Nice Guys Finish First Psalm 1

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Growing up I used to collect baseball cards—remember those? I can still to this day see myself opening up one of those Fleer packs of baseball cards with the stick of pink gum, and popping it in my mouth. I’d immediately start scrolling through the cards to find any special players—you know the one’s with the highest batting averages, most homeruns and All Star appearances—these were the most valuable. When I’d find one of these special successful players, I’d pull them out and put them in a designated plastic sleeve in one of my baseball card notebooks. Those notebooks filled with special players was my prized possession (until my mother threw it out thinking it was worthless while I was out at college…no I’m not bitter). I spent hour after hour flipping through those notebooks with the special players, idolizing them. Looking back, while I’d do well emulating their performance on the field, I wouldn’t want to mimic many of their characters. For many, these special ball players were great performers, but not the best people.

Creating the Need
You know the problem with our society is we tend to place a higher price tag on performance than we do integrity. We live in a world where people are enamored with achievements, accolades and accomplishments, yet not as impressed with character. As the old saying goes, “Nice guys finish last.” Our text—Psalm 1—says something vastly different, though. It actually shows us that “Nice Guys Finish First.” This Psalm presents us with a man worth emulating—a man who’s full of character. Brothers, we’d do well to cut and paste into our lives the attributes of this righteous man.

But why? Why should we be like the righteous man in our text? Psalm 1 is not a really complicated one to figure out. Just reading through the Psalm, you can see there are two kinds of men in our text—the righteous and the wicked.  Notice how the Psalmist describes the wicked man—he says they are like chaff.  Now he’s using an agricultural analogy to describe the wicked. During the winnowing process, the farmer had one goal—to separate the chaff from the wheat. He would take his winnowing fork and toss the grain into the air over and over. In that process, the heavier kernel of grain would separate from the lighter chaff and fall to the ground but, because the chaff was so light, it would fly off into the air. It didn’t have enough substance or weight to fall to the ground; it just flew off. This is interesting in how the Psalmist describes the wicked man—not much substance. Sure this brother maybe heavy when it comes to his finances, his looks and his possessions, but when it comes to things that really matter in life like character and integrity, he’s like chaff—light, no substance or weightiness.  

On the other hand is the righteous, and notice how the Psalmist describes this brother—he’s a tree. I love this imagery, and we’ll unpack it more in a few minutes, but trees are rooted, weighty masses that give life to those around them. Trees don’t just disappear like chaff. Trees aren’t here one moment and gone the next. There’s a weight to them, and they give life. That’s the righteous man. He’s weighty when it comes to his character. He gives life. Brothers we need to be like trees and not like chaff.

But Why Be Righteous?
But I still haven’t answered the question of why. Why should we men be like the righteous man in our text? The Psalmist answers this question with the very first word in our text—blessed. Why should I give myself to being like the righteous man? Because if I do, I will experience the blessed life. But what does this mean? The word blessed simply means happy, and there I’ve just lost many of you who grew up in the church, because you’ve been taught all your life that to be happy is bad. But this simply is not true. God is for our happiness, He just wants us to make sure that our happiness has the right source.

Psalm 1 has been described by many scholars as being a beatitude. Now if you’re not a Christian, you still probably have heard of this word beatitude because there’s a series of these in the most famous sermon ever given—the Sermon on the Mount. I believe Jesus had in his mind Psalm 1 as He gives the beatitudes. He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” Or to say it another way, Jesus is saying: HAPPY! HAPPY! HAPPY!  Shocking I know! But please notice that none of these happy statements have to do with money, possessions or even health. Jesus doesn’t say blessed is the person who drives an Audi. Or blessed is the person who has a lot of money.  Instead, most of these beatitudes end with something that points to the kingdom of God. In other words, the blessed person is the person who is living in the center of God’s will for their life, where God is their source of happiness and nothing else.

See the biggest question in life is not, “What Am I Here For,” but “Who Am I Here For?” The righteous man has figured that out. What makes him righteous is his life has answered the “who am I here for” question, by saying “it’s God,” and he now lives in total surrender to God. And when the righteous person lives in total surrender to God, he now finds himself living the blessed or happy life.  He’s happy because he walks with God and knows God is with him! To be blessed is to know I’m in the sweet spot of God’s will!

Several years ago, a buddy of mine gotta call that his wife’s water just broke and she was in labor with their first child. He zipped home, picked her up and sped down the freeway to the hospital. On his way, he saw flashing lights behind him—it was a cop. Pulling over, he immediately got his license and registration and gave it to the cop and said he was sorry but his wife was in labor and that’s why he was speeding. The cop handed the items back to him and said I don’t need those, let’s get you to the hospital. The cop now turns his lights on, calls another cop and escorts my buddy and his bride to the hospital as they were speeding. But this time, as they were speeding, my buddy wasn’t stressed or worried he was breaking the law, or was going to get pulled over.  Why? Because he had the blessing of the authorities. He knew he was in the center of their will. And so it is with the righteous man. When you are walking with God, you will live the blessed and happy life, because you know God is with you. BLESSED IS THE MAN! Oh brothers, we need to be righteous men!

THE RIGHT COMPANIONS—PSALM 1:1
We’ve answered the question as to why we should be righteous—when we do we will live the blessed life. Now let’s close with exactly how do I get to experience this blessed life? Brothers, there are only two decisions this man makes that leads to him being righteous and experiencing the blessed life. If we make these two decisions, we will be experiencing the blessed life.The first decision he makes is to have the right companions. Look at verse 1. Now I know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute pastor. Are you saying I can’t have non-Christian friends, or have my non-Christian neighbors over for a meal?” No, not at all. Notice the words wicked, sinners and scoffers are in the plural, which speaks more to the environment, and not to the individual. Also, the words walk, stand and sit speak of someone who is joining themselves in these bad environments. What the Psalmist is warning against is hanging out by way of life in sinful environments, and the hazardous effects that can have on your life.

When I first started driving, I remember being out one night with some friends.  We had just finished dinner and were going over to one of their homes, and since I didn’t know how to get there, I was following them. I do recall they were moving pretty fast, and I was having a hard time keeping up. Finally, they get pulled over by the police, and without even thinking about it, I pull over too.

The cop says to me, “Can I help you?”

I tell him, “No I’m good, I was just following my friends.”

“Oh you were,” he said. “So that means you were speeding, too.  Sit tight, your ticket is coming.” I got a ticket that night for following people who were making bad choices.

Writing to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’”—I Corinthians 15:33. Brothers, if we are going to be righteous men, we have to start by taking inventory of our companions, and the environments we hang out in. Now on the one hand, admittedly, if I were preaching this upstairs to our youth, I’d take time right now to talk a lot about peer pressure, because that’s a real thing when you’re in high school or college.  But I’m talking to mainly adults here who I’m guessing that’s not as big of a deal. So how can we apply this?

As a general rule of thumb, men, if you want to apply Psalm 1 to your life, take inventory of your weaknesses, and weed out anyone in your life who facilitates those weaknesses. If you struggle with alcohol, don’t run with people who encourage you to drink. If drug addiction is a part of your story, don’t run with people who would encourage you to do drugs. If sexual sin is your struggle, then don’t do life with other brothers who do not hold biblical convictions when it comes to sex. Nor should you be in a relationship with anyone who would encourage you to compromise your standards in the area of sex.

Brothers, don’t just see the wicked, sinners or scoffers as other men, also see some women in this crowd who exist to bring you down by encouraging marriage infidelity and sexual promiscuity. As I pray for my sons almost daily, “God frustrate the plans of the Jezebels.” The righteous man avoids the seductive woman. This is a point PROVERBS 5:3–15 makes. Listen as I read…

The Right Companions
One more thing before I move to my last point. It’s just not good enough to avoid the wrong people, we need to run with the right people. God said of Adam that it’s not good for man to be alone. Proverbs says that he who isolates himself is a fool. In the NT the phrase “one another,” is used over a hundred times. God wants us to experience the joys of rich and meaningful and life-giving community. This is the decision the righteous man makes.

If you’re sitting outside by a fire pit and you wanted the fire in one of the logs to go out, what you would do is you’d remove it from the other logs, isolating itself, and soon enough the fire would go out. But, if you wanted to keep the fire going, what you would do is you’d make sure that log was touching other on fire logs in close community. That’s the Christian life, brother. If you want to maintain your fire for Christ, it is absolutely essential you live in close community with other on-fire-brothers for Jesus. Community is key! You have to have the right companions! And I know this is hard, men, because we are idiots when it comes to friendships. Men don’t know how to be friends, and the reason is if you put two men next to each other, the natural default is to compete. We share our strengths. What we do. How our kids are doing, etc.  And this is the problem—when we share our strengths, that instigates competition, but when we share our hurts and weakness, that instigates compassion and unity and vulnerability.

THE RIGHT COMPASS—PSALM 1:2
The second decision the Psalm 1 man made in his life was to not only have the right companions, but to have the right compass, or guiding force in his life. We see this in Verse 2 where it says that his delight is in the law of the LORD, and that he meditates on it day and night. Now the word here for law is torah, which simply means instruction; not information, but instruction. Information is broad, it’s random; instruction is specific and assumes guidance. The Word of God instructs the righteous man. It shows him the way he is to walk, and he bends his life to it. Not only that, but the righteous man delights in God’s Word, meditating on it day and night. He doesn’t just have a quiet time in the morning and then goes about the rest of the day forgetting God. No, he meditates on God’s Word. In fact, the word meditates means a constant chewing or mulling over. This man is a man of the Word, and as a result of him living under the Word of God, he becomes righteous, that is clean.

Men, one of the side effects of living under the authority of God’s Word is we become clean. When we soak ourselves in the Word of God, we become clean.  Growing up, we didn’t have a dishwasher…I was the dishwasher. Sometimes I’d encounter a certain dish, pot or pan that was so dirty that it became really hard to clean. But its here where I learned a trick. I discovered that if I just let the pan soak in the water for a long period of time, that after a while the dirt would just slide off. When that pan just meditated in that water the dirt would just slide off. I didn’t have to scrub too hard, it would just slide off. So it is with us men. Don’t focus on the dirt, focus on meditating in the water of God’s Word and the dirt will come off.

THE RESULT? A LIFE-GIVING FORCE
So what’s the result of us having the right companions and the right compass?  Verse 3 tells us—we will be like a tree planted by streams of water. In context, the streams of water are having the right companions and the right compass.  Men, when we are hanging out with the right brothers, and are living under the authority of the Word of God, this gives us the supply source we need to grow as trees.

But now why does he use the analogy of a tree to depict the righteous man?  The image of a tree is used over 250 times in the Bible. As a metaphor, trees are most commonly used to depict a life-giving force. In fact, the Bible opens and closes with the tree of life. And, of course, right in the middle of the Bible, there’s another tree we call the cross, which gives eternal life to all who yield to Christ. Don’t you see, the tree is life? In the natural, trees are powerful life-giving forces. The birds of the air build their nests and raise their young in trees. We eat the fruit from trees having our lives nourished. We build our homes, where we live, from the wood of trees. Trees give life. What’s more, is that scientists tell us trees are essential to life. We’d have a hard time breathing without trees since they produce the most oxygen. Trees also contribute to the production of rain. Large forests act as purifiers of air. Even dead trees are essential as they help produce fossil fuels. Scientists tell us that if there were no trees life, as we know it on planet earth, would not exist.

What’s true in the natural is true in the spiritual! Righteous men are trees, the Psalmist says. In other words, just like our world needs trees to survive and be healthy, so our society needs a collection of righteous trees known as godly men! Righteous men are not just something nice to have, but are necessary to the health of our society. Men, our kids need righteous trees. Our wives need righteous trees. Our communities need righteous trees. And I love the imagery here—the tree is rooted—which means it’s dependable. It’s not going to disappear or come crashing down with a little bit of trouble. We need rooted men who our families can count on, who aren’t going to disappear!