2018-3-18 When Non-Christians Flourish, and We Don’t

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          March 18, 2018

“When Non-Christians Flourish, and We Don’t”
Psalm 73

Have you ever wondered if it pays to serve God?

From time to time—perhaps today—you notice that those who don’t serve Him prosper, perhaps wildly, yet you (or other Christians you know) struggle.  You see that those who don’t serve Him apparently are never sick, weak, or hurt—yet these seem to be the constant companions either of you or of those you love.  Perhaps there is a place in your life where you contemplate—or actually voice—whether it is worth it to serve God.

Asaph, a chief worship leader in David’s time, wondered about this as well.  We have his Spirit-led Psalm as evidence.  Let’s hear what God says to us in this portion of His Word, and let us by His leading conform our lives to what we hear.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

God, the Holy Spirit, is the Master Communicator.  Though this is true in every section of Scripture, it is especially obvious in the Psalms.  He leads Asaph to cast His Scriptural truth in the form of an individual complaint, which is the most common literary form used in Psalms.  Asaph, the individual, pours out his pained heart before the Lord for use in communal worship.  Interestingly, communal complaint (the aggregate complaint of God’s covenant people) is the second-most common literary type in Psalms; almost half the Psalter is either an individual or communal complaint.  This fact reveals the hand of God along two lines: first, these complaints display in part what John Calvin called the anatomy of the soul (how things really are within us),[1] and, second, they serve as a needed corrective to our often-too-sunny worship culture.  Sometimes our praise of our triune God must be in a minor key to be authentic—and our evangelical culture seems in the main to be either ignorant or in denial about this.  God, however, knows this—and Asaph knows this—and, now or earlier, we know this.

These complaints generally conform to a God-given pattern.  First, the Psalmist ascribes praise to God, and then he launches into his complaint with the reasons for it adduced.  The trajectory so far is downward, like Shakespearean tragedy, but near the bottom there is a turning point, after which the trajectory rises.  Then the Psalmist, led by the Holy Spirit, declared the solution to the complaint, and after this solution comes declaration of trust in God Himself or of His Scriptural truth.  Let’s see how the Spirit poured His message through Asaph in conformity to this pattern.

Psalm 73 begins with praise, be it ever so brief.  Truly God is good to His covenant people, made pure in heart by the Spirit’s application of Christ’s cleansing blood—both those in Asaph’s day who looked for a Christ yet to come and to us today who look to Christ Who has come.  By God’s grace, let us not forget this foundational truth—as, alas, apparently Asaph did, as revealed in that which now follows.

Asaph confesses that his foot nearly slipped, when he considered the prosperity of the wicked—and that especially when considered against the pains of the righteous.  In verses four through twelve we read about the wicked generally—both in their relative freedom from trouble and in their failure to acknowledge God as the Giver of every blessing they enjoy.  We see first the wicked one’s relative freedom from trouble.  Asaph notes that the wicked have no pangs in this life (save perhaps at death) and that their bodies remain ever robust and sleek.  They are neither troubled nor stricken as others—and, ever at ease, they ever increase in wealth.

We see next that wicked ones, taken as a whole, even amid profound earthly blessings fail to acknowledge God as the Giver of these blessings.  On the contrary, they are sinfully proud, commit wholesale folly, speak malice and oppression, and—worst of all—they scoff at God.  “How can God know?  Is their knowledge in the Most High?” they rail, apparently with impunity—and this is too much for the pious Psalmist.  He further expresses his pain and lamentation.  Godly conduct, to judge from appearances, appears in vain, and pain—external and internal—attacks him without letup.  Yet, should he vent his spleen fully concerning this, he would injure the faith of future generations to the level of treason against both God and them.  Just here Asaph, oppressed at consideration of all of this, enters the sanctuary of God for corporate worship—and then everything turns as Asaph, led by the Holy Spirit, sees the matter aright.

Asaph gains insight from on high about his problem, and he declares the solution to us.  The wicked, contrary to appearances, stand on slippery ground.  Moreover, the wicked, without amendment unto salvation, face the prospect of utter ruin—and this is, once again, contrary to appearances, for it appears they will flourish forever.  God, through His inspired penman, assures us that this is not the case.  Now follows from Asaph’s pen a declaration of trust.

Asaph, before launching his soaring declaration of trust, first confesses his improper broodings.  Though embittered and pricked in his inner man, he confesses his brutish, ignorant, and beastly thoughts before God.  After Asaph’s confession, we read his lofty confessions of trust in God.  God will ever be present with him and with the Godly, even amid trouble (Psalm 46:1).  Not only will we have God’s presence with us (Is there anything better?), we also will have His guidance—and that especially amid trouble as well.  Indeed, the triune God is our eternal portion.  He is the strength of our hearts, and He is to be desired above all earthly things.  These, moreover, are true even if our flesh and heart may fail.  Having God Himself, we have enough—and, indeed, having Him, we have all.  Those outside God’s saving love in Christ, alas, shall perish, but those inside His covenant family, through Christ, both have refuge in Him and shall declare Who He is and what He does.

Let us be clear: We do not love and serve God because it pays.  We love and serve Him because He is worthy.  Yet, in light of today’s text, we see that God is good (Psalm 119:68).  We also note that He delights to do us good.  In fact, as John Piper often notes, God delights to do us good more than we desire to ask Him for it.  This is true at all times—even when we are sick, weak, or hurt.  Next, we note that not only is God good, but also that He is ever-present with us.  He will never leave us nor forsake us, and He will be ever-present with us even amid the pains we bear in His good providence.  We note also that God is the strength of our lives—and our portion forever.  This, as we noted some weeks ago, is most evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), for when we are weak, then we are strong—because God’s power is perfected in our weakness.

Hence, let us not envy the apparent, temporary prosperity of those who know not our Lord savingly—as we do.  Rather, let us know that we have more than they, despite appearances to the contrary, and let us pray and strive to the end that Christ may save them too—just as He has redeemed us also.

AMEN.

[1] Calvin was accustomed to call his commentary on Psalms “An Anatomy of All the Parts of the Soul” (John Calvin, Commentary on Psalms, Christian Classics Ethereal Library [ccel.org], accessed March 17, 2018).

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