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. (Psalm 1:1-6, ESV)
When I was going through school, one of my favorite poets was Robert Frost. Many of you will have heard of Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.” It’s a poem about two roads.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.
In Psalm 1, the psalmist also presents two roads: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. We’ll take a closer look at those two roads in a few minutes.
The book of Psalms is like a hymnal for the people of God. How do we use hymnals? We sing songs from them, right? When we sing these songs, they cause us to remember things. We remember old doctrines—old truths—that we learned a long time ago.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and cleanse within.
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all my sin.
We remember old feelings and emotions. We remember the way we were crushed under the weight of sins until Jesus Christ took that weight right off of us.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here's my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
In the book of Psalms, there are Psalms that remind God’s people of what He has already done for them. Psalm 66 calls to mind the crossing of the Red Sea and the River Jordan. There are psalms that teach God’s people. Psalm 119 is an extended meditation on God’s Law. The book contains some songs that the Israelites would sing as they approached the Temple. The book of Psalms is God’s inspired songbook.
Christians have cherished the Psalms—memorizing them and singing them—for almost two thousand years. An extended study of the book of Psalms was one of the major influences on Martin Luther right before the Great Reformation of the Church. Psalms is an extraordinary book and a very rewarding study.
Psalm 1 sits at the beginning of the book of Psalms as a preface to the book. In it, we have a summary of the whole book. We see the blessedness of the righteous man. We see the futility of the wicked. And we catch a glimpse of the one righteous Man who makes all the difference—Jesus Christ.
The Way of the Righteous
Let us begin by taking a closer look at the way of the Righteous Man. The psalmist first makes a negative statement—he tells you what the righteous person is not like. Then, the psalmist makes a positive statement, telling you what the righteous person is like. Then he tells you about the righteous man’s life.
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. Here we see three different degrees of rebellion against God. The wicked here are people who are guilty—people who have no love for God or His law. The righteous man here does not pattern his life after wicked people. A righteous man or woman does not find his or her identity in being accepted by wicked people. A righteous man or woman does not join in with those who heap scorn all around, as Charles Spurgeon says, making “a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God.” Righteous people understand the weight of sin and do what they can to flee from it.
He delights in the law of the Lord. Even more than fleeing from sin, righteous people take delight in the law of the Lord. The word law, here, refers to the whole of God’s word—the Bible. What it means to delight in the law is that we are to study the Bible, to meditate on the Bible, to see the beauty in the Bible. Jesus reminded us that the law may be summarized with these two sentences: (1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (2) Love your neighbor as yourself. The rest of the Bible—the rest of God’s law—tells us how we are to love Him and love our neighbors. The law reveals for us God’s will. Apart from Christ, of course, no one would ever love God’s law—we would hate it. But when we trust in Christ as our Savior, though, God changes our hearts. He turns our stony hearts into flesh. He gives us the capacity to love Him and to delight in His law.
He is like a tree. The Psalmist also describes the righteous person’s life by comparing him or her to a tree. The righteous person is like a tree planted by water—a source of nourishment. We have God’s word, which we delight in, to nourish us. The tree bears fruit and its leaf does not wither. The psalmist gives us the image of a healthy tree—a useful and flourishing tree. The psalmist goes on to say, “In all that he does, he prospers.” This does not refer to material prosperity. This is not guaranteeing a life of ease. Instead, it is explaining how the righteous man lives a “blessed” life. He bears fruit. He fulfills a godly purpose. This prosperity, this fruitfulness, is contrasted with the wicked man’s fruitlessness, as we shall see a bit later.
If you’re listening and you’re not a believer, you must understand that God calls us to be righteous. He calls you to worship him alone and obey him. He requires us—all of us—to delight in His law. But you must recognize, too, that you do not live up to this standard of righteousness. You don’t even live up to the standard you set for yourself. Not always. But you can be forgiven. You can be accepted by God as righteous if you trust Christ to be your savior. If you put your faith in Christ, God will enable you to love God and love one another rightly.
If you’re a professing believer and you’re troubled by the fact that you don’t see a delight in God’s word, or that you do see the influence of the wicked, the sinner, and the scoffer, then there is hope in Jesus Christ. Examine yourself. Ask the Lord to give you a desire for and delight in his law. Trust in him to change your heart. I would be happy to talk to anyone afterword if you have any questions.
The Way of the Wicked
The wicked are not so. Right away, in verse 1, the Psalmist presented the contrast between the righteous person and the wicked person. The wicked person does walk in the counsel of the wicked. He does stand in the way of sinners. He does sit in the seat of scoffers. He hates the law of God. In verse four, the psalmist points out that the wicked man is not prosperous—he is not fruitful. In fact, he is empty. His life does not fulfill a godly purpose.
But are like chaff. The psalmist uses the image of grain on the threshing floor. In Israel, long before combines were invented, they would thresh the grain. They would crush the husk of the grain against the stone surface of a threshing floor. Then they would winnow throw the grain by throwing it along with the husk up in the air. The wind would blow away the useless husk, called chaff. In the same way the righteous person is compared with a fruitful tree, the wicked person is compared with empty, useless chaff.
Will not stand in the judgment. This is where we begin to see the end of both the righteous and the wicked. There will be a judgment in which the righteous will stand, and in which the wicked will fall. There will be a blessed congregation of the righteous in which the unrepentant sinner will not be permitted to stand. The psalmist finishes by telling us that the way of the wicked person leads to destruction—it leads to eternal death.
If you are not a believer in Christ, you are hearing a description of your life—the emptiness, the rejection of God’s law, the resulting death. But there is hope. As we will see in just a second, there is one Man, Jesus Christ, God the Son, who is righteous—perfectly righteous—and will make you righteous if you trust him.
If you are a believer, and you recognize sin that remains in your life, do not despair. We are, to borrow from Martin Luther, at the same time righteous and wicked, sinner and saint. When you see your sin, repent. Trust Christ to forgive you, because he has forgiven you. Remember that Paul calls you to press on toward the goal. You have not attained it yet, but if you belong to Christ, you will.
The Righteous Man
Jesus lived a perfect life. The reason that we can have hope—hope of repentance, hope of salvation, hope of a life not wasted—is that there is one Man who has fulfilled the law perfectly. In his earthly ministry, Jesus lived a perfect life before God the Father. And when he died on the cross, he died in our place, meaning he took on himself the penalty for our sin, and rose again, defeating death. For all of those who trust Jesus Christ as their savior, he gives them his righteousness, so that Before the Father, when he looks on them, he sees his Son’s righteousness. Those who believe in and trust Jesus Christ can be saved.
Trusting in Jesus, we should follow him in obedience. Additionally, since Jesus is perfectly righteous, and since God calls His people to delight in His law, we are called to follow Christ in obedience. If Jesus Christ is your Savior, He is also your example. Learn from Him. Study Him. Delight in Him.
The bible gives us many examples of righteous men. Simply look in Hebrews 11, the chapter sometimes known as the “hall of faith.” Noah, because he lived in reverent fear of God, built an ark. Hebrews calls him an heir of righteousness. Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. David was known as a man after God’s own heart. These were men who delighted in the law of the Lord. They were men who had faith in Christ.
You will notice that these men were not perfect. You are not perfect. I am not perfect. But like these men, you and I can be counted as righteous through faith in Jesus.
You might be wondering how you can live righteously here at Springhurst Health and Rehab. You may not have the opportunity to build an ark like Noah or be a righteous king like David. You may feel like your opportunities are limited. I sometimes feel like my opportunities are limited. Among my friends, I’m not the smartest. I’m not the best speaker. As a professor of mine once reminded his class, while we are not called by God to make an A in his class—we are called to fulfill our responsibilities to our families. Through Jesus Christ, you have the opportunity to live a very righteous life right here at Springhurst.
Earlier, I mentioned that Jesus summarized the whole law by telling us to love God and to love our neighbors. If you delight in God’s word, you can demonstrate that by loving your neighbors. You can be kind and considerate of your nurses. You can be kind and considerate of other residents. You can be kind and considerate to your families and other visitors. You can pray for your churches. You can be faithful to read or listen to God’s word.
Since Jesus Christ is the perfectly righteous one, in his strength you can live a righteous life, fruitful and meaningful, like a tree planted by a stream of water. Put your faith in Jesus. Trust him.
Preached 23 May 2009 at Springhurst Health & Rehab.
Boice, James Montgomery. Psalms: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994.
Calvin, John. Commentary on the Book of Psalms. Translated by James Anderson. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, [on-line]. Accessed 22 May 2009. Availible from http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom08.vii.html; Internet.
Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973.
Spurgeon, Charles H. Treasury of David. [on-line]. Accessed 22 May 2009. Available from http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps001.htm; Internet.