The Psalmist then gives another side to the story:
4 Not so the wicked! [Here is the contrast] They are like chaff [as compared to a tree] that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
On the one hand is the tree, stable, rooted, strong, immovable, green and fruitful. On the other hand is “chaff”, carried away by the lightest wind, useless.
And then the conclusion:
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
As mentioned, Psalm 1 is a “wisdom Psalm” and the wisdom offered here for us all to consider is the choice between two very different lifestyles and outcomes. It demands that we make a choice, in fact a daily choice.
Listen again to Charles Swindoll’s paraphrase:
“Oh, the happiness many times over, of the person who does not temporarily or even casually imitate the plans of life of those living in the activity of sinful confusion, nor comes and takes his stand in the midst of those who miss the mark spiritually, nor settles down and dwells in the habitation of the blasphemous crowd. But (in contrast to that kind of lifestyle) in God’s Word he takes great pleasure, thinking upon it and pondering it every waking moment, day or night. The result: He will become treelike-firm, fruitful, unwithered, and fulfilling the goals in life that God has designed for him.
Not so, the ungodly! They are like worthless husks beaten about and battered by the winds of life…but the Lord is inclined toward and bound to his righteous ones by special love and care; and the way of the one without the Lord will lead only to eternal ruin.” ( see references # 32)
So how do we respond to all this? Join a monastic order? Go and live in a desert somewhere? Join a strict sect of people who isolate themselves and keep themselves free from being tainted by this world, its people and philosophies? But then, what of the fate of “the wicked”? Should we not have some concern for them?
Is it possible to apply the wisdom of Psalm 1 in the context we all live in today, amongst the people we live amongst, in some way impacting their lives for good?
I believe we can.
Back to my story of my time in the drafting office, I discontinued what was the norm, i.e. drinking at the hotel on a Friday after work, but not my relationships with my colleagues. Over the next 6 years of my time there, as I worked with them, I had numerous opportunities to share Jesus with some of them.
But, now, let me tell you another relevant short story from Mark 2:13-17.
13 …Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
When I read this story again, I thought:
“Either Jesus hadn’t read Psalm 1 (which is unlikely), or was ignoring its wise advice (which is extremely unlikely)? So if these are not the case, then why does Jesus seem to be totally going against the teaching of this Psalm?
Outwardly he seems to be “walking in step with the wicked
and standing in the way that sinners take
and sitting in the company of mockers”.
Certainly the religious leaders of his day thought so anyway. They definitely knew Psalm 1.
In fact, Jesus seemed to be breaking every rule in the book.
1. He invited a tax-collector to be a disciple of his – a tax collector, a traitor to the Jewish nation, a collaborator with the Romans. What was Jesus thinking?
2. Not only this but he actually went into this man’s house, sat down at his table and ate his food. A sign that he considered Levi his friend.
3. But it didn’t stop there. Alongside Jesus, his disciples and Levi were all Levi’s mates – the Bible says “many tax-collectors and ‘sinners’ were eating with him”.
What sort of a Rabbi, who knew Psalm 1 off by heart, would do this? Only Jesus, it seemed.
As we continue on in the story the self-righteous anger of the religious leaders grows and they ask the question, not to him, but to his disciples:
“Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
In the books I previously mentioned by Chaim Potok, a particularly orthodox Jewish group, the Hasidim, even today, so it seems, don’t allow their followers to mix freely with non Hasidim or to eat with them. Some things have not changed over 2000 years.
But when you think about it, Jesus didn’t exactly go into business with Levi. There was no new sign that said, “Levi and Jesus – tax collectors”! In fact Levi joined Jesus as he was invited to repent, leave his life of sin and become a follower of the Messiah.
In the same way, we lived in Pakistan for 11 years, walking, standing and sitting with Muslims, changing some of our lifestyle norms to relate better, sharing with them the good news but we never once considered becoming Muslims or practicing Islamic ways.
So, the question is asked of Jesus, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” and then comes that amazing answer from Jesus himself:
“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus here appears to write his own addition to Psalm 1 which takes into account that even the wicked, sinners and mockers can be changed. In fact, they need desperately to be changed. And he’s the one to do it because that’s why he came. He is named Jesus, because he will save his people from their sin.
So not only are those blessed who don’t “live their lives in the habit of constant sin and encourage others in it” and not only are those blessed who “delight in the Word of God and meditate day and night on them” but Jesus adds “Blessed also are the sinners, if they will come to me, turn from their sin and follow me wholeheartedly.”
That’s why he came!
And that is the task he has also given to his followers.
So, in summary: We are to live close to Him, walking in his ways according to his words, in the power of his Spirit, not collaborating with the ways of the world – “in the world but not of the world”. But we also have a responsibility to take the good news to those who do not know the abundant life that is in Jesus for without Him their destiny is destruction.
May God give us all the grace to live lives pleasing to God in all our relationships and to be people who delight in His Word day and night.
Let me finish with the words of Brennan Manning:
“If we dared to live beyond our self-concern; [and lived for what concerns God]; if we refused to shrink from being vulnerable; if we took nothing but a compassionate attitude towards the world; if we were a counterculture to our nations lunatic lust for pride of place, power and possessions…[then] the walls of indifference to Jesus Christ would crumble”. (see references # 33)