No Empty Promise
Are you blessed? Psalm 1 says that if you do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers, but delight yourself instead in God’s law, you are! And here is part of the reason. Such a person ‘is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers’ (verse 3).
Where the Psalmist lived drought was a problem – just as it continues to be in different parts of the world to this day. A fruit tree, however, could nevertheless do well, even in a drought. It could continue to yield its fruit. Its leaves could remain healthy. How? If the tree was planted by streams of water. The streams might be natural or might have been dug for the purposes of irrigation. It didn’t matter. There was water! And if there was water all would be well.
It is not difficult to understand what is being pictured. The believer who shuns the ways of the wicked and delights instead in God’s Word will live a healthy, fruitful Christian life even when times are very hard. But what about the promise with which the description ends? ‘Whatever he does prospers’. Is that really how it is with Christians who are set on living godly lives?
It is proper to begin by reminding ourselves that there is framework of Old Covenant blessing within which these words need to be interpreted. One of the ways in which God promised to bless his Old Covenant people when they were faithful to him was to grant them outward prosperity. A passage such as Deuteronomy 28:1-14 makes that very clear. As Old Testament believers lived godly lives they could expect God to bless them in outward material ways.
But what about believers today? What does the promise mean for us? Certainly not that everything we set our hand to will be a success. The Psalmist’s words are not an assurance that we will never fail an exam, lose our job, or see our savings disappear. They are not a promise that a believer’s crops will never fail, or that his land will never be invaded, or that his marriage will never fall apart. Trials, sorrows, even disasters befall the godliest of Christians.
So what do the words mean? This at least. We will do good if we are living as we ought. Our lives will be a blessing to others. Our labour in the Lord will not be in vain. There will be lasting fruit from our witness in our home and community and from our endeavours to serve the church. We may be largely unconscious of the wholesome influence we are exerting. Much of the fruit we may only see or know about when we get to heaven. But God will certainly honour us if we seek to honour him and will grant to us the privilege of being fellow workers with him in the building of his church. We will live, in short, healthy and fruitful Christian lives.
The promise of whatever we do prospering, then, is no empty one. Droughts will come. Difficulties will inevitably have to be faced – sometimes severe and prolonged. But if we are shunning evil and delighting in God’s Word we will know the blessedness of remaining – even in the darkest times – spiritually healthy and spiritually fruitful. We will know the peace of God in our hearts and our lives will tell for good on others – far more than we think or can even imagine.
David Campbell is pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
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