Message: The Beginning and End of All Scripture | Scripture: Psalm 1| Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
- Can pursuing happiness become idolatrous?
- What does it mean to pursue happiness?
- What does it mean to be wicked, and what shall happen to those who are wicked?
- Why is the happy man happy?
- Who is the happy man? How can we be happy in this way?
- How would you characterize our church’s pursuit of happiness? Do we pursue this authentically? Why or why not?
- How or what has God used from this sermon (or the previous weeks’ sermons) to challenge you to grow in your own Christian faith?
- What is something that we can pray for you about as a group?
- Take some time to end your time together in corporate prayer.
What is happiness? When I ask you what the happiest moment of your life is perhaps your mind wanders to that special gift you opened up from your loved one. Perhaps your mind simply turns to a loved one. Maybe you think of a certain place or an experience that you love to do over and over again. Why does it make you happy? What about that person, experience, place makes you happy? Maybe you’d answer that it makes you happy because when you imagine your life without him or her or it, it makes you feel dissatisfied—like it makes you feel emptier than you were without that person or thing in your life. As you know, my parents were just here for the last three weeks, and there was this moment the day that they left, I was up working late like I normally do, and I remember the light being on in the living room, which is peculiar because prior to my parents visiting, we never kept it on when no one was there. And I remember, when I noticed that it was on, I suddenly felt a pleasantness, a delightedness, inside me, because for the last three weeks, my mom would sit in the green chair behind me in that room just to be around, to research what to do next in California, or simply to keep me company. So, my brain had become conditioned to think when that light is on, my mother is in the room. But, when I turned around, she wasn’t there, and I felt my heart sink. Is sadness in the absence of that person or thing proof of your happiness?
Today, I want to try and answer this question: what is happiness? But I don’t want to try and answer it simply in terms of shallow pleasures—I’m not trying to talk about the happiness you feel when you eat a pizza, or when you learn how to do something for the first time. No, I’m talking about that deep happiness, and our resolve to pursue it with every fibre in our bodies. We should be completely interested in answering this question, what is happiness, because it’s what we’re supposed to do! Don’t believe me? Just look at the Bible. This is why we’re looking at Psalm 1 this morning. We want to talk about happiness, and why Christians, in particular, ought to be the happiest of happy people. So, let’s look now at Psalms 1. TWoL.
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law, he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. The wicked are no so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
I believe this passage says everything we need to know not only about what happiness is, but how we obtain it. And what I want you to see in it—what I want you to see in all the Bible is that it is concerned at its core with this question: what happiness is, and how we can have it. And the answer to both questions is the same thing: Fix Your Eyes upon God’s Blessing. What is happiness? It’s fixing our eyes upon God’s blessing. How do we obtain it? By fixing our eyes upon God’s blessing. It’s our proposition for this morning, and I want to show you from the text why it’s justified. So, I have four points that prove that what this text tells us to do is to pursue happiness by Fixing Our Eyes on God’s Blessing.
- The Blessed Man
- The Wicked Man
- The God Over Man
- The Hope of Man
I hope by the time we’re done you not only agree with me that happiness is fixing our eyes on God’s blessing, but that you will have committed, wholeheartedly, to do it.
1) The Blessed Man
When you flip through the book of Psalms, you will often see an inscription under the title of the Psalm. Sometimes it will say, “to the choirmaster, a psalm of David.” Those inscriptions are titles and instructions for the psalm that are actually in the original Hebrew, and they help tell us not only who has written it, but what the context and tone of the psalm is.
The problem for us this morning is that this first psalm has no title. You’d think that its author would include a small inscription of some sort just to introduce us to what’s coming, but he doesn’t do that. And the simple reason why is because this whole psalm is the inscription, but rather than being the inscription for one particular psalm—it’s the inscription for the whole book, and one might argue it’s the inscription for the whole Bible. And what the psalmist is telling us is that at the very least, all the psalms are about what it means for man to be blessed. If we’re going to be bold, then what the psalmist is telling us is that the whole Bible is about the blessed man.
This is why he starts the poem with “Blessed is the man.” This word for “blessed” is a funny word because it means more than what we usually mean when we say “blessed.” These days. All you have to do to see how corrupt this word has become is to look at any celebrities’ tweet, profile, or message because all they do is talk about how blessed they are. See, they’ve conditioned us to think of blessing in terms comfort and things and fame and doing those things that we could only dream of doing, but that’s not what the word means here. A better word to help us understand what the psalmist is saying is happiness or flourishing or satisfaction, and it’s a deep happiness—one not rooted in how we feel subjectively, but in what or whose we are. The psalms, the whole Bible, is about pursuing this kind of happiness because, as humans, we’re hardwired to pursue it. Jon Bloom says, “God created human beings for happiness.” So, when someone asks you what you want, it’s okay to say, “I want to be happy.”
This psalm is about happiness, and how we might obtain it. It starts by describing the happy, blessed man, and it tells us four things about him. First, it tells us about what the happy man is not and what he does not do, and what the happy man is not is someone who pursues the things of the unrighteous. He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. He is above reproach—but more than being above reproach. He finds freedom and happiness in things outside of this unrighteous world—nothing that it offers adds anything to his life.
The second thing the psalmist tells us about the happy man is what he is and what he does, namely, he is someone who delights in the law of the Lord. Not only does the blessed man not need anything from the world to be happy, but he finds his happiness in what God’s revealed to him in the Word. The psalmist’s use of the word “תורה” here is not referring only to the first five books of the Bible but to the whole cannon available at that time. All that God had revealed to his people at that time. This is the happy man’s delight.
What’s more is that it is not just the תורה, it is the תורה of the YHWH—to the Jew it’s the unspeakable name, not because it is evil, but because it is the name of the most high. The sovereign God of the universe. The unchangeable. The Alpha and Omega. The delight of the happy man is not just on any written law. It is on the law of YHWH himself. It is the trustworthy law. It is the law that stands above time given to us in time. It is the law not only of perfect ceremonial cleanliness—it is morally and utterly perfect through and through. To delight in the תורה of YHWH is to delight in YHWH himself for the תורה reveals his character and holiness to us. In other words, the happy man knows he can do nothing but delight in YHWH’s תורה because of who comes from.
And how does the happy man delight in YHWH’s law? He meditates upon it all the time. This word “meditate” was particularly important to Israel because many of them did not have access to the scriptures or an ability to read them, so what they would do is memorize and recite the same biblical passages over and over to themselves. They would do this not because saying a mantra over and over changes your life, but because as they said it, they would be studying its words, and asking themselves how it changes their life? One commentator puts it this way: it was “a zealous study of the law which results in being filled with the will of YHWH and the doing of his commandments.” True meditation is not sitting in a room and humming nonsense. It’s taking the Word of God and reflecting on it continually applying it to all we do, so that its truths might be planted deep into our hearts and become part of who we are. “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.”
The third thing the psalmist tells us about the happy man is what he is like. He is like a tree that has been planted among streams of water. The Middle East is a barren wasteland. There is more desert there than there is habitable land, that’s why there is so much strife there all the time—there isn’t enough space for all the life. Accordingly, you can imagine that vegetation is also sparse, and the only hope for a plant’s survival in that area is through hydration. So, the most common types of plants, especially in the psalmist’s time would have been smaller shrubs and other non-ecosystem threatening flora—things that could survive on less water. But the psalmist says here that the happy man, in the barren wasteland, is like a tree. And not only is he like a tree, in the Hebrew, it’s a tree that is deeply or resolutely planted by streams of water. Its roots go down deep so that it absorbs all the good nutrients. So far are this tree’s roots that there is no threat of its leaves drying up in a place like this. Such things are unheard of and highly irregular, and yet, the psalmist says this is what the happy man is like.
Also, he is not just like a tree planted deeply by streams of water, but he is a tree so nourished and mature that when weary travellers pass by at the peak of the land’s barrenness—when all hope seems lost, they not only find something brimming with life, but something that gives life from itself. So too is the happy man. When all is at its darkest, and when the time for sorrow has come, the happy man, the blessed man stands true like a tree in a desert, and he gives life to the lost and the weary.
This is that fourth thing that the psalmist reveals to us about the happy man, he reveals to us what happens to him, namely, he prospers in all that he does. Why? Because he is the blessed, happy man. Because he does not pursue the unrighteousness of the world. Because he delights in the blessed law of God by letting it affect his heart. Because he is like the tree who stands the test of every season and nourishes all who come to him. This happy man shall prosper because his happiness is the blessing of God himself as revealed in his Word.
2) The Wicked Man
But to give a proper understanding of what happiness is and who the happy man is, the psalmist also tells us about the wicked man, and just like the happy man, he gives us four details about him.
First the wicked man is not like the happy man. In other words, he is the kind of man who walks in the counsel of the wicked, who stands in the way of sinners, and who sits in the seat of scoffers. I explained this section earlier as having to do with the pursuit of worldly unrighteousness, but it is more than that. Whether happy or wicked, every person is made dependent. You need to eat. You need to drink water, etc. This means that everyone pursues that thing, which he thinks he needs. Now, the happy man has his head on straight, because he knows what he needs is God revealed to him in the Word.
The wicked man, however, seeks after what he needs in a different way. He seeks it, firstly, with energy and effort in his walking. He goes to the one who provides wicked counsel, and he walks with this wicked counsellor in the things that he advises. Then, over time, when he feels like, perhaps, he’s made a few wrong decisions, he finds himself more constrained because he’s made a bed for himself in sin, and the only people who are there to support him are those who are like him. So, he’s trapped and left standing with other sinners, which simply tempts and requires him to keep sinning because that’s all he knows. And as he expends the rest of his energy standing with sinners, he eventually realizes that he has no more endurance, and he’s required to sit. He sits because he’s stuck in his sin. In fact, his sitting is acquiescence. He gives into it, and he mocks and scoffs at those who don’t give into it because what else can he do? This is all he knows. It is the result of his pursuit
In the summer after my eigth grade, I was at a basketball camp. And I remember sitting on the bench with some of my teammates in between games, and, having gone to a private, Christian school my whole life, it was the first time I heard about what some of these boys were doing in their private lives—some of them were using terms that I didn’t know. And I remember my friend turning to me on the bench and asking me a question I had no idea how to answer because I didn’t know what he was talking about. I remember to this day, what the reaction of that entire bench was. It wasn’t just shock. They mocked me for what I did not know or for what I had not experienced. More than that, they told me that to be a man I had to do these certain things, and that up to this point, I had never truly lived.
Because of that one conversation, much of my life would never be the same, and it would take every ounce of leaning upon the grace of God to overcome a sin that prior to the eighth grade, I’d never even heard of. I remember some of those days where I was trying to fight temptation because this Psalm describes it perfectly. I walked and played alongside the counsel of the wicked. Then, when I wanted to break free from my sin, all the comfort I found was that other guys were like me, they did it to, and I felt no help in that, so I’d joke about it with them. I’d literally stand with them in defiance of what was right. Eventually, resistance turned into no resistance, and I sat in that very seat that made fun of others who weren’t like me because my sin is all I knew and all I wanted. What I didn’t know at that time was how constrained and constricted I had become to it.
This is what sin does. No one all of a sudden becomes very vile. It’s a progression, and true, unhindered wickedness is its product. This is the first thing that the wicked man is not. He is not like the happy man. Instead, he is constrained with increasing measure by his sin until there is no human means by which he might break free from it.
The second thing revealed about the wicked man is that he is truly wicked. Instead of delighting in the law of the Lord, and instead of meditating on it day and night, he rejects it and calls it a prison. He says like the world that the revelation of God has no application to our lives today. He says like the world that what is important is who I am, and what I experience. He says to the world that I deserve what is best. That is his meditation. He delights only in himself and his own wickedness.
And what he is like? He is like chaff that the wind drives away. Where the happy man is like a tree planted deeply into the streams of water without perishing, the wicked man is like chaff. What is chaff? Every year in Israel, there would be two harvests—the wheat and barley harvest. The process involved workers going out into the grain fields to cut down the sheaves. They would sack up these sheaves and bring them to the threshing floor. Now, the threshing floor was usually on a small hill or mound or the highest part of the field where the landowner would dig a pit or indentation in the elevated land. Then, they would take a large wooden sledge with iron spikes on it, attach an ox to it, and the ox would drag this sledge round and round, and the iron spikes would separate the edible grain from the chaff—the little thin shell around the grain. Every so often, the chaff would accumulate, and the workers would come in with a winnowing fork (like a big pitchfork), and they’d take the grain and chaff, and they’d throw it into the air. This is why they were on elevated ground, because there’s a bit of wind outside of the pit. So, when they threw up the grain and the chaff, the weight of the grain would cause the good bits to fall back to the ground. But the chaff, the light and useless part of the plant, would get blown away. The happy man is like the grain—good, useful, and valuable to the landowner. But the wicked are like the chaff.
And what shall become of the wicked, chaff-like man? These wicked men and women shall not be able to stand in the judgment, nor will they number the congregation of the righteous. This word for “stand” in the judgment is the word we usually use for rising up. Notice the finality of his constriction. He once walked, but his sin constrained him to stand, then he was forced to sit, and eventually he will not even be able to do that. His home will be in the ground where he will lie forever unable to get up. No, instead, Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 say the same thing about what his fate shall be. One day, the harvester will come with his winnowing fork, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. The happy man shall prosper, but the wicked man shall burn in the constriction of his sin forever.
The sad fact of the matter is that there is not one of us in here that is the happy man. No, we are the wicked who naturally pursue unrighteousness. We walk in the counsel of the wicked. We stand in the way of sinners. We sit in the seat of scoffers. We are like the chaff—nothing to contribute—easily crushed and discarded. We are insignificant, and we provide no nourishment to the weary traveller. You see, in the time of the harvest, as the sheaves of grain were cut down, the harvesters would pick up what they could and load them onto the cart. But what they couldn’t pick up, they were commanded to leave on the floor because right behind them would be the lowly and poor, and they were allowed to go into the edges of the field and pick up the leftovers. Just like the weary traveller who comes across the fruit of the life-giving tree, they received the grain that would give them life. But the chaff—the chaff is that part of the grain that gets stuck in your teeth, that’s picked out as an annoyance, spit out onto the ground, and trampled on under foot. That’s what we are.
3) The God over Man
And there is no escape for those who are wicked because there is a God who judges the way of the wicked. What does the psalmist say here about the wicked?! They SHALL perish. To those who are wicked, one day they will stand on the left side of the throne of God, their fates already sealed, and without remorse or guilt, he will look at them and he will say, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is not up for debate: God hates and condemns the wicked way. He hates our natural pursuits.
But for the blessed, righteous, happy man the Lord knows him. This word, “know,” we know means more than a simple knowledge. To be known by God is to be intimately loved by God—as a husband knows his wife. To be loved by God is to be saved by God. To be saved by God is to be sanctified by God. To be sanctified by God is to be glorified by God. For the happy man, there is no threat to his life. There is no threat to his righteousness. There is no threat to his prospering! WHY? Because God loves him, and because the happy man loves God. He loves not just the things that God has to offer, but he loves God himself, and so he fixes his eyes upon the blessing of God himself in his Word because it grants him fellowship with the one who is his treasure. It gives him a wholly unique outlook on life. He does not need what the wicked sells because what he has in God is far greater, far sweeter, and far lovelier than anything the world has to offer.
4) The Hope of Man
But you all know this part. The Hope of man is God himself come in Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, the God-man, fully divine and fully human. It is Christ who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. No, his delight is in the law of God, and upon it he meditates day and night, even now. And yet, instead of being planted by streams of water firmly like a tree, he went up that hill of Golgotha where a pit or indentation was carved out just for him, and his tree was planted there, and he was thrown up into the air like chaff to be blown away in the wind, and instead of finding eternal rest by streams of water, a stream of blood poured out from his head, his hands, and his feet, so that our pursuit of unrighteous might because his pursuit, and so that his pursuit of righteousness might become our pursuit. On that day, because of Christ, we will stand as those part of the assembly of the righteous. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only begotten Son, so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
What the Bible is concerned with is our happiness from Genesis to Revelation. But the saying is also true, what the Bible is concerned about from Genesis to Revelation is God himself. What, then, is the difference? Absolutely nothing. This psalm teaches us what happiness is, and how we obtain it all at the same time. Happiness is possessing God himself through God himself for all those who put off that wicked man by confessing his sin and put on the happy man who died for us upon a tree. Happiness is fixing our eyes on the blessing of God as it is displayed in his Word, because what he displays from beginning to end is Jesus. It is Jesus who brings the world into creation. It is Jesus who dies to bring our lives from nothing. And it will be Jesus who shall come again to judge the living from the dead, the happy from the wicked, the ones who have put on the new life from the ones who retain the old. Fix your eyes upon the blessing of God revealed in Jesus Christ because only through him do we find an eternal happiness worthy of our every pursuit.
One point of application. I recently spoke to a brother, who shall remain nameless, who said that the greatest thing that TCCBC struggles with isn’t its teaching or its hospitality. It’s its authenticity. Now, before we go around saying that this brother is wrong, and that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, I caution you. I caution you to look at your life and to evaluate whether or not you can truly say you’re authentically Christian. Do you walk in the counsel of the wicked? Do you stand in the path of sinners? Do you sit in the seat of scoffers and mock those who obey God’s commands? More importantly, is your delight in the law of the Lord, and do you meditate on it day and night?
If you answer no to any of these questions, then YES, there is grace for you! But that grace isn’t cheap, and when you cheapen its application in your life, then you’ve misunderstood it. Are we an authentic church? Do we truly love each other as Christ has loved us—are we transparent with our struggles as much as we are about our victories? If we were to invite someone into our church, would they want to stay here? Not because of the preaching. Not because of the hospitality. These things might draw them here, but what will keep them here is that we are a people set apart. We’re to be a people who are authentically honest with who we are. We can’t be afraid to talk about our failures in the past. We can’t be afraid to talk about our hope of the future. We can be honest with our struggles as a church. We can be honest with our sins as people. We can be honest that we don’t have perfect lives, but we can also be honest that we have a perfect Christ, and in him, we’ve received a true, authentic happiness.
Church, in a year’s time, what I want to reflect on is that we’ve made strides to be authentically happy in who we are and in what we profess, and that starts by knowing that we are 100% committed to each other. It matters what sins you’re going through. It matters what we’ve struggled with. But it only matters so that we might grow together into that tree with its roots dug resolutely into the soil nourished by the living Word of God. May our delight be in the law of the Lord, and the promise of salvation he gives us in it. May our hope not be in our ability to act like we are holy, but in our ability to actually be holy through humble repentance and reconciliation. This is the gospel. This is what it means to be not only a church, but a happy church. May we be found truly as those who are happy because our joy doesn’t come in our performance. No, our joy, our happiness, comes from the Lord.