Summary: Exposition of Psalm 4 regarding the turning of people away from God because of some national tragedy
Text: Psalm 4:1-8, Title: Theological Pragmatism, Date/Place: NRBC, 12/7/08, AM
A. Opening illustration: the story of Jonah provides a great introduction to this text, not because they share time frame or characters, but because of theological pragmatism. Define. Remember when Jonah boarded a ship to Tarsus, attempting to flee from the presence of the Lord, the storm came. And while Jonah was asleep the ship’s passengers and crew began to call on their gods for deliverance and safety. When this didn’t work, they went around to every passenger, and eventually Jonah, telling them all to wake up and call on their god, and see if that would help. And we live in a day of little theological faithfulness, and much pragmatism.
B. Background to passage: this is another psalm of David, which seemed to me to be very scattered. It is a prayer and a warning, but without a situation to make it make sense. But one of the commentators that I read proposed a scenario that seemed plausible and in line with the text. And so without too much dependence on this spiritual speculation, I do want to use it as context. And that would be a crop failure or national crisis of some sort that would cause people to look for any way to solve the problem, even turning to foreign deities for supposed help.
C. Main thought: The text shows our tendency to turn from God to things, then what to do when we realize it.
A. Indictment of faithlessness (v. 2)
1. Again, I think a plausible explanation is that there has been a drought, crop failure, or outbreak of disease among the people of Israel. And desperate times call for desperate measures. And according to scripture from the times of the exodus, the judges, and now the kings, Israel as a people has made it a habit of courting other deities for their own purposes. Other gods of the Canaanites, Philistines, Edomites, Ammonites, etc, were known for blessings of fertility, weather, crops, and so forth. And so during these times, what does it hurt to pray to them just in case? Or even build an altar and offer a few sacrifices? If it helps, then what is the real harm? And so David gives a threefold indictment to their turning from Yahweh to other gods. He says that 1) they have brought shame, disgrace, and embarrassment to the Lord (my glory), treating him with contempt; 2) they have loved (valued, sought out, cherished, treasured) worthlessness (exchanged infinite value for hollow trinkets and idols); and they have sought out foreign gods (explain how one arrives at this translation/interpretation) trying to attain what Yahweh can’t seem to accomplish for them. They have turned religion into a self-serving enterprise that lavishes them with blessing, but is void of real value and meaning. It has become a way of manipulating God, gods, or circumstances to fulfill my needs, desires, and gain benefits.
2. Rom 1:25, 2 Tim 3:2-5,
3. Illustration: “A consumer mentality This view has devastated the church today. Christian view church as a place to have their needs met. They have no desire or will to sacrifice and serve others. It is self-centered Christianity which focuses only on what do I get out of this church. The reason there is tremendous turnover in the church is because people move to keep getting their selfish needs met and do not desire to serve the Kingdom of God. In my city Seattle, nearly every church has a turnover of between 20 and 30 percent every year…By failing to denounce consumer Christianity, we are encouraging believers to become self-serving-a deadly killer of compassion…Making disciples must be our goal, not satisfying consumers” -Doug Murren says in his book Churches That Heal
4. How is this not far from today? We tend to think of ourselves as far above uncivilized, idol-worshipping tribesmen in distant lands who sacrifice animals and people to appease the anger of the spirit gods that they worship. But do we not regularly turn religion into the same thing. If is working for us, then do it, but if God is not getting the job that we want done, we will try something else. We will call the police, the attorney, the insurance company, or friends that will do it right, and right now. In making God our spare tire instead of our sufficient first source for every good gift, we disgrace and dishonor Him. When we prioritize popularity, education, finances, and relationships over Him, we create idols. And these things without Him in the center are devoid of real meaning. The “seeker-driven” movement within evangelical Christianity has made church like shopping. And American Christians are out looking for the best deal, asking “what’s in it for them.” And if the church or Jesus doesn’t deliver, then they will look elsewhere. They will turn to emptiness for fulfillment in sports, sex, drugs, possessions, relationships, education, and consistently choose these things over and above God. And thus we are reaping the rewards of our search for meaning in empty treasures. C. S. Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”