Theme: The Quiet Spirit
In this week’s lessons we look at a psalm that contains some of the best-loved verses in the Old Testament, and learn what mature Christian living looks like.
Scripture: Psalm 37:1-20
The first eleven verses are the most direct exposition of the third beatitude, which is where they end. They describe the quiet spirit of one who trusts in God and does not fret because of evil men.
The note is struck at the very beginning, in verses 1 and 2: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”2 The words “do not fret” literally mean “do not get heated,” which is also how we might express it. Or we might say, “Don’t get all worked up.” Or even “Be cool.” This is what the psalm chiefly wants to say to us. So in case we might miss it, the words “do not fret” are repeated three times, being found in verses 1, 7 and 8. They are the recurring theme of this section.
But how are we to do it? How are we to remain cool when we see evil men prospering, especially when they prosper at the expense of righteous persons, as is often the case?
The beatitude says that the meek will inherit the earth. But it seems to us that it is the ungodly who usually get it. Nice guys finish last! How can we not fret when we see that happening? Verses 3-11 give two answers to those questions. The first is that we are to look up, and the second is that we are to look ahead.
The most important answer is to get our eyes off the wicked and even off ourselves and onto the Lord. More than that, we are to trust him and commit our way to him. I suppose there is hardly a place in all the Bible better suited to teach us how to live godly lives and grow in the love and knowledge of God, which is what the godly life is about, than these verses. They tell us to do five things.
1. “Trust in the LORD” (v. 3). Trust is faith. It is the proper starting point for all right relationships with God. Yet as always, faith is not merely passive but active too, and not merely God-related but related to others. This is why the verse adds the words “and do good.” It means that the person who is quietly trusting God will experience the life and power of God in his or her life and that this new life will express itself by doing good to others. I often say when I am teaching about faith as the channel of justification that there is never any justification without regeneration and that the one who is regenerated will necessarily lead a new life. In other words, although we are not saved by works but rather are saved by the grace of God through faith, faith will inevitably express itself in better conduct.
Faith (trust) has three elements: 1) notitia or “content”; 2) assensus, which is personal “consent to” or “agreement with” that content; and 3) fiducia or “trust.” The last point involves a personal commitment to God, just as marriage involves a personal commitment of each marriage partner to the other. God has committed himself to us. We must commit ourselves to him.
2. “Delight … in the LORD” (v. 4). Before people are converted they resist any relationship to God, because they do not think that God is desirable. They suppose him to be moralistic and harsh, establishing rules intended only to keep people from fulfilling themselves or having fun.
The truth is entirely different, for the God we come to know in salvation is entirely delightful. He is holy, to be sure. He is also the sovereign, exalted, awesome God the Bible everywhere pictures him to be. We cannot trifle with him. He cannot be taken lightly. But in addition to those incontrovertible truths, the one who trusts God also finds him to be a source of exquisite delight. For he is the perfection of grace, compassion, mercy, kindness, patience and love. He is, in other words, like Jesus Christ, and the better we know him the more we inevitably delight in him. The reason many apparent Christians do not delight in God is that they do not know him very well. And the reason they do not know him well is that they do not spend time with him.
The promise attached to this verse is that if we delight in God, God will give us the desires of our hearts. This does not mean that God will give us any foolish thing we may long for. It means that if we are delighting in God and longing for God, God will give us himself.
Use Psalm 37 to explain Matthew 5:5.
What does it mean for faith to be both active and passive?
List and describe the three elements of faith.
What does the phrase “he will give you the desires of your heart” really promise us?
Application: Do you delight in knowing God? What steps can you take to delight more fully in him?
For Further Study: One of the marks of a Christian is perseverance in prayer. To see this from the teaching of Jesus, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “On Not Giving Up.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
2Verse 1 is found again at Proverbs 24:19, apart from one synonym.