Close Menu X
Navigate

God Is Our Treasured Possession

May 26, 2019 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Stand-Alone Sermons

Topic: The Christian's Spiritual Heartbeat Passage: Psalm 73:1–28

GOD IS OUR TREASURED POSSESSION

An Exposition of Psalm 73

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date:   May 26, 2019

Series: Stand-Alone Sermons

Note:   Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard   Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

 

THE SCRIPTURAL TEXT

Holy Scripture says,

A Psalm of Asaph.

1 Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73)

INTRODUCTION

It is easy to lose perspective.

Some years ago I was watching a Q & A Session with a well-respected evangelical scholar. Now ordinary Christians can get a bit starry-eyed when they contemplate their spiritual and theological heroes and assume that they always live in the clear skies far above the clouds of difficulty that most of us face on a regular basis. One of the questions that was posed to this notable theologian was something like ‘Do you ever lose perspective?’ or ‘Are you ever tempted to lose perspective?’ The scholar replied along the lines of, ‘Every day’! He didn’t mean that he had a life-defining crisis every day. But his answer shows that he was not living in the illusion that he was already sinless, but understood that the sin-laden loss of perspective at least presented itself as a temptation on a regular basis. And so it does.

When my expectations are not met, I am tempted to lose perspective. 

When the medical bill far exceeds the estimate, I am tempted to lose perspective.

When the critic decides to have a word with me, I am tempted to lose perspective.

When life’s difficulties pile up, I am tempted to lose perspective.

When blessings land on me, I am tempted to lose perspective and assume that I am worthy of these blessings.

When blessings land on someone else, I am tempted to lose perspective and let envy rear its ugly head: If them, then why not me?

As sinful human beings, we are prone to imbalanced thinking, disproportionate reactions, and off-kilter perspectives. As Christians who are on the pathway of maturity, regaining the right perspective and holding onto the right perspective is key to our growth in holiness.

As we unpack Psalm 73, we will see that this psalm isn’t about the loss of perspective in general, but is about a very specific situation in which Asaph lost perspective as he contemplated the prosperity of wicked people and envied their abundance. All sin betrays a loss of true perspective, and envy is no exception.

As we walk through Psalm 73, we journey with Asaph through the down of ‘perspective lost’ and then up again with ‘perspective regained’.

ASAPH DECLARES THE TRUTH: GOD IS GOOD TO HIS PEOPLE (v. 1)

First, Asaph declares the truth: God is good to His people (v. 1). Asaph writes,

“Truly God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart.” (v. 1)

Although things may seem otherwise when we have fallen under the enchantment of sin, the truth of the matter – the reality that we must understand – is that God is good to His people. Psalm 103 sets forth much of the goodness that the Lord bestows upon “those who fear him” Psalm 103:11, 13, 17). The Lord God

  • “forgives all your iniquity” (v. 3),
  • “heals all your diseases” (v. 3),
  • “redeems your life from the pit” (v. 4)
  • “crowns you with steadfast love and mercy” (v. 4),
  • “satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s” (v. 5).

Foundational to these displays of goodness is the beauty of God’s character: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” (Psalm 103:8) The Lord “[abounds] in steadfast love” and His steadfast love is on His people: “… the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” (Psalm 103:17-18)

Both Psalm 73 and Psalm 103 draw attention to the fact that being on the receiving end of God’s saving goodness requires that we actually trust Him and love Him. Psalm 103 describes this heartfelt, loving trust in terms of fearing God, keeping His covenant and doing His commands (v .17-18). Psalm 73 describes this heartfelt, loving trust in terms of being “pure in heart” (v. 1) and taking refuge in the Lord (v. 28).

So after saying that “God is good to Israel,” Asaph clarifies his statement by adding “to those who are pure in heart.” In Old Testament terms, the mere fact of being an ethnic Israelite was no guarantee of receiving God’s saving goodness. If we transpose Psalm 73:1 into New Testament terms, we could say: “Truly God is good to [the Church], to those who are pure in heart.” The mere fact of being outwardly associated with the Church is no guarantee of receiving God’s saving goodness. There are many people who “[have] the appearance of godliness, but [who deny] its power.” (2 Timothy 3:5) God doesn’t bestow His gracious salvation on those who are merely externally or outwardly or sociologically religious. Instead, God bestows His gracious salvation on those who inwardly turn to Him in repentance and faith, which thus begins a lifetime of walking with God. To such people, God is manifestly good. On such people, God pours out the blessings of His covenant.

And yet, these very people who really are “pure in heart” are vulnerable to the loss of perspective. The reality that God is good to His faithful people may get temporarily beclouded in our minds because of our sin. The truth that God is kind to those who walk in His ways may get temporarily obscured in our minds as we face the lure of temptation. And this is what happened to Asaph.

ASAPH LOSES PERPSECTIVE ON THE TRUTH OF GOD’S GOODNESS (v. 2-15)

So second, Asaph loses perspective on the truth of God’s goodness (v. 2-15). We see that the problem is loss of perspective by the way that verses 1-2 are set up:

“Truly God is good to Israel,

to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,

my steps had nearly slipped.” (v. 1-2)

In other words, Asaph was living in the reality of verse 1. Asaph knew verse 1 to be the truth, and he had tasted the Lord’s goodness, and he was walking in pure-hearted devotion to the Lord. But while he was walking on this good path, he “almost stumbled” and “nearly slipped.” He was on the verge of a great and injurious fall. The truth of verse 1 is rock solid, but he started to lose his grip on it. The reality of verse 1 is unchanging, but his mind began to wander and his heart began to drift. God’s truth is totally objectively reliable, but it needs to be settled in our hearts and minds, or perhaps it would be better to say that we need to be firmly settled in the truth. When trials and temptations come along, they test the degree to which our heart is settled in God’s gracious truth. Often enough, we learn that our hearts and minds are not nearly as settled as we might have hoped. But take courage: all this is an opportunity to grow and gain clearer perspective on the other side.

What Caused Asaph to Almost Stumble: Envy

In verse 3 Asaph tells us what is was that caused him to almost stumble and slip: “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Envy creeped in and corrupted his spiritual health. Envy is a discontented craving for the position and privileges that others have.

Envy, of course, can be directed anywhere: we can envy family members, we can envy friends, we can envy strangers, and we can we can envy our fellow Christians. Indeed, we can envy the status or abilities or family situation or income or home (or second home) of other people, including our fellow believers.

Nevertheless, we must not miss the particular edge of Asaph’s envy. What almost tripped up Asaph was not envy of his fellow believers, but envy of proud evildoers who were getting along quite well in the world. It wasn’t, of course, their arrogance or wickedness that he envied, but rather their prosperity. If these arrogant and wicked people had been suffering poverty, Asaph would not have envied them. And, of course, there are some arrogant and wicked people who do indeed suffer poverty. But the impoverished ones didn’t catch his eye; the prosperous ones did. They were arrogant and affluent, proud and prosperous, sinful and successful, wicked and wealthy – and he got to thinking that he would like to have what they have.

In verses 4-12 Asaph reflects on “the prosperity of the wicked.” Verses 4-5 say: “For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.” They have all the creature comforts, the best medical care, the best therapies, the best getaways. They live in the best part of town, with access to all the amenities and luxuries that money can buy. They have an entourage of servants who make their life care-free and low-stress. They are untroubled, safe from the dangers and demands that afflict ordinary men. They eat sumptuous meals and drink vintage wine, and never have to ask how much it costs. They are “always at ease,” it says in verse 12, and “they increase in riches.”

Meanwhile, their cash and comfort is accompanied by corrupt character. They are spiritually and morally bankrupt. They are proud (v. 6). They are violent (v. 6), no doubt pushing others around and getting their way. They are full of themselves, so to speak, with swelling eyes (v. 7) and hearts bursting with foolishness (v. 7) and mouths spewing forth venom (v. 8-9). It is as if they are so full of self that self is just exploding out of them.  

Verses 8-9 say: “They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppressions. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.” These proud evildoers are the very opposite of the qualities commended in the beatitudes: they are not “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), they are not “meek” (Matthew 5:5), they are not “merciful” (Matthew 5:7), they are not “peacemakers” (Matthew 5:9). Instead they are the aggressors who boast about themselves and threaten other people. They exalt themselves at the expense of others. And they don’t give a rip about God; they do not fear God; and they do not live with the awareness that one day God will bring their character and conduct into judgment. What do they say according to verse 11? “And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”” They are suppressing the truth about God, they are pushing the knowledge of God to outermost regions of the cosmos, and they are wishing for a world in which the all-knowing holy God is not standing over them as the Righteous Judge. But in this matter, they are utterly foolish. As it says in another psalm: “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”” (Psalm 53:1)

But even though they are proud and wicked to the core, life seems to be working for them, and that’s what caused Asaph so much trouble. Asaph wanted life to work for him: he wanted less cramps, and more comforts; less trouble, and more ease; less paycheck to paycheck, and more surplus stored up for many years; less poverty, and more prosperity. And during this season of temptation, his perspective – his vision – got warped: he began to place high value on external possessions and privileges, and he began to devalue internal purity of heart. He shares his warped perspective in verses 13-14: “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.”

Asaph Wonders if Pure-hearted Devotion to God is Worth It

Do you hear what he is saying? He began the psalm by telling us that “God is good… to those who are pure in heart.” And as a true servant of the Lord, Asaph had made an honest effort to walk in purity, keep his heart clean, and wash his hands in innocence. He had endeavored to do the right thing. As a true servant of the Lord, Asaph had a tender conscience and a teachable heart: the Lord disciplines and corrects and redirects His people in the way of righteousness, and Asaph welcomed it. Asaph was “stricken and rebuked every morning”: he experienced the discomforts and reproofs that accompany growth in discipleship. All was well, until that day when he started to notice the wealthy proud people in his neighborhood, and now he wasn’t so sure that diligent devotion to God was worth it.

Every single one of us wants what we do to be worth it, right? We want our way of life to be worthwhile, not worthless; we want our choices and decisions to have true value, and not be in vain. We want to walk a path that fills our cup, not one that leaves us empty. And in this moment where Asaph is appraising his life, he is being tempted and assaulted by the wrong value system. He is starting to think that prosperity is valuable, whereas purity of heart is vain. Do you see? “All in vain have I kept my heart clean.” He is losing perspective and his sense of real value is being turned upside down. As we shall see very soon, the truth of the matter is that what Asaph has is truly valuable, whereas what the wicked have is ultimately worthless. But sin warps our vision and keeps us from seeing the truth.

Losing Perspective Isn’t Just About Me

As Asaph concludes his description of his spiritual lapse, he makes an important comment about the responsibility that we have to God’s people. God is good to His people, and His people have the privilege and responsibility of building up one another in the truth. One of the best ways that we can minister to one another is by reminding one another of God’s continual goodness to His people, by reminding one another of God’s already accomplished grace in the past, and by reminding one another of God’s assured grace in the future. But if we lose our footing and fall down, the reality is that we can pull others down with us. And one of the awful ways in which we would betray God’s people is by pulling them away from the truth. Doing this would be a great sin, and as Asaph writes this psalm, he breathes a sigh of relief that he recovered his spiritual sight before that happened. He writes, “If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.”” (v. 15) In other words, if he had communicated to his fellow Israelites that wickedness pays and righteousness doesn’t pay, and that worldly wealth is more valuable than spiritual wealth, and that serving the Lord isn’t worth it, then he would have betrayed God’s people and committed a grievous sin against them.

In light of verse 15, it is worth pointing out that our 20th and 21st century preoccupation with ‘being true to yourself’ is so wrongheaded. We are sinful people, folks, which means that ‘being true to yourself’ so often amounts to ‘being true to your sin’, ‘being true to your idolatry’, ‘being true to the lies that you have believed’. And that’s no good! The Bible teaches us that our primary responsibility is to be true to the Lord. And whenever being true to the Lord conflicts with being true to myself, the Bible teaches us to repent and draw near to the Lord and walk in His ways. And when we do that, we learn that ‘being true to the Lord’ also entails ‘being true to the Lord’s people’. Modern idolaters celebrate individual self-expression, and who cares if that self-expression tramples on a community and heritage and legacy and standard and tradition that is worth preserving? But Christians should know better: be true to God, be true to God’s people, and never say or do anything that would betray God’s people or lead them into sin. Don’t play with this, for Jesus said: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (Luke 17:1-2) Do not betray the Church, but by God’s gracious strength do everything that you can to bless and build up the Church.

ASAPH STRUGGLES TO REGAIN PERSPECTIVE (v. 16)

Third, as Asaph found himself caught in the grip of a warped perspective, he struggled to regain the right respective (v. 16). He reflects, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task.” He obviously had some self-awareness that his line of thinking was not a good one, but he couldn’t just snap his fingers and be done with it. He couldn’t just think himself out of its grasp. He couldn’t just fix it.

Sin, after all, is toxic. Warped perspectives can descend on us with great power and afflict our soul. Beclouded vision involves our thinking but it runs deeper than our thinking: it is fogginess of soul, it is dampening of affections, it is distortion of values, and it all feeds into and out of destabilized emotions. To the degree that we are unhinged from truth, to that degree our heart and mind will run in unhealthy directions.

Envy, of course, is not a merely mental sin; it is not merely an intellectual calculation that it would be nice to have their car. Envy is discontented craving and inordinate desiring – and if you don’t nip it in the bud, if you don’t kill the rise of envy within five or ten seconds – then it is likely to grow quickly in your heart and put you in a spiritual funk that can last for hours or even days. And this is how it is with any and every sin, so be careful!

As Asaph realizes that he has gotten off track, he wants to think things through, he wants to rediscover his spiritual bearings. And he must think it through – because God wants our understanding to be healthy and sound. But the needful task of thinking it through overwhelmed Asaph, and he didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel: “it seemed to me a wearisome task.” And so it is: unknotting the ties of temptation and the lies of sin is no easy task, it is beyond our ability, and it remains elusive until we get into God’s presence.

ASAPH REGAINS THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE (v. 17-26)

Fourth, Asaph regains the right perspective (v. 17-26). Asaph regains the right perspective on the truth of God’s goodness “to those who are pure in heart.” And, at the same time, Asaph regains perspective on the related truth that those who are not pure in heart are not in an enviable position.

The turning point comes, of course, when Asaph drew near to God – when he got into God’s presence and began to see things from God’s perspective: “it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” (v. 16-17)

Don’t miss this crucial lesson: whatever your issue is, whatever temptation is currently bearing down on you, whatever sin is crouching at the door, whatever warped perspective is afflicting you, the pathway to health is going “into the sanctuary of God” and getting God’s perspective. Anything short of that is at best a superficial and short-term fix. And we want to do better than that: we want a deep and durable solution to our maladies. Therefore, draw near to God. Sometimes we think that we will draw near to God after we’re better, but this is backwards. We don’t steady our soul, then draw near to God. Instead, we go to God with our unsteady soul, and trust Him to steady and strengthen and satisfy us.

Going Into God’s Sanctuary

Asaph speaks of going into God’s sanctuary, and God’s sanctuary is a reference to the place of worship, the place of sacrifice, the place of prayer. In New Testament terms, the church is God’s temple: when we gather together in Christ’s name, the Holy Spirit is among us as we worship God and listen to His Word and fellowship with one another. Gathering together with the church on the Lord’s Day is, in large measure, about being renewed in God’s perspective – and if Asaph-like rediscoveries of God’s truth and if Asaph-like realignments to that truth aren’t happening when we gather together, then we’re missing the boat! Of course, the practice of drawing near to God shouldn’t be limited to the appointed worship gatherings of the church: we ought to draw near to God throughout the week in our personal devotions, our family devotions, and in spiritual conversations with our fellow believers – and God is also pleased to use such occasions to recalibrate our souls according to His perspective.

Regaining Perspective on the Wicked

Once Asaph as in God’s sanctuary, the first thing that he began to see is that the wicked people he was envying are actually not in an enviable position: “then I discerned their end.” Before we go any further, just note how important it is to see the big picture, the full picture, especially the final frame. When Asaph looked at “the prosperity of the wicked” in verses 3-12, he was looking at the wicked and their wealth through the narrow, short-term lens of present net worth, present comfort, and present success, all understood in this-worldly terms. But in verses 3-12 he wasn’t looking at the wicked in terms of their spiritual health, their relationship with the Lord, and their final destiny.

Do you remember what Jesus said? He said, “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 KJV) When Asaph was entrapped in envy, all he could see was the present gain and earthly profit of the proud rich people around him, but he wasn’t seeing the deeper reality that these very same people were on the verge of losing their souls. Yes, they were on the path of prosperity in the here and now, but they were actually on the path of perishing forever. Once he got into God’s presence, Asaph began to see the bigger picture, the ultimate reality, the spiritual and eternal perspective. After telling us that he “discerned their end” in verse 17, in verses 18-20 he describes their unenviable situation in more detail:

“Truly you set them in slippery places;

you make them fall to ruin.

How they are destroyed in a moment,

swept away utterly by terrors!

Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord,

when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.” (v. 18-20)

Earlier Asaph told us that when he was in his spiritual funk, he “almost stumbled” and “nearly slipped.” Now he realizes that it is the wicked who are on the slippery path and, in due course, they will slip and “fall to ruin.” Notice, however, that the destiny of the wicked is not the result of some impersonal fate. Instead, their destiny is the result of God’s proactive judgment against them: God “[makes] them fall to ruin.” God sets His holy wrath on those who are disobedient (John 3:36).

Of course, all of us are by nature sinful, disobedient, and subject to God’s wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). The only way that anyone is delivered out of God’s wrath and is brought into the blessedness of God’s beloved family is through faith in Jesus Christ, who made atonement for our sins on the cross (Ephesians 1:3-14, 2:4-10). It is only through Christ that sinners are forgiven, reconciled to God, and transformed into “those who are pure in heart.” It is only through Christ that we escape the “fall to ruin” of Psalm 73:18 and instead experience the Psalm 73:1 goodness of God’s grace.  

Now notice the contrast between verse 1 and verses 18. In verse 1, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” By contrast, in verses 18: “Truly [God sets the wicked] in slippery places; [he makes] them fall to ruin.” The wicked may prosper for a time, but suddenly God pours out the terrors of His justice upon them, and “they are destroyed” and “swept away.” Although it appears that life is working for proud rich people, the appearance is misleading. In reality, they are like “phantoms” who have no solid claim on reality, who have to firm anchor in the good world that God has made. And when God chooses to ascend to the throne of judgment and enact His righteous decrees, He looks with disgust on these shadowy figures who “refused to love the truth” (2 Thessalonians 2:10) and instead built their life on sinking sand (Matthew 7:26-27). Those who walk this path of spiritual destruction are not to be envied, regardless of the comforts and pleasures that they manage to obtain for their few short years on earth. As Paul taught us in Romans 2, everyone who refuses to repent is “storing up wrath for [himself] on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)

So once Asaph was in God’s sanctuary, he discerned the unenviable destiny of the wicked, and this changed his outlook. And as his outlook began to be realigned with God’s outlook, he realized that when he had succumbed to the warped perspective of verses 2-14, his spiritual life had devolved into the madness of a brute beast. He reflects, “When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.” (Psalm 73:21-22) The truth of the matter is that we don’t realize the awfulness of our rank immaturity and foolishness until God has brought us to higher ground. And once we regain our sight, we realize how utterly stupid we had been, spiritually speaking. Once we breathe the clean air of holiness, only then we do realize how foul was the air of those sinful suggestions in the furnace of temptation.

Regaining Perspective on Himself in Relation to the Lord

But now, breathing the clean air again, Asaph realized not only that the bankrupt position of the proud rich was not enviable, so he also realized that the blessed position of the pure in heart is the most excellent position in all the world. Asaph realizes afresh and anew that what really matters is not your financial position, not your social position, not your position in terms of physical ease and physical health, not your proximity to the amenities and comforts of this present world. Instead what really matters is your spiritual position; what really matters is your proximity to God. Those “who are pure in heart” and who take refuge in the Lord are truly in the position of blessing. And Asaph recounts this blessedness in verses 23-25.

First, Asaph has fellowship with the Lord: “I am continually with you.” (v. 23) He may not have had much in the way of social standing, he may not have had much political clout, and his possessions may have been few, but he had that which mattered most: he had the Lord. So long as you are with the Lord and He is with you, then it matters very little what other things you don’t have. Do you know, fellow believer, that you are continually with the Lord? And if so, are you staying near Him?

Second, Asaph has the Lord’s support: “you hold my right hand.” (v. 23) It is God’s “righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10) upholding our weak right hand that keeps us from stumbling, slipping, and falling. If our steadiness depended on our own strength, we would most certainly lose our footing. But God holds onto us and sustains us on the upward path. Do you know, fellow Christian, that the Lord upholds you? And if so, are you trusting Him?

Third, Asaph has the Lord’s guidance: “You guide me with your counsel.” (v. 24) Those who love the Lord know that His Word is worth far more than “the prosperity” and “riches” of this world. The Lord’s counsel and instruction are “[more] to be desired… than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:10) “The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” (Psalm 119:72) This being the case, the truly poor man is the one who doesn’t have the benefit of the Lord’s better-than-gold counsel, and the truly rich man is the one who does. He guides us “beside still waters” (Psalm 23:2). He guides us “in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) He is with us in “the valley of the shadow of death,” and comforts us, and guides us to life and victory. (Psalm 23:4) Do you know, brother or sister, that God has given you His Word to guide you through the steep ravines of this present world? And if so, are you giving obedient attention to His counsel?

Fourth, Asaph has the Lord’s promise of future glory: “and afterward you will receive me into glory.” (v. 24) The Lord upholds and guides Asaph now, and things are moving forward toward a particular goal. Just as the wicked man’s sinful steps on the slippery path are leading to final ruin, so the righteous man’s steady steps on the straight path are leading to final glory. We look forward to that day when, on the other side of death, God will welcome us home.

God Is Our Most Treasured Possession

As Asaph realizes these great spiritual privileges that he has in the Lord, he is renewed and full of faith. He has a fresh awareness that his treasured possession is God and God alone. He looks upward to heaven, and then he looks outward to scan the earth, and he knows that nothing else compares to the Lord: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.” (v. 25) The most important commandment is that we love the Lord with our whole being, and that we worship and serve no other gods. Verse 25 is the response of faith to that greatest command: In heaven above and on earth below, I possess and desire to possess nothing else, only You, Lord.

Friend, this truth is crucial to understand. If you primary desire is directed to anyone or anything else, then you are setting yourself up for a great fall. Human beings can be taken away from you; relationships can be severed; possessions can be lost or stolen, or consumed by moth and rust; the tide of public opinion can turn against you; careers can be suddenly ended; political liberties can be lost; economies can fail; wars can break out; and physical health can fail. If you most treasured possession is losable, then you do not yet desire as you ought. What will become of the proud rich man on that day when his heart fails and his body gives way? What will become of all his boasts, comforts and riches? What will become of the man who did not trust in God?

Asaph, however, has a solid hope: “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (v. 26) The prospect of a deathbed puts life into perspective, doesn’t it? What good is fame when death draws near? What good is fitness when fitness fails? What good is fortune when your body is shutting down? What good is your powerful social network when you are about to meet God face to face?

As for Asaph, he has a hope that will not fail. “God is the strength of [his] heart and [his] portion” now; “God is the strength of [his] heart and [his] portion” on the deathbed; and “God is the strength of [his] heart and [his] portion forever.” “God is the strength” who will not fail; God is the rock who will not break; God is the portion who will not run dry; God is the one treasure who cannot be lost. If you have any other treasure, then you can be separated from your treasure, and what will you do? But we who share Asaph’s faith can say with great confidence that nothing “in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39)

ASAPH CONCLUDES WITH A BOLD DECLARATION OF THE TRUTH: ALL THAT MATTERS IS NEARNESS TO GOD

Finally, having taken us through his down-and-up journey of losing and then regaining perspective, Asaph concludes with a bold declaration of the truth: all that matters is nearness to God (v. 27-28). Those who are far from God, those who are unfaithful to God, will meet with a bitter end. By contrast, it is well with those who are near God, with those who have taken refuge in God. Asaph says,

“For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;

you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.

But for me it is good to be near God;

I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,

that I may tell of all your works.” (v. 27-28)

Asaph began the psalm by stating the objective truth that God is good to His people. Now he concludes the psalm by testifying to his own experience of this truth: “it is good to be near God.” In other words, “it is good to be near [to the] God” who truly is good to His people. Can you testify to the same reality? It is true that God is good to His people, but this truth isn’t meant to be something that we merely write down on a piece paper; it is meant to be experienced, tasted, and lived. “Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

“That I May Tell”

In his final words, Asaph revisits the sobering comment he had made in verse 15. In verse 15 he said that if he had spoken out of his warped perspective, he would have betrayed God’s people and undermined their confidence in God’s goodness. He is relieved that he regained his sanity prior to speak words of betrayal. And now that he has regained the right perspective, he knows that it is his privilege to be true to God’s people by testifying of God’s great and gracious works and thus encouraging God’s people to keep on trusting the Lord and walking in His ways.

In fact, Asaph says that he has taken refuge in the Lord for the express purpose of “telling of all [God’s] works.” We are hardwired as sharers of great things, and there are no greater things to share than the great things, the good things, the gracious things that God does. We speak out of the overflow of our hearts, and if God is our most treasured possession who satisfies and strengthens our heart, then it will be our joy to speak of Him to those around us.

Going through an Asaph-like experience isn’t just about our individual spiritual health, but it is about our capacity to speak faithfully on God’s behalf and encourage others in the truth. Together, as a community of Asaph-like believers and Asaph-like strugglers, let us hold onto God as our most treasured possession and speak of His goodness to those around us.

More in Stand-Alone Sermons

May 5, 2024

The Bible and Behavior

April 7, 2024

Gatekeepers

March 10, 2024

The Wonderful Gift of Weakness