The Treasure of God’s Word (Psalm 1)

Sunday, May 7th, 2017
Sermon Series: Psalms

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The Treasure of God’s Word

Psalm 1

Show me your Bible. Hold them up. Do you ever think about the fact that you are carrying around a book filled with letters from 2,000 years ago? And that’s the new part! By the time of 200 BC, there was agreement that God was no longer speaking through the prophets–the Old Testament books were complete and agreed upon.

Scribes before and after the time of Christ undertook translation of the Old Testament into Greek, so that Jews throughout the Roman Empire could read God’s Word. And when Jesus came, God sent prophets and apostles to the church and the New Testament letters were written. These were finished by the mid-90’s AD.

Some took a while to spread through the Early Church, but by the next century, the Bible you hold in your hands is exactly what Christians back then accepted as the Scripture. The difference is that very, very few of them ever held a complete copy in their hands. What you hold in your hands is unique in all of history.

Around the world today, there are many places where the Bible is not readily available to everyone. But go back just a few hundred years and you will find that few people owned their own Bibles. There were few full copies available, because everything was hand-copied until the 15th century.

The Chinese were the first to invent movable-type presses around 1045 AD, but it was Gutenberg’s press in 1450 that first began to print Bibles. You could hand copy 5 to 10 pages per day and after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire, the Byzantines would gather a bunch of people in a room to churn out copies of Bibles. This didn’t speed it up, it only put more people working on it.

In contrast to a handwritten copy, a Gutenberg Press could produce about 3600 pages per day. By 1500, printing presses had produced more than 20 million books. But it was not until the spark of the Reformation in the mid-1500’s that Bibles began to be mass printed. Before that, they were crazy expensive. You would spend more than you earned in a year to buy one. Small churches were often unable to afford one.

But as the Reformation spread and the cry of “sola Scriptura” grew louder, more and more Bibles were printed and the cost dropped lower and lower. Even before it was legal for people to own a Bible in their language, the gospels and other portions of Scripture would be printed and smuggled into countries. Then whole Bibles would infiltrate.

Over time, a Bible in people’s common tongue would become legal. But many people were illiterate. They couldn’t read or write. But they wanted to read the Bible. So they would seek tutors so that they could read God’s Word on their own.

In 2012, a national survey revealed that around 85% of homes in America own a Bible, and the average number of Bibles per household is four. We have an amazing, amazing treasure in our laps–something people died trying to acquire, something people were killed for printing.

But what’s more spectacular than the history of it is the contents. In your lap or in your hand is the very words of God to mankind. I don’t know if you really heard me here–the God who made the whole universe has spoken. And He cared that you would hear Him. So He supernaturally preserved His Words. That is the Bible.

You have in your hands more knowledge of God than any Christian possessed when Jesus walked on Earth. You have in your hands something which has been largely unavailable to the majority of Christians throughout all of history. You have in your hands a more complete record of God’s redemptive plan than most Christians have ever known.

You have God’s commands clearly revealed and explained. You have all of God’s promises written out and made clear. You have all that God wants you to know of Heaven so that you will long for it. You have an incredible treasure in your hands. And my question to you this morning is–what do you do with this amazing treasure?

Do you realize the value and worth of what you hold? On a daily basis, do you give consideration to the riches you have in your hands? I am not exaggerating when I say that the Word of God is the key to the Christian life. What will ensure your entrance into Heaven is your attention to the Word of God.

Without the Bible, you cannot be sure if you’re saved. Without the Bible, you cannot know who Jesus is. Without the Bible, you can know enough of God to condemn you, but not enough to save you. Without the Bible, you cannot be sure if you are living in a way that pleases Him.

But the more you read it, the more you listen to it, the better you understand it–the more clear and confident you can be that you know God and understand His ways. If you want to be steadfast and unmoved by the pressures of life . . . if you want to be strong and mature in Christ . . . if you want to find true prosperity in this life . . . if you want to find true joy in your heart . . . look to the Word.

And this is not just me saying that–that is the message of the very first psalm. If you have your Bible with you, open up to Psalm 1. In this psalm, the righteous and the wicked are contrasted. This psalm introduces the whole book of Psalms, telling of the righteous and wicked, their ways and their rewards. It separates all people into two categories–those accepted by God and those who reject God.

Psalm 1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 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.

4 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”

This Psalm describes a man who is truly happy. That’s the meaning of “blessed”. He’s not happy the way you are when you find a $5 bill in your jacket. It’s not the happy you feel when you’re listening to a comedian. When the psalmist talks about someone blessed, he is describing someone who has this internal joy–the kind you felt when you first understood the Gospel and were saved.

It’s the kind of joy you feel when you are totally trusting God in the midst of a trial. It’s the happiness you feel when you escape temptation without sin. The Psalm is describing a man who is and feels blessed. Now I want that–so how do I get that?

If you just read verse 1, you might think, “I should avoid the counsel of unbelievers. I need to steer clear of sinners. I need to watch my heart against boasting and mocking.” These do show three degrees of departure from God. You accept the world’s advice, you join its ways, and you will eventually scorn God.

But if you are successful enough to avoid those things, that doesn’t make you righteous. Avoiding certain evils doesn’t make you pleasing to God. Fleeing certain sins is not the key to blessing and happiness in your life. Those actions are not the means to being blessed. They are the consequences–they are the fruit and result of it.

Verse 2 describes why the man is blessed. “His delight is in the Law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” In this passage, “the law of the Lord” is used broadly to describe all that prophets had recorded of God to this point. The man of God, the woman of God, delights and meditates on the Word of God.

The believer is to delight in hearing God speak–not some inner voice, but in His Word. The believer is to meditate on what God has said. You hold in your lap the Bible, a more complete revelation of God than the psalmist had. Do you delight in it? Do you find joy as you read it? Do you meditate on it? Does it enter your mind later? Do you think after you’ve read?

Maybe I should ask, “When did you last read it?” Verse 3, the person who delights in the Word of God is like a tree planted by fresh waters. They are fruitful and a blessing to others. They do not wither in the face of trial, temptation or trouble. The Lord is with them and blesses them. And like the growth of a tree, this growth in your life is gradual. And your growth is wholly dependent on the Word.

In our old neighborhood in Menifee, we had a great house and friendly neighbors. Then the recession hit. And as it got worse, people stopped paying their bills. And at many homes, people turned off the water. The grass would shift from green to yellow to brown. Weeds would appear around the edges and then die off. And the trees would last the longest, but eventually as foreclosures dragged on, the trees in the middle of the yard would drop their leaves. It was not fall, but early summer. The trees were only a couple years old and they would eventually just be dry, brittle sticks.

The reason for this was simple–their nourishment was cut off. The trees could not live without water. And no Christian can live long without the Word of God. Most people can only survive without air for a few minutes. The very longest has been a bit over an hour, due to extreme hypothermia. Most people can only survive about three to five days without water, though some have made it to ten. Some people can go three weeks or more without food, even up to six weeks.

But some Christians think that they can go for even longer stretches without consuming the Word of God. I’ve been guilty of this and I bet you have too. The metaphor of the tree in this Psalm is purposeful. It is planted by a stream. It is able to drink consistently and regularly. It draws its life there.

You need that same level of ongoing, continual nourishment from the Word of God. You need to drink deeply from it when you’re at church and when you’re at home. And here is why–this is the point of this whole Psalm. Whatever shapes your thinking will shape your life and your destiny.

According to verses 5 to 6, the righteous are known by God and will not cower in judgment. Why? Because the Word of God has informed and affected their whole life. In the same way that the wicked have lived by the wisdom of the world, so the righteous have had their thinking informed by the Word of God.

The avoidance of sin and pursuit of righteousness is learned. It is not natural. First Corinthians 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

No one has a natural gravity towards pleasing God. We naturally consider it foolishness. Personal holiness is the result of a personal delight in and meditation on the Word of God. And this is the simple truth I want you to grasp–whatever most informs your thinking will shape your life and future.

Are you giving regular, habitual consideration and thought to what God has said in the Bible? Many Christians consider the Bible more like Brussels sprouts than water. They know that it’s healthy for them, they know that it will help them grow–but the trouble of cooking something up and even the taste of it is not their favorite thing.

Right? This is how you feel about Brussels sprouts or squash. So instead, you grab a rotisserie chicken and some Hawaiian rolls and call it good. And you think the Bible is like that. It would provide you with more nourishment, but you can get by with skipping it. You take vitamins like good Christian books–it’s close enough.

But friends, reading the Bible is not like eating a vegetable. It is not something optional. It is not merely a healthy, growing food. The Bible is air and water to the Christian. It is life-giving. Without it, your soul declines and shrivels. Do not think of the Bible as broccoli any longer. The Bible is your air. The Bible is your water.

Jesus says much the same thing to the devil. When being tempted by the devil, in a dark hour of need, Matthew 4:4, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” When Jesus was completely famished, and offered a meal by the devil, he says we are to look to the Word of God for sustenance, even more than we do our food.

We are to delight in the Word of God even more than we do our food. And if you’re a foodie, think about this. I’ve seen your Instagram pics. Some of you love good food. You delight in it. You post pics of it. You extol certain restaurants. Our delight in food should be a shadow of our delight in the Bible. It has more value to your body. It has more worth to your soul. It can be more satisfying than the best food available. There is huge benefit in consuming the Word regularly.

Verse 3 describes it using the analogy of a tree. “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 picture is of someone who is healthy, vigorous, and strong. And the promise is that by consuming God’s Word, you will be made this way.

That same truth is found in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:15 to 17, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Timothy had been learning from the Old Testament since childhood. He had drunken deeply from them and knew their value. There are two benefits Paul lists here from consistent meditation on the Scripture. Number one is in verse 15, they are “able to make you wise for salvation.”

1)  Consuming Scripture’s truths is the means of salvation

Paul here is talking about the Old Testament Scriptures and he says they were able to help Timothy come to faith by understanding man’s sinfulness and complete rebellion towards God. The Scriptures had shown him his own need for a Savior, and how he was unable to save himself.

Though raised in a Greek household, Timothy had understood the real meaning of the sacrificial system, the Passover lamb and all the prophesies that had pointed to Jesus. He had read of Abraham being accepted by God for his faith rather than his works. The Scriptures had shown Timothy how salvation was found in Christ alone as the perfect sacrifice of God for our sins. They were the foundation of his salvation.

When Psalm 1 pictures the righteous as a tree and the wicked as chaff, it’s saying the same thing. In contrast to a strong tree, the wicked are pictured as chaff. Do you know what this is? It’s the lightweight hull of a grain. The closest you may have seen are popcorn hulls—like chaff, they are light enough to be blown by the wind.

Psalm 1:5 says that the wicked will not stand in the Day of Judgment. The implication is that the righteous person who has devoted himself to the Word will be saved. The Scriptures lead you to salvation. And second, in verse 17, they can make you “complete [mature], equipped for every good work.

2)  Consuming Scripture’s truths results in sanctification

In Psalm 1, this is said as, you don’t wither . . . you’re firmly planted . . . you will be fruitful. In 2 Timothy 3, the Word of God is breathed out by Him and useful “for teaching, for rebuke, for correction and for training in righteousness.” It will sanctify you and make you holy. It will transform you, fixing all the holes in your life.

Paul here uses two different words that each have the meaning of equipped. The Scriptures will thoroughly equip you for life and all that God has planned for you. By careful study of the Word and application of its truths, you will be transformed to the image of Christ. The Spirit of God will use the Word of the Father to make you like the Son.

Psalm 119:9 to 11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word. 10 With my whole heart, I seek You; let me not wander from Your commandments! 11 I have stored up Your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against You.”

1)  Consuming Scripture’s truths is the means of salvation

2)  Consuming Scripture’s truths results in sanctification

3)  Consuming Scripture’s truths brings blessing

There is an interesting verse on the life of Ezra. Ezra was a scribe and priest during the exile, when Israel had been taken into captivity. He was a descendant of Aaron and led the second return of the Jews from Persia. The reason that he excelled as a leader in both Persia and Israel, and later was the organizer of Jewish religious life, is stated in Ezra 7:9 to 10, “For the good hand of his God was on him. 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.”

Why did God bless him? Why was God’s hand upon his life? Verse 10 tells us. It says for these reasons–because Ezra studied the Law of God, and he practiced the Law of God, and he helped others to understand it. Here’s something Scripture promises that we don’t talk about enough. Delighting in the Word results in you prospering. Because Ezra studied, practiced and taught the Word, God’s good hand was on him.

In the words of Psalm 1:3, “In whatever he did, he prospered.” If you feel that life is not going well for you, could it be because you are delighting in the wrong things? Ezra delighted in and meditated on the Word of God. It wasn’t just information to him–it was life-changing. He lived out what he learned. It was so important to him that he talked to others about it, teaching them what God says.

Maybe you’re wondering, “How do I do this?” My want-to-meter is super low. You hear me saying that it’s good. You know it is. But you feel no drive, no motivation, no internal desire. And you’re wondering, “What do I do?”

Notice the verb at the beginning of verse 10. What did Ezra do? He “set his heart” to do those things. He determined within his heart that he would faithfully commit himself to the habits of study, practice and articulation. It’s the same thing that Psalm 119:10 said, “With my whole heart I seek you.”

You may feel stuck and even apathetic about your time in the Word. Maybe it hasn’t felt alive or like it matters. You’ve tried to read and it has felt dead and cold to you. Let me read a passage that speaks to this. First Peter 2:2, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the Word.” What’s the command here?  Long for it! The Greek word simply means desire.

If you feel stuck, stop it! God wants you to get the desires you don’t have. Change your attitude. Change your heart! This is exactly what Christians are called to do. You set your heart to study, practice and talk about the Word of God. If you have felt like the Bible does taste a bit like Brussels sprouts, then you need to hear this. The way to move from distaste to delight is to commit your heart, pray for help and make a plan.

Do something very specific this afternoon or evening. Plan a time, plan a place, plan a way to read the Bible regularly. If you don’t make a plan, it will not happen. Be purposeful. Figure out where, when and what you can read.

I’d invite you to join our Bible reading plan. You can find it at www.faith-bible.net/read  We’re in Matthew 23 tomorrow. It’s been really good! You don’t have to catch up–just pick it up and join us! This will be better for you than any juice cleanse. This is more necessary than vitamins. This is your water as a Christian. And some of you are severely dehydrated. This is your air as a Christian. And some of you are on respirators.

You need to recognize your need for the Word, cry out to God for help and then commit to change your habits. You see there are promises to you back in Psalm 1. For those who delight in the Word, verse 3, God will prosper you. Verses 3 to 4, God will not let trials destroy you and drive you away. Verse 5, you will not be numbered among the wicked, but will stand with the righteous. Verse 6, God will know and care about your ways.

These are amazing promises! God is trying to entice you. He wants you to read and find pleasure in His Word. He wants your heart to mirror the psalmist’s. Psalm 119:97, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” And I pray this for myself as well. My heart’s inclination isn’t always for the Word first.

I do miss days, sometimes due to circumstance and sometimes due to neglect. But I believe that God wants me, consuming His Word in my personal reading . . .  praying through His Word with Him . . .  listening to His Word preached . . . with the goal that I hear Him and respond to Him.

I like how John Piper put it: “If you don’t read the Word and memorize the Word and meditate on the Word daily and delight in the Word and savor it and have your mind and emotions shaped by the Word, you will be a weak Christian at best. You will be fragile and easily deceived and easily paralyzed by trouble and stuck in many mediocre ruts.

“But if you read the Word and memorize important parts of it and meditate on it and savor it and steep your mind in it, then you will be like a strong tree planted by streams of water that brings forth fruit. Your leaf won’t wither in the drought and you will be productive in your life for Christ.”

So let me ask you–why do you think Psalm 1 is Psalm 1? The Book of Psalms is not a letter. It’s not arranged chronologically. Psalm 1 isn’t the first psalm that was written. There are older psalms than this one. As the psalms were collected and arranged, they were arranged into five books, or five clusters of psalms.

This psalm is the first psalm of the first grouping. The common agreement by everyone was that this one belonged first. Why? Look at verse 6. “The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” This Psalm says that there are two kinds of people in the world–there are the righteous and the wicked. There are some who are intimately known by God, some who He watches over the path of. And there are others who are walking on a path that leads to destruction.

In the original, the very first word of the first psalm is “blessed” or “happy”, and the last word of this first psalm is “perish”. The psalmist is presenting the choice to you. He is saying that before you, there are two paths. The righteous delight in God’s Word and walk away from sin. The wicked yield no fruit and wither in the sun. They listen to and affirm one another. One will be happy and flourish and thrive. The other will perish, being blown away in the judgment of God. On which path will you walk?

We have unprecedented access to the Word of God. And as much as air and water, you need it for life as a Christian. From 1611 through the late 1800s, there was mainly one English Bible that people used. And it was not until the 1960s that the diversity of English translations began to appear.

Amazon now sells about thirty different English Bible translations–some are better than others, but guaranteed you can easily find one you’ll understand. Christians have never before had the sort of access to God’s Word that we take for granted. Many of you have Bibles at home which are gathering dust.

Luke 12:48 says that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” I think that we will have to give a greater accounting to God than most Christians throughout time. We have way more access to the Word of God. We have better preaching of the Word. We have the ability to read it in our own language. You hold a treasure in your hands.

Just 3½ years ago, 10,000 people were brought to a stadium in North Korea. In front of them, eight people were tied to stakes with bags over their heads. Over the loudspeakers, to the great crowds, came the accusation. Each person was named and charged. Some for watching illegal TV shows and others for owning a Bible.

According to news outlets, this happened in seven towns with a total of eighty people. At each stadium, after the charges were read, machine guns riddled the bodies to the point of disfigurement. North Korea used to be the most Christian nation of Asia. There was a massive revival at the start of the 1900s. Solid evangelical belief spread throughout the nation.

Communist persecution cut off the church from the world. The churches went underground. The common punishment now for possessing a Bible is that “any person caught with one is sent, along with three generations of his or her family, to prison.”

You hold a treasure in your hands–one that people died for. One that people still long for. Do not neglect it. That Bible will not grant you salvation. But it alone can lead you to Jesus, the one who saves. And if you neglect your Bible, Psalm 1 says that you risk falling before the great Judge of all mankind.

How blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord. For “the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” This is the truth that all the psalms teach. This is the truth that God wants you to own.

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John serves as a pastor and elder at Faith Bible Church
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