The Joy of the Righteous

May 8, 2011

Psalm 1
I love this Psalm, absolutely love it and when we asked for suggestions on what Psalms people wanted included in this series this was my pick.
Now before we look at the first Psalm just a little intro material.
So here we are in the Psalms, which are quite accurately considered to be the song book of the Bible. It’s here that we find the longest chapter in the Bible, Psalm 119 with 176 verses and the shortest chapter, which is Psalm 117 with only 2 verses. Psalm 117 is also the middle chapter in the Bible.
The Psalms make up the 19th book in the Bible. There are many different authors including Solomon, Moses and Asaph but King David wrote 73 of them including the one we are looking at this morning. When were they written? Actually they were written over a thousand year span between 1400 – 400 BC but they were arranged in their present form around 400 BC. The reason for the Psalms is as varied as the Psalms are, some were written to be sung in a solitary or personal setting others were written to be sung by a group of people as worship. It is speculated that some of the Psalms were written to be sung by soldiers while marching to battle. The Psalms are not doctrinal dissertations they are poetry and are more interested in how things feel rather then what they mean. There is no other book in the bible that more accurately charts the ups and downs of a person’s relationship with God then the book of Psalms.
So let’s start with a question: Are you blessed? Seriously that’s the question are you blessed? Now don’t minimize the word by thinking it simply applies to material things, more money, bigger homes, nicer cars more stuff. Are you blessed in your life? Psalm 1 begins with these words Psalm 1:1-2 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. Or perhaps you are more familiar with the words of some of the older translations that Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
And whether the original Hebrew is translated as Joy or blessed in the English the intent and meaning of the original was not just “smiley happy” not just “I am happy on the inside happy.” Or “Happy Face” happy. Instead it was an all-encompassing joy, a contentment.
Because so many folks are familiar with the Psalms in older translations of the bible we are going to find a happy medium during our look into the Psalms by using the more familiar words of the New King James Version.
So, what is this blessedness or joy that David is speaking of, what is this type of happy? How do we define it? And how will we know whether or not we have it if we don’t even know what “it” is?
So what is “Happy”? Good question. For some it is possessions, a feeling, unencumbered leisure, absence of all restraint, uninterrupted ecstasy, a sense of purpose and freedom from threats. Hmmmm, maybe the problem is that we don’t actually know what happiness is. Maybe we have allowed the world to define what happiness is and when we reach for it, poof it disappears.
Sometimes I think that we can get so caught up in trying to get the stuff that is supposed to bring us joy and make us happy that we miss the very things we are looking for. It was Glen Buck who wrote “If your capacity to acquire has outstripped your capacity to enjoy, you are on the way to the scrap-heap.”
Do you remember what William Lyons Phelps said about happiness? No? Phelps stated “If happiness truly consisted in physical ease and freedom from care then the happiest individual would not be either a man or a woman; it would be I think, an American cow.”

When the Jews translated the psalms into Greek the word they used here was the same word that Jesus used in the beatitudes and that was word Makarious and it literally meant to be “Supremely blessed, well off, fortunate or happy.” Sounds like what we are looking for. E. Stanley Jones defined joy as “Swallowing sunshine.”
Jesus was passionate about it and Paul lists it second in his list of the Fruit of the Spirit, only after love. And in the Psalms David talks about Joy over 70 times, telling us to be filled with joy, to shout for joy and sing for joy. Sounds like it might be important.
And so David begins by telling us where we won’t find Joy.
Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; . . .
So our first thought today is Joy: Where it Ain’t. David begins by telling us where we won’t find joy. A few years back there was a song called “Looking for love in all the wrong places.” And David begins by warning us not to be looking for joy in all the wrong places. He’s reminding us that happiness won’t be found in a life style that leaves God out. There is this craving, this yearning in the soul for more. We know we aren’t it and that there has to be a greater force than us, inside each one of us is that God shaped hole that needs to be filled.
And so David begins by telling us that Joy won’t be found by walking in the counsel of the ungodly. Or as the NLT says it by “Following the advice of the wicked.”
That first picture is one of someone strolling along and listening to someone espousing ideas that are contrary to the teaching of God. Remember in the Gospels how often we read that Jesus taught as his apostles followed him. It is hard to get our head around a culture and a time without planes trains and automobiles but for most of human history that was the case.
And so much was taught while people were walking, to travel from here to Hillside Wesleyan in Cole Harbour would be a day’s journey and so as people made their way from one location to another it often involved intentional and unintentional teaching.
A while ago we showed the first part of this song, which reminds us to be careful of what we are seeing, but there is more to it. (Be careful little eyes what you see.) There’s some deep theology in that song, maybe we should start each day singing it in the mirror.
This isn’t sitting in the classroom of an atheist this is simply the stuff we take in everyday without even paying attention, it is a careless learning, a learning that happens when we don’t realize that we are learning. You know what I mean. It’s what you are learning is acceptable behaviour by watching television, whether it is comedy, drama or the news. We are being constantly undulated with what the world defines as happiness. We are walking with the ungodly, we are following the advice of the wicked, and worse than that we are bringing up an entire generation who is hearing the message that they can find joy or happiness far from God.
And so we learn that if we are unhappy because we are lonely than we will find happiness in sex, and if we wind up pregnant and we aren’t happy than we end the pregnancy, and if we are married and aren’t happy we end the marriage and if that doesn’t work then there are always happy pills and happy hour to help in our quest.
We have allowed the ungodly to dictate and define what should make us happy. But it’s not just what we learn on the journey, the unintentional careless learning. David continues by writing: Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
See the progression, they are walking, but now they stop, now things are getting more intentional. Now they are paying attention, the NLT translates it “Stands around with sinners.” This is the company you keep and the example you follow.
And most of us know what a sinner is, right? Sure a sinner is someone who does what we don’t do. And maybe a little more extreme might be to say a sinner is someone who does what we don’t do but wish we could do.
And it’s easy to reduce sinning to a list of things we aren’t supposed to do, but it’s a lot more about our attitude then our behaviour. Because once we get a right understanding about what God wants in our lives then it’s our behaviour has to follow. But you can do all the right things and not do any of the wrong things and still be a sinner because of your attitude toward God. In its purest biblical sense “Sin” simply means that we miss the mark. And the mark is being more and more like God.
So, does that mean that we don’t have anything to do with sinners? No, one of the main accusations made about Jesus was that he was a friend of sinners. But he was changing them and they weren’t changing him.
So, we’ve been walking with the Godless, now we are standing with the sinners, while if you are like me if you’ve walked for a while and then have stood around for a while you want to sit down. And that’s the next warning, Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;. . . In the NLT it says “Mockers” but however you word it these are those who are scornful and cynical about the things of God and about God himself. These are the people who laugh at moral standards and attack divine principles. But as is so often true with people like this they very seldom offer any other solutions.
And you have to be careful because it really is a natural progression. It is the entire: “More is Caught than taught” thing. If you spend your time with the ungodly and with sinners then eventually it is going to rub off. Remember it was Cyrus Ching who said “I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and besides, the pig likes it.”
But ultimately for someone who has tasted God’s grace embracing the ways of the world isn’t the path to happiness. Peter Marshall hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “We are too Christian really to enjoy sinning, and too fond of sinning really to enjoy Christianity. Most of us know perfectly well what we ought to do; our trouble is that we do not want to do it.”
So there has to be another answer, if joy isn’t found in the ideas and philosophies of those who reject God where can it be found? Joy: Where it Is The greatest part of those two verses is one three letter word, and that is the word “But” We’ve mentioned before that one of the realities of life is that: After the but comes the truth. When you think about it “But” can be a truly incredible word, that one word can change everything, it’s been raining for 18 days but tomorrow the sun is supposed to shine. Our house burnt down, but we have enough lumber in the attic to build a new one, ok maybe that didn’t work.
David has looked at the negative side of the story, but (there’s that word again) there is a positive side as well. He has told us where we won’t find that Joy and now he tells us where we will find it.
Psalm 1:1-2 Blessed is the man Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor stands in the path of sinners, Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.
Imagine playing a game where you didn’t know the rules, or they kept changing. Think of how frustrating that would be. You would never know if you were ahead or behind, whether you were out of bounds or right where you were supposed to be.
Have you ever watched kids play a game where they made up the rules as they went along, new rules to suit whether they were winning or losing. God’s word gives us guidelines for life. The biggest mistake we can make is to look at the word of God as something that is going to make to make life miserable.
Any time we learn new skills and abilities we learn the rules that go with those skills and abilities. And we don’t question why we need to follow the rules of the road when it comes to driving, or piloting a boat or piloting an airplane. We know that if nobody followed the rules that we wouldn’t be able to safely drive, sail or fly. Without the assumption that people would stop at red lights and stop signs, that people would stay on their side of the road and yield for pedestrians the roads would be crazier than they already are.
We expect there to be rules in society and rules in marriage and rules in business. And we want to know what those rules are. We don’t want to find out when someone says “Hey you can’t do that.” And then punishes us for not following a rule we didn’t even know existed.
And the same goes for life, and so God didn’t just turn us loose without rules and guidelines, instead he put those in place and there is a joy in understanding that. In knowing that at the end of the game called life we aren’t going to be called up for things that weren’t mentioned.
Some of those rules help us to play together nice, thou shalt not kill, is one of those. In theory that keeps us from breaking into people’s houses in the middle of the night, shooting them dead and throwing their bodies in the ocean. Any similarities between my examples and real life are only coincidental. They tell us that we aren’t supposed to cheat on our spouses or in our business. That our word is supposed to be good that we shouldn’t take what isn’t ours. And not only did God put those rules in place he gave us a copy of the rule book so we would know what was expected of us.
The joy comes from knowing what is expected of us and knowing why. That in its simplest sense God our father is telling us to not play in traffic, not to run with scissors and not to take candy from strangers.
And maybe you’re thinking “That doesn’t give me any joy because I’ve already broken most of those rules.” But here’s the great thing, the joyful thing, the blessed thing. If we read his book and meditate on what it says we discover that not only does it tell about God’s rules it tells about God’s love and God’s grace. Romans 4:7-8 “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight. Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of sin.”
When we read his word we discover there is a God out there who loves us and wants the very best for us. And so he gave us directions and guidelines so our lives can be everything they should be, and loves us so much that even when we are wilful children who want to do it our way that he is there to help us pick up the pieces of our lives when they are broken through our negligence or disobedience.
And you will never discover that if you are forever hanging out with those who deny an scoff at God. But if you read his story, it’s there for you to discover.
This morning we handed out reading cards and we invite you to spend the next 6 weeks reading the Psalms with us. And some of them are full of Joy and some are full of despair, some you will say “I could have written that.” And others you will say “I just don’t get it.” But at the end of six weeks you will know more of God’s word then you did before you started and perhaps a deeper insight into God himself.