Why the Psalms? Why should we study the Psalms? The reason I think we should study the Psalms comes from our New Testament reading: Revelation, chapter 2, verses 2 through 5.
In Revelation 2, Jesus is giving a message to the church at Ephesus. Jesus begins with some very complimentary remarks, "I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance", He says.
Jesus knows about all the terrific programs going on at 1st Church of Ephesus. He knows about their commitment to Sunday school. He knows about their commitment to care for the poor. He knows about their plans for evangelism and church growth. He knows all about their work at church dinners.
Jesus also commends them for "putting to test those who call themselves apostles, and are not". That is to say that Jesus commends them for being a discerning church. This church held to sound doctrine--they probably had many small group Bible-studies. The church at Ephesus studied the Scriptures and they knew an imposter when they saw one.
If we were shopping for a church, I suspect that many of us would choose a church much like the one in Ephesus. This was an action-packed church. The people there were busy like spiritual bumblebees doing the work of ministry.
But after commending them for all their good work, Jesus points out something that is fundamentally wrong with the church at Ephesus. After complimenting them for their deeds, Jesus says, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love".
The church at Ephesus forgot why they existed. They forgot that church was first and foremost about loving Jesus. The ultimate goal of church life is not evangelism. The goal of church life is not balancing the budget. The goal of church life is not running a successful Sunday school. The goal of church life is not learning how to get along.
Church life, first and foremost, is about loving Jesus. And our deeds, our toil, our perseverance, our good doctrine, our commitment to evangelism--all of these things are to flow naturally out of our love for Jesus.
It is not hard to find a busy church. It is not hard to find a church that is doing great things. We are doing great things here at St. Andrew's & Fraser. The question I have for us this morning is, 'How are we doing with our love for Jesus?'. Would Jesus be justified if He said to us what He said to the church at Ephesus, 'You are doing great work, but you have forgotten why you are here. You have left your first love'.
All of our good works are filthy rags if we are not loving Jesus (Isa. 64:6). The reason I want us to study the Psalms from now until Christmas is because, in the Psalms, we read about individuals who loved the Lord more than anything on earth.
I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel that I am guilty of the same sin as the church at Ephesus. I recognize times in my life where I leave my first love--Jesus Christ. When I recognize this, no book of the Bible comforts me more than the Psalms. If you want to see what first love looks like, you turn to the Psalms.
Before we examine Psalm one, I want you to consider what "first love" is. When Jesus talks about "first love", He is not talking about sequence, but about priority. We commonly hear individuals say that so-and-so was their 'first love'--this is a reference to sequence. When Jesus says that He is to be our "first love", He is saying that we are to love Him above and beyond all things.
For the sake of comparison, I would like those of you who are married to think about the nature of the love you had towards your spouse when you were on your honeymoon. Take as long as you need.
I think we need that comparison in order to recognize that "first love" is HOT. "First love" is passionate. I am not sure how, or why, but in many churches, it has become taboo to be passionate about Jesus. Those who are exuberant about their faith are often called 'fanatical'. I like the way one pastor defines 'fanatical': a fanatic is someone who loves Jesus more than I do.
We need more fanatics in our church. We need people who regard Jesus Christ as their first love.
Think back again to your honeymoon days. How did you act towards your spouse back then? Would it be safe to say that you did everything in your power to please your spouse?
Is it then safe to say that first love aims to please? And since first love aims to please, Psalm one becomes an important text for us. "1How 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! 2But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night".
I'd like to confess a problem I had when I first read this text. I read verse one, "1How 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!", and I said, 'Great! That's me. I don't do those things, so I must be blessed!'. But then I read on, "2But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night", and I thought, 'Well, that doesn't exactly describe me either.'
The problem I see in this text--rather, the problem I see with us concerning this text, is that most of us fit somewhere in between. Very few of us, I trust, "walk in the counsel of the wicked". But on the other hand, how many of us meditate on the Word of God "day and night"?
Where we land on this issue is critical. It is the difference between being blessed and not being blessed. The Psalmist elaborates on the implications of this in verses 3 though 6,
3He (who delights in the law of the Lord) will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
So which are we? Are we "like a tree firmly planted by streams of water" or are we "like chaff which the wind drives away"?
Again, I suspect most of us are somewhere in between. We're not exactly planted firmly, but we're not chaff either. We're not willing to regard ourselves as "wicked", but we also know we have a ways to go when it comes to delighting in God's Word.
Now here's the sobering part: If God's Word is not our delight, if we do not often meditate on God's law, then we have something in common with the wicked. If the Lord is not our first love we have something in common with those regarded in Scripture as "chaff".
I thought I could get around this by regarding myself as a tree tenuously planted a fair distance from streams of water, but I can't. If my delight is not God's Word, if Christ is not my first love, I more closely resemble "chaff which the wind drives away" than a "tree firmly planted".
Having Christ as your first love presupposes a delight in His Word. It is hypocritical to say we love Jesus more than anything if we scarcely read His Word. Meditating on the Word of God is the primary way we express our love for the Lord. Now as I say that, I should make you aware of what the Hebrew word for "meditate" means. The Hebrew word for meditate means to "mutter repeatedly". That sounds like prayer to me. Muttering repeatedly back to God what he has revealed to us--that's prayer.
What does first love look like? First love delights in the Word of God. First love prays to God repeatedly that which He has revealed to us.
Why should Christ be our first love? Why must we love Christ more than our family, more than our reputation, more than our career? Because Christ commands it. Christ commands that we love Him first. And what do we know about the commands of Christ? We know that they are good, and subsequently, they are good for us.
The Psalmist says this when he writes, "Blessed are those who . . . delight in the law of the Lord". The translation, 'happy', just doesn't cut it. The Hebrew word is describing a fullness of joy here. There is a fullness of joy available for those who delight in God's Word. There is a fullness of joy available to those who regard Christ as their first love.
The imagery the author of this Psalm employs is tremendously helpful. We like stability, and so to hear that we can be like a "tree firmly planted" is good news to us. To hear that we will not be easily knocked over is comforting to us.
The Psalmist also reminds us that the firmly planted tree always "yields its fruit in season". Fruit, of course, is a metaphor for obedience in the Scripture. Those who delight in the Word then will inevitably find themselves obeying it. People who love Christ first will obey Christ because a firmly planted tree always yields its fruit in season.
The Psalmist goes on to remind us that the leaves on a firmly planted tree "do not wither". Here we are talking about durability. If we are like a tree firmly planted, we have assurances here of our durability. When faced with trial and temptation, those who delight in the Law of the Lord can have confidence that they will endure.
Not only does the tree firmly planted yield its fruit in season, not only does the firmly planted tree endure the harsh elements, but we are told in verse 3 that those who are like a tree firmly planted "will prosper in all they do". Here we are told that Christians will do more than just survive--we are meant to thrive.
The Christian life is not a trouble-free life, but it is a life characterized by stability. The Christian life is not a sorrow-free life, but it is a life characterized by joy.
If this is something you desire for yourself, if you desire a life characterized by stability and joy, then your delight must be in Jesus Christ and in His Word. Amen.