I really like Psalm 1. It is one of my favourites. Anyone else? Let’s dive right into the middle of the psalm. There are two types of people. The psalm uses two images to describe them. Those images are like chalk and cheese. These two types of people are very different.
Some people are like a tree planted by streams of water. It is a picture of health and strength, vitality and productiveness. It is deeply rooted and fed by those streams. Its leaf does not wither. It is healthy. It bears fruit in season. In fact, the psalm says of these people that everything they do prospers. God’s blessing is clearly on these people. That is no surprise because the psalm starts “Blessed is the person…”
v.6: The Lord watches over the way of the righteous. God’s eyes are on these people. God’s hand is on them.
That is one image: the tree planted by streams of water.
The other is of chaff. You will have noticed already that the psalm describes these two types of people as the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are pictured as healthy, strong trees. But then it says, “Not so the wicked!” What is true of the righteous is not true of the wicked. The righteous are like trees planted by streams of water. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
That is the complete opposite. Whereas the tree is sturdy and strong, the chaff is flaky. Whereas the tree produces fruit, the chaff is completely useless. Chalk and cheese. Chaff and trees.
Chaff is the husk around the grain. When the grain was harvested it was winnowed to release the grain from the husk. Then it was thrown into the air and the wind blew the chaff away while the grain fell to the ground. No one wanted the chaff. It was useless. Let it blow into your next door neighbour’s field!
These are graphic images but they reflect God’s assessment of the value of these two lives. Some lives are beautiful and valuable to God. Some are useless. That act of throwing the grain into the air is an image of judgement, isn’t it? Separating the good from the bad and disposing of the bad while retaining the good.
Tree or chaff? Which type of person are you? When God looks at your life, is it a life of substance or is it shallow? Are you bearing fruit or achieving nothing? What will there be to show for your life?
We dived into the middle of the psalm so we need to go left and we need to go right. We need to see what the results of these lives are and we need to see what decides whether our lives are trees or chaff.
Let’s look first at the result. If those images represent a sharp contrast, there are equally contrasting destinations towards which they are heading: very different outcomes.
v.6 The wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
One day there will be a reckoning. We will stand before God, the judge. We think this is a lovely psalm. A large part of it is about judgement! It astounds me and greatly worries me that there are many passages that should terrify us because they are about judgement but we ignore them. We think they won’t apply to us. Imagine what it would be like to be on trial in a court and to come to that day when the jury brings in its verdict. Your future depends on whether the foreman of the jury says “Guilty” or “Not guilty”. Today is the day you will hear one or the other of those responses. Your future depends on it.
When it comes to the day of judgement, we will hear a similar verdict: guilty or not guilty. But this psalm already tells us which it is going to be. In a sense there is no wondering, no uncertainty. We have already been told. The wicked will not stand in the judgement. They will be condemned. They will not be in the assembly of the righteous. As the righteous are gathered in heaven, the wicked will not be there.
The other phrase used here is that the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
The clear implication is that the righteous will stand in the judgement. For them the outcome will be very different. They will be in that gathering in heaven. Their way will not be destroyed.
OK, there are two types of people. Some are fruitful trees and they will spend eternity with God. Some are chaff. They will not. They will experience God’s judgement.
But who are these two types of people? They are termed the righteous and the wicked but what does that mean? And what determines whether we are righteous or wicked? What choice that we make determines what type of person we are and what our eternal destiny is? Let us go back to the beginning of the psalm.
There is a very clear choice. It is expressed firstly in terms of what the righteous person does not do. Look at v.1. Blessed are those who do not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take, or sit in the company of mockers.
Then v.2 says what he does do. He delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. This is the crucial decision. Everything else in the psalm flows from this. Two types of people; two destinations; one decision. Whether you are a tree or chaff depends on this decisions. Whether you will be saved for eternity or condemned depends on this decision.
The first question here is: Who do you listen to? Whose advice do you take? The righteous person doesn’t live by the advice of the wicked; doesn’t fall in step with the wicked and do what they do.
Where would you hear the advice of the wicked? On TV. On the radio. In books and magazines. At school and university. From your friends. What we hear all around us, generally, is not God’s word.
At the 2006 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, in the midst of the debate about whether people in sexual relationships other than marriage should be leaders, one person said, “The church must get its standards from scripture not from Shortland Street.” That is exactly the point this psalm is making. The righteous person does not live according to the advice of the ungodly, but his/her delight is in the law of the Lord which he/she meditates on day and night.
Of course, not everything you hear on TV or from your friends is evil. Sometimes it can be very good advice but it is good advice only when it lines up with the Bible. There are many points of view being expressed in society that are not godly. There is a massive emphasis on sex and a normalisation of promiscuous sex and deviant sex. God invented sex but the distortions in our society and media are a million miles away from God’s view on sex. There is huge emphasis in our society on possessions – materialism. Life is largely about getting more. Is that what God says? Absolutely not! Our society says “Look after yourself.” Jesus says, “Die to yourself.” They are polar opposites.
The righteous person does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly but he/she searches the word of God.
Not everything you hear on TV or at the club you belong to or from your friends is wrong. But how are you going to know if it lines up with scripture unless you are very, very familiar with scripture? The righteous person delights in God’s word and meditates on it day and night.
It doesn’t say ‘all day and all night” as if you do nothing else. What it means is that we read the Bible and whatever we are doing, we think, “What does that passage mean? How does it apply to my situation? What does God say about this? What decision here lines up with God’s word?” We are always thinking about it, wanting to know what God says. Knowing what God says is the way to wisdom.
The righteous person doesn’t stand in the way of sinners. It sounds like standing in front of fast-moving sinners and being in danger of being run over! It doesn’t mean that. It means that the righteous person isn’t on the same road as sinners. He/she is not doing the same things that sinners do.
Your friends might not think twice about fudging their tax returns or copying their friends’ CDs. But that is not where the righteous person stands. The righteous person chooses to be different. Your friends might buy Lotto tickets but is that where the righteous person stands? What does God say about that? Again, we will know only if we are very, very familiar with the word of God.
The first line is about the righteous person’s advice. The second line is about his/her actions. The third line is about his/her attitude. The righteous person chooses not to sit with mockers. Mockers are negative and cynical; people who love to criticise; people who make light of those things that are right and good. People who laugh at the idea of sexual purity or are dismissive of those who choose to worship on a Sunday. Ultimately, of course, mockers are those who ridicule God and reject God’s ways. There are plenty of them around. Blessed is the person who is not found amongst them; who rejects that way of life. Blessed is the person who speaks up for what is right and is respectful of those things that are holy, even when everyone else is mocking.
The tree people choose not to take ungodly advice, imitate sinners’ actions or adopt a scoffer’s attitude. Instead they delight in the law of God and meditate on it day and night. Of course, the opposite is true of the chaff people. They adopt the ways of the world and reject the ways of God. That is the choice that determines whether you are a tree or chaff and whether you will stand in the judgement or fall.
How many people are focused on knowing God’s ways and living by them? The New Zealand statistics are that of those who describe themselves as Christians, only 11% read their Bible daily. 60% of those who claim to be Christians rarely or never discuss its teachings with others. Wouldn’t you think that anyone who loves God and is always keen to better understand His ways would look for opportunities to learn from others? But most New Zealand Christians have no such desire. Most Christians are not meditating on God’s word day and night. Most Christians are not thirsting for righteousness. Most Christians are possibly adopting worldly standards in many areas of their lives. There is a lot of chaff but we have the chance to be trees.
This psalm hasn’t mentioned Jesus and you are thinking that our righteousness is received from Jesus when we put our faith in Him. It isn’t about how we live. Of course, that is true. Chris Caradus reminded us of that last Sunday night. But to choose to live by the word of God is an act of faith. It is saying, “I trust God. I could be a lot wealthier if I followed what other people say but, actually, I believe God’s way is the right way.” And if we delight in God’s word and meditate on it day and night, we will very soon discover that God’s way to be forgiven and to become righteous is through faith in Jesus. The world might say that you don’t even need to be forgiven or that you can earn your own righteousness but we are not interested in what the world says. We are keen to know what God says. We do need to be forgiven. And God offers righteousness as a free gift. But then it is a question of how we choose to live and the psalm is on the button. The righteous do not take the path of the ungodly. The righteous hunger to know God and to know God’s ways and so they love the Bible and are thinking about it day and night.
Living by faith in Jesus means I want to know His ways, not the world’s ways and so I will do exactly as this psalm says. I’ll love the word of God and think about it constantly. That’s what righteous people do.
Notice how similar this psalm is to
Joshua 1:8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.
Notice how similar it is to Jesus words in
John 8:31 …If you hold to my teachings, you are really my disciples.
Would you rather be a strong, productive tree or useless chaff? The answer is obvious, but, as I have said, most Christians don’t read their Bibles. Maybe you do and, if so, you will know the truth of this psalm. But, if not, can I strongly suggest you adopt this practice of delighting in God’s word and meditating on it day and night? Start doing that even if, at first, it is not a delight. Do it anyway because you will soon be delighting in what you learn and what God says to you and does in your life. This is a key part of being a Christian and yet very rare. Get into God’s word.
V.1 talked about advice, actions and attitude.
- Christians go to God’s word for advice. This is where they learn truth. This is where they hear God. Know God’s ways
- Christians do what it says. Go God’s ways.
- Christians let it determine their attitude. Grow God-like
Do those things and you will be part of a very small minority but it is that minority who are like those healthy, fruit-bearing trees. The majority are the chaff. But that is where our mission comes in.