Wisdom psalms teach wise living, in contrast to psalms of praise or lament. Psalm 1 instructs us about creating a godly context for spiritual growth. As a wisdom psalm, it provokes us not so much to praise or petition but to a wise lifestyle.
While not speaking directly about integrity, as Psalm 15 does, Psalm 1 presents basic character traits of a godly man. Like the list of elder qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, these traits should be normative for all godly people. However, elders, as leaders of God’s people should model what is normative. In fact, the serious lack of such will undermine an elder’s integrity as well as his ability to shepherd and lead.
1. How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
First, our passage assumes we need counsel; pathetic is the elder who thinks he needs no advice outside of himself. Secondly, the quality of his spiritual leadership is affected by the quality of those from whom he seeks advice. While Proverbs 13:10 (NASB) tells us that “[w]isdom is with those who receive counsel,” Psalm 1 instructs us to consider carefully whose counsel we embrace. King Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, did not heed this warning when he listened to his companions rather than his father’s seasoned counselors.
Many of the difficult issues elders face don’t fit into neat categories with easy solutions. Often these issues do not match exactly the ancient situations or examples of Scripture. It seems every problem has a unique twist to it. So elders’ decisions often do not have the luxury of a clear-cut “Thus saith the Lord…” kind of response that addresses every detail of every issue. Many times we are called upon to exercise godly judgment. This calls for godly wisdom. So Psalm 1 infers the sequence that the counsel one receives determines the path he takes and the ultimate place he occupies. Godly counsel will lead a person in the path of the righteous and he will take his place among those who rejoice in wisdom.
2. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.
Elders should be characterized as men of the Word. The disciples confessed to our Lord, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). All teaching in the local church should be characterized as “words of eternal life.” That is, teaching should convey not just knowledge about Scripture, the Lord, or life. Teaching must connect people with true life on an eternal level. That kind of teaching draws us closer to the Lord and helps us live “life indeed” (John 10:10), living by the Spirit of God. Elders can’t cause this to happen by sheer force of determination. Rather we simple create the context for this as we meditate on the Lord and His communication to us.
On a practical level, this is more than simply studying the Bible so we can then teach others at an intellectual level. It means we immerse ourselves in the Word, we bathe in it, we digest it, we live it, and we are transformed by it—continually! Outsiders may see this as being obsessed or unbalanced—or a super-spirituality beyond the reach of ordinary men. But the man called by God to be an elder of His people delights to be “obsessed” with His law. Elders who help connect people with the Word of Life are themselves reading God’s Word, memorizing it, and quoting it in conversation as well as teaching it.
3. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
As a result of this kind of commitment to godly counsel and to the Word of God, elders become true pillars in the church, offering godly stability. When the assembly experiences confusion, conflict, doubt, or uncertainty, they are assured when they know the elders, in grace, stand strong, unwavering before the Lord. In time, such godliness will produce fruit “in its season.”
4. The wicked are not so, But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Churches fail when the leadership is unstable or follows ungodly counsel. They are easily blown away, as it were, by winds of false doctrine, popular movements, superficial teaching, strong personalities, or dysfunctional relationships. There is a plethora of people who claim to have found the secret for successful church leadership. Books, magazines, and conferences are innumerable. It seems that anyone who experiences some numerical growth in his congregation becomes the latest expert on “church growth.” The variety is quite amazing. Godly wisdom, however, is needed today more than ever, because the alternative will harm the true working of the church.
5. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
The Old Testament is replete with examples of the people of God falling because of ungodly leadership and poor counsel. Let it not be so among us, lest we fall under God’s judgment.
6. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
In the end, elders are accountable as under-shepherds to the Great Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). He is the judge of the quality and faithfulness of our service as elders. He alone is our Master—not a denomination headquarters, not a movement, not an influential preacher, not other assemblies. If we want the light of our local testimony to make an impact on our world and not just flicker and die out, if we want our service for Christ to catch His notice (as it were), then let us recommit to walking in wise counsel and to living and teaching the wonderful Words of Life.