The Sin of Comparison and the Hope of Psalm 37

scales of justice
Photo credit at TimesUnion blog

 

 

We live in a world of constant comparisons. We may find ourselves constantly looking around at everyone, making sure we measure up. Or looking at our neighbors, the legendary Joneses, and seeing if you have what they have. Why wouldn’t we? We work hard and we deserve to have exactly what they have. I am sure I’m not the only one scrolling down Instagram or other social media, constantly running an internal system check to make sure I match the level of success and happiness of my peers, coworkers, and strangers from around the world. Often times, I feel as though I don’t. What seems to be even worse is seeing the happiness of someone not submitted in their ways to the Lord. Isnt the whole reason for doing the right thing to get right results? Watching others gladly and limitlessly satisfying the desires of the flesh and finding happiness while you find yourself day and night miserably struggling to live right, sometimes at the expense of immediate happiness and gratification, can be exhausting and defeating. God knows His children. And it’s for this reason He inspired David to write Psalm 37. This chapter came into my life at a time when I was wallowing in ungratefulness and sinful self-pity that the big, bad and mean God wouldn’t let me play outside with my other friends. His law and commands seemed more like a Divine “My house, My rules” edict than a loving rule “reviving the soul” and “rejoicing the heart”. He allowed Psalm 37 to surgically cut to the core of my struggles, not taking away the affliction, but bringing meaning and, most importantly, hope to a very weary soul. Here are some things I took away from my reading:

Fretting and Comparing leads to sin

Right out of the gate in verse 1 David addresses the struggle of the passage. “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!” David tells of two different commands, to not fret and to not be envious. To fret is to stress to the point of anger over a situation or circumstance; and envy comes out by the sin of comparison. David tells us right out the gate which two responses to avoid when struggling. This point is specifically stated further down in vs 8: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil”. David’s command is also a warning that fretting leads to anger, which leads to evil; possibly the very evil you are jealously watching your neighbor be successful in.

Evildoers

Throughout the entire passage there are promises about what will happen to both the evildoers and to the righteous. Let it be stated here that God, in His infinite sovereignty and impeccable holiness and perfection, defines the standard of right and wrong. Evil or bad is that which God does not approve of and right or good is that which God approves of to His standard. So when David is referring to the evildoers and wrongdoers, He is referring to those are ontologically and actively outside of the will and commands of God.

Of the wicked, David says their very being along with their accomplishments will fade like the grass: “For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb” (vs 2); “I have seen a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree. But he passed away, and behold, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found” (vs 35-36). He also says they shall be cut off from the coming inheritance, the rest and life of dwelling in God forever: “For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land” (vs 9 ); “But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off” (vs 38). And lastly the Psalmist juxtaposes the ultimate sovereignty of God against the ultimate futileness of the wicked: “The enemies of the Lord are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish – like smoke they vanish” (vs 20) ; “But the Lord laughs at the wicked for he sees that his day is coming” (vs 13). The message is clear: evil and wrongdoing have only the end of destruction to look to.

The Righteous

The point of this Psalm is actually not on evildoers or wrongdoers. It was written for the saints. To remind the saints that their God has not forsaken them. To the saints, David reminds them that their delight and the fulfillment of their desires is found in Him before anywhere else:” Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (vs 4); “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace” (vs 11). The righteous are reminded that if they trust and wait patiently in the Lord, they will see Him move and act:” Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness” (vs 4); “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and he will act.” (vs 5); “Wait for the Lord and keep his way, and he will exalt you to inherit the land” (vs 34). They are told they will be protected: “The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death. The Lord will not abandon him to his power or let him be condemned when he is brought to trial” (vs 32-33); “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble” (vs 39).

I want to point out the interesting implied dichotomy between the results the righteous seek and actions the righteous take. It’s only when they choose to delight in the Lord that He gives them the desire of their heart; by committing your way to the Lord and trusting, you see His action. The righteous are to turn away from evil and do good, and that when the law of his God is in his heart, he does not slip. So what is the message? That the righteous will continue to live righteously as they serve a God who delights in saving His children and providing for them abundantly and fully :” I have been young and now I’m old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread”. So as you strive to live in manner pleasing and acceptable to God, you will be tempted to look to the left and the right and envy the success of those not doing so. Remind yourself that the way of wicked leads only to destruction, even if it provides fleeting happiness in this life; and remember that God has promised to provide peace, rest, and delight when we turn to him. “he delivers them from the wicked and saves them because they take refuge in him” (vs 40).

As with all this articles, this was written after many failed tests and weary cries to the Lord. So I do not write as one who has and will live this out perfectly. And I am sure that my faith is not done being refined and tested. But I hope you find this passage as encouraging as I did to continue in the way of the righteous. The Lord sees; He knows. We can trust Him.

Gospel reminder

As believers, all of us were at one point sons of wrath following the passions of the world. It’s only in God’s sovereign grace did He not only show us our sins laid before Him, but also made aware to us the reality of forgiveness that comes through Jesus, while giving us the ability to respond to the invitation towards that forgiveness and repentance. That being said, none of us have not been considered an evildoer, nor are we exempt from being tempted to giving in to evil doings. David, the writer of this Psalm, committed adultery, murder, and deception before the Lord. He suffered the consequences of these actions as well. Let us be reminded that if these words can be applied to us who were formerly seen as evildoers in God’s sight but who are now seen as righteous only through the imputed righteousness given to us through Jesus Christ, then they can be applied to those evildoers who have not yet answered the call to turn from their sin and choose The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Let us thank the Lord for His protection us while also praying for those still considered as evildoers to answer the call to repent and find the delight of Lord.

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