Tuesday, December 15, 2009

About wickedness, sin, and righteousness, and the consequences, in a nutshell – Psalm 1

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note".
{For full listing of all articles in this Psalms exposition series, click here}

Psalm 1

1 Blessed 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.
[To me, being blessed is being divinely favored (being divinely favored, peace and fullness of joy are ours, too). If we want to be divinely favored, the psalmist said that we are not to think or act wickedly – stay away from wicked counsel; we are also not to sin – do not engage/indulge in the ways of the sinners; and we are not to let any unbelief and pride to get better of us – mockers act out their unbelief and pride in scoffing/scorning (expressing insolent doubt openly or emphatically/act with contempt/disdain).]
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
[Instead, we are to delight in (to take pleasure, to enjoy) the law (Word, laws, precepts, commandments, and instructions) of the Lord, and on this, we are to meditate day and night (spend as much time as you can).]
3 He 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.
[The psalmist said that if we rid ourselves of wickedness, sin, and unbelief and pride; and delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night, we will be like a tree planted by streams (not one stream but many streams) of water, which yield its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – a pretty fantastic tree, I would say. The psalmist added that the man who is like this tree, will prosper in whatever he does.]
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
[The wicked, on the other hand, would not be like the tree described in verse 3; instead they will like chaff (the husks of grains) that the wind blows away (winnowing described). So badly is the picture of wicked people that the psalmist used not even a tree to describe it, only as husks that eventually will be discarded.]
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
[The psalmist was saying that because of the marked difference between a righteous man (tree) and the wicked (chaff) or sinful man, the wicked will not stand a chance in God’s judgment to come; and the sinners, cannot be together with the righteous in God’s coming gathering.]
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
[The psalmist declared that the Lord watches over the righteous. The wicked on the other hand, without the covering (of blessings and protection) of the Lord, will perish.]

Points to be learnt:

Although Psalm 1 is a short psalm, it contains the important keys to a right Christian life. It is so fundamental that many of us just took it for granted after a while, and went on to search for more fanciful keys instead of meditating on it to draw out the little nuggets in them.

1. Do not be stubbornly wicked
I believe there are 2 categories of people we must diligently ensure we do not get classified into, the proud people (scoffers, taken to the extreme) and the wicked people. The Word of God says that God opposes the proud. I surely do not want to stand in opposition to God. Next, if righteous people are at one end of a stick, wicked people are at the other end. Although it is right to say all sins are sin, biblical recordings appeared to have shown wickedness is of the form of sin that God would literally punish directly (not through “handing over”/”giving over”) when it gotten really bad. The events of The Flood and The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah come to mind. In both these events, wickedness was the reason, and direct punishments were meted out by God. I believe it got to do with the holiness of God, the very nature of God.

The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5 – pertaining to The Flood).

Now the men of Sodom {and Gomorrah} were wicked and were sinning greatly against the LORD (Genesis 13:13 – pertaining to The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah).

From the psalm above, we can see that wicked people are likened to chaff. Chaff are discarded by wind, be blown away or by fire, be burnt – not much of a mercy, isn’t it? The way I understand verses 4-6 is consistent with the notion that wickedness can get punished presently (in current living) {v4, 6}, or get punished when Judgment comes {5}. Implicitly, from these verses, we can also see, perhaps, generally, punishments for other manners of sin may be allowed to be deferred until Judgment, until the gathering of the righteous by the Lord. So, in this respect, the many so-called “bad things” that happened to people may very well be cases of God’s “giving over” or “handing over” of people to workings of the fallen world/sins, God did not cause them. The holiness nature of God does not permit God to be wicked in any way (if He brought destruction, it was because His holiness demanded it), and God is long-suffering, giving people opportunities and time to repent.

I believe stubbornly wicked people will face trouble getting God to hear them or act for them. One reason, I believe is that for wicked people, there are many prayers/petitions against them, reaching to God. God does not ignore the cries of his people. That was what happened for Sodom and Gomorrah; the cries were so much and great that God told Abraham that He, God, was going to see for Himself, before deciding to destroy the twin cities by direct pouring down of burning sulphur from heaven.

2 things I want to say in case it is not clear: One, please do not think that we cannot be classified as wicked just because we are Christians. There are wicked Christians in the world (Of course, we like to say they are part of the back-slidden Christians, nonetheless they are Christians). The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:13 called the sexually immoral Corinthians believer, a wicked man. Two, I am not saying that there cannot be mercy and grace still shown for such a person, a wicked man. The Lord is sovereign, said His Word, He will show mercy to whosoever He wants. An example is of course, the Apostle Paul. Don’t you think Paul or previously known as Saul, before his conversion, was wicked. He wrongly accused the believers, hunted them down; voted for their punishments, even death by stoning (Paul voted for the stoning of Stephen). The Lord Himself said that Paul was persecuting Him! Yet, the Lord granted mercy to him; gave him the chance to repent, used him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, and let him be an apostle.

But, remember always, when it comes to interpretation of the Word, we must consider whether something was recorded for “norm” prescription or it was an isolated event. I prefer to live by the norm and not by the isolated. A broad analogy would be like the Word saying that there is big gate and a small door, the small one being the door to the kingdom of God, the big gate being the gate to Hell. We are to go for the small door but there are those, who instead of accepting the small door, want to try (even, try their luck, I would say) to find some crack somewhere in the wall of the kingdom of God to squeeze through. My warning to these people is that God has a prescribed doorway for us to enter, if you want to be like cockroaches to come through the cracks, do not blame God when He decides to let one cockroach through and not another. In other words, just because Paul got through does not mean that you too can be wicked and then able to get through at the end.

2. But be righteous
But you might say, why do I still want to be bothered with righteousness, I am not wicked and so, will not have God up against me, and that God is long-suffering, tending to defer the punishments for sinners until Judgment comes; and I do not mind taking my chances with the workings of the fallen world/sins? But I say, you better think twice if you do not want to be bothered with righteousness:

a) Look at verse 5 again; you may not get through the final judgment to get to the kingdom of God, are you prepared to accept that? If you are a Christian, and you cannot be bothered with the ending or end-result, I say you are still foolish.

b) Morbid, you may say, still I will say: you do not know the day and the hour you will die. Even though you have had your salvation or are born again, are you sure if you knowingly and stubbornly remain in sins, you will get pass the small door, when you die unrepentantly? Controversial, but worth pondering over!

c) Verse 3 said that for people who practice righteousness, whatever they do prospers. Verse 6 said God watches over them. They are like a strong and fruitful tree, evergreen and do not wither. These verses, 3 & 6 obviously are referring to present living on earth. Won’t you like that? Here is a God’s prescribed way to a blessed earthly life: avoid all wickedness, sins and unbelief and pride; go deep into God’s Word, delight in it, meditate on it day and night - a “clean and narrow way”, so to speak; and at the end of day, you get to enter the kingdom of God, as well. You want to ignore that?

3. And a key to righteousness is in delighting in his Word, and meditating on it day and night
The Word is the spiritual food for the Christians. If we do not feed on it, we cannot grow healthily in our Christian life. Physically, if we do not delight in food, and we do not take our regular meals, what will happen to us? Physically, we will not grow strongly and healthily. It is the same for spiritual growth and health, we have to delight in the spiritual food, the Word, principally, and take our regular meals. And when we grow healthily spiritually, we grow in righteousness.

Very briefly, this is how we feed spiritually (for a fuller discussion on Spiritual food and spiritual feeding, read my separate article – Spiritual food):

We hear the Word of God (or read them). Faith comes from the hearing (or reading). With faith, we act out the Word. With action based on faith, we begin to experience the Word in action, and this experience is what feeds us properly. With a feeding we grow a little, and we go back for more of the same – hearing the Word, and going into action based on faith. Experiencing the Word in action is experiencing God in action. From experience, we know food is good. A newly born, after a meal of milk becomes satisfied, and learns to understand food is good, and will develop a delight in food. It is the same with the spiritual man and spiritual food; we are to understand that spiritual food is good for us, and begin to delight in it. The more you delight in it, take pleasure in it, enjoy it, the more you will feed on it; day and night, you will meditate on it – you think about it, ponder about it, try to gain understanding of it, and you think about its applications, etc. In other words, day and night, you chew on it.

The Apostle James said it very clearly that the faith you get from hearing (or reading) the Word, if it is not applied in action, is dead (James 2:17 - … faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead).

And James also explained through the example of Abraham’s attempted sacrifice of his son, Isaac, that righteousness comes from putting faith into action.

You see that his {Abraham’s} faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith {unapplied faith} alone (James 2:22-24).

So when we feed correctly, we grow healthily spiritually; and what do we grow in? Righteousness. Yes, when we grow healthily spiritually, we grow in righteousness.

It should be clear that the righteousness I am referring to, is the active righteousness that we are supposed to grow in. The Bible talked about 2 concepts of righteousness – imputed righteousness that comes from Jesus, and active righteousness that the follower of Jesus has to grow in and to live out. Both kinds of righteousness are based on faith.

If we do not want to grow in and live out that active righteousness, I believe we cannot be like the tree of verse 3 – a tree planted by the streams of water, yielding fruit in its seasons, and has leaves that never wither, and be prosperous in whatever we do.

Also, the practice of active righteousness leads to holiness (Rom 6:19). And that is important, because without holiness we cannot see God (Heb 12:14).
What is your choice?

Anthony Chia – Lord, my choice is to be like the tree of verse 3. Help me to accomplish that by your grace.

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