The Way of Life: The Future as a Choice between Different Paths (Psalm 1:1-6)

Sermon by Daniel L. Sonnenberg | September 13, 2015

Psalm 1:1-6.

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; but his 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. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.


The poet Robert Frost wrote in “The Road Not Taken”

         Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

         I took the one less traveled by,

         And that has made all the difference.

Jesus said in Mat. 7:13-14

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Psalm 1 is what is called a “wisdom” psalm or an “instructional” psalm.

  • It gives us a map of the future as a choice between two different paths
  • This map is characterized not by its geography, but by the character of the people who walk on them
  • On one path walk the wicked, sinners and scoffers, whose lives are fruitless and  whose final destination is judgment and unhappiness.
  • On the other path are the righteous who bring with them the Scriptures, the instruction of the Lord. Their lives are fruitful and their end is happiness because their journey is under the protection of the Lord.
  • The question then is “which path are you and I on today, what will be the result of taking that path, and where will that path end up?”

Two paths:

How do you recognize the difference between the two paths?

One way is to ask yourself, “how many people are on the path?”

The path of the wicked is wide, and there are many people on it.

But the path of the righteous is narrow, and few are on it, sometimes only one.

Look at the first verse.

1 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! 

  • “the man” is singular; but “the wicked…sinners…scoffers” are plural
  • It can be a lonely road, especially at first, leaving friends and family
  • Struggling against the currents of peer pressure and group-think
  • Yet is the way to happiness, joy and fulfillment

Another way is to ask yourself, “what’s happening on the path?”

  • Look at v. 1 again
  • on one path there is regression because of sin: regression from walking, to standing, to sitting

1 walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the path of sinners, sitting in the seat of scoffers! 

  • Sin is a temptation that person first tries out – walking; later becomes accustomed to – standing; finally becomes a habit or lifestyle – sitting
  • I think of the story of prodigal son, who walked away from home and family, practiced all kinds of sin, and eventually found himself sitting in a pig pen
  • We are all born in sin; yet at a certain point the path diverges; choices are made
  • Who are you listening to? The counsel of the wicked?
  • Who are you standing with? In the path of sinners?
  • Who are you sitting with? The seat of scoffers?
  • If you’re wondering why you’ve stopped moving forward in your life, that may be why.
  • Maybe it’s time to look around and find a different path.

There’s another path. A path where good counsel is found in the instruction of the Lord, the Word of God.

  • Look at v. 2

2 But his delight is in the instruction of the LORD, And in His instruction he meditates day and night. 

  • Happiness is found in the instruction of the Lord.
  • The word “meditates” here is not simply an internalized, mental exercise, but a verbalized consideration or rumination
  • In ancient times they didn’t read silently but out loud
  • That’s what we do when reading devotions to one another in the family setting;
  • That’s what we do in public worship when we do our Scripture readings;
  • That’s what we can do privately – worked best for memorizing verses in Teen Missions and memorizing lists in seminary;

One path is full of people, the other with few.

On one path is found the counsel of the wicked, the other the counsel of the Lord.

On which path are you walking today?

Two results:

Another question to ask yourself today is, “What will be the result of walking the path you’re on?

  • Not the final results yet, but what kind of life will result from walking these two paths?
  • There are two kinds, and they’re represented by two very different images here:
  • one is a fruitful tree planted by a flowing stream
  • the other is dry chaff blown away by the wind

The person who grounds his/her life in God’s Word is like a fruit-bearing tree whose roots are sunk deep in the life-giving soil of a river bed.

3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

  • The verb indicates that the location of the tree is intentional.
  • It has either been transplanted there as a sapling or was planted there as a seed.
  • That is, it was intentionally planted by the Spirit of God, next to the river, the living Word of God, who is Christ, as he is found in the Scriptures, so that it will receive the proper/necessary nourishment for a fruitful life.
  • Notice that the nourishment that sustains the tree is unseen or invisible, is drawn up through the roots through constant study of God’s word. “In his Word you shall meditate day and night.”

But what can be seen are abundant leaves and fruit in season, v. 3b

…[the tree] yields its fruit in its season,

  • the fruit of the righteous person’s life are good works for God.
  • “For by grace are we saved through faith…not by works…[but] for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Eph. 2-8-10

And though this tree lives in the arid land of Israel, because it’s been planted by the river, 

its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. 

  • that is, in all kinds of weather conditions, it prospers because of where it’s planted by the river.
  • This means that in spite of whatever environment the wicked create, they can’t extinguish the righteous.
  • Maybe in your work or school or community environment you are being harassed for your faith
  • But if you continue to mediate on God’s word, you will survive, even thrive.
  • When there’s a shortage of water, the roots of a tree grow even deeper.
  • Let the harassment or trial cause you to send your roots deeper into God’s word.
  • I suspect that’s what’s happening right now in the life the county clerk in Kentucky who was put in jail for refusing to issue marriage licenses to homosexual couples as a matter of Christian conscience.

The righteous person who meditates on G’s Word is like a tree transplanted near water…

In contrast, look at v. 4

4 The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 

Someone said that the picture here is of a threshing floor at the time of the grain harvest.

  • Threshing floors were often located on hills to catch the best of the breezes.
  • Grain is brought, crushed by animals or threshing tools, then is thrown high into the air where the wind blows the lighter chaff away.
  • The heavier grain falls back to the floor and is collected.
  • The chaff is scattered or burned. That’s what the wicked are like.
  • In our day, a combine gathers the grain and blows the chaff out the back because it’s worthless.

The world tells us that to be religious is foolishness.

  • Religious people never have any fun or accomplish anything.
  • If you want to amount to something and enjoy yourself, get on the fast track of sin, reach out for whatever you want, and take it. Be happy.
  • But it’s all a lie. In Eden, the devil told Eve that if she disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit, her eyes would be opened and she would be like God, knowing good and evil (Gen 3.5).
  • But she didn’t become like God; she became like Satan.
  • And her eyes were not opened; they had been open.
  • Now she and her husband became blind to spiritual realities.
  • Don’t believe the devil’s lie. Don’t follow the world when it tries to draw you away from right living.

When difficult times come, the wicked will not stand, especially in the final judgment. Look at v. 5

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

  • Not being able to stand in the judgment also means being excluded from the congregation of the righteous.
  • There are some sitting in Christian congregations, who are members of the visible Church but not members of the invisible Church.
  • They profess the Christian faith, but have not actually repented of their sin and received Christ, have not been born again of the Spirit.
  • Story of Jim Burriss, “borned again.”

On the other hand, in difficult times, believers have one another, the community of faith to support us.

  • “Righteous” here is a plural noun.
  • The solitary person of v.1, has avoided the company of the wicked, and has taken refuge in the Scriptures, has finally found a home and community.
  • Though we come to faith individually, we don’t remain alone.

Two final ends:

A final question to ask yourself today is, “What will be the ultimate destination of the path you’re walking on?

  • Look at v. 6

6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.  

  • The verb “know” here is often translated as “watch over” to convey God’s providential care.
  • But here it’s translated more literally as “know.”

…the LORD knows the way of the righteous…

  • It better conveys God’s INTIMATE AND INTERNAL CARE for believers.
  • Being the author of your own fate is to wander down the path of self-destruction.
  • Walking down the path of the wicked in your own strength is to move toward your own judgment.
  • But to walk the “path of the righteous” is to be the object of God’s care.
  • We are not distinguished by any action of our own, but by God’s action: He knows us intimately and watches over us.  
  • The message of this verse and the entire psalm is that: The true path to happiness in this world and the next is to give up false claims to personal autonomy and become the object of the Lord’s care.

Categories: 2015, Psalms, Sermon Series, Sermons, Sermons by Scripture, Sermons by Series

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