Treachery and Faithfulness

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Tonight we're looking at the message of Psalm 41 under the heading 'Treachery and Faithfulness',  although I've subtitled it 'A Concern for the Weak and Helpless'. So do turn to Psalm 41.


I wonder if you've experienced the agony of being betrayed by a close friend. And/or the other agonies of this psalm: being confined to your sick bed or having a guilty conscience. And are you asking: Why? Why is all this happening all at once? 

Well the build up to the Rio Olympics was certainly full of treachery – state doping scandals, betrayal of and lack of faithfulness to the whistle-blower by the International Olympic Committee. Then at the Olympics there were the arrests of some Irish officials for the mis-selling of tickets, the boxing judges awarding some medals to completely the wrong contestants, the three US swimmers who let their host nation down by falsely saying they'd been robbed at gunpoint in Rio. Perhaps there are now many officials and some competitors with guilty consciences.

Now we thank God for other athletes witnessing to Jesus: Neymar of the Brazilian football team wearing a headband saying 100% Jesus and the Fijian Rugby Sevens team, all committed Christians, who beat England in the final. Then there's Team GB. What an amazing success story, certainly in terms of medals. Yet we can forget that many went through agonies for years to achieve success – hard training, injuries - some severe. But in the end, on many faces were signs of great happiness and joy, especially on the faces of the women's hockey team. But such joy and happiness can be fleeting, even though they can pass on their skills and experience to younger athletes who will be competing in Tokyo. And happiness, what makes someone truly happy and the source of true happiness are all major themes of this psalm. Indeed another subtitle for this psalm could be, 'The Happy Man'. What makes you happy? Has being a Christian made you happy? What does being happy really mean?

"Blessed [or happy] is the one who considers the poor [or weak, helpless]In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him" (Psalm 41.1)

Happiness in the psalms is often no laughing matter – it goes a great deal deeper than just joy and gladness although it includes joy and gladness in the Lord and the psalms are full of it. Indeed the whole Psalm takes us to the depths of human experience and to certain experiences which are really not enjoyable to have. In fact, they're experiences which are full of agony. King David is clearly going through the agony of a guilty conscience, the agony of ill health, and maybe worst of all the agony of being betrayed by a very close friend. Perhaps you're going through similar agonies. Maybe you know what it's like to be betrayed or ratted on or discarded by a close friend - and it can be agony can't it? It really hurts and can plunge us into despair. Well it happened to Jesus as we were reminded from John 13. The only quotation of Psalm 41 in the New Testament is to do with this betrayal by Judas. Look at Psalm 41.8-9:

"They say, "A deadly thing is poured out on him;
he will not rise again from where he lies."
Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me."

And Jesus quotes it in John 13.18. So just so I know you're all still with me by hearing the rustling of the leaves, do turn to John 13.18, where Jesus referring to Judas says:

"I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.'"

Jesus, amongst many of the pains and sufferings he identified himself with, identified with the pain of being betrayed by a close friend and disciple. This Psalm is full of agony but it begins with this word 'blessed', literally 'happy'.

"Blessed is the one who considers the weak!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;"

The word 'poor' or in the original 'Dahl' doesn't mean specifically economically poor but rather weak or helpless in very many different ways – so we're looking tonight at a concern for the weak and helpless. You see, we shouldn't practise imposition (plucking verses out of the Bible to support what we want to say), but exposition when preaching the Bible – and try to communicate what the Bible actually says - no more and no less.

The Psalm Overall

The Psalm starts by talking about the Lord's goodness to the person who is weak and helpless - verse 2: "the Lord protects him and keeps him alive" , verse 3, "the Lord sustains him" and, literally, 'you carefully make his bed when he is sick' – a picture of the practical goodness of the Lord to those who are weak, a beautiful picture of the Lord tucking people up in bed, showing the practical goodness of the Lord. Verses 4-10: David has sinned against the Lord and is lying on his sick bed – so physically and spiritually he's really down in the dumps, but what's worse is the behaviour of his so called friends. In verse 6 they're full of empty words – they visit and say, 'I thought you might like some grapes and I hope you'll soon be better'. But when they get outside they say to each other, 'I think he's had it, he's mortally sick' and the other says, 'good!' And even his closest friend has lifted up his heel against him - the one who comes to visit regularly, who reads to him and brings DVDs. His so called comforters are rather like Job's useless friends. David is miserable before God and men. But in verses 11-12 he makes a remarkable recovery. So this Psalm and Book 1 of Psalms closes, verse 13, with praise to God.

A Gracious God (v2-3)

The book of Psalms has been called the hymnbook of the helpless. Again and again helpless, weak, needy people turn to God for help and they don't do so in vain. God expects us to behave in the same way. He gives us an example to how best care for those who are weak.

Psalm 82.2-4: the judges are to give justice to the weak and the fatherless. The very nature of God is to be concerned for the weak and helpless. The strong are to follow God's example and not oppress them. Justice is a rare commodity for the weak.

Isaiah 61: this is God's characteristic – good news to the weak and helpless sinners– Jesus quotes this – the gospel. This is why Jesus came.

Psalm 113.5: "who is like the Lord our God who looks far down on the earth," God lifts the poor from the dust and the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes. Do we share God's concern? Is that our specific concern - to do what God does in regard to the weak and helpless? Next,

A Troubled Believer (v4-13)

David's in bed, miserable, with a guilty conscience and wonders if he'll ever get better, with not much sense of God's presence. There's nothing glib here in Psalm 41. He doesn't expect an immediate turnaround as if prayer is simply a switch. God teaches us to be concerned for the weak when we're strong as that's when we throw our weight around, but God teaches us here also to be concerned in another way - by making us weak.
Do you remember the angel wrestling with Jacob in the Old Testament? The angel put his finger out and touched Jacob and he was crippled and so couldn't go on with the fight. God can at any time make us weak. Why? Because it's in his providence and purpose to do that for our good and for his purpose, to change us and the world. You see, in every way God can humble us, which suddenly can make us weak and that can make us more aware of the needs of others. And without that we can become arrogant and intolerable, of no use to anyone.

Chuck Colson was a U.S. politician who was sent to prison for his part in the Watergate Scandal. He became a Christian and through his experience he went on to found Prison Fellowship, which God used greatly to reach those in jail with the gospel. Chuck's book Born Again speaks of his first night in prison. Very alone yet surrounded by 40 men. What it means to be in prison came home to him: loneliness, barrenness all around him, empty shells of men. Despair, stale air, glazed eyes. No humour, just occasional angry outbursts. It got worse for him. Unlike many of the other inmates, he didn't get parole. It was really tough. He was reading Hebrews 2 about how God became man so he could know his sons as brothers and be able to help them. Chuck realised God was speaking to him. He'd had to go to prison for the sake of future gospel ministry. To be free to live the new life in Christ he had to become a prisoner to understand what prison was like and know first-hand the needs and anxieties of inmates. On a tiny scale it was the lesson of Jesus coming to us. Chuck had to go to prison if he was going to minister to prisoners on a large scale. He was being prepared for a mission. What's God preparing you to do for him, in part through your experiences and sufferings?

Somebody recently asked me why something utterly tragic had happened to his family. And he was very clear that he didn't want glib answers. He didn't want the, 'here are the text book answers – goodbye' approach. I found myself helpless to explain. But you see that's what God does to us. It's one reason why we're left in a suffering world. We would be intolerable to live with if the world were not like it is. It's because we're continually broken and humbled that we remain possible to live with. Paul, in 2 Corinthians 1.3-6, makes this plain and is one answer for the person I spoke to who had suffered a tragedy:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation…"

He sees one of the purposes of having been through sufferings is so that we can comfort others. You see Paul doesn't come to people from a theological college saying, 'here are the answers 1, 2, 3'. No, he comes to them from a place where folks can see he has scars as well and has proved the sufficiency of God. It was all part of God's plan that David and Paul should suffer and experience these things – because it deepened their capacity to help others. And it's true for us too. God never wastes a hurt. He's more interested in your character than in your comfort.

A Happy Man (v1)

"Blessed is the one who considers the weak!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;"

And such a person is happy for two reasons. As a believer he has a new fellowship with God, and it's deepened by the experience of forgiveness that he's had as he's turned to God (v11-12). He saw how God's pleased with him, his enemies haven't triumphed over him, God has upheld him in his integrity, he's been healed, and he's recovered from his friends. God leans down to a person in a desperate situation and restores him. God's brought him back and set him in his presence for ever. He's a happy, forgiven man.

It can be difficult and pitiable when people have no-one to turn to. One Banker who recently committed suicide had no-one to turn to. He'd been dishonest and his friends cut him off. The misery meant he couldn't face men anymore, but alas we as Christians have to warn folks that death is no escape for he has now to face God – "it's a terrible thing to fall into the hand of the living God" (Hebrews 10.31). Yet surely our chief feeling for this banker should be pity that he'd no-one to turn to in his failure and hour of need. His real need was the love of Christ.

And the mark of a Christian is not that he never fails, but that in his failure and helplessness he does know where to turn, he does know that even if friends let him down, God does not. Even though man is faithless, God is faithful. When human fellowship has proved untrustworthy then the fellowship and friendship of God is so precious as some of you will know. So of course David's a happy man because he's learnt that God is one who considers the weak and he's experienced that in his own life. God will not let us down. He considers the weak and helpless and will lift them up.

But I want to take us one step further which is why this Psalm is so deep. You see, it's not just by being on the receiving end which makes us happy but also by being on the giving end as members of the family of God. We're to imitate God in considering the weak and help them. In that fellowship with God we find true happiness. 

And here's a great Bible principle. Godly living isn't so much, trying in my own strength to do things I think God wants, but rather it's receiving God's grace and then passing it on – that's the mark of a Christian who's been forgiven by God's wonderful mercy and grace. What God does for me I'm then to pass on to others – which will involve forgiving others all the time, not bearing grudges or storing up resentment and so not having to see the psychiatrist. One of the secrets to living the Christian life is to drop those things off you and you're able to do that if you've been forgiven.

So it is with money, as God prospers us so we give generously in response to God's generosity. So as the gospel comes to us we're to give it away, and the more we give it away the more we get. As the truth comes to us then we're to pass it on. If a church is dead, then it's partly because they've learned something in the past but never passed it on. So if God has helped us when we were helpless and weak then I am to help others who are helpless and weak.

I realise it might not always feel like it, but the happiest people on earth are those who are united with God through faith in Christ and involved in doing his will. Not that that will be easy, but God is the source of true happiness. And the more we're able to do this to those who are neglected the more we come close to the heart of God.

You know I think some of the happiest and fulfilled people in this church are those who minister to the weak and helpless – health care workers, pastoral workers, those who volunteer for Safe Families For Children, those who care for others at Celebrate Recovery or in the international ministry, those who consider those who don't have, experience the happiness of being… Happy is he who 'considers those who don't have' - "the Lord delivers him in the day of trouble." Have you not found a peculiar happiness from bringing friendship, help and the gospel to the weak and helpless? Yet often we can shy away from it and think it's too time consuming for little result and sometimes too frustrating. But verse 1:

"Blessed is the one who considers the weak!
In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him;"

David discovered or rediscovered these truths and passed them on to us in this Psalm through sickness and suffering. Any who are suffering in some way tonight can turn to Almighty God. In him you'll never find your resources exhausted. Perhaps you're still to turn to Christ and put your trust in him for salvation rather like Chuck Colson. Or you'd now like to be involved in ministering to the weak. Well as we do those things we'll know a depth of happiness that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

"All our sickness, all our sorrows Jesus carried up the hill;
He has walked this path before us – he is walking with us still
Turning tragedy to triumph,
Turning agony to praise;
There is blessing in the battle, so take heart and stand amazed."

Rejoice, Stuart Townend & Dustin Kensrue, 2013

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