. Nobody stands in the way of sinners out of duty. Nobody sits in the seat of scoffers out of duty. We walk and stand and sit there because we want to. And we want to because we have been watching them so intently that what they do is now attractive. We have meditated on them (without calling it that). And we now delight in them. That is how worldliness happens. You just start by looking at the stuff that the world produces. And you look at it and think about it so much that you want it. And so you walk and stand and sit in their counsel and their way and their seat.”[iv]
Are you looking at the stuff the world produces? Are you thinking about how much you want it? The apostle Paul described it this way.
Romans 12:2 (CSB) Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
Our thinking and our behaving is either conformed to this world, or it’s transformed by the Word. There’s no third option. What shapes your thinking? There are certainly overt things that shape our thinking—what we read, what we watch, what we listen to. But there are more subtle ways—pressure from a boss to work more hours, from neighbors to buy nicer things, from parents to select a certain school or major. The philosophy of this age is constantly pressing on us, and we must be vigilant to resist the pressure which forces us into the world’s mold.
But this is hard. We think happiness will come when we have what the people around us have and when we do what the people around us do. If we hear co-workers all talking about a certain show on television, we think we’re missing out on something that will bring us happiness, and we must watch it regardless of what it contains. When a friend buys something new, we feel this longing for the same thing start to well up in our heart—our heart telling us we need it in order to be happy. I think one professor from Africa nailed it when he said, “Happiness in life often depends on a person’s ability to refuse to go the way of the crowd.”[v] Do you refuse to go the way of the crowd? Or do you find yourself being pressed into their mold? Do you think those around you have something you’re missing?
The way of blessing begins by reminding us not listen to those who oppose God and His Word. But verse 2 quickly adds an additional detail. Instead of listening to those who oppose God, we need to listen and linger with God through His Word. Verses 1-2 go together like bacon and more bacon. We don’t just separate ourselves from the advice of fools, but we also soak ourselves in the Word of God.
Psalms 1:2 (CSB) Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night.
Instead of having our minds shaped by the world, we need our minds shaped by the Word. The word translated instruction is the word torah. Usually torah means “law” but here it means more than just a list of commands. “It speaks of a wholesome approach to life that comes from a full apprehension of the will of God for the well-being of human beings made in God’s image.”[vi] God’s instructions are all that we need to flourish in God’s world. This is why listening to God instead of fools is what leads to blessing. Listening to the One who created the game, gameboard, rules, and pieces is the best way to win the game.
The fact that this instruction comes at the beginning of Psalms is important. It’s an invitation to explore the Psalms, listening to God and lingering over His instructions. This opening psalm reminds me of a scene from The Lord of the Rings where the company of travelers is stuck and they’ve got to find a new route. They begin to look for a path through the mountains when they come upon an old gate. Above the gate in an inscription welcoming travelers to enter. This psalm, and specifically this verse, are like that inscription. They welcome you to enter the gates of the Psalms where you will discover and delight in the Lord’s instructions. This psalm instructs us to meditate on the rest of the Psalms, where we will discover the way that leads to blessing.
What this is not describing is a duty where we read our Bible each day in order to check off a little box in our minds. We are to read and meditate on God’s Word day and night. What does it mean to meditate on God’s Word? One author described meditating as what you do when someone gives you directions.[vii] They say, “Take the first left, then the second right, and once you pass the water tower it’s right in front of you.” As soon as they finish, you repeat the directions back to them. Once you get in the car, what do you keep doing? You keep muttering them to yourself—“First left, second right, just past the water tower.” That’s meditation. It’s taking the truth of God’s Word and muttering it to yourself all day long.
We don’t confine our thinking about what God says to a certain day of the week or a certain time of day. We take it with us and chew on it day and night. The Psalmist is reiterating what Moses commanded God’s people to do:
Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (CSB) These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.
It’s also what God commanded Joshua when He placed him in leadership over the nation of Israel.
Joshua 1:8 (CSB) This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to meditate on it day and night so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.
We all know how to meditate. We do it all the time. Last time someone did something to annoy you, you meditated on it. You kept rehearsing what they said and did over and over, day and night. Last time you weren’t sure how to pay for something, you meditated on it all night long. What you meditate on is like a Table of Contents for your heart. It catalogs what’s going on inside of you, what’s lining the shelves of your soul.
Day and night is both an indication of time, but also of season. In bright times and dark times, seasons of plenty and seasons of pain, we mediate on what God says. Spurgeon said it this way, “In the day of his prosperity he sings psalms out of the Word of God, and in the night of his affliction he comforts himself with promises out of the same book.”[viii] What else can sustain you during long days and even longer nights? Only God’s Word.
What verse 1 warns us about with sinners: “thinking, behaving, and belonging” is exactly what verse 2 tells us to do with the Scriptures. We think about them. We behave according to them, and we find our identity, our belonging in what they tell us about God and ourself.
One writer said the difference between verse 1 and verse 2 is the difference between revelation and religion. “Revelation comes from God for the purpose of helping human beings live in harmony with God’s will, whereas religion is a human attempt to order one’s path and explain the surrounding world.”[ix] Are you trying to live in harmony with God’s will or order your own path? One way leads to blessing and the other way to perishing.
When we listen to God’s Word and linger over it, we learn to love it. We delight in it. Instead of approaching the Bible like a textbook to be studied, we approach it like a world to be explored, a letter to be treasured. Usually when someone helps us figure something out, we're glad.
When a friend sent me his seminary paper so I could figure out the formatting, I was glad.
When my dad gave me a tip to finish the project at home, I was glad.
When a friend helped me hit the golf ball straight…or straighter, I was glad.
When we’re in need, and someone shows us how to fix that need, we’re usually glad.
Why aren’t we glad when God’s Word shows us how to fix our need? When we open the Word of God, see God in all His glory, see ourselves in our sin, and God’s gracious solution, shouldn’t we rejoice? Shouldn’t we want to come back day after day to learn more, to see more, to discover more grace? Then why don’t we? Could it be that doing so forces us to admit our need? It requires a humility that we would rather not embrace.
If we really believed what the Bible tells us about God—His greatness, glory and grace—and about us—our weakness and wickedness, wouldn’t that lead us to treasure God’s Word? His instructions on how to live and navigate His world in a way that leads to life and blessing? God tells us to read His Word, to meditate on it day and night because His Word shapes our thinking, and what shapes our thinking shapes our living[x]—our passions and priorities, our hopes and dreams.
In verse 3 we find the result of having our minds and hearts shaped by the Word instead of the world:
Psalms 1:3 (CSB) He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
I like how one author described this verse. He wrote: “The righteous man has stability, vitality, productivity, durability, and prosperity.”[xi] When our attitude, affections, and actions are shaped by the Word of God we find a stability to weather the storms of life, a productivity to bear fruit in every season, a vitality to flourish even in dry weather, a durability to outlast any trial, and a prosperity to fulfill our God-given purpose.
This promise makes me think of some dear older saints in our church, saints whose lives have been nourished and strengthened by constant exposure to the Word of God.
I think of George, and the fruit so evident in his life, year after year, decade after decade.
And Diane, who has faced very difficult seasons, and her leaf has not withered.
My parents, who love God’s Word and linger in it each day, and the way God has brought a spiritual richness to their lives.
We don’t read and meditate on the Word of God just to increase our Bible knowledge. We do it so God will change our hearts and produce good fruit in our lives. In this illustration, the rivers of water are the Word of God, but we are not described as pipes, as conduits simply delivering the water from one location to the next. The Word of God enters into us. We internalize it, and over time it produces good fruit in the way we think, the way we talk, the decisions we make, the goals we pursue. The goal is not information transfer—it’s not cramming biblical knowledge in so we can ace an exam. The goal is a fruitful life, a transformed life, a life which testifies to the life-giving power of God at work in us.
Just as it takes time for a tree to yield fruit, it takes time for our lives to be fruitful. We want spiritual growth to be like taking a photo with our iPhone—instant results. It’s much more like taking a photo with an old film camera. You had to fill up the entire roll of film, take it to the store to be developed, wait for a call, and then finally go and pick it up. There’s a process to spiritual maturity which cannot be rushed. Like old photos and fruit trees, it just takes time. It takes seasons of rain and seasons of sunshine. Fruit trees don’t grow fast, but they grow strong.
Halfway through the Psalm we see the author describe the second way, but he spends very little time in his description. He focuses primarily on where the way leads.
Psalms 1:4 (CSB) The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
Verse 4 actually begins with the words “not so”—“Not so the wicked.” Everything that describes the righteous is not true for the wicked. The thinking of the wicked is shaped by sinners and mockers, not the Word of God, which means the wicked are not strong, stable, mature fruit trees. They are like chaff blown away by the wind. Chaff is the worthless part of grain that is separated when the grain is threshed. It has no value, no worth, and ends up blowing out into the field, scattered and gone.
Chaff reminds me of a dead dandelion plucked from the ground by a child and blown into the wind. This is where the path of perishing leads. It doesn’t lead to safety, security, and stability. It cannot stand firm when the wind blows.
Verse 5 interprets the metaphor.
Psalms 1:5 (CSB) Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
On the day of judgment, the wicked will have no case to present before the Judge. They have ignored His Word, defied His commands, and rebelled against His rule. Instead of listening to what He commanded, they have listened to the advice of those who mocked Him. When called to give an account, no reason, no excuse, no argument will stand. They will not be added to the eternal assembly of the righteous, but will be cut off and cast away forever.
These two ways—the way of blessing and the way of perishing—are summarized in the final verse of the Psalm.
Psalms 1:6 (CSB) For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
One of the blessings for the righteous is the certain knowledge that God watches over us. God cares for us. He knows our name, our successes and struggles, our victories and our failures. He watches over our way. There is not now anything that can happen to the Christian, nor will there ever be, that God does not see. He is watching over our way, and He will watch over our way until the end.
But that’s not true for the wicked. When someone chooses to reject what God has said, there is only one possible result. No matter how successful they appear right now, no matter how happy, how prosperous, the way they are walking inevitably leads to ruin, to destruction.
Proverbs 14:12 (CSB) There is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death.
I love how Spurgeon illustrated the difference between the righteous walking the way of blessing and the wicked walking the way of perishing. He said: “The righteous man ploughs the furrows of the earth, and sows a harvest here, which shall never be fully reaped till he enters the enjoyments of eternity; but as for the wicked, he ploughs the sea, and though there may seem to be a shining trail behind his keel, yet the waves shall pass over it, and the place that knew him shall know him no more for ever.”[xii]
Which path are you on? Which way are you walking? Are your steps guided by the Word of God under the watchful care of our loving Father? Or have you chosen to walk the way that seems right to you? Have you chosen the way of the sinner, the mocker?
I and the other elders at Redeemer want you to be righteous, to walk the way of righteousness, and that will not happen apart from God’s Word. We want you to say like the Psalmist:
Psalms 119:97 (CSB) How I love your instruction! It is my meditation all day long.
The reason we preach and teach the Word of God is because it alone leads us into the joy of God. If you’re struggling to read God’s Word, let us help you. Let us encourage you and pray for you. We will gladly read it with you or find someone to partner with you as you seek to meditate on it day and night. The way of blessing leads through the Word of God, never around it.
Two Different Men: The First and Second Adam
This psalm is primarily about two different ways—the way of blessing and the way of perishing. But as we close, let me point out two different men pictured in this psalm.
I want to see if you can identify the first man. He’s living contentedly in the blessing of God. Each day he’s listening to the word of God, meditating on it, and delighting in it. He is surrounded by streams of water, and in the middle of the streams is a tree, perpetually in bloom covered in fruit. Everything he’s doing is prospering. Until he listens to the advice of the mocker. The mocker convinces him to ignore what God has said. The moment he gives in to the mocker’s advice, he is cast out of the garden, unable to stand in the congregation of the righteous, unable to withstand the charges brought by the judge. Like chaff, he is blown away, and his days end in ruin.
Adam, the first of us, chose to listen to the mocker and walk in folly, and each of us have followed him step after step.
Now let me point you to another man. He too lives in the blessing of God. Like Adam before Him, He hears the mocker’s voice. But each time the mocker questions God’s instructions, He responds by quoting Scripture. He too, enters a garden, but in that garden He fully and without hesitation chooses to follow the Word of God. Because of His decision, He is able to stand in the day of judgment. He is able to gather a congregation of righteous. Through Him, the righteous bear fruit—fruit of His Spirit alive in them.
Brothers and sisters, when we think of the way of blessing, we not only see the written Word of God—the Scriptures, but we also see the living Word of God—our Lord Jesus Christ. And we know that blessing comes through Him and Him alone. For us, the way of blessing is a person, and He invites us all to enjoy God’s blessings through faith in Him. He says to each of us:
John 14:6 (CSB) I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The way of blessing comes through knowing Jesus Christ and walking with Him. Do you know Jesus? Are you walking with Him each day? Are you listening to what He says? Are you following the blessed man down the way of blessing?
[i] Derek Kidner, Psalm 1-72, Kidner Classic Commentaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: 1973), 64.
[ii] Alec Motyer, Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 11.
[iii] William A. VanGemeren, Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev.ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 79.
[iv] John Piper, Songs that Shape the Heart and Mind, Desiring God, https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/songs-that-shape-the-heart-and-mind, accessed on 4/27/20.
[v] O. Palmer Robertson, Psalms in Congregational Celebration (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1995), 15.
[vi] O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering Their Structure and Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015), 16.
[vii] Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 17.
[viii] C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol.1 (McLean, VA: MacDonald), 2
[ix] William A. VanGemeren, Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, rev.ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 79.
[x] Derek Kidner, Psalm 1-72, Kidner Classic Commentaries (Downer’s Grove, IL: 1973), 64.
[xi] Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12 (Scotland: Christian Focus, 2016), 19.
[xii] C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol.1 (McLean, VA: MacDonald), 3.