[Bible, Ministry & More] Psalm 1: The righteous versus the wicked

Madison is the Communications Production Assistant at the Arkansas Baptist State Convention. She has her BA in Christian Studies and a minor in English/Writing from Ouachita Baptist University, and she is currently a student at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary working to complete her MDiv with an emphasis in Women’s Ministry. Madison attends Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, where her husband, Kord Offenbacker, works as the Pastoral Assistant. She loves God and loves ministering to young women. She is passionate about discipleship, encouragement, and training women to know God and His Word deeply.

Psalm 1 (ESV):

1 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. 

Psalm 1 is the introductory psalm for the entire book of Psalms. Essentially, David is encouraging the audience to pursue lives of righteousness that honor the Lord. Because a genuine lifestyle of godliness will produce spiritual fruit, this psalm implies that the believer will experience spiritual growth as they fully seek the Lord. 

One of the most interesting things about this psalm to me is that David contrasts the life of a righteous person with the life of someone who is considered “wicked.” Oftentimes, we consider someone wicked if they are evidently evil. When I was younger, I would have pictured “evil” as the “bad characters” in kids movies, or maybe even someone who seems morally wrong in our culture. Yet the Hebrew word for “wicked” means that someone is characterized by godlessness. The “wicked” described in this psalm are simply those who are not pursuing God and have no godliness in them.

Those considered wicked are the ones not pursuing God and the ones who have no godliness in them – that is a statement of truth worth reflecting on.

So, what does it mean to live as a righteous person? What does it mean – according to Psalm 1 – to pursue God? These two lists below have phrases from Psalm 1 to explain: 

A Righteous Person (Defined by Psalm 1):

  • Does not walk in the counsel of the wicked 
  • Does not position himself/herself with sinners
  • Does not sit with those who scoff/mock
  • Delights in the law of the Lord
  • Meditates on the law of the Lord constantly
  • Positioned for growth, produces spiritual “fruit,” and does not wither away; prospers spiritually
  • The Lord knows their ways

A Wicked Person (Defined by Psalm 1):

  • Continuously walks in the counsel of the wicked 
  • Actively associates with sinners/scoffers
  • Does not delight in the law of the Lord
  • Does not meditate on the law of the Lord
  • Does not produce spiritual fruit
  • Does not position himself/herself for growth
  • Withers away/is driven away for lack of growth
  • Will not stand in judgment or amidst the righteous; they will perish 

Let’s look back at verses one and two, which say, “1 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” (ESV). In Psalm 1, the word “blessed” means “happy.” Walking closely with God, delighting in God and seeking God wholeheartedly is what will truly lead to a person living a fulfilling, joyful and purposeful life. When we delight in God and in His Word, that separates us from what the wicked are doing, as that positions us to know God deeper and to grow more as a believer.

As for you, what does it look like for you to daily delight in the Lord? How do you consistently focus on God throughout your day? Daily delighting in God is an important habit for us to practice. Perhaps this can take place through studying His Word, praying, fasting or worshipping in some way.

Verses 3-4 cultivate the imagery of a tree, as David writes, “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” (ESV). Really think about this imagery and how a tree functions. When a tree  is connected to its roots, when it is sustained by water, and when it bears the fruit it was designed to bear, then it is typically a healthy, flourishing tree. As believers, we will experience suffering and trials, but ultimately we have this hope that in Christ, we can abide and bear fruit in due season (John 15). 

In the spring of 2020, I planted an avocado seed (I just love eating avocados!). Over time, this seed slowly grew. Before I knew it, I had this short, thin avocado tree. The leaves started growing longer and greener, and the tree itself was getting taller and taller. My husband and I left for a trip, and I forgot to have someone water our plant. When we came back, many of the leaves had fallen off and wilted. My avocado tree seemed like it was dying for the first time. Weeks later, the leaves started growing back. My tree that I thought had died from a lack of sustenance was now growing healthy again!

I’m not a house plant expert, but I do remember looking at my avocado tree and thinking of Psalm 1. This helped me to visualize the importance of daily finding our sustenance and delight in God. Like a tree, we will wither if we go without “water,” or focused time delighting in God. The habits of delighting in God are worth doing daily. When we neglect them, we will often see withering over time – a withering that is certainly redeemable, but one that can still be difficult. If a tree is disconnected from its supply of life, then it will dry up and be unsuccessful for what it was designed to be. Throughout Scripture, trees are given one job: to bear fruit! For us, the only way to bear fruit is to faithfully and consistently dwell with the Life-giver through abiding in Him.

Lastly, verses 5-6 share the outcome of the lives of the righteous and wicked person. “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” (ESV). The word “judgment” likely refers to the final judgment, as the judgment of the wicked will prevent them from entering the “congregation of the righteous.” God knows the righteous — and this does not mean he simply “knows about them,” but that he deeply and intimately knows the righteous, as they dwell in a relationship with Him. However, the wicked will perish. God knows about them, but lacks a personal relationship with them. 

So, why is it important for us to have an eternal mindset as we live? How does this mindset change how we seek God and interact with others? Developing a perspective that focuses on God’s Kingdom in light of eternity will come through seeking God wholeheartedly: in His Word, in prayer, in worship, in the local church, in discipleship relationships and in community with other believers (just to share some examples). 

May God prune the areas of our lives that are not glorifying to Him. May He grow us and use us so He may be glorified.

This week, try to apply Psalm 1 by doing one of the following challenges:
  • Daily read the word.
  • Daily have a time of solitude (sit in silence & reflect on the Lord).
  • Share with at least two people this week the truth in Psalm 1 (this can help you develop a more eternal mindset by being focused on sharing the Bible with others).
  • Memorize Psalm 1
  • Pray through Psalm 1

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