CHOOSING A PERMANENT PATH
Psalm 1 (CSB)
How happy is the one who does not walk in the advice of the wicked
or stand in the pathway with sinners or sit in the company of mockers! 2 Instead, his delight is in the Lord’s instruction, and he meditates on it day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted beside flowing streams that bears its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. 4 The wicked are not like this; instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand up in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. 6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
Habits – we all have them. Some of our habits are inherited. Some are learned from others. And some just seem to attach themselves to us. Habits can be good things that we like to do and things that make our life better. But they can also be bad things that we don’t like to do, and it frustrates us when we keep doing them.
The Bible encourages us to learn to do the good things, and to keep doing the things we have learned. That is the idea behind this sermon series. I wanted to identify some of the habits that the Bible encourages.
We need to repent of the bad habits and replace them with good habits. I think that if we just concentrate on learning and becoming proficient in the good habits, we will be less bothered by the bad habits. We only have so much time. If we carefully manage our time – giving quality time to quality habits – it will help us avoid getting stuck on worthless habits.
So far, I mentioned the habit of returning to the Lord when we looked at Deuteronomy 4, and the habit of passing on your faith when we looked at 2 Timothy 1 last Sunday. Today I am going to look at Psalm 1, and talk about the habit of choosing a permanent path.
This psalm lists two paths that a person can follow (6).
The psalm boils all our life choices down to two directions – two paths. Either we are walking in the “way of the righteous” or we are walking in the “way of the wicked.”
Jesus talked about those two directions too. He said…
• “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 CSB).
Jesus taught that choosing the way of the righteous is going to be more difficult than choosing the way of the wicked. The gate into the way of righteous is narrow. It is restricted. The way of the righteous is a difficult road, and there will be few who find it.
Jesus also compared the ultimate results of choosing the way of the righteous with the ultimate results of choosing the way of the wicked. When all is said and done, those who choose the path of the righteous will have life – because that road leads to life. But those who choose the path of the wicked will be destroyed – because that road leads to destruction.
Jesus is talking about the ultimate results of a lifetime of choices in a certain direction here. The Bible teaches that both of these paths will lead to something permanent. The way of the righteous will will lead to permanent life. The phrase “eternal life” is found 41 times in the New Testament, and that is what it means – a permanent life that Jesus will give us to replace these temporary lives we are living now. We begin our permanent lives at our resurrection.
But the way of the wicked also leads to something permanent. Paul called it “the penalty of eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). And that word “eternal” is the same word that describes the life that believers will inherit at the resurrection. Eternal means permanent. The two ultimate destinies are two permanent destinies: permanent life or permanent destruction.
I entitled today’s sermon “choosing a permanent path” because something that will be permanently destroyed is not really permanent. The point that the psalmist is making in Psalm 1 is that only one path is a truly permanent one, because only one path leads to permanent life.
The psalm lists three obstacles to the permanent path (1).
If someone decides to take a road to somewhere, that person needs to avoid all the obstacles that will keep him or her from reaching that destination. This psalm lists three obstacles.
• First, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop walking in the advice of the wicked.
We are living in a sinful world because our ancestors decided to walk in the advice of a certain serpent. He gave Eve some wicked advice, and she decided to walk in that advice. Her husband joined in the same rebellion.
But Satan has not stopped giving advice. He is still deceiving, deluding, and destroying people by convincing them to go in the wrong direction – to take the wrong path. In fact, Jesus told us that most people in most nations would choose the path to destruction most of the time. We can preach the good news but most people will consider it bad news. We can point the way to life but most will choose the way that leads to death.
In Eden, Satan disguised himself by using a serpent. Now, he is passing on his bad advice by disguising himself as well. We can get bad advice from government officials, from school teachers, from our televisions and computers – even from our family members and friends.
Sometimes people have been forced to disobey certain laws, because some laws have been built on the advice of the wicked. Sometimes judges decide their cases on the advice of the wicked.
• Second, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop standing in the pathway with sinners.
When you are standing in the road, you have your choice which direction you will go. But when people see you standing there with sinners, they are going to assume that you have chosen to sin along with them.
If we are serious about walking in the way of the righteous, we need to make it clear to the world that we have made that choice. The Bible teaches that we make that clear by acknowledging Christ before others.
• “Therefore, everyone who will acknowledge me before others, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever denies me before others, I will also deny him before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32-33 CSB).
You can either acknowledge Christ, or you can try to hide yourself by standing in the pathway with sinners. That road heading to destruction is crowded with people trying to blend in – not wanting to take a stand – not wanting to be different. Most of them are not trying to be bad people. They don’t have to be bad people. All they have to do is stand there – and refuse to acknowledge Jesus before others. By not making the choice for Jesus, they are condemning themselves to hell by default.
• Third, to reach the permanent destination, we need to stop sitting in the company of mockers.
Mockers are people who are determined to keep doing what they are doing, and criticize or make fun of those who try to stop them.
The apostle Peter warned that “Scoffers will come in the last days scoffing and following their own evil desires, saying, “Where is his ‘coming’ that he promised? Ever since our ancestors fell asleep, all things continue as they have been since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:3-4 CSB).
But Peter goes on to explain that these scoffers deliberately overlook the whole Noah’s Flood thing. God promised to destroy the earth with a flood. Most of the planet – all but eight people – said “flood schmud” – but then the rain came, and “the world of that time perished when it was flooded” (2 Peter 3:6).
Peter taught that “the present heavens and earth are stored up for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly” (2 Peter 3:7). The mockers don’t want us to teach that. They don’t want to believe it. But refusing to accept the truth does not stop it from being the truth.
The psalm shows us how to access the permanent path (2).
If a person wants to be walking on the way of the righteous, that person should delight in the Lord’s instruction, and meditate on it day and night. This Bible is the Lord’s instruction. Some people say BIBLE stands for Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth. No, that’s not right. Our goal is not leaving earth, it’s eternal life in the restored universe. BIBLE stands for Basic Instruction Before Living Eternally.
How can you tell if a person is delighting in the Lord’s instruction? Well, you are not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but the cover is usually a pretty good indication of what the book owner delights in. A Bible that is falling apart is usually owned by someone who isn’t falling apart.
Nowadays, lots of us own Bibles as apps on our computers and phones and tablets. How often do we access these treasures? No matter what the medium it is in, the Bible is the word of God. We should delight in his instruction.
But if the words stay on the page and do not penetrate our minds and inform our lives, then we haven’t gone far enough. We need to be meditating on the words of the Bible day and night. The Bible is the GPS for our trip on the path that leads to life. Whenever I go anywhere alone, I have my GPS on, and I allow it to tell me which road to take, and which to avoid. That’s what the Bible can do for the person who has decided to choose the permanent path.
The psalm compares the destinations of the right path and the wrong path (3-5).
Notice that there are two similes in this psalm. Those who take the permanent path are said to be “like a tree” (3) and those who avoid the permanent path are said to be “like chaff” (4). Think about that for a minute. If you are imagining a tree, you probably see a large oak of a beautiful maple. You see strength. You see stability. You see something that is going to be there tomorrow and next year.
But what comes to your mind when you hear the word chaff? Chaff is the stuff that the wind blows away. It’s the stuff that is discarded when the harvest is gathered. Chaff is the temporary stuff.
John the Baptist predicted that when Jesus comes again, he is going to have a winnowing shovel in his hand “and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn. But the chaff he will burn with fire” (Matthew 3:12).
The Book of Revelation gives us a list of those people who are the chaff and tells us when they will be burned up. Is says “But the cowards, faithless, detestable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars—their share will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 CSB).
There are two permanent destinies – permanent life or permanent death. The first death is not permanent because we will all be resurrected from it. But the second death is permanent. Once you are burned up in the lake of fire – that’s all she wrote.
Today’s psalm says that we can avoid that terrible destiny. But to get to the right destination, you have to get off the wrong path. You have to choose the permanent path. You have to delight in the Lord’s instruction, and meditate on it day and night. You have to trust your life to the LORD. He is watching over the way of the righteous.