Yesterday I posted a short exposition of Psalm 1 which celebrates the blessed life of those who devote themselves to the love of God. But there is more to be said if we want to read the psalm well as a Christian.
The psalm contrasts, as we noted, the two ways of the righteous and the wicked, and counsels the righteous not to “walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful’ (verse 1). The “walk, stand, sit” imagery is instructive, and may be understood in terms of a process of falling away from our delight in God.
It is also an implicit warning that the company we keep influences the direction and destiny of our lives. Care is needed here, however, for the psalm could become the basis of a completely unchristian form of life. Should believers separate themselves from all others they consider to be headed in the wrong direction? Should they have no relationship at all with the so-called wicked?
In today’s world that is probably impossible apart from a complete withdrawal into some kind of gated Christian sub-culture. This approach to Christian life has several fatal problems including (a) such Christian sub-cultures are often if not always sub-Christian; (b) it ignores the nature of psalm as a wisdom text, which portrays the truth it seeks to communicate in a boiled down and simple manner, rather than in a comprehensive and analytical manner. That is, the distinction between righteous and wicked portrayed here is not easily applied in the complexities of real life: the line of good and evil runs through every human heart, ourselves included. We simply cannot judge ourselves as righteous and others as wicked in black and white terms.
The truth the psalm communicates concerns the fundamental orientation and allegiance of our lives. The steadfast orientation of the righteous is toward God, even in the midst of a dark and hostile world, and in spite of our own continuing wickedness from which we must turn again and again.
Jesus is our guide here, for he managed to hold together love for God and love for the world. He was 100% in his devotion to God and he dined with tax collectors and sinners. He longed for the Pharisees to learn that God desires mercy and not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13; 12:7; cf. Hosea 6:6). A genuinely Christian approach to relationships will learn to love real people as Christ loved real people, though without walking in the ways of the fallen world.
The psalm is not so much a call for separation from the wicked as a picture of the blessing that accompanies those who choose the love of God. When we love God rightly and as the first object of our devotion, we may learn also to love the world as he does, and so follow in the path of the only one who is truly righteous – Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners.