Being Blessed

What do the words, 'Praise the Lord', mean to you? They can just be a religious cliché. There was a religious TV show in America called 'Praise the Lord'. It was presented by Jimmy and Tammy Bakker. The title may have been embarrassing. So it was shortened to the initials of 'Praise the Lord, 'PTL'. Before long the initials 'PTL' were said to stand for 'People that Love', and before long after that, poor Jimmy Bakker was in bed with a secretary and in prison for fraud. On the other hand Psalm 112 begins, 'Praise the Lord' and means every word. Psalm 112 is the Psalm we come to, tonight, the last in our studies on the book of Psalms. All you need to know by way of introduction is that this Psalm is related to the previous one, Psalm 111, in form and style. They are both alphabetical acrostics: each Hebrew half-line begins with a new letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. And they both begin in their first verse with the words - 'Praise the Lord.' So what really is the Psalmist saying? Well, first, this is a command. The Psalmist is ordering people to 'praise the Lord.' Praising the Lord does not come naturally. By nature - by the way we're born - we do not praise the Lord. So the command 'Praise the Lord' is telling people to do something they do not automatically want to do. A failure to 'Praise the Lord' is the essence of sin. Centuries later than this Psalm, Paul says in Romans 1 verse 21 that the godlessness and wickedness of men and women is seen in their not 'praising the Lord':

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him.

And sin still lurks on in the people of God even when they are trusting God. They do not automatically praise him, otherwise the psalmist would not have given this command. Secondly, this command is not about praising any Lord. It is about praising the Lord. In the original, these words are 'Hallelu Yah'. Praise 'Yah' or 'Yahweh' which the older versions of the bible translate as 'Jehovah'. This is not praising some vague deity - some ground of our being or the God of other faiths. This is praising the God revealed to the Jewish people in the Old Testament and revealed supremely and finally in Jesus Christ. That is who you are to praise. Jesus says that there has to be worship not only 'in Spirit' but 'in Truth'. We are to praise 'Jehovah (Yahweh)' - 'Hallelu Yah.' So you need to use your mind as well as your emotions in worship. You need to know who God is and what he has done; and you need to know how he treats his people in the present. That is the subject of this Psalm. I now want us to look at the Psalm under the following headings. First, 'EDUCATION AND LIFT'; secondly, PERILS ON THE WAY; and thirdly, THE WICKED. First, 'EDUCATION AND LIFT' (verses 1b-4) Let's read those verses again:

Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who finds great delight in his commands. {2} His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. {3} Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. {4} Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

Who is the Psalmist talking about? He is not talking about a nominal believer - someone who goes to church (or in those days, the Temple) only when he had to. No! He is talking about a person who is a committed believer. He says, 'Blessed is the man who fears the Lord' - he is in awe of God because he is so great. He is a 'man who finds great delight in his commands.' He sees that God's commands are not just capricious. God is not just wanting to be awkward like some sadistic Sergeant Major. No! His commands are good and for our best. So this man 'delights in his commands'. He is no nominal believer. What then is the result of being such a person: answer - there are significant measurable benefits or blessings. Look at verse 2 and 3:

His children will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. {3} Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.

His children will do well and wealth and riches will come his way. And his 'righteousness' - that probably refers to the 'right things' he does - will have a lasting value. Do you believe that? It is here in the bible. And we had it in our Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy. You say, that is just the Old Testament. Is it? What did Paul say in Galatians 6.7: 'A man reaps what he sows.' And in 2 Corinthians chapter 9 where he quotes directly from this Psalm, Psalm 112, Paul applies that principle to giving money. Of course, there is an eternal harvest. And that is the great meaning behind this teaching. There is an eternity in store. This life and the good things of this life are nothing by comparison. And you are to lay up treasure in heaven, not on earth. But on earth there are the first fruits of eternity - not the full harvest but the first fruits. That is what the Old Testament teaches and that is what the New Testament appears to teach. And that is what social science is now proving to be the case. It is being discovered that living according to God's will is beneficial in terms of 'general well-being' and lack of 'psychological distress'; family stability; marital stability; marital satisfaction; physical health and rates of mortality; teenage pregnancy; crime and delinquency and, yes, poverty. A book I have just written documents the evidence. You can see it, all being well, next January. We are talking hard facts. What this Psalm teaches is true. But don't get me wrong. The bible does not allow you to develop a prosperity gospel from this teaching. It does not allow you to say, 'if I obey God, I will automatically do financially better than others; I will be fit all my life; my children will all be paragons of virtue.' No! Things don't always turn out like that. God allows his people to suffer. And sometimes the suffering is almost unbearable. We are thinking about that on Sunday mornings as we study Job. It is unbearable for Christians in East Timor and the Southern Sudan at the moment. And on an individual level, there are people here tonight who feel anything but 'blessed' by God. Yet they delight in his commands. Maybe that is why they are suffering - they are opposed and attacked for being faithful. You say, how then does all this fit in with the Psalm. Well, first of all, the social science findings are only 'averages'; and it is compared with non-believers. It is 'on average' - when you take the big picture, that God's people do better. There will be many who do not fit the average. And even whole regions - like the Southern Sudan, and East Timor at the moment don't fit those averages. Then God can allow you to do well in one area of your life but you are knocked for six at the very same time in another area. God allows suffering and pain for our good. Hebrews 12.6:

"the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son."

And, of course, the Psalmist here in Psalm 112 admits that this is the case. Look at verse 4:

Even in darkness light dawns for the upright, for the gracious and compassionate and righteous man.

The upright, the gracious, the compassionate and the righteous person, will have times when he or she is 'in darkness'. And Deuteronomy talked about that dreadful desert experience after the Exodus. Who is 'in the desert' or 'in darkness' tonight? Something has gone radically wrong with your life. Something has gone radically wrong with your children or your wealth. As you read verses 2 and 3 about 'being blessed', you say, 'That's not me.' But don't forget the promise here of light some day. And don't draw the wrong conclusion. Don't say, 'because I am suffering, I must have sinned. I must not be loved by God.' Nonsense! Sometimes suffering does come from sin. But it is dangerous to argue that all suffering comes from sin. People got that wrong in Jesus day. Do you remember the incident recorded in Luke 13. Verse 1:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. {2} Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? {3} I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.

And because this is such an important lesson, Jesus goes on to give another example:

{4} Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? {5} I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."

Do you see the logic there. Jesus is saying that you can't say that the poor East Timorean boy we saw hacked to death last week on our TV screens, or those Airtours cabin crew who died on Friday in the plane crash in Glasgow were worse sinners than you or I. No! You cannot say that all suffering is due to sin. But - and this is an important but - Jesus does not deny this fundamental principle that we are talking about - the connection between righteousness and positive consequences. He says, 'unless you repent, you too will all perish' - yes, ultimately; but in this context, surely, in the nearer future (as was proved by the sack of Jerusalem in AD 70). The logic is simple. Not all suffering comes from our being especially sinful. But being sinful will lead to suffering or 'perishing'. There are 'the pleasures of sin' but these are only 'for a short time' (Hebrews 11.25). They do not last for ever. They certainly will not last for eternity. There is a lot more to be said about the problem of suffering, and I will be continuing on with this subject next Sunday morning when I am going to be preaching about Job and how the problem was overcome for him. But let's not hide the problem. There is undoubtedly a problem of suffering - of 'bad things happening to good people'. This is because of God's assurance that 'blessed is the man that fears the Lord.' When he is not blessed, questions are asked. The bible gives us sufficient answers - not as many as we would like. What the bible does not allow us to do, is either to deny the reality of suffering of God's people, or to ignore this teaching here in the Psalm and other passages like it. These point to a reality. The experts in the social study of church growth give it a name, 'education and lift'. John Wesley spoke about this phenomenon. He saw that when people became Christians they didn't drink like they used to. They didn't gamble or womanize their money away. In general, they got wealthier and had a better life-style. But then, so often, they put their trust in wealth and not in God, and they disobeyed God and the cycle had to begin all over again. This is what Wesley actually wrote:

Religion must necessarily produce both industry and frugality, and these cannot but produce riches. But as riches increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches ... Is there no way to prevent this - this continual decay of pure religion.

This is what seems to be in the Psalmists mind. That brings us to our second heading. Secondly, PERILS ON THE WAY (verses 5-9) Look at verses 5-9:

Good will come to him who is generous and lends freely, who conducts his affairs with justice. {6} Surely he will never be shaken; a righteous man will be remembered forever. {7} He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. {8} His heart is secure, he will have no fear; in the end he will look in triumph on his foes. {9} He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor, his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be lifted high in honour.

So who is the man who is blessed, to whom good will continue to come and who fears no bad news because he trusts the Lord and so 'his heart is secure?' Answer: he is the man who is generous and lends freely and who is just or honest. The implication is that this might not be so. He might so easily be ungenerous and dishonest. This was Wesley's point and this is the point of the writer of Deuteronomy. When you are blessed, when God prospers you, you can start to disobey. Far from praising God and thanking God for his goodness to you, you ignore God, you trust in yourself and not in him; and you go your own way. And before long your attitude to money will change. It is less of a problem when you don't have any, but once you get some, as you drift away from the Lord, money becomes an idol. It takes first place and you want more of it and so you want to keep what you have. A marker of some people drifting spiritually is that they do not take seriously their stewardship of money - and they do not give to God and to those in need. Listen again to Deuteronomy 8.10-11 - we heard this in our Old Testament reading:

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. {11} Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.

And Deuteronomy 8.17:

You may say to yourself, "My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me."

The Psalmist knew this could happen to the man who was blessed by God. Then he would not 'scatter abroad his gifts to the poor' (verse 9 of Psalm 112). Nor would his right actions (his righteousness), therefore, last for ever. He would not be 'lifted high in honour.' He would be like Dodi Fayed and Princess Diana. For all their wealth, how sad to be remembered in history for dying in the process of having a 'four month ill judged affair' (as one of the late Princess's friends said on the Radio yesterday morning). How much better to be remembered as that Christian business man from Birmingham, Bob Edmiston, who was reported in the papers this week as planning to give £100 million to Christian work. Thirdly, THE WICKED (verse 10) Look at verse 10:

The wicked man will see and be vexed, he will gnash his teeth and waste away; the longings of the wicked will come to nothing.

That is the other side of the coin to the blessing that comes to the man who fears the Lord and finds great delight in his commands. Social science, as I have said, is suggesting that it is true in this life - to a degree and on average - that people who do not fear the Lord fare worse than those who do. But what the bible teaches, and social science does not teach, is that this is certainly true for all eternity - even for the wicked who have a good life for all their time on earth. Hebrews 9:27:

man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.

And the bible teaches that there is a heaven as well as a hell - so all those of God's people who on this earth have a life-time of suffering can look forward to a wonderful eternal future. That is why Paul can say, 2 Corinthians 4.17:

our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.

I must conclude. The choice is clear. There are two ways. One is the way of blessing - for the man who fears the Lord. And the other is the way of the wicked man. Which way are you going? As the New Testament makes so clear, the way to fear the Lord is to follow and trust in Jesus Christ. How do you do that? You admit that you have been ignoring God and not praising him and in consequence you have been selfish, and perhaps dishonest. You admit that you have no security because you are trusting only in yourself. You admit that you can fear 'bad news' and your heart is not 'steadfast'. You then believe and trust that Christ died for you - for all of those things - on the cross. He bore your guilt. And you commit your self to him for life and eternity and receive his Holy Spirit into your life, who makes Jesus real to you day by day. Who needs to do that now?.

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