Psalm 73 – From Envy to Enlightenment
Anybody ever try to diagnose themselves for an illness online? Has anybody examined their symptoms or how they feel and then googled the disease? This is always risky business-when you click on WebMD or the Mayo clinic or some similar website and start reading about the disease and the symptoms-chills, headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath, muscle pain, joint pain-That’s it-I’ve got it, I’m a goner! Anybody been completely freaked out and convinced you have something from reading the internet? Maybe you even make an appointment and say-Doctor, I’ve got this-I’m dying! And his response is more exercise and a better diet! This past week I admit that I was on WebMD reading about an ailment that we all suffer from-and the beginning of the article say-You may have heard people describe someone as “green with envy.” This phrase dates back to the ancient Greeks, who believed envy could trigger bile production that turned the skin slightly green as a sign of sickness. Therefore, it said that envy is sometimes referred to as the “green-eyed monster” as Shakespeare described in his drama Othello. So has anybody been green with envy? Anybody felt like the green-eyed monster-or seen your skin turn slightly green? Now WebMD didn’t list greenness as a symptom of envy-but it did include these symptoms: You aren’t happy for others when they achieve success, Another person’s success makes you feel unhappy, You feel the need to diminish someone else’s success, You judge others negatively, or You’re happy when others face setbacks.
And I’m sure we’ve all experienced those symptoms at different times, maybe you’re experiencing them now. The article went on to say that the rise of social media has been documented to trigger envy and lower mental well-being in some people. As friends post pictures of their best moments in life, it can trigger feelings of inadequacy and regret. And again-I’m sure we’ve all experienced that! You look at Facebook or Instagram and think-Really, another night out of steak and lobster for them? Another trip to Disneyworld? Another amazing dinner party? More pictures of their new car or their new house or their new baby or their kid hitting a homerun at little league? And you find yourself turning a little green with envy?? I think we can all agree that we don’t need WebMD or any medical website to tell us we struggle with envy. We see what other people have, we see what we don’t have-and like that envy strikes. Why them and not me? Because what’s the underlying thought of envy? I deserve better! I deserve that more than them! I’ve tried to live better, work harder, be more responsible, make all the right choices-they’ve haven’t made the right choices-so why them over me? What did they do to deserve it? And what did I do to deserve this mess? As you think about the challenges and symptoms of envy, you might find yourself in the midst of it right now. Envious of all sorts of people around you, wishing your life was different and more like theirs. That’s the situation the writer of Ps 73 finds himself in-wishing his life was more like the people around him. Obviously envy is an age-old problem, long before the rise of social media. We may try to pretend we’re not envious-or hide our envy from others-but the honesty of God’s Word reveals that we do struggle with it.
So as we’ve finished up with Ps 23-we want to see what it says in Ps 73:1. And that’s a great statement of truth-because God is good to His people. We talked last week from Ps 23 how God’s goodness follows us all the days of our lives. We saw from Rom 8 how God works all things together for good so that we might be made more like Christ. The reality of God’s goodness isn’t in question-rather it’s our perception of His goodness, our expectation of what God’s goodness is. Is it that carefree, pain-free, perpetually happy life? And despite how great that sounds or how much we wish it was-we know that it’s not. God’s goodness isn’t equal to our happiness. His goodness goes so much deeper than that as we said last week. God’s goodness is about our transformation in holiness. His goodness is about our joy and eternal hope in Him. So a shift has to occur in our thinking. Our perspective of goodness needs to be God’s perspective. And the psalmist is going to challenge us in that way. But at the beginning of the psalm his perspective is a bit skewed, his thinking is far more influenced by the world and what he sees around him-and I think a lot of us can relate-Ps 73:2-3. The psalmist is saying that he nearly slipped and stumbled-not because he himself was making lots of mistakes and doing things he shouldn’t-but that because he was doing what he should by following God, he envied those who weren’t because life seemed to be going really good for them. And how often in this world do we see that? How often does it seem like arrogant, wicked, sinful, backstabbing people do seem to prosper, while humble, God-fearing, honest people seem to suffer? Have you noticed that? Why do good things happen to bad people? And why do bad things happen to good people? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? That good people prosper and the bad people suffer? But as the psalmist observes-this doesn’t seem to be the case and his faith is stumbling and struggling because of it. So Pt1:Perspective gone awry: Envious of how fun and carefree life is without God. And you might be observing the exact same thing. Why isn’t my life better for following the Lord? How come my unbelieving, not-so-nice, fairly terrible neighbor seems to have it so much better than me? Why are my unbelieving friends so much more successful than me? That’s what the psalmist is struggling with. That everyone else doesn’t seem to have a care in the world-that life without God seems to be far more prosperous and fun than life with God.
And it’s worth noting that the psalmist isn’t David-but a guy named Asaph. He was from the tribe of Levi and was one of the musicians that David put in charge of the worship at the Tent of Meeting before the Temple was built. He’s mentioned in 1 Chron 16:7. So Asaph is one of the worship leaders, he’s a musician and a song-writer-much like David was. And while we don’t know how many songs Asaph composed over the course of his life-we do know the Holy Spirit saw fit to include 12 of his psalms into God’s Word-and this one-Ps 73-is so heartfelt as he walks through these tricky and difficult emotions of envy. It might not have been one of the most popular worship songs of his day-but it was certainly one of the most honest. You can hear his inner struggle-knowing that God is good-yet wondering and questioning why good things seem to be happening to people who are far from God and don’t know God or worship God. Listen to these lyrics-Ps 73:3-5. He’s observing that their life is carefree and fun-that they’re healthy and strong-meaning good-looking and happy (as if he’s saying I’m ugly and miserable!) And where does that lead them-Ps 73:6-9. Asaph is saying that in their arrogance they think they own the planet, they’re in charge, no one can tell them what to do. There’s no God in heaven. God doesn’t exist-heaven is ours we claim it. We’re in control of our destiny, we’re top dog and only answer to ourselves-there’s no higher power out there-we’re it. Which becomes their statement in Ps 73:11. Meaning-There’s no God watching over us; there’s no moral authority out there. We define what’s right and wrong, we make the rules. Just as the serpent lied to Adam and Eve-when you eat of the fruit you will be like God knowing good and evil. The world is saying we are god-and we don’t just know good and evil, we establish good and evil. In fact, good and evil are loose terms and anyone who tries to establish rules of morality is being oppressive and stifling. Life is how you want to live it, do what feels right to you, let no one tell you otherwise. That’s the pride and arrogance Asaph is speaking of-and where does it lead? Ps 73:12. Or the ESV says they’re always at ease-as if life is like hanging out at the pool relaxing! And why is that-because they’re not bound by any rules-at least from their perspective. Back to Pt1. Are there people in your life you’re envious of because of how carefree they live without God? People you know who don’t follow the Lord-and because of that seem to be having the time of their life not worried about doing what’s right-but just doing what feels good or seems like fun? That while you know the Lord and walk with Him, you’re slightly envious of the life they live by not knowing the Lord? This is what the psalmist is wrestling with-and it’s very honest and relevant.
Listen to how he applies this to his life-Ps 73:13-14. He’s moving from envy to regret-which is the natural progression. When you envy someone you usually end up regretting your decisions and choices in life-wishing you could be on the path they are. Maybe you envy a friend for the job or career they have-it’s a great job, good company, nice salary-and so you regret the decision you made to take the job you have-low pay, bad company, no promotion or growth on the horizon! Why did I take this job? And maybe you start wondering if it was ever worth it to pursue this career field in the first place-should have been a teacher-or should have gone to law school and been a lawyer! That’s where Asaph is at-not wondering about law school and his career path-but wondering whether it’s worth it to trust God and follow Him. Is it worth living in obedience to God and following His commands? He’s tried to live a life of purity and be above reproach. He’s tried to do what’s right and be faithful-and where’s it gotten him? As he says-plagued and punished! Or the ESV says he’s been stricken and rebuked! Made fun of for doing the right thing. Slandered and persecuted for following God. Was this in vain-is his question.
And you might be asking the same thing. Have you followed God in vain? Have you pursued purity and obedience in vain? What’s the point of being godly? Everyone around you is having the time of their life-and somehow you’re left out, you’re ridiculed and rebuked for doing what’s right. Before we hear Asaph’s answer-let me just say that there’s always a cost to obedience. There’s always a price you’ll have to pay in this world for following the Lord. What does it say about Jesus-the one who most perfectly obeyed and did everything right? Did He have people applauding His obedience and celebrating His righteousness? Look at Isa 53:3. Jesus didn’t receive 5-star treatment on earth for following the Father-quite the opposite-because where did it lead Him-Isa 53:7-8a. Taken away and led to His death. The cost of obedience for Jesus led to the cross. And it’s no different for you and me. Obedience to the Father leads to the death of our old selves. Now that’s a good thing-because only when our old selves die can our new selves be reborn in Jesus. What does it say in Gal 2:20. By faith we follow Christ. We live a life of obedience to Christ because that’s who we are as followers of Christ. That just as He died to this world-so we do too. That just as He was ridiculed and despised for His obedience so we will be ridiculed too-but that’s okay because we don’t live for this world any more. We’ve been crucified to this world and live for Christ. Listen to Life without Lack, 143, 146. And that’s exactly what Asaph is doing in Psalm 73. Initially he was letting what was happening to him-and the pain and envy and regret that he felt become his ultimate point of reference-his emotions were driving his thinking and making him re-evaluate his decisions of whether it’s worth it to follow the Lord-until he brought those feelings to the Lord-which is exactly what this Psalm is-the open and honest cries of someone coming into the Lord’s presence. When Asaph takes his eyes off the Lord-envy and regret fill his heart-just as they do when we take our eyes off the Lord. But what happens when we reset our vision on the Lord?
It’s a complete and total paradigm shift-his perspective that once had gone away is now restored-look at how stunning this is-Ps 73:16-17. Once he realized where all this is going he saw everything in a different light. Once he remembered the truth of eternity and let it sink into his heart, his perspective made a complete 180. That’s Pt2:Perspective graciously restored: Realizes how fleeting and destructive life is without God. Yes-there may be moments of fun and happiness in life without God-of course there are-we all see it, we’ve all been there before we were saved. But those moments don’t last. Fun and happiness aren’t what we’re made for. As we mentioned last week-temporary things don’t fulfill our hearts because we weren’t created for a temporary life. We were made for eternity-we were made to know the One who is eternal. Our home isn’t this world that’s passing away-our home is with our Savior who’s returning one day. Listen to how Jesus describes this-and where the fun and happiness of the world eventually leads-Matt 25:37-39. Jesus is describing that fun and carefree life of unbelievers-eating, drinking, marrying, laughing, celebrating, let’s have a toast and a campfire-all the good things in life without a care in the world. Until there was a raindrop-and then a flood came-and all that fun and happiness-all that food and drink was swept away never to be had again. And He’s saying so it is in life. That whether we die or He returns-whatever happens first-for the unbeliever time’s up, game’s over. That final destiny is there-and no once can avoid it. That’s what Asaph is realizing-Ps 73:16-17. And listen to how he describes it-very similar to Jesus-Ps 73:18-20. Remember how at the start of this Psalm he felt like he was about to slip in his faith because of how happy and carefree people were without God-now he realizes who’s really going to slip-and that’s the person who hasn’t put their faith in God. The one who doesn’t have any hope or anything to stand on. They may have a lifetime of fun and happiness, carefree days with no struggles or difficulties-but one day they’ll be swept away to destruction without God.
Did you catch his analogies? As like a dream when one awakes. And in the moment dreams feel so real and important, don’t they? Think back to the last vivid dream you had-and maybe you were glad to wake up from it-or maybe you didn’t want it to end. I know for me-half the time my dreams are when I’m back in school, I’m late for class, my homework isn’t done or I forgot to study for an exam-and I can’t get to the room-I’m wondering why the hallway is so long, why is all this furniture in the way. I feel like I’m always climbing over furniture and can’t get to the room! Anybody else have nightmares about furniture? I should really go to a dream therapist! But with dreams like that when I’m late for class or haven’t done my homework I’m never so glad to wake up and remember I’m not in school anymore! To roll over and go back to sleep. But in the moment it’s so vivid and important-isn’t it? But it’s a dream. It vanishes-it’s gone like that. And this is what Asaph is comparing the unbeliever to who ignores God and lives for pleasure and happiness. Like a dream it feels so important and exciting in the moment-but it won’t last. Like a dream it will soon be gone with no substance or lasting value to it. In fact, the other analogy is that word fantasies-or if you have the ESV it says phantoms. And hopefully you’re not having scary dreams about phantoms. That word always makes me think of the Scooby-Do cartoon. Remember Scooby and Shaggy and Fred, Themla, Daphnie and the Mystery Machine-the van was awesome. But they were always chasing after phantom-some sort of scary ghost-like person. Until at the end, when they caught the phantom and took the mask or the costume off it was always a just real person, the phantom didn’t exist. And that’s exactly the idea of living for the fleeting pleasures of here and now. In the end they’ll cease to exist. They’re as tangible as a phantom. In commenting on this verse, author David Platt says-The fullness of pleasure in God far outweighs the fleeting, phantom prosperity of the wicked. With God there is real joy, real pleasure and real delight. That is so true! Real joy and real meaning are only found in God-and anything apart from Him is nothing more than a phantom-something fake that’s trying to pose as something real. Are you chasing after the phantom prosperity of the wicked? Are you trying to keep a tight hold on the happiness of this life, like you’d try to keep hold of your dreams-but you can’t. You can’t stay in your dreams-no matter how good they might be. You will wake up. But how many people try to stay in the pleasures of this world, ignoring the fact that they’ll wake up in eternity one day and those things will be gone. Half the time we can’t even remember our dreams they’re so fleeting. You wake, you remember that it was a good dream-and within moments you can hardly remember the details, what was that? That’s like the pleasures and prosperity of this world-in eternity they’ll cease to matter and hardly be remembered. Listen to what Paul says-Phil 3:18-19. A life centered on earthly pursuits doesn’t lead anywhere-it ends up in destruction, shame and weight-gain! Or back to the Psalms with what David says in Ps 37:1-4. That is such an incredible promise! That doesn’t mean God is going to bless you with an expensive car or a huge house or the dream job you’ve always wanted-again this isn’t someone set on earthly things. Instead, it’s when you cling to the Lord and trust in Him-He will transform your heart to love the things He loves; to love the things that do last and continue for eternity.
And this is what Asaph realizes-Ps 73:21-22. When I was envious about the pleasures of the wicked I was like an animal-he’s saying. Like a dog chasing a bone-I was only worried about food and fun-but Lord, you’ve created me for such higher things like love and grace and reaching out to others and building your kingdom. Our existence is more than waking up, going to work, eating 3 good meals a day, and then back to sleep to start it all over again tomorrow. Yes-we live in the temporary but we’re not made for the temporary. God has created us to know Him, serve Him-Ps 73:23-24. That’s the destiny! So listen to his declaration-Ps 73:25-26. When it’s all said and done we discover that what we delight in is all about who we delight in-and that’s the Lord. We were made for Him. We were made for a relationship with our God-someone who is so much higher and greater than us-but who loves us so much! We can search high and low on planet earth for happiness and fun-and many people do-but the answer is exactly what Asaph is saying here-Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. He is our portion forever. And the Lord’s not some small portion like at a restaurant when you order your meal and it’s so small when it comes to your table-you’re thinking-This is it? I’m so hungry! The Lord is our portion and in Him we will never go hungry or thirsty or wanting more-He is the portion that fulfills and satisfies our hearts for all of eternity. If you remember the opening words of the Westminster Catechism: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Is that your chief pursuit in life? Nothing else even comes close! He’s the only thing that can be enjoyed forever-because He is infinite and our wonder for Him will never cease!
So as we wrap up this morning there’s 3 applications we need to have in mind-App#1: Following God is never in vain. Even though Asaph was tempted to question that and wonder that-and we’ve all wondered it too. Is this worth it? But it is! Following God is never in vain! App#2: Living for fun and pleasure never works. We all know that. We’re always wanting more-because enough is never enough with earthly stuff! But it isn’t! What you wanted then-even a year ago- doesn’t matter now because you want something else, crave something else. Earthly stuff is never enough because we weren’t made for stuff-we were made for our Savior. So App#3: Entering the sanctuary is always enlightening. That was the turning point for Asaph. He struggled and questioned and doubted and found himself envious of the world and wishing his life was like the people around him-until? Ps 73:16-17. When he came into the Lord’s presence it all made sense! But when he stayed away he struggled. We’ve got to be a people who go to the sanctuary. We have to be a people who come into the Lord’s presence. Into a time and a place where we can hear His voice and have our perspective and vision restored. Because how easy is it for our perspective to get shewed? How easy to adapt to the world’s perspective and be filled with doubts and worries and questions and envy? To conform to the world’s thinking and forget all about Christ? But that’s what we’ll be like if we don’t enter the sanctuary. That’s what happened to Asaph-and it will happen to you and me. What keeps you from going to the sanctuary? Do you think you’ll have right thinking without going to the sanctuary? Have you convinced yourself that you’ll be fine staying away? That you already know everything anyway? But when you come to the sanctuary, when you gather with one another, when you enter the Lord’s presence and speak to Him and worship Him-the blindness from the world falls away, your eyesight is restored, and you quickly realize enough is never enough with earthly stuff-because you were never made for earthly stuff. In the sanctuary, you realize you’re made for the living hope of your Savior-back to Ps 73:25-26.
Psalm 73 – From Envy to Enlightenment