One of the tenets of Reformed theology is the doctrine of eternal security. We often call it “the perseverance of the saints.” If you are familiar with the TULIP acronym which outline the 5 points of Calvinism, it is the “P.”
We believe that God elects those who would be saved from eternity past, and we also believe that he will bring them safely to heaven. No matter what trial or tribulation may assail us, God will preserve us and enable us to persevere unto the end.
In everything we are, as Paul says, “more than conquerors.” But we conquer because God sustains us every step of the way. And he sustains us by means of the truths he gives us in Scripture.
You might liken it to what Paul experienced when at sea in the book of Acts. A storm came upon them and threatened to take their lives. Paul had a vision where God said they would all persevere through the storm. But did they just sit back and have a smoke? Not at all, they worked diligently, using the means necessary to save their lives. They dumped the cargo. They put ropes around the haul of the ship. They held on to pieces of wood while adrift in the water. There were helps that God used all along the way to sustain them.
That is essentially what a lot of these Psalms are like. In these poems God lays out truths that help us persevere to the end. The Psalms we’ve been looking at are sort of like the “driftwood” that will help bring us to shore in times of persecution.
And in Psalm 37 we find several of these truths that aid us in our perseverance. In these words David helps fortify our faith by pointing us to the grand plan of God. He points us beyond our current situation to the fuller outworking of God’s providence.
And if we want to persevere through persecution, we would do well to reflect on the truths contained in this poem. And the best place to begin is with the focus of our faith.
As we prepare for persecution, we must make sure our faith is focused on what God will do down the road. The very first verse sets the tone by pushing the focus of our faith to the future.
I. Faith’s focus
It says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers, be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb.”
Now think about your yard right now. We’ve come through spring and we’ve had a pretty good start to the summer. So it is probably nice and lush right now. But what’s going to happen in a few months. Come October or November, it is going to die off.
Tomato plants have always been kind of interesting to me. Tomato plants grow all through the summer. But as soon as the tomatoes ripen, they die. It is amazing how fast they brown over after the tomatoes are picked.
That’s what this verse says is going to happen to the unbelieving. Their reign isn’t going to last. The kingdoms of man and the powers of evil have no real sovereignty. And as a result, they are going to vanish rather quickly.
You can see this repeated throughout this psalm. In verse 9 it says that the “evildoers will be cut off.” And in verse 10 it says, “In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.”
I like how verses 12-13 puts it, “The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him, but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.” All God has to do is look at the calendar. He can’t help but chuckle because the hours are counting down for his enemies.
Verses 14 and 15 give us another picture of the limited time that unbelieving people have in power. “The wicked draw the sword and bend their bows to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose way is upright; their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken.”
Last week we talked a little about how the wicked fall into their own schemes. The things that they plot not only cave in, but they end up trapping themselves. Here you see something of that same thing. One wonders if Saul is in view here. Saul had pointed his sword at David many a time and chased him often with it. But what happened in the end? Saul committed suicide by falling upon his own sword.
Finally, verse 20 tells us that the wicked are like smoke that quickly vanishes.
Young people, a lot of you went camping with us a few weeks ago. You saw the fire and the smoke that it produced, didn’t you? How long did that smoke linger? Not long, was it? It might have stung your eyes for a moment, but it quickly disappeared, didn’t it?
That’s what the Lord says about those who are unbelievers. Their power will soon fade away. Though their plans may succeed for a while and though they may have the upper hand for a time, it won’t be long until they are completely gone from this earth.
History backs this up. Who might have been the most wicked men on earth? How about Nero. Nero is sometimes touted as the most evil man who ever lived. He persecuted Christians with an intense hatred. It is said that he lit them like torches for his gardens and committed all kinds of atrocities against them.
But do you know how long Nero was the Roman Emperor? The way some people talk about him, it makes it seem that he was in power for a long time. But its not so. His rule lasted for only about 14 years. By comparison he wasn’t even a cloud of smoke. He barely rates as a small puff.
Or how about Mao Tse-tung? He was the chairman of the communist party in China. And there is no doubt that he was a wicked, evil man! Conservative estimates say that he is responsible for killing 50 million people. He was an atheist and a raging madman when it came to advancing the Marxian worldview. We don’t downplay the impact he had on the world (and especially China), but how long was he in power? Just over 25 years. He did a lot of horrid things in those 25 years, but in the grand scheme of things that’s not that long.
And the best part about it is that the Christian faith is exploding in China, despite the wishes of the communists. It is believed that it will not be long until there are more Christians than communists in the land. In all reality, we are on the precipice of seeing another revolution in China. This time a Christian revolution.
What’s more important though, is the eternal perspective that this passage gives us. This is not just saying that our enemies will be gone from power. But they will not have eternal life. That’s the other side of this point. God not only focuses our faith on the temporary nature of our tribulation, but he gives us an eternal focus. In time, the enemies of God will be no more and on top of that, verse 11 tells us that the meek will inherit the earth.
That’s, of course, talking about those of us who are Christians. To be meek is to be humble & submissive to God. As we are submissive to God and patiently endure the tribulations that come our way, we have the promise that we will have eternal life here on this earth.
Again, this focus is repeated throughout the passage. Verse 18 says, “The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever;”
That is to be our focus. Part of what helps the body of Christ in times of persecution is the perspective that are given in the Scripture. We see the grand story. We see that trials and tribulations are ultimately just a passing wisp in comparison to eternity.
But, again, once our faith has this focus, our faith can express itself in the way it ought. Our belief system impacts our life system (i.e. our ethics). And in this passage you see the kind of faith that we are to have. It outlines for us the character of persevering faith.
II. Faith’s form
The first 11 verses contain about 8 exhortations, all of which define for us how we should be living before the Lord through these persecutions.
The first one is “fret not.” It is found in verse 1 and in verse 7. It literally means “to burn.” And it is basically saying, “Don’t let yourself get overheated.” Isn’t that what you do when you are afraid of something or you are overly worried? You get yourself all heated up. God’s telling you here, you don’t have to do that. You don’t have to worry. God’s got it all taken care of. To put it another way, you can be cool in the midst of persecution because the Lord is working out his plan.
The second thing he says is in verse 3. Trust in the Lord. Really this is the flip side of “fretting not,” isn’t it? Why do we get all in a tizzy? It’s because we do not trust the Lord. He says, “Just trust me and do good.” Stop your worrying and continue doing what you are supposed to do.
Verse 4 tells you to “delight yourself in the Lord.” Let God be your source of pleasure and take great joy in him. This is the way you express your faith. Just like Paul and Silas, as they were sitting in the jail. Were they grumbling and complaining? Nope. They were singing songs and worshipping the Lord.
I should add a quick little comment on this verse. Why does it say to delight yourself in the Lord? Because he will “give you the desires of you heart.” Now there are some people who take this as health and wealth gospel. Delight yourself in God and he will give you that 1 million dollars you want. That’s not true, of course. Others take it to mean that your will will conform to God’s will. That’s true, but I don’t know that that is what is being said here.
What is it that the Psalmist wants in this passage? It’s justice, isn’t it? He thinks its unfair that the wicked are succeeding and getting away with all this evil. He wants it to stop! That’s why David tells us to delight in the Lord. God’s going to give us that!
The passage goes on to tell us more about how our faith should be expressed. In verse 8 it says that we should cease from anger and forsake wrath. Now, this is talking about unrighteous anger of course. It is the anger that “tends towards evil” as it says. In other words, don’t get vengeful or don’t let anger cloud your mind so that you cannot love your enemies.
What is interesting to see is that this passage commends charity and being generous. Look at verse 21. It says, “The wicked borrows but does not pay back, but the righteous is generous and gives.” Then in verse 26 it says, “26 He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing.”
Now, there are certain cautions to take with this. We grant that there is a limited perspective here. David is speaking from his point of view. And he says that “he never sees the righteous begging bread.” Well, there are times when the righteous are reduced to begging, isn’t there. In times of war and persecution, that happens.
But I’ve witnessed that even in the most desperate times Christians still lend and give. When I was in seminary I had a classmate from India. He once scolded us Americans for being so tightfisted with our money. He said that in India, people have virtually nothing. Yet the Christians there always are sharing what they have with one another.
We might even look at Nang Taing, our missionary friend from Myanmar. How many children are they taking care of? 20? It’s not like they have a mansion that they are living in. Their house is a lot like one of our garages!
That’s something we should take note of. God wants us to remember that we should not be materialistic little Christians. What we have we are to be stewards of for his glory. And when desperate times come, we should still be willing to give.
There’s more we could say here. We’ve only touched on a few of the 10 of the traits that should characterize our faith. But I think you get the picture. God wants us to continue living a godly life and demonstrate Christ likeness.
But before we end, I want to stress one more thing. I want you to be sure to see how important each of you are to one another.
III. Faith’s friends
You’ll notice that David is the author of this psalm, but did you notice to whom he is writing. He’s writing it to other people. It’s not about David. A lot of the time david addresses God in his psalms. Or maybe he writes to himself; describing his situation. But he’s not doing that here. He’s writing to other people. He’s writing an exhortation to his brethren to help them keep their faith and persevere.
That’s really important to point out. That’s really something that we need to remember. If we are going to make it through persecution, we need each other. We need to have the mutual encouragement of one another so that we don’t lose sight of the future.
This reminds me of what it says in Hebrews 10:24-25. Sometimes we quote that verse which says, “Do not neglect meeting together, as is the habit of some. And we use that as a way of saying how important it is to be in the habit of coming to church each Sunday. But the context is really key. It says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
Why was worship and faithful attendance in church needed? In Hebrews its because you need the mutual encouragement that you get here. You stir one another up and encourage one another.
That’s exactly what David was doing here in this Psalm. David was used of God to minister to his friends. It is through his counsel and his exhortations that their faith was upheld.
Think of this church as a long line of freight cars on a train. Have you ever wondered how that one locomotive engine can move hundreds of freight cars loaded with cargo? Its because there is a little bit of slack in between each car. When the engine starts off, that slack allows the engine to give a sudden jerk to the car behind it. That blow creates some inertia to get every car moving.
That’s essentially how the church continues down the rails of faith. Each of us is like one of those freight cars in that we are all linked together. And you can think of persecution as the weight that bears down upon us. That load would be too much for us to bear on our own. But because we are linked together, we are able to bump each other down the road of faith. As we rub shoulders with each other from week to week we create spiritual inertia which enables us to persevere on in the faith.
It is so important to point that out in our day and age because it reminds us of our duty to covenant with one another. It reminds us how strong the bond that knits us together is to be. If we do not have a robust unity, we will not have a strong witness down the road.
Here is where Satan has really set things up well in our contemporary society. We might think that the American church has become nothing more than church hoppers. People who have not sought to cultivate deep relationships with other brothers and sisters will find themselves in a great deal of distress when the tides of persecution rise. They won’t have other brothers and sisters who can help bolster their faith.
The unity of this church is so important. We need one another. We need the encouragement that each one of you provides. And I want to encourage you to never forsake meeting together. Because church is not just about your needs or your personal religious experience. It primarily about the worship of God. And right behind that is the blessing you afford to those who sit around you.
You are a vital means to my perseverance. You are the seedbed for each other’s encouragement. As you sing and as you pray, you are providing the necessary resources that stir my faith. And as we grow in our relationship we are preparing the ground for our future faith together. When harder times arise the bond that we’ve created here and now will allow us to push each other on and to exhort one another to maintain a sound faith and faithful witness. We will be able to be like David, pointing each other to the glorious end that we expect and to the life that we ought to live in view of it
During China’s Boxer Rebellion of 1900, insurgents captured a mission station, blocked all the gates but one, and in front of that one gate placed a cross flat on the ground. Then the word was passed to those inside that any who trampled the cross underfoot would be permitted their freedom and life, but that any refusing would be shot. Terribly frightened, the first seven students trampled the cross under their feet and were allowed to go free.
But the eighth student, a young girl, refused to commit the sacrilegious act. Kneeling beside the cross in prayer for strength, she arose and moved carefully around the cross, and went out to face the firing squad. Strengthened by her example, every one of the remaining ninety-two students followed her to the firing squad.
How did those students persevere through the persecution? It was because one girl had her eyes fixed not on this life, but on the life to come. She understood that the Lord, through the cross, had given her a promise of eternal life. And because she had a future oriented faith, she was not only able to stand up to the threats of her persecutors but she was able to stir up the others to do the same.
May we too have that same attitude. May we focus our faith on the promises of God and the life we have through Him. And by doing so, may we be that which emboldens each other.
 Today in the Word, Feb. 89, p. 17
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.