Psalm 1: Two Kinds of Righteousness
David Bahn-Reflections Podcast
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Years ago I learned of an interesting way to think of theology. There is Einsteinian theology and Newtonian theology. I wrote about this last May. A simple explanation: Newtonian theology is the application of faith to our outward actions. We are good neighbors, faithful friends, pay our bills, respect those in authority, and behave in a decent and ethical manner. Those are all good ways of loving our neighbor. Anyone can do this. Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Christian alike. Only Christians truly love God, however, so there is a distinction between followers of Jesus and others, outwardly speaking.
Looking deeper – which is what God does, he looks at the heart – we have a more important righteousness. It is the righteousness of faith. This is the righteousness of (from) God of which Paul speaks in Romans 1:16-17, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” This is Einsteinian theology. It goes to the core of things. It’s not a matter of mere outward observance. It’s a matter of the heart.
All this is to say that Psalm 1 is speaking of the true righteousness of faith that is revealed in outward actions. And to some extent even those outside the Christian faith (Jewish faith in David’s day) may experience the benefits of outward godly living. That is the basis of decent and orderly society. We experience it every day here in the United States. It’s by no means perfect, but generally speaking people stop at red lights, drive on the right side of the road, and carry out orderly business transactions.
But that’s not the concern I want to emphasize here. I want us to realize that we who focus so much energy on inward righteousness of faith (truly essential) must not neglect acting on that faith. Or as John the Baptizer put it, if we have repented, we must bring forth the fruits of repentance.” (Matthew 3:8) We who believe in Jesus ought to live outwardly in keeping with his commands. After all, Jesus’ Great Commission includes not only the command to baptize, but to teach the nations all that he has commanded us. (cf. Matthew 28:20)
In another previous post I shared an imaginary conversation between Jesus and a good Lutheran:
Jesus: Love your neighbor.
Lutheran: O, Lord Jesus, forgive me. I have failed to love my neighbor as I should. I have hurt and harmed him. Forgive me!
Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. Now, love your neighbor.
Lutheran: Thank you Lord Jesus! And I will try to love my neighbor, but I know I won’t do it perfectly. Even my best efforts will fail to love him as I should.
Jesus: I know that. I forgive you. I will help you. Now, love your neighbor.
Lutheran: Lord Jesus, I will try to love my neighbor, but I don’t want to do it with false motives. I know I cannot please you or earn your favor by loving my neighbor, for I am a sinner.
Jesus: Yes. I know that. But you are also a saint. Now, love your neighbor.
The promises of this Psalm apply to any follower of Jesus who is willing to reject the influences of this world and love his or her neighbor. We won’t do it perfectly. But certainly we must do this – not to gain God’s favor, or even merely to get these promised blessings – because God has loved us so fully in Jesus, and by reflecting that love to others we honor him. That’s what I want to do, and I pray you do also, Dear Reader.