The Lord Who Knows The Man Who Is Blessed – Psalm 1

Psalms 1 TitleWhen it comes to worship music in the church today, there’s a much better atmosphere than that which existed a few years ago. “Worship wars” is how many described the rough transition from a church that predominantly relied on hymnals and pianos to one that rolled out a dizzying array of guitars, keyboards, and (heaven forbid!) drums.

Today, the worship wars seem to have subsided into a few skirmishes over theology and repetitiveness, but churches that want pianos have them and churches that want bands have them.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done on the issue.

One thing that would help is for churches to regain a sense of connectedness to the church’s worship tradition throughout the centuries. For years, God’s people used God’s Word to form the backbone of their congregational singing: they turned to the Psalms.

Now, I am not advocating for psalter-exclusivity in congregational singing, but I don’t think it would hurt us to go there more often. Why? Because how can God’s greatness be better captured than by the church singing of his glory in the very songs that he gave us to reveal his glory to us? And how can we better identify with the people of God through the centuries than by singing the same things that they sang? The faith once for all delivered to the saints is well-rehearsed and well-remembered when we sing the Psalms.

We should sing the Psalms in our worship together. But that shouldn’t be the extent of our exposure and engagement with them.

Instead, we should sing them, pray them, meditate on them, study them, and preach from them.

Because, while the psalms have indeed been central to the singing of the church, they address themes that are perennial in the life of God’s people. There are psalms that exult and psalms that weep, psalms that proclaim and psalms that question, psalms that encourage and psalms that call to repentance. Frustration and anger find their place among them as do joy and love.

No other book of the Bible is so adequately able to address the wide-variety of emotional, psychological, and spiritual states that we find ourselves in from time to time.

Psalms 1 is a great place to start a deeper study of the book:

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
    but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked will perish.

Let’s take it piece by piece:

“Blessed is the man”

There is a temptation in our Instagram/Twitter/Facebook society to misread the first word of this Psalm. Instead of “Blessed” we add a hashtag: “#blessed”. That’s a mistake. Because “#blessed” is usually associated with physical blessings, i.e. “Check out my new Lexus! #blessed.”

But that’s not how it would have read to the original audience. They would have read “blessed” and understood it to contain a strong element of contentment, a state of joy no matter what came their way. They would have seen Paul as a “blessed” man when he wrote in Philippians 4:11 that

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

Psalm 1:1 would read, in this light, as: “Content no matter what is the man…” Contentment is not dependent on what you have. Correspondingly, blessing is not dependent on what you have. Instead, blessing is the state that results from being content.

Which is a problem for us, because we, as humans, are incredibly discontent. It’s natural to us, as natural as breathing. We see what we have and wish for better. We see what others have and wish for that too. We wish for esteem and fame and beauty and on and on. Discontent flows from our constant need to see ourselves as deserving of everything and focusing on what we yet lack.

We are not naturally content.

That should tell us that the state of being blessed, the state of contentment, if discontent is natural, must be derived from supernatural means. It is not something we can manufacture within ourselves; it has an external origin.

It has a name: Jesus.

Jesus is the one who saves us from our need to have everything by giving us everything in him.

Jesus is the one who saves us from our need to be central by centering our lives on him and on serving others.

You cannot be content until you realize that Jesus is all you need. You cannot realize that Jesus is all you need until you realize that you are not the center of the universe. You cannot realize that you are not the center of the universe until you learn to center yourself on the God who speaks through the Bible.

The author of Psalm 1 shows us what that looks like in a series of quick shots, some of what you shouldn’t do and some of what you should do: “Blessed is the man…”

“…who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,”

  • Walks = General movement in life
  • Counsel = Advice, instruction, and company
  • Wicked = Those opposed to God

Blessed is the man who does not generally make a move in his life according to the advice of those opposed to God.

“…nor stands in the way of sinners,”

  • Stands = Developed habits in life
  • Way = Course, direction, and road
  • Sinners = Those condemned by God

Blessed is the man who does not allow habits to develop that keep him on the road that leads to God’s condemnation.

“…nor sits in the seat of scoffers;”

  • Sits = A settled position in life
  • Seat = Dwelling place, identity, unity
  • Scoffers = Those who mock God

Blessed is the man who does not settle into an identity of mocking God, either directly or through hypocrisy.

“…but his delight is in the law of the Lord,”

  • Delight = pleasure, joy, focus
  • Law of the Lord = The Word of God

Blessed is the man whose pleasure is derived from an intentional and consistent focus on the Word of God.

“…and on his law he meditates day and night.”

  • His law = God’s, not the man’s
  • Meditates = Thinks, reasons, brings back to mind continually and habitually

Blessed is the man who is more concerned with what God commands than with what he himself thinks, so much so that he continually, day and night, brings God’s Word back up into his mind to think on and be transformed by it.

The author then describes the effect of these things on the man’s life and character:

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water”

  • Tree = Solid, stands the test of time, growth
  • Planted = Intentionality, planning, purposeful action
  • By streams of water = Access to that which gives life which is not dependent on circumstances.

Blessed is the man…because he will be solid enough to stand the test of time and to thrive no matter what because he is intentionally guided by the Sovereign Farmer-King who gives him access to the life-giving Word so that he is not dependent on circumstances for contentment.

“that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”

  • Benefit to others’ health
  • Benefit to personal health

Blessed is the man…because through his connection with God’s Word, he is able to both bless others who taste of God’s gift through him and to sustain himself for both productivity and rest.

“In all that he does, he prospers.”

Blessed is the man…because in everything that he encounters and does, he is able to see God’s hand at work in his circumstances.

Then, lest we miss it, the author contrasts the blessed man with the wicked man:

“The wicked are not so,”

Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man does not see God’s hand at work, does not have anything to sustain himself or ultimately benefit those around him.

“but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man is not solid, not intentionally guided, and not able to thrive: he is lightweight, haphazard, and useless.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man will wither under the judgment of God and will not know the joy of God’s people because God chooses to forget him even as he chooses to know his own.

What have I done? I’ve just paraphrased the message of Psalm 1. Put it all together and what do we get?

Blessed is the man who does not generally make a move in his life according to the advice of those opposed to God. Blessed is the man who does not allow habits to develop that keep him on the road that leads to God’s condemnation. Blessed is the man who does not settle into an identity of mocking God, either directly or through hypocrisy. Blessed is the man whose pleasure is derived from an intentional and consistent focus on the Word of God. Blessed is the man who is more concerned with what God commands than with what he himself thinks, so much so that he continually, day and night, brings God’s Word back up into his mind to think on and be transformed by it. Blessed is this man…because he will be solid enough to stand the test of time and to thrive no matter what because he is intentionally guided by the Sovereign Farmer-King who gives him access to the life-giving Word so that he is not dependent on circumstances for contentment. Blessed is this man…because through his connection with God’s Word, he is able to both bless others who taste of God’s gift through him and to sustain himself for both productivity and rest. Blessed is this man…because in everything that he encounters and does, he is able to see God’s hand at work in his circumstances. Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man does not see God’s hand at work, does not have anything to sustain himself or ultimately benefit those around him. Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man is not solid, not intentionally guided, and not able to thrive: he is lightweight, haphazard, and useless. Unlike the blessed man, the wicked man will wither under the judgment of God and will not know the joy of God’s people because God chooses to forget him even as he chooses to know his own. 

So what do we do with the message of Psalm 1? Obviously, we all want to be blessed, to be content. None of us set out to be “the wicked.”

Unfortunately, we are. We shouldn’t read this Psalm and see ourselves as “the righteous man.”

We are “the wicked.”

Don’t believe me? Check out what another part of God’s Word has to say:

Romans 3:10 – As it is written, “None is righteous, no not one”

Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

That’s pretty comprehensive. But if we’re not righteous, how can we apply Psalm 1?

By recognizing that it’s pointing us, not to ourselves, but to Jesus. He is the righteous one, the solid one, the one through whom God blesses everyone even as he raises him to everlasting life.

Romans 5:8 – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 10:9-10 – because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

We can’t be righteous enough, we can’t do a bunch of good works to try and make sure God remembers our way. The question is not one of activity but one of dependency, not one of tenacity but one of trust.

Do you tenaciously cling to your own activity to justify you before God or do you humbly trust in and depend on Jesus’ righteousness before God?

What is the way of righteousness that the Lord knows? To trust in Christ.

What is the way of the wicked that will perish? To trust in yourself.

That doesn’t mean so long as you “trust Jesus” you can live however you want. No, those who trust Christ are urged to do good things:

Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We who trust Christ are not exempt from holiness, but invited into it. We are never meant, before Jesus or after him, however, to trust in our works. We are not the righteous: Jesus is. We find our delight, our dwelling-place, and the satisfaction of our deepest need in him. And we worship him by allowing God’s Word to transform and renew our minds.

Singing the psalms, studying the psalms, reading about the psalms, and writing about the psalms: may they all lead us closer to the God who knows the man who is blessed.