- Psalm 37:1-11
- Philippians 3:1-11, 4:4-13
Rather than fret over the prosperity of the wicked we must trust and delight in God.
Most of us have trouble remembering things: things such as dates and places, people’s names, your shopping list! We are forgetful. If you are like me you go off to another room or to the garage to get something and on the way you forget what you were looking for!
We also find it hard to remember what is in the Bible or where to find particular verses. We find it difficult to memorise the Scriptures.
People develop all sorts of strategies and aids to help them remember. One way to do this is by using the alphabet. Some of the psalms are written following the Hebrew alphabet. They are known as acrostic poems. The first letters of each stanza in this psalm begins with another letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In the footnotes of my NIV Bible it tells me that Psalm 37 is an acrostic Psalm. That, of course, is lost in our English translations, but it was written like this as an aid to memory.
This psalm is similar in content to Psalm 73. They deal with the same subject. That is easy to remember – 37 and 73 – the same digits reversed.
Psalm 37 was written by David and Psalm 73 by Asaph. Both are wisdom psalms. David and Asaph compared the righteous and the wicked, those who do good and those who do evil. They puzzled over the question: why do the wicked seem to do so well? Why do they prosper? Why does life go smoothly for them, while, at the same time, the righteous are suffering? This is the issue in this psalm: why do the wicked prosper and how should a believer respond to this? This bothers us at times, especially when we see evil growing, and much unbelief, and when it seems as though Satan is winning.
Being a wisdom psalm it reads like the book of Proverbs. It explains what we should do and why we should do it. It is a psalm of instruction and comfort. It was written to help us understand this problem and to help us respond in a godly way.
Verses 1-11 contain the main argument and the rest of the psalm elaborates this. We will not go through these eleven verses exactly in order but will rather group the ideas under two headings. First we’ll consider what we should not do and then what we should do.
THE NEGATIVE: DON’T DO THESE THINGS….
The first negative is in verse 1:
“Do not fret because of evil men”.
This is the primary negative command David wants us to get. He repeats it again in verse 7, and again in verse 8.
The Hebrew word literally means to burn or to be kindled. We have phrases in English that communicate that same idea; we talk about getting “hot under the collar”, about “boiling with rage”, about being “hot and bothered”, or we might warn someone that our “temperature is rising”!
David looked around him at those who were godless in Israel. He saw people who did not serve the Lord and who were perhaps making lots of money by exploiting the poor, underpaying their employees, and charging their fellow Jews interest.
We too fret when we observe unbelievers pursuing their lives without any concern for God and seemingly doing quite well. We see bullies holding up hard working individuals and stealing from them their hard earned income. We see the godless living selfish, self-centred lives without any concern for others and through that grow wealthy.
We can also see this godlessness on a larger scale in society. I voted a certain way at the last Federal election because I wanted to have my say through a plebiscite about marriage equality. I had my opportunity to have my say through the vote and we will have to wait and see how history unfolds from this point on.
It is easy to fret about all this, to get hot and bothered about it, or to be anxious and worried.
David warns us against this in verse 8:
“Do not fret – it leads only to evil.“
If you are fretting about evil doers then you will feel resentment against them; you will grumble about them and become bitter.
You will also be tempted to take matters into your own hands – to repay evil for evil, to take revenge.
David knew that from personal experience. He and his men had looked after the shepherds and the flocks of a man named Nabal. They had protected them and had not stolen anything for themselves. One day David sent some of his men to Nabal to ask for some food as a gesture of goodwill for the way they had looked after his property. Nabal gave them a harsh and negative response. David got upset about that and he and his men armed themselves with their swords and went on their way to wipe out all the men in that household! Fortunately he was persuaded not to do this by Nabal’s wife, Abigail, a wise and beautiful woman (1 Sam 25).
Do not fret – it leads only to evil.
The second negative we read is also in verse 1;
“Do not “be envious of those who do wrong.”
This is a temptation we can experience when we see unbelievers doing well. They build a larger home, buy a flash car, purchase a holiday house and a boat, make expensive holidays overseas.
You look at how well they are doing and you are jealous. Perhaps you are jealous of those who keep working on the Lord’s day, getting more done, or who use the day to head out on their boat! Perhaps you envy those who do cash jobs, avoid tax, underpay their employees, overcharge their customers and become very wealthy in the process.
Envy is an easy trap to fall into. Covetousness is a common sin. And these sins make us discontented with our own lives, dissatisfied with our situation.
David urges us not to be jealous, for, he says in verse 2, “like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”
Think of a tree that is growing well. It flourishes for a number of years; it has lots of new growth and green leaves and looks healthy and well. Then suddenly the leaves shrivel up and go brown and fall off. The branches go dry and brittle and the tree dies.
This is what will happen to the wicked. For a while they will prosper, but then “like green plants they will soon die away.” (vs 2),
First John 2:15–17 says,
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—does not come from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.”
We will never be deeply fulfilled or “happy” with the things this world has to offer. If we place our joy and hope in God first, He will meet all of our needs. He will even grant our wants, as our hearts’ desires begin to match up with His will. If we truly place priority on the Lord, chances are our heart’s greatest desire will not be earthly desires, but eternal treasures in Christ.
The apostle Paul wrote;
“For we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it.” (1 Tim 6:7).
This statement is the key to spiritual growth and personal fulfilment. We should honour God and centre our desires on Him, and should be content with what God is doing in our lives.
Whether we are a millionaire or a pauper, one day we all will die and have to face the judgement seat of Christ. Everyone leaves the world as they entered it – with no earthly possessions. We all face eternity on the same level – with nothing in our hands.
One day we will all stand before God only with what we have in our hearts. For the wicked that is nothing. Do not envy them. Psalm 1 says that “they are like the chaff that the wind drives away.”
Do not fret; do not envy, and the third negative is “Do not be angry.” Verse 8:
“Refrain from anger and turn from wrath.”
Sometimes it is right to be angry. There is a righteous anger that we feel over injustice and evil in the world.
But there is also an unrighteous anger. This is that sort of anger that could be expressed in a suppressed bitterness or in open rage. Unrighteous anger is both sinful and ungodly. It is to be avoided by the Christian.
Anger and worry (or fretting) are two very destructive emotions. They reveal a lack of faith that God loves us and is in control. We should not worry; instead, we should trust in God, giving ourselves to him for his use and safekeeping. When we dwell on our problems, we will become anxious and angry. But if we concentrate on God, and His goodness, we will find peace.
We need not be angry if we remember the truth expressed in verse 9 – that “evil men will be cut off”. David wants us to take a long term view of our situation. Look at this in the light of eternity. Look at the big picture. The wicked may prosper for a short time but, “A little while, and the wicked will be no more.” (Verse 10).
These are the negatives; this is what not to do: Do not fret, do not be jealous, do not be angry.
THE POSITIVES: WHAT TO DO.
The psalm began with the negative; Do not fret. But right after this, in verse 3, it introduces a positive; “Trust in the Lord.” This is the key positive note. This is the main command repeated a number of times over in the psalm in various ways. To trust in God is to rely on him, to depend on him, to lean on him.
David did this for all those years when he was fleeing from Saul, avoiding capture. He trusted that God would look after him. He relied on God day by day. You can read that in many of his psalms.
You need to do the same. Trust in God. Put your life in his hands believing that he will look after you.
But you must also “do good”. Trusting in God is not a matter of sitting back and doing nothing. It is not “letting go and letting God”. Trust is not the same as idleness.
Rather, true faith is expressed in doing good. Express your faith in God in a life of active obedience.
This is the best response to evil.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21).
Forgiveness involves both attitudes and actions. If you find it difficult to feel forgiving toward someone who has hurt you, try responding with kind actions. Lend them a helping hand. Give them a smile. Say g’day to them. Many times you will discover that right actions lead to right feelings.
This is also the best remedy for fretting. If you are active in obedience to God, then that will prevent you from wallowing in self-pity and it will keep you from being discontent. We know that “the devil finds work for idle hands”, so keep busy. Do good.
This is probably the intent of that next phrase; “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” That can also be translated “and cultivate faithfulness.” David wanted the people of Israel to remain in the position God had placed them and to do their duty, to do good and to be faithful.
So what are we to do. Trust in the Lord at all times.
The second positive is expressed in verse 4:
“Delight yourself in the Lord.”
There is a progression here: We go from trust in the Lord (v3) to delighting in him (v4).
Unbelievers find delight in wealth and riches and pleasure and fame;
believers find delight in the Lord.
To delight in someone means to experience great pleasure and joy in his or her presence. This happens only when we know that person well. Therefore, to delight in the Lord, we must know Him even better. Knowledge of God’s great love for us will indeed give us delight.
John Piper has written a book called “Desiring God“. He wrote it to encourage Christians to delight in God, to find their joy in him. He rephrases the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism;
“What is the chief end of man? The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
He changes one word so it reads;
“The chief end of man is to glorify God by enjoying him forever.”
Don’t fret about the prosperity of the wicked or envy their wealth – that will sap the joy out of your life. Rather take delight in your relationship with the Lord.
Rejoice in the Lord, wrote the apostle Paul to the Philippians (4:4). He wrote that about our joy in the Lord Jesus and in his great work on the cross. Everything that Paul had before he knew Christ he counted as rubbish in comparison with gaining Christ and being found in him (Phil 3:7ff).
Do you want to be happy? Do you want joy and delight in your life? Then trust in the Lord Jesus and follow him and rejoice in all that he promises.
For, “…he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs 4)
The desires of the genuine believer are not casual wishes – a new iPad or a more powerful laptop, a later model car, this season’s fashion. Nor are our desires even for better health or for less trials.
The deepest desires of the Christian are to glorify God on earth, to grow in grace, to increase in our knowledge of Christ, to be more holy and useful, to have more comfort and more courage.
Our greatest desire is to anticipate the rest and glory of heaven and to see Christ and to be like him, and so to enjoy the fullness and completion of our salvation!
The closer you live to God, and the more you delight in him, the more his desires will become your desires, the more you will ask for the very things he wants to give you.
Think of Moses who wanted to see God’s glory, and of Solomon who wanted wisdom, and of the apostle Paul who prayed that we might better know the love of Christ.
“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.” (vs 4)
The third positive is in verse 5:
“Commit your way to the Lord”
The Hebrew word for commit is literally the word “roll”. It pictures carrying a heavy burden and then rolling it off you and laying it down. In the same way we are to roll our burdens at the feet of Jesus.
This is another way of describing your trust in the Lord (cf. vs 3).
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).
Carrying your worries, stresses, and daily struggles by yourself shows that you have not trusted God fully with your life. It takes humility, however, to recognise that God cares, to admit your need, and to let others in God’s family help you. Sometimes we think that struggles caused by our own sin and foolishness are not God’s concern. But when we turn to God in repentance, He will bear the weight of those struggles. Letting God have your anxieties calls for action, not some passive response. Don’t submit to circumstances, but to the Lord who controls circumstances.
Are you doing that? If not, will you do this?
Will you roll your burden to the Lord?
Will you cast your cares on him?
Will you commit your way to him?
If you do this “He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.” (verse 6).
One of the most aggravating things that can happen to you as a believer is when you do what is right and you suffer for it! When you obey God’s commands and you are punished. When you do good and you are persecuted.
Injustices like these are hard to take. David had experiences like that, so did Nehemiah, and no doubt, so have you.
But David again wants us to take a long term view of this life. One day God will make it clear what really happened; he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, he will let everyone see the justice of your cause. Everything will be brought out into the open. So don’t despair.
Trust in the Lord, delight in him, commit your way to him, and finally, verse 7,
“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.”
This is the answer to fretting and envy and anger: Be still; be at rest; be quiet; wait patiently.
Our lives are like watching a western movie where you know the bloke wearing the white hat will eventually triumph. You are not sure exactly how the story will end but you know that in the end all be resolved; evil will be defeated and the good guys will win. Justice will be done. Good will triumph.
This is the message of psalm 37. This final outcome of the righteous and the wicked is summed up in verses 10-11; it is the contrast between retribution and reward.
Don’t fret about the prosperity of the wicked because they will be no more; but the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace.
For the people of Israel that was the promise of the land of Canaan; their own land flowing with milk and honey; every man living in peace under his own vine and fig tree.
For us it is the promise of this earth, and eventually the promise of the new heaven and a new earth.
To inherit that you need to trust in God and do good, delight yourself in him, commit your way to him, and be patient. Then he will give you the desires of your heart and one day you “will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (PS 23:6).
Message preached by Elder Bob Chopping on 7 January 2017 (The sermon is an edited version of the original sermon “Don’t Fret” by John Haverland, 1/11/2007).