The Righteous and the Unrighteous Contrasted
Preached by Mike Aiken
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
The Psalms are songs and prayers to God. They are written in Hebrew poetry which emphasizes parallelism and not rhyme like English poetry. The Psalms are the inspired hymn book of the Bible. They really were sung by the Old Testament believers in their worship of God. For many Christians the Psalms are the most favorite part of the Bible and many turn to them often in times of trouble (Psalm 23) and in joy (Psalm 136,150). The Psalms are the largest book in the Bible, and also are quoted in the New Testament more than another other Old Testament book.
Psalm 1 is our study this morning and it is a wisdom Psalm but it is also introducing the whole book of Psalms along with Psalm 2. With the text which we are studying this morning (Psalm 1) it would be real easy to read it moralistically. Moralism has been a deadly danger in the Lord’s church. What is moralism? Moralism makes much of morals without a vital saving relationship with the Lord. This would make it akin to legalism which strictly speaking does good works (i.e. obeys the law) to earn or gain salvation. Both of these “isms” are deadly because they exalt the creature in the name of “Christianity” and in the name of “Jesus” and even in the name of “righteousness and godliness.” In moralism, the self is not seen as a guilty sinner in need of God’s forgiveness. It teaches that you will get rewards because you are a “good” person. Today I want to make sure we do not read this text moralistically. I will show you later how this can be done. Another question to ask is how does this Psalm relate the King and kingdom themes which have been the emphasis of our preaching in the Psalms this summer? Psalm 1 and 2 are considered introductions to the whole Psalter, which is an inspired hymn-book. Psalm 2 definitely emphasizes the King and kingdom motif but what about Psalm 1? It is here as well and I will show you where in the Psalm and how. By emphasizing the King and the kingdom we are really emphasizing Christ and in Psalm 1 I want to do my best to show you our Savior, Jesus Christ who is the gospel (Mark 1:1). We are going to see a contrast of the righteous (believers) with the unrighteous (unbelievers). The contrast is a description of both groups. One of the questions we need to ask is why does God give us this contrast? I hope to answer that as we move through the passage.
I. The Righteous-vv.1-3
- He is blessed. What does it mean to be “blessed?” This is a reminder of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount where he delivered the beatitudes. To be blessed is to be the object of God’s favor, His grace. It is a very deep seated joy and a happiness of the highest degree. It is not a fleeting happiness. It is a happiness of the highest degree!
- What he doesn’t do- v.1 (The righteous are described negatively)
- Walk refers to behavior or manner of life, stand refers to being on a particular pathway. It does not refer to standing in the way of someone like little John in the story of Robin Hood. Sitting is definitely a more settled committed position. But these three activities are synonymous parallelism and give a full picture of unrighteous living. The way to describe the unrighteous is that they have a hatred and disregard for God’s revelation and chose to follow the way of autonomous man which is the way of the fool because it doesn’t fear God and it rejects his word as the way to live their lives. The Christian (the righteous) reject man’s autonomous way of living.
- Why does God give us this description? Is he encouraging us as believers (righteous) to stay away from sin? Yes (cf. John 8:11; 2 Tim. 2:19-26).
- You could read this moralistically and legalistically as teaching you to not read a book by a non-Christian or to watch a movie produced by a non-Christian. What about your car was it made by a non-Christian or do you go to only Christian restaurants? The list could go on and on. We need to read and watch things with discernment. This text is not saying you can’t listen to music written by a non-Christian. We are to be discerning. Example: One of my favorite movies is “The Count of Monte Christo.” There are great themes in the movie. Revenge and justice are two big ones. We must watch with discernment.
- Christian, does this describe you perfectly? Who among us can claim to be perfect in how v.1 describes the righteous? Self-righteousness people would see God as rewarding them with salvation because they don’t do these activities. The default mode of the human heart is “self-righteousness.” But the Bible does call people who trust in Yahweh as righteous (cf. Noah Gen. 6:9; Zechariah and Elizabeth, Luke 1:6). Are they perfect in obeying God? No, but they are humbled by God and have come to his Son for their salvation. They love God and want to follow his ways but they are not perfect in doing it. But God requires perfection doesn’t he? Yes, and we will see later how we can be perfectly righteous in Christ. This Psalm 1 leads us to the only Savior of mankind, Jesus Christ.
- What he delights in- v.2 (The righteous are described positively)
- The law (Hebrew-Torah) means instruction in the broad sense and narrowly it refers to commandments. God’s law here refers to all God’s instructions, his revelation to us in Scripture, the Bible which is God’s special revelation to us.
- In last week’s sermon we saw that the King was commanded to make a hand written copy of the Torah (Law) so that he would study it daily and to keep him humble and not thinking he is better than those he rules (Dt. 17:19-20).
- We delight on this instruction from God by meditating on it day and night (i.e. all the time). Illustration: Delighting in things such a good meal help us to see what delight we should have for God’s instruction; Meditation is like a cow chewing its cud. Question: Do you delight in God’s Word? My prayer for us is that we would delight in it more.
- This is a description of the believer who is called righteous. Why does God give us this contrast with the unbeliever who is called unrighteous? See 1 John 3:4-9 for another contrast.
- What he is like-v.3 (The righteous are described metaphorically)
- How can we be considered “righteous” when we are not perfectly righteous? Does God grade on a curve? No! God’s law which is a reflection of God’s holy character demands perfection. “The soul that sins shall die (Gen. 2:17; Ezek. 18:4b) Ps. 130:3,4: “if you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”You and I are not perfect in our obedience after we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit. Until we are glorified in our future state with Christ in heaven and in the new heavens and the new earth we will struggle with remaining sin in us (Rom. 7- Paul cries out “O wretched man that I am”).
- The answer is Christ is our righteousness and every believer in Jesus Christ has the perfect imputed righteousness of Christ on his account (this occurs in our justification- 2 Cor. 5:21). We are not perfect on the inside but our record which is external to us is perfect. Illustration: You and I had a debt (our sin) on our account with God we could never pay back. This would be like having a debt of a billion dollars with an interest rate of 9.9% and an annual salary of 50,000 (cf. Mt. 18:21-35). An average person with all his other normal expenses could never pay this debt off. He would need forgiveness from the creditor or a benefactor to pay it off. We have that benefactor who is also our creditor to whom we owe everything because he is our Creator. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, condescended by coming down to the earth and taking on a human nature just like ours, except sin. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience for us (the active obedience of Christ) and then he died as a sacrifice for our sins on the cross (the passive obedience of Christ). He did this because he loved the Father and he loved his creation which was fallen by Adam’s sin. Jesus’ death actually atoned for the sins of everyone who will ever believe in Him. He bore the Father’s wrath for us and satisfied God’s justice. Rom. 3:25-26 says, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
- There is no self-righteousness here in this Psalm. You could read it that way but that would be a violation of the wider context of Scripture because salvation has always been by grace through faith. Moralism would take these first three verses and teach you to save yourself by not doing certain things which are unrighteous (v.1) and then by doing what v. 2 says about delighting in God’s law. Moralism is all about duty for the sake of saving yourself-picking yourself up by your own bootstraps so to speak. It is self-atonement and is an affront to the grace of God. The grace of God, the Gospel, exalts in the Cross of Jesus Christ. We are guilty sinners who need a Savior.
- Moralism looks at externals and is not heart centered or grace based. Because externals are so important it manipulates to get the external result. Carolyn and I were guilty of this in the early years of our parenting. Ill. “The Yea Jar.” When Aaron was 5 we set up a rule where every time he said “yea” he had to put in a nickel in the jar. This is a form of manipulation seeking to get an external result. We didn’t want Aaron to say “yea.” It is a form of moralism and works as long as there is a reward or punishment but it doesn’t change the heart.
- V.3 tells us what the righteous are like. They are like a tree which has been planted by a stream of water. God planted us and he has given us his Spirit and his Word which are the water that enables us to produce fruit. When drought comes in life (trials, hard times) he still produces the fruit of the Spirit and is thus successful. This verse is not teaching the Christians will not go through difficult trials and experience material or physical loss in this life. Again the wider context of Scripture does not allow such an interpretation. The godly person prospers by bearing the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22,23).
II. The Unrighteous-vv.4-5
- What the unrighteous are not like-v.4a
- What the unrighteous are like-v.4 (The unrighteous are described metaphorically)
- What is the end result of the unrighteous?- v.5
- Their standing in judgment
- Their standing in the congregation of the righteous (the church of the firstborn in heaven)/li>
v.6- The Lord knows the way of the righteous. To know is more than to know about, of course, it means that the Lord has set his affection on the righteous, but again we must be careful because we are not righteous in ourselves. As one commentator says, “knowing in the sense of setting one’s favor on (cf Amos 3:2; Ps. 1:6).” Other good cross references are 1 Cor. 8:3- “But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” Gal. 4:8-9- “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be one more?” (Ex. 33:12,17; Jer. 1:5; Nahum 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:19). The end of the unrighteous is destruction. The way of man apart from God leads to an eternity of destruction (hell). It is not successful. Beware of the temptation of self-righteousness or looking down at others and considering yourself better than they are. We are blessed because we are in Christ Jesus and because of his doing we turn from unrighteous and delight in obeying him.