A student asked me a few questions about Psalm 1 and offered permission for me to share. Here are the questions and responses:
How would you teach Psalm 1?
I teach Psalm in a variety of ways! In fact, it’s one of my favorite psalms to teach. I mostly emphasize genre (the wisdom aspect) and structure (how it introduces the entire psalter). I especially like that it can be taught in various contexts and at various levels of depth, time, focus, etc. I’ve used the psalm for a 1-minute devotional and for a 35-minute sermon, and I really love texts that have breadth like that.
Overall, given the psalm’s placement in the psalter, I point out that obedience and delight are not tangential but essential to worship.
According to Psalm 1, how are Christians blessed?
From Psalm 1, I think Christians can be spiritually and physically blessed, but this requires some qualification. This does not mean that physical blessings are guaranteed; however, as we do what is right (e.g., following God’s Law), it is far more likely, since God’s ways will lead to better consequences overall. In this sense, Psalm 1 shares similarities with how Proverbs advises us to live.
It is worth noting that wisdom provides an overarching view — similar to a 10,000-foot view from an airplane. This means that not every individual moment will be better (e.g., you can still experience a flat tire), but your overall life will be better (e.g., avoiding harmful effects of sin; dwelling in community with believers; resting in God rather than yourself).
Even better, though, spiritual blessings are guaranteed! This is the best news of the passage, of course, but ignoring “general” blessings would be a mistake. We can accept both without denigrating one or the other.
Christians, in particular, can see the dual nature of this passage. The original readers would have sensed the practical, holistic, real-world application (i.e., delighting in the Lord leads to better, not worse, outcomes), but Christians see ultimate fulfillment in Christ — not only that Christ fulfills this passage to the fullest extent, but that we as readers find ultimate blessing in Christ.
To a congregation, how would you communicate the “certainty” of blessing?
Good question. I wouldn’t provide specific probability, but I would assure the congregation that in most circumstances, following God’s ways would most likely lead to a better life. Extreme situations — such as slavery, poverty, martyrdom, etc. — can be exceptions to this overall likelihood. Even Christians face the brutality of this sinful world, but our assurance is that blessing is found in Christ.
Thus, when the “general pattern” is broken, whether for us or another, we are reminded once again of ultimate blessing. This is why Jesus can say, “Blessed are the poor,” since blessing is not necessarily immediate, nor limited to the physical realm.
At some point, likely near the end of the sermon, I would provide full, absolute certainty that ultimate blessing comes to God’s people — starting with Christ’s work on earth, ongoing in the Spirit’s presence within us, and culminating with our Father in eternity. Assurance of our eventual, eternal blessings then blesses us in this present, temporal world, since we know what is yet to come.