Date: December 30, 2018
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Series: MBC Sermons
Scripture: Psalm 1:1–1:6
Psalm 1 is an incredibly rich passage. It is often called the Psalm of Psalms because it essentially introduces the themes that will shape the entire psalter. Along with that, Psalm 1 has echoes of the Proverbs, so that it also called the Psalm of Wisdom. And along with that, Psalm 1 also finds its greatest fulfillment in none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. He is ultimately the Blessed Man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked or stood in the way of sinners or sat in the seat with scoffers. You can see why I say this is an incredibly rich passage. It introduces the entire book, it summarizes biblical wisdom, and it points ahead to Jesus Christ. You could spend a number of weeks in this passage, and you would be well rewarded.
But for this morning, we’re going to zero in on just one theme – the life-changing power of delighting in and meditating on the Word of the Lord. Psalm 1 paints a picture for us of life as God intended it to be, and as we stand on the cusp of a new year, my hope is that this picture will compel us to make God’s Word central to our lives in this upcoming year.
You can think of Psalm 1 as the story of two men, representing two different ways to live. The two men could not be more different, and their ways of life lead them to very different ends. The first man, who is the main figure of the Psalm, is blessed. You see it there in v1 – “Blessed is the man.” It’s the opening declaration of the story, so to speak, and it tells us this first man is living the good life. You could even translate v1 as “How good this man has it!” In fact, that’s what stands out about this first man – his life is prosperous. There is an Eden-like quality to this man’s life, just as God intended for things to be. He’s like one of the well-watered trees of the Garden. When the storms of hardship blow in, this man is not up-ended; he stands firm. When those around him spend time with him, they go away thinking, “How good it was to be with my friend.” And even as the years wear on, this man endures. No wonder, then, the psalm begins by declaring, “Blessed is this man!” He’s living the good life.
The second man, however, is far from blessed. He shows up briefly in vv4-5, and if the first man lived in a Garden, this second man wanders in the desert. He’s like one of those tumbleweeds you see in the old western movies – he just blows around wherever the winds of life take him. He’s not rooted, he’s not fruitful, he’s not anything, really. He’s like the chaff from the wheat harvest. He’s good for nothing and benefits no one. It’s no surprise, then, that the Psalm calls this man wicked. He lives only for himself, so that his life is shriveled and small. It’s a dead end. And therefore, this wicked man experiences not the blessing of God but the curse of God. He is a picture of the doomed life. When the day of judgment comes, v5, this wicked man will not stand.
Psalm 1 tells the story of two men living two very different lives. The blessed man experiences the good life, as God intended, while the wicked man pursues the doomed life, bound for God’s judgment. What, then, distinguishes the two? I’m sure we would all agree that the blessed man is more appealing than the doomed wicked man. What is the difference between the two? Where did their paths diverge, and how can we make sure that we follow the blessed man’s way of life?
If you look at the Psalm as a whole, you’ll notice there are two differences between the two men. One is a matter of grace, and the other is a matter of faith:
A matter of grace
V6 tells the matter of grace. Look there again with me – “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” That is Psalm 1’s version of Ephesians 2.8 – “By grace you have been saved.” That word know is a relational, even a covenantal, term. In his grace, God has set the first man on the road of the good life. This is important. The blessed man did not bless himself. He’s like a strong tree, but trees don’t plant themselves, do they? No, they are planted by someone else, and in Psalm 1, that someone else is the God of all grace. God has plucked the first man from the road of destruction, and he has planted him in the way of salvation. He has planted him in the good life.
But what about the second man, you ask? He has been left to himself. The Lord has mercy on whom he has mercy, and in his wisdom, God has left the second man to himself. And therefore, this man’s life is headed where all our lives would go – toward destruction. This is the first difference between the two men, and it is a matter of grace.
A matter of faith
The second difference is a matter of faith, and it’s here that we’ll focus during our time. V2 tells this matter of faith, so look there again with me – “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” To put it simply, the blessed man trusts in God’s Word. He is not conformed to this world, as v1 so vividly describes it. He doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked – he’s not following the world’s thinking. He doesn’t stand in the way of sinners – he’s not acting in step with the world. And he doesn’t sit in the seat of scoffers – he’s not giving the world his allegiance. No, the blessed man trusts in the Word of the Lord. V2 mentions the law of the Lord, but you have to remember that law means more than the Books of Moses at this point. The Law of the Lord is the sum of God’s instruction for his people. It’s the totality of God’s wisdom for life and godliness.
And that’s where the blessed man puts his trust – in the word and wisdom of God. He delights in God’s Word, which means he relishes it, treasures it, and esteems it as valuable. And therefore, he meditates on it, day and night. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s literally thinking about Scripture every waking moment. That would be unrealistic, and the Bible is never unrealistic. Instead, v2 describes an active remembrance of and submission to all that God has said. In every situation, the blessed man asks himself, “What does the Word of God say here? Where does his wisdom lead, and how should I follow it?” That’s what it means to meditate day and night – it means you constantly bring God’s Word to remembrance and then submit to it in faith.
And that’s the key point I want to draw out here. The blessed man trusts in God’s Word. He believes God’s Word is right and good, and his life is anchored in that Word. This is why he’s on the road of the good life – because God’s Word leads to blessing!
But again, the wicked man could not be more different. Notice there is no mention of the law of the Lord in connection with the wicked man. God’s Word is absent from his description, and that’s the point. The wicked man has no connection with the Word of the Lord. He does not live by faith in God’s wisdom. He lives by faith in himself – his wisdom, his counsel, his ways. That’s why the wicked man is at home in the world – because that is where he walks, stands, and sits to use v1’s language. The wicked man trusts in himself, and therefore, he is bound for destruction.
It is this matter of faith that demands our attention. If we want to live the good life as God intended, then we must devote ourselves to the Word of the Lord. We must be like this blessed man, who delights in God’s Word and then meditates on it day and night. Over the years, one consistent feature I’ve noticed is that the most content, happy, and fruitful Christians are the ones who have the deepest connection to the Scriptures. And I don’t mean they simply know more about the Bible than anyone else. I mean they treasure the Scriptures, the way a husband treasures his wife. The Scriptures occupy their attention and then hold their allegiance. I’m sure you’ve known people like that too. Those kinds of people are living illustrations of Psalm 1 – they are blessed men and women who delight in God’s Word. And their lives, along with this Psalm, stand as an example, calling us and compelling us to walk where they walk.
And that’s really what I want to do this morning. We’ve seen the foundational contrast that drives the story of Psalm 1, but what I’d like to do now is zero in on the effect God’s Word has in the life of the blessed man. I want to camp out basically in v3 and see how God’s Word changes everything. And then I hope the picture we see will compel us to pursue God’s Word in the same way. Listen, I don’t think it’s all that helpful to merely say, “You should read your Bible more.” That’s like telling me I should eat more vegetables. Ok, but they don’t look very appetizing. Just saying “Read the Bible more” doesn’t sound very appealing. So instead, I want us to see the incredible change God’s Word produces and how it truly does lead to the good life.
To that end I’d like us to consider four effects, or we could say four blessings, of God’s Word in the life of God’s people.
#1 The blessing of knowing God
First, Scripture gives us the Blessing of Knowing God. This might be easy to overlook in Psalm 1, but this is where we must start. Above all else, the greatest blessing of delighting in God’s Word is that we come to know God in a deeper way. Ultimately, this is why the man of Psalm 1 is blessed – because he knows God and is known by God.
There is a subtle kind of familiarity that can sneak into the Christian life and then rob us of the wonder that is the Bible. Because many of us have been around the Bible for some years now, we find it easy to give the doctrinal confession – “All Scripture is God-breathed” – while at the same time losing the worshipful exclamation – “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” Where do you taste and see that the Lord is good? In his Word.
I don’t want this morning to pass without reminding us of the wonder that is the Bible. The Word of God is not primarily a source of information or facts. The Word of God is not primarily an instruction manual for how to live. The Word of God is primarily God’s self-revelation. Through the Bible, the Living God gives us himself, so that every act of reading Scripture in faith is a moment of grace. Remember this, brothers and sisters. When you read the Scriptures, you hear the voice of God – the same voice that spoke creation into being. When you read the Scriptures, you see the character of God – the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When you read the Scriptures in faith, you are communing with the God of the Universe.
And when you do this over the long haul – year after year – something remarkable happens. You become like the One you behold. God, by his Spirit and through his Word, shapes your life to look like him. Is there any blessing greater than this? No, how could there be! To know God through his Word is to know life. The greatest blessing of delighting in God’s Word is that we come to know God in a deeper way.
I remember when I first started reading the Bible for myself. I was in college. I had grown up in the church, but I had never really read the Scriptures on my own, in faith, in order to know God. I started to read. And guess what? It was utterly overwhelming! I didn’t know where to start or what was going on most of the time. But then a wiser Christian gave me some help. He said in every passage, identify one characteristic of God and write it down. I started to do that. I didn’t always know the context, and I still got lost in the background. But I did see God – who he is, what he’s like, what he loves. I started simply writing “God is” statements in my notebook. From every passage, I would write, “God is faithful” or “God is jealous” or “God is merciful.” Again, I wasn’t always sure what those characteristics meant exactly, but that was ok. Why? Because I was seeing the character of God, and that alone was a blessing without measure.
Do you want a great blessing, brothers and sisters? Then take up God’s Word this next year, and read it in order to know God. The knowledge of God is so wonderfully powerful that he will not leave you as you are. Even the knowledge of who he is will change you, so that your life begins to look more and more like him. And what a remarkable blessing that is. That’s the first blessed effect of God’s Word – it blesses us with knowledge of God
#2 The blessing of rootedness
The second effect is the Blessing of Rootedness. Notice the imagery the psalmist uses in v3 to describe the blessed man – “He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” I love that word planted. It’s also used in Psalm 92 to describe the righteous person who trusts in the Lord, and just like Psalm 1, Psalm 92 envisions trees. Listen to how it reads in Psalm 92 – “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the LORD; they flourish in the courts of our God.” Did you hear the important connection? It’s the connection of planted and growing strong. When we know God in his Word, we are firmly planted so that we flourish like the palm tree. We stand tall like the majestic cedar. That’s the same idea here Psalm 1. The man who delights in God’s Word is firmly planted. He lives with a sense of rootedness. When the winds of trouble blow hard against him, he does not topple over. Why not? Because his roots go down deep into God’s Word.
But we need to be clear here. This rootedness is entirely a function of the Word of the Lord. The blessed man is not holding himself in place. No, it’s God Word that holds him steady in the storm. Far too often, we tend to assume that strength equals self-sufficiency. A strong Christian is self-reliant and independent, we assume. But that’s the wrong picture of maturity, the wrong idea of strength. Jesus Christ was the strongest man who ever lived, and where did he turn in the face of temptation? He turned to God’s Word, even quoting it back to the Devil in the wilderness. Where did Jesus look during his darkest hour on the cross? He looked to God’s Word, even quoting Psalm 22 as he suffered under the wrath of God.
If that was true for the Lord Jesus, how much more so is it true for us, his people? It is the Word that holds us fast. It is the Word that gives us strength and roots our faith in the character of God. We may grow in our faith, but we will never outgrow our need for God’s Word. In fact, you could make the case that an evidence of strength is an increasing dependence on Scripture. Isn’t that how the kingdom of God works? The last are first, the servant is the greatest, and the strongest ones are those who know most clearly their own weakness and therefore cling to the Word of God.
But understand, this blessing is not immediately experienced. Most of the time, it takes a storm to reveal how deep the roots go. But that’s part of the Lord’s wisdom. He uses his Word today to prepare us for the storm that will come tomorrow or even years down the road. And when those storms do come, it could be as small as a single verse that the Lord uses to hold you fast in faith.
Brothers and sisters, do you want to stand firm during the next storm of life that assaults your faith? Then take up God’s Word and read today. That’s how the roots of faith grow strong – day by day, little by little, as God takes us deeper into his Word.
#3 The blessing of fruitfulness
The third effect of God’s Word is the Blessing of Fruitfulness. Again, look at v3, where you can hear this note – “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.” And then the end of the verse emphasizes it again but with even stronger language – “In all that he does, he prospers.” Remember, the Psalms were written in ancient Israel, which is a pretty dry and sometimes harsh climate. It would not have been unusual, then, for the Israelites to know the difficulty of maintaining fruitful trees. But the man of Psalm 1 is planted by streams of water, which I take to be the knowledge of God, and therefore, this man is fruitful. His life is flourishing, in order words. He’s not withering under the scorching heat of the sun. No, this man is thriving because he delights himself in God’s Word. You see, this is part of God’s grace in his Word. Through the Scriptures, God produces in us what he expects of us. He brings about the fruit that he calls for us to bear.
If we want to grow as Christians – if we want to bear more fruit in our daily lives, then we must be connected with the Word of God. In fact, you shouldn’t expect to grow apart from that ongoing and deepening connection with Scripture. Of course, God can work in us however he would like – he is the sovereign God. But he most often works through means, and Psalm 1 shows us that his way to fruitfulness is greater dependence on the Word of the Lord.
But there is another aspect that deserves attention here. It might sound like a silly question, but it helps make the point. For whom does a tree bear fruit? It’s not for itself – trees never enjoy their own fruit! No, trees bear fruit for others. And so it is for Christians. As we take in God’s Word, the Lord brings fruit in our lives so that we, in turn, would be a blessing to other people. And this, too, should drive us to the Scriptures in faith. Even when we don’t feel like reading, we think of others, and we read for their sake. Even when we don’t experience much fruit for ourselves. we think of others, and how God calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Listen, I cannot be the husband, father, Christian, or pastor I’m called to be apart from God’s Word. And that reality of that drives me to the Scriptures. It’s not just about me and my spiritual growth. It’s about those I’m called to love and care for as well. And so, I read in faith, trusting that God would bring fruit – not solely for me, but for the good of others and for his glory.
Do you want to live a fruitful life, brothers and sisters, that brings blessing to others and glory to God? Then resolve today to take in God’s Word in faith, trusting that over time, he will produce in you what he expects of you. God’s Word gives us the blessing of fruitfulness.
#4 The blessing of endurance
And that brings us to the final effect – God’s Word gives us the Blessing of Endurance. Notice the middle line of v3 – “it’s leaf does not wither.” Derek Kidner, in his insightful commentary, says that the leaf’s immunity from withering “is not independence of the rhythm of the seasons…but freedom from the crippling damage of drought.” In his wisdom, God has ordained that life is marked by something akin to seasons. There are bright spring-like seasons where things seem to grow effortlessly, and there are dry summer-like seasons where things are prone to wilt. But the man of Psalm 1 is blessed because God’s Word causes him to endure the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Scripture prepares us ahead of time for endurance.
I know it’s easy, as a Christian, to hope to for those seasons of quick, evident growth. We may even have fond memories of a time when the Lord worked like that – in an extremely powerful, visible way. But those times are the exception, not the rule. The normal Christian life follows the rhythm of the seasons – spring followed by summer, growth followed by heat and maybe even drought. How can a Christian endure those seasons? Only by remaining connected to the Word of God. Through his Word, God keeps our faith from withering. In fact, he often uses those seasons of growth to store up faith, so to speak, so that we might endure the lean times to come.
Remember that perseverance is a cumulative blessing. It doesn’t happen at once; it happens over time. I hope we never underestimate the value of taking in God’s Word, day after day. It might not seem like much today, but today’s reading could very well be how God gives you the grace you’ll need for the drought to come.
What is the good life that blesses the man of Psalm 1? It is the blessing of knowing God, the blessing of rootedness, the blessing of fruitfulness, and the blessing of endurance. All of these wonderful gifts God gives to his people through his Word.
A New Year starts in a couple of days, and while it is easy to pick on New Year’s resolutions, there is something good about a fresh start. There is something good about taking time at the start of the year to examine your life and say, “Where do I want to grow? Where do I want to change?” And my prayer is that this New Year, you’ll seek, by faith, to go deeper in God’s Word. The blessings are innumerable – what we’ve seen today is only a fraction. Take up God’s Word and read. Read it prayerfully, asking for God to give you insight (Ps 119.18). Read it faithfully, remembering that the long haul is more important than any individual moment. And read it expectantly, trusting that God’s Word is living and active, that it does not return to him void, and that it will be a lamp to your feet and a light to your path.
There is not one right way to take in God’s Word. You may read it in the morning or in the evening or during the kids’ naptime. You may read it, or you may listen to it. You may read it through in a year, or it make take you a few years. You may write while you read, or you may just think as you read. Whatever the format, whatever the circumstances, the important piece is taking it in. We have the time, we have the need, and now we have a compelling picture to carry us along in the pursuit. Let’s be about this, brothers and sisters. Let’s join the blessed man of Psalm 1 in delighting in God’s Word and meditating on his Word day and night. Amen.