A sermon on nourishing ourselves with the Word of God
Intro- Remember and Believe the Signs
“Remember the Lord’s commands”, Moses instructed his people over and over again. “Don’t forget. When you start to enjoy the good life, don’t forget. When you start to get busy with the work of your hands, don’t forget. When you mingle with the other nations who don’t know the Lord, don’t forget.”
The Lord knows the tendencies and the weakness of the human heart. He knows that we are easily confused and distracted by this temporary world. He knows that we are prone to forgetfulness.
C.S. Lewis, in his book The Silver Chair, provides a wonderful illustration about the word of God and how it serves to cut through the fog and distractions of our lives.
In the very beginning of the story, the Christ-figure Aslan, gives a girl- Jill, an important mission to complete down in Narnia. And to guide her, he gives her four signs that she is to remember and recite and use to complete her mission. Just before sending her down to Narnia from his mountain, Aslan gives her one last exhortation:
Our consideration in this sermon is Psalm 1 verses 2 and 3 how the Lord’s instructions, or his law, grows the faith of a believer and brings blessing to him. In the rush of life and the fog of day-to-day concerns we must remember the commandments of our Lord. Whatever strange things happen to us, we must not let anything turn us from them. We must remember them and believe them. As Aslan reminds us, “nothing else matters.”
The Righteous and the Wicked
This first Psalm contrasts the ways of the righteous and the wicked, with verses 1 to 3 speaking about the blessing that is for the righteous in both negative and positive terms. There are things that a righteous man does not do, which we see in verse 1 and there are things he does do, which we see in verses 2 and 3. While we are going to be focusing mostly on the positive aspect of the righteous man and how he receives blessing from the Lord’s instructions, let’s at least briefly consider what verse 1 says about the blessed man and what he avoids.
In verse 1 we see three parallel clauses. It says,
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;Firstly, notice that this verse contains an interesting assumption; that no man is completely independent. You are always influenced by someone or something. Either you are influenced by the ways and counsel of sinners and scoffers, or you are influenced by the Lord’s instructions. Secondly, there seems to be a progression here in the level of influence the wicked have over a person who yields to it. A person may begin by heeding bad advice or counsel from the wicked, which then turns into close association with sinners (standing in their way), and then finally becoming one who scoffs, jeers or insults those who choose righteous paths. So verse 1 contains a warning not to heed the counsel of the wicked because it will lead to further sinfulness, rebellion and eventually, destruction (v6).
The blessed man however takes no part in these things, or with these people. Rather, in verse 2 the blessed man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 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.” And here in verse 2 I want us to see three ways of using the Lord’s instructions in our lives and then in verse 3, three blessings that come spring from it.
1) Delight in God’s instructions
The first thing we are instructed to do with the Lord’s law here in verse 2 is to delight in it. In other words, there is an attitude towards God’s Word that we need to develop. The word “delight” could also be translated as desire or pleasure. Take note then that the first thing we are to cultivate isn’t to do with methods or skills or even experience, but rather with the desires of our heart. The psalmist here is speaking of the heart’s inclination towards God’s instructions. And as we consider our relationship to the Word of God, this is the place we must start.
To what degree do you desire it, long for it, take pleasure in it, delight in it? If I were to ask you what things are most important to you it is very possible that you would include the Word of the Lord. But that’s not exactly what the verse is getting at. It doesn’t say here “blessed is the man who thinks the law of the Lord is important.” There is a difference between knowing in the mind that a thing is important or valuable, and having a heart delight in something. And it’s an important difference to recognize.
For instance, I may know it’s important to do some exercises day after day in order to stay strong and healthy, but I delight in my favourite sport. I know it’s important to drink enough water daily, but I delight in my morning coffee or tea. I know it’s important to be friends and loving to many different people, but there are those special friends that I delight in. When the psalmist here is speaking about delight, he’s speaking about that category of thing that you look forward to when you’re not doing it and that you long for when you’re not tasting it.
Do you delight in the law of the Lord? This kind of question is important in guarding us against the dangers of legalism towards the Bible. It’s quite possible that we could be reading chapters ever day, reading through the Bible in a year, spending long hours pouring over the Word, studying it, gaining knowledge and yet, be getting little spiritual nourishment from it, if we do not delight in it.
What is your attitude towards the Word of God? Is it duty, or delight? Or perhaps somewhere in between? Do you wake in the morning with eagerness to look into the Word of God? Or do you find yourself desiring to “get on with your day”? Or perhaps desiring to spend another hour in bed?
May the Lord grant that we be more like David who said
my soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (Psalm 119:20). How does your desire for the Lord’s law compare with David’s? The comparison is particularly humbling when we realize that all that David had were the books of Moses. Those parts of the Word of God that seem to us the most difficult, the laws and regulations concerning the tabernacle and the priestly order and the sacrifices and the holiness of the people, those parts you desire to skip over; those passages were a delight to David!
We however have the complete revelation of the Word of God. David only saw the grace and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ at a great distance, through the shadow of the law. It is to us that the mystery is revealed. We have the culmination of the law in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have our Lord’s own words and instructions.
We have been given so much more than David and yet so often we fall short of David’s zeal. Isn’t that often the way it is? Those who have so much often do not appreciate what they have. It is peasants and paupers who delight in morsels of bread. It is princes who tire of their extravagant feasts.
May we not overlook, or underappreciate, or grow tired of the great feast available to us in the Word of God. Rather, may we delight in it.
2) Meditate on God’s instructions
Secondly, we see in verse 2 that we need to meditate on God’s instructions. In other words, there is a skill we need to develop.
The translation choice here for the word “meditate” is interesting as I’m not sure that it conjures up the right image to the modern mind. For instance the image that comes to my mind with the word meditate is of an old man in brightly coloured clothing sitting cross-legged on the floor in complete silence trying to empty his mind!
The meaning behind this word “meditate” (the Hebrew word “hagah”) though is quite different. It means to recite or to speak to one’s self, or to mutter. In fact, in most contexts in which this word is used there is some kind of connection with the mouth and with speaking.
So for instance, a wonderful parallel to our entire passage here in Psalm 1 is the opening of the book of Joshua. You can turn there with me please, to Joshua chapter 1. Here we read of the Lord’s instructions to Joshua as the new leader of the Israelites now that Moses has died. And in verse 8 it says; “this Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” So here there’s a very obvious connection between the mouth and Joshua’s meditation.
Another passage that is helpful for us defining this word is Psalm 5:1-3. In the ESV we read
Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning. Now, in some translations and in at least one well-known song, it says here Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my meditation. And it is this word “hagah” that is translated either as meditation or groaning. If you continue reading, you get the sense that whatever this word hagah entails, it probably isn’t silent. It goes on to say, “Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. O Lord, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch.”
So then, biblical meditation is not confined to the mind. Meditation certainly involves the mind, but it’s not mere contemplation. In fact, it seems quite likely that biblical mediation involves speaking. This makes even more sense when we realize that very few people in OT times had access to the written word. Prior to the printing press, books and scrolls and other media that held the written word were scarce and valuable. In the days of the Psalmist, the priests would read the Word of God and in order to meditate on it, you would have to memorize it. And perhaps this memorization of the Word of God helps us to complete the picture of what the Psalmist has in mind here.
Now, of course, we have the tremendous benefit of the Word of God in print. It’s available in many languages and in many versions. And yet, the question lingers despite this abundance; do we actually know the Word of God any better? Do we carry it with us all the day in our hearts and minds, constantly uttering it to ourselves in order to follow its instruction?
I ask you, when you sit down to read the Word, does it seem to you to be your very life? Or do they sometimes seem like idle words, Like words simply passing in front of your eyes? (Deu 32:47 ) Here are two very simple and practical suggestions in order that you might store up the word in your heart that it might dwell in you richly; (Col 3:16) firstly, read aloud the word of God. Perhaps quietly, but form the words with your mouth. If you make the written word a spoken word it is more likely to become a useful word. Secondly, memorize scripture. Store it up. Make it available to you at a moment’s notice.
So, develop the skill of meditation. It’s more than just contemplation. It involves speaking the Word to yourself.
3) Look Regularly to God’s Instructions
The third way we receive blessing from God’s Word is by looking regularly to God’s instructions. Verse 2 says
on his law he meditates day and night. So in addition to an attitude that needs to be developed, and a skill that needs to be developed, there is also here a habit that needs to be developed.
And I think we should understand this phrase “day and night” in two ways. Firstly, the main sense being conveyed here is that day and night stands for the fullness of a day. In other words, we should be using the Word of God and meditating upon it constantly, all the time, day and night.
A parallel verse in Psalm 119:97 says
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Hebrews 5:14 says
But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. So are you making constant use of the Word of God? Is it in you to the degree that it is available for your constant use? As human creatures, we are very habitual. Habits play a large role in our lives, but like most things in our lives, habits can be used for good or for evil. Under the influence of our will and self-discipline we need to capture and master our habits and make them serve us, instead of us serving them.
A second (and probably secondary) sense is that we ought to meditate on the law of the Lord at set times during the day, making specific use of the morning and evening. The morning is the first part of our day. All throughout the scriptures we are told to give the best part of what we have to the Lord and not the unwanted parts. Each day is an opportunity for spiritual work and harvest. Shouldn’t we give the firstfruits of it to the Lord?
However, the evening too offers good opportunity after the work of the day for rest and meditation. And so we have the Psalmist saying
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust (Psalm 143:8 8), as well as “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night.” (Psalm 63:5-6) Perhaps then, when it comes to regular set times in the Word of God, it may be best to have at least some time in the morning when we rise and again in the evening when we lay down.
So then, when it comes to the Word of God, to the Lord’s instructions, we are develop the attitude of delight, develop the skill of meditation and develop the habit of regularity. Let’s consider now the blessing that come out of this kind of use of the Word.
The Blessings of a Well-Nourished Man
Verse 3 goes on to describe a threefold blessing to the man who does not go the way of the wicked but the way of the Lord according to his law.
And the psalmist presents these blessings by way of an illustration. He says the blessed man “is like a tree planted by streams of water.” These streams of water denote the constant and ever-present nourishment that the believer has if he is delighting in, and meditating regularly on, the Lord’s instructions. Let’s consider what verse 3 says are the results of this nourishment.
Firstly, we see that this tree, standing for a Word-nourished believer, “yields its fruit in season.” A healthy tree brings about the bearing of ripe, juicy, flavourful fruit at just the right time. I don’t think I need to remind you of the difference between fruit in season and fruit out of season. A strawberry at its full flavour and sweetness at just the right time of summer is simply exquisite. The best confection and candy can’t compare. But that peak-season strawberry is like a different food altogether than the strawberries that are available at other times of the year.
So is the difference between a believer who is richly nourished by the Word and the believer who is not. All believers will bear fruit. Those who claim to be believers but have no good fruit are shown to be mere pretenders according to Jesus. He says in Matthew 7:18
A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. But while a believer will always bear good fruit, there are levels of fruitfulness in believers. You may know a handful of believers whose spiritual fruit is absolutely sweet. They are the kind of Christian you want to be with and around because they fill you and encourage you and edify you and serve you and leave you stronger and more faithful. Show me a Christian like that, and I’ll show you a Christian in whom the word of God dwells richly.
But healthy trees not only yield optimal fruit, they also yield regular fruit. Every season, a healthy tree will give you fruit. So it is with a well-nourished believer. He will constantly bear fruit. Every day his works are seen to be evidence of the Word of God at work in his life. A well-nourished believer does not bear fruit once in a while, but with regularity. Colossians 1:9-10 says, “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”
The Word of God will bear fruit in your life constantly and increasingly if you delight and meditate regularly on the Lord’s instructions.
The second blessing for the well-nourished believer is that his leaves won’t wither. The one who is nourished fully and regularly will not experience loss of vitality or strength. He will be will able to withstand drought and storm and wind and rain and pestilence. And he will be able to withstand these elements because his nourishment is not according to the world, and the environment around him, but rather, according to the Lord. It is said of those who rely on the Lord and his strength that
they shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)
Brother, sister, do you want strength and perseverance for the times of difficulty? For times of suffering, persecution or confusion? The Lord doesn’t want you just to survive, but to thrive! To thrive in those conditions you will need to be planted by streams of water in the various ways we’ve been considering. In Psalm 92:12-14 we read “The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” In a similar way may you flourish. May you bear fruit when others are withering. May you ever be full of life. May hardship not weaken you but strengthen you. May suffering lead you not to bitterness, but to joy. May persecution cause you to love more, not less. May your leaves never wither.
The third blessing for the Word-nourished believer is that he is said to prosper “in all that he does.” The NET version says he “succeeds in everything he attempts.” I am reminded of the example of Joseph as a godly man whom God blessed and granted success. We read in Genesis 39:1-6
And yet, prior to this moment he had been sold into slavery by his brothers. And after this he was falsely accused of sexual harassment and was thrown into jail where he languished for 5 years. And yet, even in prison, the Lord was with Joseph to bless him. If you jump down to Genesis 39:20, we read that
The Lord’s blessing was not all-encompassing. He was a slave in a foreign land. He had a mark on his name due to false accusations. And while the Lord blessed him in prison, he was still a prisoner. He was not yet reconciled to his brothers. He had not seen his father for many years. He had no wife or children yet. Yet the Lord’s blessing on his life was recognizable and certain.
It’s important that we define success in the proper way. Even in this sermon we’ve considered to some degree what makes for success in the life of the Christian. Are you bearing fruit in every good work? That’s success. Is the Word dwelling in you to the degree that you are useful in teaching and admonishing your brothers and sisters? That’s success. In spite of sufferings, hardships and trials are you still strong and steadfast in faith? That’s success.
Beyond that, we may find that the Lord is with us to help us succeed in other ways as well. Often, following the Lord’s instructions will make for blessing in the more earthly areas of life as well. The one who puts aside worldliness and takes care of his body as the temple of God is more likely to live a long and healthy life than one who does not. The one who does his work as for the Lord is more likely to have success in the workplace than the one who does not. The one who follows the Lord’s instructions when it comes to money is more likely to have what they need and perhaps more. The one who treats his wife and children with love and gentleness is more likely to enjoy peace at home.
The Lord’s ways are always right. They always bring blessing. They may not always bring blessing the way we want or expect. Consider Joseph, or perhaps David. But the one who follows the Lord’s instructions will always have greater blessing than the one who does not.
So I want to ask you this morning, to what degree are you looking regularly into the Word of the Lord? Are you meditating on it, that it may be available to you? Are you delighting in it as one of the chief enjoyments of your day?
God wants you to grow spiritually and to continue in that growth all your days. To do so, you will need the proper nourishment. You will need solid food. Deuteronomy 8:3 says
man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.
Those words will keep you and guide you. They will make you useful and strong. They will focus you and transform your mind. Don’t let the rush of life cloud your mind as to what is real and lasting and true. “Remember the Signs and believe the Signs. Nothing else matters.”