Psalms

Psalm 1 – Happiness: A pipe dream or a possibility

HAPPINESS: A PIPE-DREAM OR A POSSIBILITY

 

Psalm 1

 

Introduction.

If  we commissioned Gallup to poll the population of Britain as to whether they would choosing fame, fortune, success or happiness, I expect most people would choose happiness. The difficulty would arise if we asked a second question,

“What is happiness?” Many would respond by saying, “If I have fame fortune and success then I would be happy!’

Stuart Briscoe on Psalm 1 quotes from the Hollywood musical “Oklahoma” -“I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything is going my way….”

The problem is that life isn’t like that except in “Oklahoma” [the movie not the state]

And even when everything is going your way why do you still often feel unhappy.

Sometimes it is not that we are unhappy it is just that we are not happy – we are not unhappy but we are not happy either.

The Bible shows that happiness is not necessarily related to circumstances. Paul talked a lot about joy when he was in prison. In Acts 16 we have the account of Paul and Silas singing hymns in prison at midnight. We have James telling his readers. James 1v2

Consider it joy when you face trials of various kinds

Jesus said in Matthew 5v10

 Blessed [happy] are those who are persecuted for righteousness

It becomes evident very quickly that biblical happiness or joy is not in direct proportion to pleasant circumstances. But that the word “Blessed” in v1 has a much richer and deeper meaning than simply “a happy feeling”. It can mean enriched, contented or fulfilled.

The Psalmist in Psalm 1 lays out for us two ways of living and the destiny of them both.

The way of the righteous vv1-3

The way of the unrighteous vv4-5

The destiny of the two ways v6

THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. [v1-3]

Very often a helpful way to understand what something is, is to understand what it is not.

The Psalmist in v.1 employs this technique by stating what a happy/blessed person is not.

1.1 What a righteous person is not!

Blessed/happy is the man who

does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers / scoffers.

We have in this verse a picture of a person who has moved further and further down the slippery slope of unbelief and cynicism.

ILLUST: This past week [07/22/13] the news has been full of the vicar [Anthony Freeman] from Sussex who was sacked by the Bishop of Chichester for not believing in God. His book “God in us” meaning that we are the creator of God in our own hearts and minds.

The support for his position has been quite remarkable and not from people outside the church only – we would expect that – BUT from within. – and we discover that there are at least 100 other C of E priests who hold the same view.

Once the church starts to follow the philosophies of those who leave God out of their thinking they are on the slippery towards cynicism and atheism. The modern western church has been heavily influenced by Existential philosophy.

Existentialism is a fancy word for a belief that the individual is a free agent in a universe that is basically meaningless and determined by fate and the individual is responsible to him/herself and for him/herself.

This philosophy began to influence the church in the last century primarily through a Danish Theologian, Soren Kierkegaard. He taught that “God is the Unknown” and that there is no objective truth or revelation and that the only way we know God is subjectively by faith. This teaching heavily influenced two German theologians of this century, who while not being well known amongst grass roots Christians have had a major influence on what is taught in the western Church and particularly in Theological institutions and universities, viz. Karl Barth and Rudolph Bultmann. Bultmann was the more radical of the two and we ended up with a theology that says that there is no objective truth in terms of God but we only know God by personal faith. Sounds very plausible BUT ends up meaning that the truth of the Historical Jesus is really irrelevant.

Thus, it doesn’t matter whether Jesus really lived and died and rose again from the dead. As long as you believe he did then that is all that is important. I.E. It is true for YOU if YOU believe it to be true. YOU therefore create God in your image. God is whatever you believe him to be. “I” then is the most important person and everything revolves around me and my feelings and my opinions.

It is this philosophy that has influenced Anthony Freeman, the vicar from Sussex, and millions of other people in our society.

ILLUST: Debbie Boon’s song “You light up my life”  “…..it can’t be wrong, it feels so right, you light up my life….”

“If it feels good, do it”

“ME< NOW”

Once we begin to walk in the philosophies of the world’s thinking, leaving God out we have begun the descent into Atheism and cynicism. You end up sitting amongst mockers and scoffers.

You can’t seriously believe that there is a God.”

I mean a personal, super-natural God

V.1 is a “descending climax” away from God.

The person who doesn’t go that route is the one who is blessed and happy!

 

“The counsel of the wicked / ungodly” doesn’t refer only to the atheist and his philosophies. It can also refer to the way of life adopted by many Church people who give lip service to God but don’t feel it necessary to regard God as God. It is all too easy to believe in a supreme God and yet not give him the supreme place in one’s life. It is little more than an atheistic attitude to life with and ecclesiastical faade.

“The Way of Sinners” Happiness is not found in the counsel of the wicked NOR in the way of sinners.

Briscoe “Most people think that a sinner is someone who does what they don’t do”

It is very comfortable to think of sin as what everyone else does. It might be comfortable but it is wrong!

The Biblical perspective of a sinner is someone who misses the mark. Whose arrow always falls short of the target. God has set the standard and we continually miss.

Either, people try and become increasingly guilt ridden, with a deep sense of failure and unhappiness.
Or, they  blissfully continue shooting arrows unaware that there is a target. Exercise in futility

 

“The seat of mockers / scoffers” If you walk long enough and stand around a while fairly soon you need a comfortable seat. It should come as no surprise really as godless philosophy leads to purposelessness and frustration. They mock at any suggestion of a personal God. We live in a cynical society where divine standards are ridiculed and moral principles attacked. These cynics create a vacuum in society but have nothing to put in its place. Thus life becomes meaningless and empty.

No wonder the psalmist says “Blessed is the man who doesn’t go down this road!”

He now moves from the negative to the positive.

1.2 What a righteous person is!

READ v.2-3

There seems to be an inbuilt resistance within the human psyche to being told what to do or not do.

ILLUST: Why is it that children always seem to want to do what they are not supposed to do!

Some parents even use negative tactics telling their children not to do something in order to get them to do it.

 

My nephew, Roger, who didn’t like particular vegetables – he went through a phase where, in order to get him to eat them my sister would say, “No, don’t eat anymore, please!” At which point he duly ate them. [Whether that is good psychology is debatable – but it worked]

The saying “Rules are there to be broken!”

We seem to instinctively resist being told what to do.

BUT consider what it is like playing a game were the rules are vague.

ILLUST:  Someone was telling me recently about a two boys football teams trying to play a match when the referee was late and they started without him. There was argument and frustration. The ref. arrived blew his whistle, put in the corner flags established some authority and they all had a wonderful game.

God’s law is not meant to be a kill-joy. God knows that as sinful human being we need boundaries and rules in order for us to function and be happy. Thus to follow God’s law should not be a drudge but a delight.

When the psalmist says we must “meditate” on God’s law he does not simply mean to think about it but that we play according to the rules. But that is where we come unstuck because no person alive is able to fully meet all the requirements of God. And if that is where it ended we would be of all people most miserable. BUT there is no happier person than the one who knows he has failed BUT has confessed and been forgiven!!

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven,

whose sins are covered.

Blessed is the man whose sins the Lord will

never count against him. [Rom.4v7-8]

In Romans 8 Paul goes on to explain that because of Christ death and the work of the Holy Spirit the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, not by trying to keep it in our own strength, but because Christ, who has kept the law, has put his Spirit in us to make us holy.

And when we walk with him and obey him we are like “a tree planted by streams of water”

The psalmist paints a picture of a life that is fulfilling its potential, that is consistent, and that is not easily moved.

ILLUST: Last week up in the lake district I noticed  some of the trees on the mountainsides were rather bent over and out of shape – Whereas those lower down nearer to the lakes were tall and straight and strong.

So is the person whose roots are deep – they are tapped into the water supply – they are deeply rooted in God, drinking of the Living water of which Jesus spoke.

What a tree is below the ground determines what it is above the ground.

It produces fruit and its leaf does not wither – it is evergreen.

Fruit is the external evidence of internal life!  It is a healthy tree!

So it is with people – a person’s life that is healthy produces something worthwhile, for herself and for others. BUT what is essential for good to be produced is a basic relation to the Word of God.

Is your life producing fruit?  Is mine?

ILLUST: There is a lot of talk in the economy about productivity. The signalmen want more money for their productivity

God wants us to produce fruit – fruit that will last – Not material things BUT …

… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness,

faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

Do we produce these characteristics naturally? NO! Then how??

Those who belong to Christ have crucified the

sinful nature with its passions and desires.

Since we live by the Spirit,

Let us keep in step with the Spirit. [Gal.5v22-25]

Not only is this the kind of life that pleases God but it is also the kind of life that brings contentment and fulfillment.

V.3b “Whatever he does prospers” – We tend to equate prosperity with wealth and wealth with money. Some have tried to make this verse a divine guarantee of good fortune. Some prosperous businessmen have even gone so far as to attributes their wealth to their godliness.

ILLUST: “When I started to put God first then I began to prosper!!”

The implication sometimes being that if you did the same then you too would be well off.

God promises prosperity of life and not of Bank accounts.

Consider Joseph – sold as a slave – falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife – forgotten by Pharaoh’s butler BUT ultimately God prospered him.

Don’t you know people who have suffered due to illness, redundancy, or bereavement and yet they have prospered as people. They are deeper, more content and better able to cope with life.

Maybe you are going through a difficult time now – financial, in relationships, illness. Put down your roots and drink from the spring of living water. Don’t reject God’s way – He doesn’t promise a “quick fix” BUT his promises are sure and prosperity {eternal} is sure.

The alternative is too horrible to contemplate!

2. THE WAY OF THE UNRIGHTEOUS. [v.4-5]

READ v.4-5

2.1 The wicked person’s character!

You would think that the opposite of a good, well-watered tree would be a bad tree but in fact it is not a tree at all!

The wicked are likened to chaff which the wind blows away!

ILLUST: In the Bible days the threshing floor was on an elevated place and a mixture of straw, stubble, chaff and grain were tossed into the air. The chaff would be burned or carried away on the wind scattered so far and wide so as never to be found.

When we look at the outward and temporal prosperity of man it often seems that it is the wicked that prosper.

ILLUST: What about the Saddam Husseins of this world!

What about that person who gained their money by corrupt means?

What about that person who misrepresents the true to gain advantage?

What about when you are overlooked for promotion when you know that you have worked harder and are more qualified than the one who gets it?

Such prosperity is empty and meaningless in the light of eternity. That doesn’t mean that it is easy to live with in the meantime, it isn’t! And we will cry with the Psalmist, “Why do the wicked prosper?”

But there will come a time when the Judge of all the earth will come with his winnowing fork and he will divide the wheat from the chaff.

John the Baptist in Matt3v11-12:

I baptise with water for repentance,
But after me will come one who

is more powerful than I,

whose sandals I am not fit to carry.

He will baptise you with the

Holy Spirit and with fire.

His winnowing fork is in his hand,

and he will clear his threshing floor,

gathering his wheat into his barn

and burning up the chaff with

unquenchable fire.

2.2 The wicked person’s destiny

Read v5

God’s judgement is just and it is final [there will be no Appeal Court] – The preliminary verdicts of man may seem and be unjust BUT God’s final judgement is true!

No one will be able to pretend or give false evidence – there will be no extenuating circumstances –

When those who have reject Jesus Christ appear before God on that day they will not be able to stand – they will not have a leg to stand on!

Sinners will be excluded from the assembly of the righteous – All through history there have been those who have pretended to be God’s people. But God knows who are his and ultimately they and they alone will prosper!

Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the weeds in Matthew13. How after the farmer had sown good seed the enemy came at night and sowed weeds and as it grew the servants wanted to pull out the weeds but the master said to leave them till the harvest when they would be separated and the weeds burned.

We can fool people some times or even all the time BUT God is not fooled – the wicked will perish. Who are the wicked – not only criminals but all who live their lives without reference to God and his law.

CONCLUSION.

There are two ways – the righteous know God’s protective provision and the promise of eternal prosperity in heaven – the unrighteous will perish in God’s eternal punishment.

The Christian is not to rub his hands together in glee at the fate of the wicked. The Christian is to love them for Christ’s sake and to endeavour to share with them the alternatives God offers. To share our joy and to reach out to those who are perishing.

Above and beyond all the circumstances of life the believer has the calm assurance that God will honour those who honour Him. It is this assurance and contentment that is the only ultimate answer to genuine lasting happiness.

Paraphrase:

Most happy is the person

who doesn’t go down the slippery slope to cynicism and unbelief

Who knows and puts into practice God’s instructions for life,

Who remains consistent, fruitful and spiritually healthy,

Such a person will enjoy ultimate and eternal prosperity and blessing.

 

BUT the life of the ungodly is devoid of substance and meaning,

their standing [or lack of it] before God will ultimately be exposed.

 

THUS God cares for the righteous

but will punish the wicked!

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