Text: Psalm 1
"God bless you." You have no doubt heard this phrase many, many times in your life. Generally it is polite to say it to someone who has sneezed. I once read that people started saying it to each other because it was once believed that a sneeze was caused by a person's soul momentarily leaving his body. When that happened, a quick "God bless you" would make sure that the soul returned to the body of the sneezer. It became a matter of superstition, although today few people know why they say it anymore.
To you as a Christian, the phrase "God bless you" is very meaningful. It reminds you of the many great blessings God has given you through Jesus, your Savior. Psalm 1 shows us a sharp contrast between the godly and the wicked. We will see that God blesses the godly, but destroys the wicked.
In Psalm 1 praises those who are godly. What does it mean to be godly? Verse 1 tells us clearly: "Blessed is the man who does not who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers." In other words, the godly man stays away from those who are ungodly. This verse lists different types of ungodly people--the wicked, the sinners, the mockers. "The wicked" are those who live contrary to God's law, both outwardly and inwardly. In God's eyes, they have nothing good about them. "Sinners" are those who fail to live up to God's law--they keep sinning over and over and they deserve punishment. "Mockers" are know-it-alls. They think that they are too smart to need God. They are proud of themselves and won't listen to any correction. In other words, they are immune to true wisdom and knowledge.
The person who stays away from these ungodly people is called "blessed." He has so many blessings and benefits from staying away from an ungodly life that all want to be like him. You look at this blessed, godly man and you want to be just as he is. You can probably think of godly people like this. Ask yourself the question, though: how did he become blessed and godly?
You really have to wonder about that question because, the Bible tells us that all people are by nature sinful, not blessed and godly. By nature all people are wicked, sinners, and mockers. David speaks for all of us in Psalm 51 when he writes, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." John writes in his first letter, "If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us." Sinners fall short of God's standard of holiness. Since we are all sinners, we all fall short. Since we are all sinners, we all deserve punishment for our sin. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, "Death came to all men, because all sinned. Because of our sinfulness we don't deserve any blessing. We only deserve eternal death and punishment.
So why can anyone be called blessed, as the godly man in today's text? We learn the answer in verse 2 of today's text: "But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night." The godly man isn't godly and blessed because of his own worthiness. The godly man is blessed through God's Word. God's Word isn't a magic charm which gives blessing, as some people think a Bible under the pillow will keep bad dreams away, or as others think that when you need advice on an important decision you can close your eyes, open the Bible to any page and find a divinely revealed answer. God's Word gives us blessing because of what it tells us and because of what it does for us.
The godly man of Psalm 1 had God's law, his teaching. This included all the many laws God gave his chosen people. It also contained the promises God had made to his people. The most important promise God made in his Word was the promise of a Savior from sin. Man is sinful and condemned for his sin. He cannot do anything about that. Out of love and mercy, God promised to send one who could do something about man's sinful condition. This Messiah, or Savior, would take mankind's sin upon himself and conquer death for all people. The blessed man in Psalm 1 knew that promise through his extensive contact with God's Word.
Today we live in a much different world from that person of Psalm 1. You could probably think of a hundred different ways in which our world today is different from the world of 3000 years ago. The most important way is that we know that God has fulfilled his promise of a Savior. The Bible shows us Jesus, who took the sins of all people upon himself and died on a cross, who earned forgiveness for all people. Because of him, we have the hope of everlasting life instead of eternal death. The Bible shows us that we are righteous before God not because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus already did for us. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans that "in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith." God's Word shows us that in Christ God gives us the very righteousness we need.
The Bible doesn't only show us that our righteousness comes by faith. God also works through his Word to give us faith and to strengthen our faith. Paul tells us that "faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." God gives us faith in Christ, and because of that faith gives us righteousness. He no longer counts our sins against us. He blesses us. Through his Word, God makes us godly, just as he did to the blessed man in Psalm 1.
What kind of blessings does God give us? Verse 3 of today's text compares the godly man to a tree. The psalmist says that the godly man "is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." A godly man in constant connection with God's Word is like a tree constantly watered by a spring.
The godly man, like the healthy tree, bears fruit. Because of the faith God gives us, we bear fruits in doing good works which are pleasing to God. Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, "It is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." God works through his Word not only to give us the ability to bear the fruit of good works, but through his Word God also tells us how to bear that fruit. Think of the Ten Commandments. If you learned the old version, as I did, you remember how most of those Commandments start: Thou shalt not. The Ten Commandments is not only a list of things to do and not to do. For us, the Commandments are also a list of ways we can please God. Luther showed this in many of his explanations of the Commandments. For example, in the explanation of the Fifth Commandment, You shall not murder, Luther showed what we should not do: "We should fear and love God that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body." He then goes on to show how we as Christians can please God: "but help and be a friend to him in every bodily need." God's Word shows us how to bear good fruit.
The psalmist also says of the godly man that his "leaf does not wither." A tree planted by continuously flowing streams of water will not die of thirst. In the same way, godly people firmly rooted in God's Word will not die spiritually--their faith will remain strong. The godly man of the psalm kept God's Word in his life all the time, day and night.
That's a good example for you to follow, because God works through his Word to strengthen you in Christian faith and living. If you've never noticed this before, go try it today. Pick up your Bible and read, listening for God to speak to you through his Word. Pick something like Ephesians--we've been reading it the last few weeks in church as the second lesson. It's only 6 pages long and you can read it in much less than an hour. Read that book and spend some time later thinking about what God has told you about your Savior, about his grace, about the blessings he has given you, and you will realize that God has built you up, strengthened you through his Word. That's something no book other than the Bible can do for you. Stay in contact with God's Word here in church and every day in your own reading. Stay in contact with your source of strength.
Finally, the psalmist says that "whatever [the godly man] does prospers." When you think of the word "prosper", you might think of earthly riches, and you wonder how this part of Psalm 1 could be true. When you see godly Christians, you may see riches, but you may just as well see poverty and humble living. God has another type of prosperity in mind. As Christians we may or may not prosper in earthly possessions. That doesn't matter to us. Our prosperity is different. We Christians prosper in pleasing God and serving him. Jesus in Luke's gospel encourages us to build up "treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys." Through contact with God's Word we keep growing in faith and forgiveness which come from God's love, and we keep growing in Christian living which shows God's love to the rest of the world.
We see that God blesses the godly. Since he has made us godly, he promises to bless us. Some think that God will bless all people with heaven, regardless of their attitude toward him. Psalm 1 paints a different picture.
Verse 4 of today's text contrasts the godly and the wicked. The godly man is like a tree. The wicked "are like chaff that the wind blows away." In Biblical terms, chaff is the husk of a grain of wheat--the worthless part. After harvest, the wheat was threshed--the grains of wheat were separated from the husks. The wheat was then thrown up into the air. The heavy wheat would fall right back down to the ground to be gathered up and used. The chaff was different--the wind blew it away. It was gone forever. That's the fate of unbelievers--they will the blown away, thrown away from God forever.
This separation from God is described more fully in verse 5, which says that "the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous." When God judges all mankind, he will separate the wheat from the chaff, the godly from the wicked. Those who are against God and are separated from him in this life will also be separated from him forever. They will be judged and condemned. They will not stand with those God has chosen to receive eternal life. Instead, Jesus said that the wicked "will go away to eternal punishment." Psalm 1 says that "the way of the wicked will perish." We see that the psalmist is being mild when we see the Bible describe hell as eternal fire, a lake of fire in the book of Revelation.
With that we come to the question, what is God really trying to tell us in Psalm 1? With the descriptions of the fates of the godly and the wicked, the message is clear: stay away from wickedness! This is really one of the main messages of the whole Bible. Through Christ God has freed you from slavery to sin--now don't jump back into that slavery! The godly man of Psalm 1 stays away completely from anything evil, from any kind of wickedness. He avoids it at all times. As Christians, that's what we want to do too, and it might seem pretty easy. We know better than to give up our faith. You're probably not likely to walk out of here and turn your back on God into complete unbelief, into gross outward sinfulness like drunkenness or adultery.
Yet the devil is sneaky, and he tries different tricks to lead you away from your Savior. Psalm 1 is warning us about a gradual fall into wickedness, a slow turning away from God. Notice the progression in verse 1. First the verse describes walking "in the counsel of the wicked." The wicked give bad advice and encourage you to live your own way and do what you want to do, regardless of what God says. God doesn't even come into the picture. You think of the phrase "running with the wrong crowd." The wicked are a bad influence. The next step in the progression is "standing in the way of sinners." After a certain amount of influence toward wickedness you start to harden your heart to sin. You start to justify it to yourself. Your sin is ok because you say so. You stand with the sinners and live their wicked life and don't even feel too bad about it. Finally you "sit in the seat of mockers." You adopt wickedness as your new sinful lifestyle and aren't about to move. You justify it to yourself and are prepared to defend yourself against anyone who tries to tell you that God isn't happy with your sin. You won't listen to correction from friends, from family, from your pastor or even from God himself. You have become "set in your ways"; you have become wicked. It can take place in a week or over years, but bit by bit the devil gets you away from God.
How can you avoid such a gradual, easy fall into evil? Again, Psalm 1 gives the answer in its description of the godly man: he meditates on God's Word constantly. He is always in contact with God's Word. He is always thinking about it and studying it. In our lives we want to follow his example stay close to God's Word too. Through the Bible we hear Jesus' words and see what he did to rescue us from sin. Through God's Word we stay in contact with our Savior and his forgiveness. We learn to know thoroughly the reason for our hope and our peace. We know how to stay away from sin and how to serve Christ instead. Such constant contact with God's Word is vital to our lives and is never boring, as Luther stated:
"Tired of the Word? Ah, No! But, say flesh and blood, it is disgusting to hear you always harping on the same string. Give us something new; otherwise we tire of the same old message. Not so, says Christ, but think of Me.... The Word of God does not make a man satiated or disgusted when it really takes possession of his heart. The very opposite is true. The longer a man hears it, the more he wants to hear it...it certainly is a message which one cannot hear often enough or learn well enough. Therefore the first psalm praises God's Word so highly and says that those are blessed who constantly use the Word and find their delight in it."
Stay in contact with God's Word. Read your Bible at home. Come to church every week and hear God's Word. Come to adult or teen Bible class and study in depth what God's Word has to say to you. Live God's Word in your daily life by using it constantly and by living a life pleasing to God. Through his Word and what it tells us about Christ, God will bless you.