Recently, we have been going through a study on Psalm 1 and its meaning for Bibb county. In the first paper, we looked at what this Psalm said about God; in the second, we looked at our duties as men and women. In this third paper, we will look at what this passage says about righteousness and ethics.
In verse 1, we read, “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” If we read between the lines of this verse, we are told that wicked and ungodly men have a specific system of morality, a specific system of right and wrong. We are told to avoid it, to not go near it. We are told to not walk (live our lives) in the same manner as the ungodly, the sinner, and the scornful. As men and women who say we follow Jesus, our righteousness must come from Him.
That is, in fact, what we see in verse 2: our delight is to be in the law of the Lord—in fact, we are to think on it frequently. The Lord does not simply say for us to not walk in the way of the wicked, but He goes beyond and tells us how we are to walk in our daily lives. We are to walk in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, revealed to us in the Bible, His Word.
First, it is a very gracious thing for God to tell us how to live. This tells us how we may please Him. Many men and women who call themselves Christians are angry at the idea that God gives us direction on how to lives our lives. They want to live the way they think best, and they say that God is ungracious, unkind, unloving, and harsh. But it is important to think about it. If God, the Creator of the universe, Who is all-knowing and sovereign over every detail of life, did not tell us how to live, would that be loving? Would it be kind and gracious for God Almighty to keep us in the dark about how we might best please Him? Of course not. God, in His kindness, has provided for us a way of knowing if we are living in a way that pleases Him, or not. It is His Word.
Second, what areas of our lives does God give us moral direction on? God gives us direction first on our personal lives: we are to believe on Jesus Christ and submit to Him, we are to worship Him alone, we are to refrain from stealing, murdering, coveting, and so forth. We are to honor those in authority, be gracious in our speech, etc. Second, we have direction for our public life: we must lead our families in righteousness, build our businesses on biblical principles, work in our civil government to conform its laws and policies to God’s laws and policies, and more. There is no area of our lives where God does not give us moral direction. This is a glorious thing—it means that God does not leave us wondering anywhere about whether or not we are pleasing Him with our ways!
John Calvin writes that “the Psalmist does not simply pronounce those happy who fear God, as in other places, but designates godliness by the study of the law, teaching us that God is only rightly served when his law is obeyed. It is not left to every man to frame a system of religion according to his own judgment, but the standard of godliness is to be taken from the Word of God” (John Calvin, Commentary upon the Book of Psalms [n.p.: Baker Book House, n.d.], 4).
The man who fears God thinks about and reflects on His directions for righteousness so that first, he knows how to serve God rightly; second, so that he knows the areas of his life that he still falls short in. We must know the Bible and what it says for us, that we may have a standard against which we can compare our lives to see what is lacking. James writes, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed” (James 1:22-25). It is not enough to read the Bible alone; we are clearly forbidden from reading the Bible, God’s command-Word to us, and then forgetting what He says and neglecting to change our lives to obey Him more.
Third, we see that God blesses obedience to His Word, and curses disobedience. Psalm 1:3-6 communicate God’s promise to bless the men, women, and children who obey Him. The men and women who walk through life after the manner of wicked men, men and women who walk according to their own desires and what they think is best (regardless of God’s commands) will be judged. In so many words, God says, “Obey Me, and live; disobey Me, and die.” In fact, this is exactly what God said to Adam in the garden of Eden: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). Solomon echos this as well: “He that followeth after righteousness and mercy findeth life, righteousness, and honor” (Prov. 21:21). God says that all they who do not obey His commandments love death (Prov. 8:36).
God’s commandments are the way of life for us. It is often easy for us to read the Bible and say that we believe it, but we sometimes forget that it applies to us and to our times. Obey, and thou shalt live, He says. This was true for Adam, and it is true for us now, in Bibb county, in Centreville, West Blocton, Lawley, and so on. The directions from God are gracious: they show us how we may live in our county, to please Him. Obeying God’s commandments does not bring us salvation—we are not saved by obedience, but by faith in Jesus Christ. But we are saved in order that we may obey Him, in order that we may walk in the paths of righteousness, God’s righteousness.
In the next paper in this series, we will look at God’s blessing and cursing of obedience and disobedience. We will see that God is faithful in blessing those who obey His Word, and He is also faithful in cursing for disobedience.
“Make me to understand the way of thy precepts: so shall I talk of thy wondrous works….I will run the way of thy commandments, when thou shalt enlarge my heart” (Ps. 119:25, 32).