4 February 2017 by romanin
“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; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
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. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalms 1:1–6 ESV)
A few weeks ago I heard a sermon on Psalm 1. The focus of the message I believe was the necessity of delighting in the law of the Lord. But here’s what my mind jumped to. In verse 3, the result of one delighting and meditating on the law of the Lord is said to be prosperity. “In all that he does, he prospers.” That’s a wonderful verse to memorize and quote. It has an obvious meaning right? You are blessed if you focus your mind and heart on the laws of God; the bible. You will be like a healthy tree and you will prosper. Sounds good!
But what does “prosper” mean here? If you asked a common church member what it means what would he or she say? What would a Chinese student say? When I asked myself these questions I sort of opened a can of worms in my brain; I realized the meaning of Psalm 1 isn’t as clear as I thought.
The Oxford Dictionary says that to prosper is to ‘succeed in material terms; to be financially successful.’ It also reveals that the root of the word comes from the latin prosperus meaning ‘doing well.’ The Hebrew word that is translated as prosper is צָלַח tsalach, which actually means ‘to be powerful.’ A very different concept!
I want to know what it means to prosper, or to be powerful, as a Christian. And I suppose I mean in general terms. Is a prosperous Christian one who has been blessed with wealth and family? What about the Christians in the middle east that have a sword to their necks? If they hold the law in their hearts, are they to still be considered prosperous? What does it mean to prosper in this age in God’s economy?
The first thing I think of is prospering in the sense of fulfilling our purpose. We were created in the image of God, the imago Dei. God reveals his character in chapter 1 of Genesis, and then tells us that we are not only created in His image, but are asked to have dominion over the whole earth. What does it mean to fulfill that purpose? What does it mean to be in God’s image? What about God do we inherit as his commissioned creation?
God, in the midst of darkness and chaos, created light (Gen 1:3). Light reveals and exposes that which was once made invisible by darkness. Light is something that physically exists whereas darkness is simply light’s absence. For us, light gives clarity, and reveals truth. Light has the capability of making a decision clear, expelling fear, revealing beauty, or revealing evil. When we are living as God would have us, when we are prospering in God’s purpose, we are said by Jesus to be the light of the world. We are to be agents of light or truth.
Second, in creation God makes the sky and separates ‘the waters from the waters (Gen 1:6). In this piece of God’s character, I see protection. God envelopes our earth in a protective atmosphere as he creates it in the midst of a vast and dangerous universe and not far from a hot and consuming sun. The atmosphere provides protection, as we know today, from a myriad of waves and otherwise dangers that would annihilate us were we exposed to them. How does that reflect on us as God’s children? We also are given a task of protection. I believe when we live in God’s image, we seek to protect our world, our friends, and our families. Even in prayer, we are participating in Spiritual warfare.
Next, God separated the dry land from the sea (Gen 1:9). This may be a stretch, but what I see here is God making a distinction; a black and white kind of separation. There are two inhabitable environments basically; marine and terrestrial. This may be a stretch, but I believe God gave us the power and privilege of discernment. We see this in our propensity to organize, separate, compartmentalize, index, etc. We are to use this discernment to put order into our world.
On the fourth day, God created the celestial bodies to separate day from night, and to be for signs and seasons (Gen 1:14). Here God displays that he is a God that doesn’t leave us without a clue. He leaves us with guidance and markers. In fact, in several places in the Bible it is said that God’s creation displays his glory and tells of his deeds. As we reflect this aspect of his being we are to use the discernment that we have and guide. In the truest and most eternal sense, we are to guide others to Him.
God on the third, fifth, and sixth days created life (Gen 1:11, 20, 24). In this act, God displays one of the most magnificent pieces of his personhood: his creativity. One wonderful thing that separates the human race from the rest of the animal kingdom, is that we create. We create wonderful complex machines, cities, tools, and many other useful things that help us learn, and live better. But one thing that is quite remarkable is that we create art. We create things just for the sake of beauty. God is that way; he didn’t have to make the world as beautiful as it is. Or for that matter, the celestial bodies in deep space, or the vast array of colors at the deep dark bottom of the ocean. He didn’t have to make those things beautiful. But he did. And I believe he created us to do the same.
In chapter 2, God put Adam in charge of His garden, the garden of Eden (Gen 2:15). So even before sin, there was a work, but this work was a joy. God gave Man stewardship over his creation. For better or worse, we are still in command or control over God’s creation, in the capacity we have. Of course we can’t control the weather and things like that, but lets just keep the analogy of a garden. In making and keeping a garden, we do something very similar to what God did in creation: we step into the chaos of an overgrown piece of land, we impose our will on it, and put it in a beautiful and intentional order. In a more eternal sense, we do that as Christians. We step into the chaos of situations or peoples lives, and with love and the word of God, try to get rid of the rocks and brambles, and sow order and life.
Jesus told us the whole sum of the law in Matthew 22:37–40: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. I’ve previously explained that the image of God in us gives us, no matter our culture, a sense of truth, protection, discernment, guidance, creativity, and stewardship. And we are to use these gifts in the most crucial aspect of God’s character: LOVE. Love is to be the root of our relationship with God, and with that as a foundation, love is to be the root of our relationship with other people. We therefore can use these gifts that God has given us in a way that loves and honors God and others.
INVESTMENT IN ETERNAL PROSPERITY
This has all been kind of leading us back to the word ‘prosperity.’ The Hebrew word in the original text means ‘to be powerful.’ Both of these concepts can be useful here.
I believe we are to view this idea of prosperity or power in God’s economy, and not our own. How is a man who is oppressed, imprisoned, persecuted, poor, supposed to claim this promise the same as a privileged Christian from the United States’ upper middle class? If this Psalm gives a promise to all of us, shouldn’t it be claimable or true to any Christian? I think that these questions are only answerable in an eternal sense.
Here’s the easiest way to put it. If I want to be prosperous in the sense of money, I need to invest what I have and I need to be wise in my actions and decisions to see that investment grow. In the beginning this requires sacrifice and hard work, and the payoff is usually later. Well, Jesus describes our investment and sacrifice in Mark 10:29 with the payoff in 10:30. Basically, Jesus says if we give everything for the gospel, our reward is eternity with him. Our true prosperity is the eternal prosperity that we will have with Christ, and further, I think that the wise investment requires all of the faculties God gives us in creating us in His image. And the power? Was Christ powerful? Paul identifies with Christ most powerfully in his suffering when he writes in Colossians 1:24: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church,…” Again, I don’t think worldly power is as critical as spiritual power, and power in an eternal perspective.
Psalm 1 says that the one who meditates on the word of God will prosper, or will be powerful. Jesus also says in John 10:10 that He came so that we could have an abundant life. When one understands the gospel, what could that abundant life be but a life marked by a loving relationship with God; a life poured out for the sake of the gospel, and a life with a broken heart at its core; a heart that mourns for the sin of the world and at the same time longs for what the world should be, and for the heaven that is promised?