Psalm 23 – Part 3
As we continue our series on Psalm 23 I want to start out with a few exercises from the book-Saving Your Marriage Before it Starts. Now this is one of the main pre-marital counseling books I use-and probably my favorite because it’s so hands-on and practical. I’ve gone through this curriculum with many couples-and the dialogue is always so rich and meaningful-but I most look forward to the session with couples where we discuss the exercise called Avoiding the Blame Game. Now I’m sure many of the marriages here don’t have any issues of spouses blaming each other and saying I’m right-but we try to help engaged couples avoid this possible problem-and so these scenarios really fuel some insightful conversation during the counseling sessions. So I want to share them this morning and give you the chance to determine who’s right-Scenario #1. Interesting question-is Mary right? Was Dan being insensitive? Or what about Mary? Had she assumed things Dan wasn’t expecting? Listen to Scenario #2. Once again a bit of a dilemma? Was Aaron right that Kim was too insensitive-especially in front of their friends? Or was Kim right that Aaron shouldn’t have let a little comment ruin the evening? And what kind of shirt was Aaron wearing? Maybe Kim should have warned him before he left the house! And then there’s Scenario #3. And what do you say to this one-that Carl was totally wrong to buy the TV and Michelle totally right to want to save it? Or was Carl right to grab the TV on sale? Think about how good all his favorite shows on Netflix will look! The point is-it’s never easy in these situations to determine who’s right and who’s wrong. Perspective has a lot to do with it-what you value, how you heard what was said or the expectations you had that your spouse didn’t meet. It’s easy to assign blame to someone else and say I’m right! Isn’t that what we’re often after in life-to claim victory and say those 3 words-I am right! One of the best pieces of marriage advice that Monica and I remember hearing was years ago at one of the Weekend to Remember conferences-the speaker said that as husband and wife you’re not two boxers in the ring fighting it out to determine who’s right. That instead of one spouse claiming victory over the other saying-See I’m right-to say-No-same team. There isn’t a victory to be won as individuals-we’re on the same team. What’s right is how we solve this issue together. How many arguments in marriage would turn out differently if you remembered that?
But marriage is an easy place to for people to want to be right. But it goes far beyond marriage. We see it all the time in relationships with people-or with our co-workers in the office where being right is our main focus. In an article I read this week a business coach said-I can recall many times hearing others say they do what’s right but then go out of their way to be right. I know how this can become a problem because I’m guilty too. I have dug my heels into the ground to make whatever was being discussed-about me being right. If you had asked me at the time, I might have said I was doing what’s right, but I was really on a mission to prove I was right. How true is that? How often do we do that? That instead of earnestly wanting to do what was right, you earnestly wanted to prove to everyone that you were right? I’m sure we’ve all done that-whether in marriage, at work, with our friends or with our families-that being right was our number one priority. But what about spiritually? What about when it comes to following God? How often have you sincerely sought to do what was right-no matter the cost or the inconvenience or the struggle it brings? Or have you sought to prove yourself right in the eyes of God or the eyes of others? It’s a big difference! Doing what’s right is all about doing what’s right-no matter the recognition for it or how people respond. Because often times doing what’s right gets overlooked and not noticed. But being right is all about getting noticed and hearing the accolades and response from people that we want. Wow! You were right. I missed it-but you were so right on that. Isn’t that the 3 words we most crave to hear as they feed our pride-You were right! And what’s our comeback-That’s right I was! But it’s not just from people-how often are we hoping and dreaming for God to say we were right? For God to say-I know the stuff you went through in life, the things you endured, the pain you experienced, the ways people wronged you-you were totally right in how you responded. As if we’re waiting to stand before the Lord in heaven one day-and hear Him say-All the bitterness you showed those people was well-warranted; all the cold-shoulders you gave out, the paybacks you delivered, the last words you had-well done-you were the one who was right in all those situations. Those other people were totally in the wrong-so here’s your well-deserved medal of being right. But that’s not how it works. That’s not what the Lord will say. Standing before the Lord isn’t when we’re finally acknowledged for being right all those years (and we whisper under our breath-told you so!) Standing before the Lord is when we acknowledge His grace shown to us all those years. It’s when we acknowledge that in His strength and following His lead we sought to do what was right for His glory and not our own. And that’s exactly what brings us to our passage this morning-Ps 23:1-3. It didn’t say He acknowledges we were right for our name’s sake-He leads us in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. That’s what we’re called to do.
So how does it happen? How do we travel down paths of righteousness? It begins by recognizing His role versus our role. Don’t miss how it says He 4 times! I encourage you to underline them in your Bibles because how do we often approach the Christian life-What do I have to do? How do I make sure I’m getting this right, what rules should I follow, what steps should I take? How do I get all the boxes checked and keep God happy? What do I have to do? But that isn’t how the text is written. David is saying to reflect on what God is already doing for you. He brings you to rich, green pastures where your heart can be nourished, He brings you to quiet, still waters where you can be quenched, He restores your soul to a place of peace, He takes you down paths of goodness and righteousness. He’s the one leading and you’re the one following. And we talked a lot about that last week because it’s so easy to reverse it. So easy for us to get ahead of God or get in front of Him, to dictate our plans to Him and want Him to adapt to our timetable or get on board with our desires-but that isn’t how it works. As we all know-but so easily forget-God is God and we are not! And if only we could remember that simple but profound truth that corrects so many of the errors we make. God is God and we are not! So Pt1:Traveling down Paths of Righteousness: Not about what I have to do-but who I need to follow. This is the essence of Christianity. While every other world religion is about what you have to do in order to make God happy, Christianity is about trusting and following the One who’s already done what’s necessary to make God happy-and that’s Jesus. We’re back to this idea of being right versus doing what is right-and Jesus is the only one who is right because He’s the only one who’s done what is right. We all know what Adam and Eve did when confronted with the devil’s lies-Gen 3:6. They gave in right away. Eve thought about it and wrestled with it before she took a bite-Adam just said-Food, Good-and ate! They didn’t do what was right and therefore were no longer right, no longer righteous in God’s eyes. But what did Jesus do when confronted with the devil’s lies-which also started off with food-Matt 4:2-4. He fought back with God’s Word and said no. He trusted in His heavenly Father to provide-not respond to the devil’s request. Jesus did what was right-and so what did God the Father then declare about Jesus? Look at Matt 17:5. If you ever wished that God just spoke from the sky to make things clear-He did. God’s voice thundered over the mountain and 3 guys literally heard it-Peter, James and John-and this was something God hadn’t said about anybody else on the planet. Not Abraham or Moses or David or Elijah-or anyone else since. Just Jesus-This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. He’s the one who’s morally and perfectly right, the only one who’s ever fully obeyed, the only one who’s never sinned. He alone can say-I’m right. While the rest of us fall completely and let’s be honest-woefully short-Jesus hasn’t. He alone is perfectly holy and righteous.
So being saved isn’t about trying our best to measure up and do what’s right-we can’t-being saved is about trusting and following the one who’s already done it all right-Rom 5:18-19. That’s the message of the gospel. As we’ve been saying-you will never be declared right in God’s eyes by your own efforts-it just won’t work. Lord, look at all the things I did for you, the ways I served at church, the money I gave to charity, the obedience I showed to your commands, all the Bible verses I’ve memorized. That’s enough to get me into heaven, isn’t it? No. The verse makes it clear that we’re stuck as sinners, bearing the consequences of Adam’s disobedience-it’s only through Jesus-the person of obedience that we can be saved and made right. You’ll hear people talk about getting right with God-one of these days I’m going to straighten myself out, turn over a new leaf, and get right with God. That only happens when you trust in the One who is right-and become righteous in Him. Look at 2 Cor 5:21 NIV. That’s the great exchange-Jesus takes on all of your sins at the cross. He bears the punishment all your sins deserve. All the condemnation and judgement from your mistakes, all the just anger that God has for what you’ve done-Jesus pays for. He became sin for you-so that everything He’s done right, all of His perfect obedience is then applied to you and credited to your account. Your sins for His righteousness-talk about the great exchange! And that happens when you turn to Him in faith. Back to Pt1.
I like how author Kevin DeYoung describes it-Good News, 116. That outside, alien righteousness that Jesus obtained by living a perfect life is applied to your life. It’s how God sees you when you turn to Jesus. He no longer looks at you as a sinner or failure, He looks at you like He looks at His Son. DeYoung goes on to describe how this works-Good News, 116. Humorous description-but so true. We have been declared righteous and justified in God’s sight by believing in Jesus-the one who’s done it all right. And so now-as justified jerks-we’re put on a pathway of righteousness. We’re now called to live out that righteousness that’s been applied to us and follow the One who is perfectly righteous. Look back at Ps 23:1-3. He restores your soul-for the very purpose of traveling down paths of righteousness. He doesn’t restore your soul so that you can go back to your old ways and keep on sinning. He doesn’t restore your soul so that you can restore your old habits and tendencies. He restores your soul because He has a new road for you to walk, a new direction for you to go-and that’s Pt2:Traveling down Paths of Righteousness: Not a burden, but a blessing; not drudgery, but delight. When you turn to Jesus and start following Him-He’s going to begin changing you. You’re not your old self anymore, you’re made new in Him. Your life is placed on a new trajectory, on that new path of righteousness-not for the purpose of earning your way to heaven-that’s already been accomplished by Jesus-but you’re placed on that path of righteousness in order to live out who He’s transforming you to be.
Look at Phil 2:12-13. I think of Paul as the teacher in the classroom where everybody is being good and following the rules-but what happens when the teacher says-I’m stepping out the room for a moment so I want everyone to stay in their seats, do their work and be on their best behavior. Yeah right! When the teacher’s gone it’s party time-woo-hoo! Wads of paper are getting thrown across the room, kids are out of their chairs dancing, everyone’s laughing and shouting-and not a bit of work is getting done! And I’m not advocating this behavior when the teacher leaves-nor did I ever act this way in school-I’m just describing what I saw as I stayed in my seat and did my work! Okay-not at all! But in the same way Paul is challenging the believers to obey and do what’s right even when he is no longer there with them-but it’s not to work for their salvation and earn it-but to work out their salvation that’s already happened as God is actively at work in them. Do hear what he’s saying-work out what’s already been done in you. And that’s being transformed to live righteously, not sinfully, for God’s good pleasure. He desires us to be righteous because it’s how He’s made us. It’s how He intended humanity to be from the very beginning-and so when Adam 1.0 sinned, it took Jesus-who’s Adam 2.0-to reverse the disobedience through His obedience-and thereby restore us to our original purpose of being righteous. And it’s not boring or dull-but exactly the way we were meant to be. Back to Pt2.
We are to be a people who love righteousness and embrace it because it’s how God calls us to live. It’s our identity and main description as believers. Not seeking righteousness short-circuits who we are and doesn’t make any sense. Think about a really good athlete who hated fitness and didn’t want to be fit. That’s not going to work too well. Sort of hard to be a world-class soccer player or gymnast in the Olympics if you’re 100 lbs overweight-you’ll break the uneven bars-or be a hippo on the balance beam! In order to be a world-class athlete you have to love fitness, you have to work out and train and monitor your diet. It’s the same as believers. In order to be the people God calls us to be we have to work out our salvation and pursue righteousness-to love it and see the blessings of obeying God’s commands and following Him. Look at how Paul continues-Phil 2:14-15 NIV. That doesn’t mean you’ll be perfect-we’ll still mess up and act like justified jerks-but blameless and without fault means that when the world looks at you there’s not all sorts of dirt they can dig up or skeletons in your closet. And even if there’s things from your past-which we all have-they’ve been totally and completely forgiven in Christ, washed away-and now you are someone new-shining like stars in the universe amongst the darkness and depravity of the world because you’re delighting in righteousness and following Christ. Is that true of you? Does this describe your life? Shining ever brighter as you walk with Christ and grow in Him? Or has your star gotten a little dim and tarnished lately? Have you blended into the backdrop of the world instead of magnifying Christ and displaying Him? Remember that you have a Good Shepherd who restores your soul so that you can travel down paths of righteousness which are full of blessing and delight. Somehow in this backwards, cursed world we think the opposite-that obedience and righteousness are the very things we don’t want to do. That getting up to a bit of mischief is fun-or that disobedience is somehow freeing and exhilerating. But that couldn’t be further from the truth-we were made to obey our God-and that is where all our joy comes from!
And nowhere is that more evident than in Ps 119. Longest chapter in the Bible-176 verses-but it describes a heart that loves righteousness. Take a look at a few snapshots-Ps 119:1-2-and this becomes a recurring theme-Ps 119:9-11. That’s the goal. It’s not to sin and then try to rationalize or justify it-Well you know, Lord, I’m only human-what do you expect me to do? Instead the goal is not to sin-and that happens when we store up God’s Word in our hearts and love following Him. Listen to-Ps 119:14 NIV. What a statement! Do you rejoice in following God like you’d rejoice if you won the lottery! Hey everybody-big party I just won 100 million! Hey everybody-big party as we’re following and worshipping God! Or look at Ps 119:20. Does that consume your longing? Or Ps 119:35, 40. And then later on-Ps 119:97-and why? Ps 119:105, 111-112. As we read Ps 119-I believe it is the height to which mankind can reach this side of heaven. I am so deeply challenged by these verses-I feel like I fall so short of what they say. There’s lots of things that are the joy of my heart-and often following God’s commands isn’t as high on the list as it should be-maybe you feel the same way. You’d put lots of things in your Top 5 before God’s commands. But I want to encourage you this morning that while we may struggle and fail at this-and we often do-God is there to forgive you, restore you and put you back on the path of righteousness-because it’s the very purpose for your existence. When this world is over and we finally enter eternity to live in God’s presence-there’s one characteristic that will describe us-righteousness. That will be the mark of every citizen in the New Jerusalem-total righteousness-just like today we might say he’s a total New Yorker-and we know what that means. God’s people will be perfectly and totally righteous, loving His commands forever and ever. So these verses wonderfully remind us how God puts us on that path of righteousness now. He calls us to follow Him and obey Him now-keeping His decrees to the very end-and why does He do that? Why are we called to righteousness? Ps 23:3. It’s not about us trying to boast how good we are-it’s all about letting our lives point to how good His is. And that’s Pt3:Traveling down Paths of Righteousness: Not for elevating my name, but for glorifying His Name. As a child of God when you seek to do what’s right-you’re upholding the family name. You’re pointing people to the family values of your heavenly Father who’s all about kindness and patience and grace to others, not vengeance and paybacks and bitterness. When you embrace God’s commands you’re showing the world that you submit to Him. That you’re not about trying to do what you think best or what feels good to you-but that you’re someone humbly surrendered to your Father who knows best. What did Jesus say about this-Matt 5:16. Not glory to you-wow-he is such a great guy! What a servant’s heart! All credit goes to him-look at what he accomplished, the ministry he built, the things he does for the church. And we’ve all known people like that who only serve when they’re praised or acknowledged for it-that what they do for God becomes all about them. But that totally misses it. You are I are called to travel down paths of righteousness so that God is glorified-and it’s all about Him. That when people see the things you do and the ways you serve they’re reminded of what a great God we have-not what a great guy you are!
And that brings us all the way back to where we started this morning-standing at the foot of the trailhead-Pt4:Traveling down Paths of Righteousness: Not about being right, but about doing what is right. Which one is your goal in life? Which one do you spend more time doing? Which one do you spend more time arguing about? No, no-I’m right. My opinion is right. The way I do things is right. How I’ve treated you is right. The decisions I’ve made were right. When was the last time being right consumed your thinking? It often does because being right is all about our pride and reputation, about proving ourselves to others and getting the last word in-in order to hear those words-You were right-and thinking yes I was! Being right is about being holier than thou. But doing what is right is simply about being holy-just as God calls us-1 Pet 1:15-16. Doing what is right is about surrender. It’s taking the harder road, it’s doing what’s less popular, least noticed, and often not glamorous-but doing it because it’s the right thing God calls us to do. You see in the end being right is about someone trying to assert themselves apart from God-declaring their independence from God. Look at me, I’m right. But doing what is right is someone communicating their dependance on God. Someone who says-Don’t look at me-look at Him-because without Him I wouldn’t be anything. Doing what is right is about dying to self-but as a follower of Christ-you were never really yours to begin with. You belong to Him-1 Pet 2:9. That’s where the paths of righteousness lead-into His marvelous light!
Psalm 23 – Part 3