Sermon – Dealing with a deadly sin (Psalms 73:1 – 73:28) – Cornerstone Church Kingston
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Dealing with a deadly sin

Ian Fry, Psalms 73:1 - 73:28, 20 August 2023

In this one-off special, our guest speaker Ian Fry preaches to us from Psalm 73:1-28. In this passage we see the psalmist confessing his struggle with envy, where he finds the solution, and what it means for us today.

Psalms 73:1 - 73:28

73:1   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.


Transcript (Auto-generated)

This transcript has been automatically generated, and therefore may not be 100% accurate.

Psalm 73 starting at verse 1. Surely god is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart.

But as for me, my feet had almost slipped I had nearly lost my foothold for I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles. Their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens. They're not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace. They clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity. Their evil imaginations have no limits. They scoff and speak with malice.

With arrogance, they threaten oppression. Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore, their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. They say, how would god know? Does the most high know anything?

This is what the wicked are like. Always free of care. They go on amassing wealth. Surely in vain. I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

All day long, I have been afflicted and every morning brings new punishments. If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of god. Then I understood their final destiny. Surely, you place them on slippery ground.

You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are destroyed? Completely swept away by terrors. They are like a dream when 1 awakes. When you arise lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you. Yet I am always with you. You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel.

And afterwards you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you. And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but god is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish.

You destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, It is good to be near god. I have made the sovereign lord my refuge. I will tell of all your deeds. Well, it's really good to be with you.

Hello? Is that better? Okay. And, just had a is good to have a good wife, isn't it, or good spouse? Just a quiet word in my ear.

Ian Contagious isn't the only bible teaching camp. Make sure that I get their message across. There are other camps that you should vote as well. We're not saying it's everything. It was just a particular context we were operating in.

Anyway, it's really good to see you because, I can remember when Cornerstone started, Pete was at, Cheslington with us at the time and Justin was involved with other churches in getting us going. So it's a great joy to see how wonderfully much this has grown over the years, and it's a privilege to be with you. I'm really grateful to be here. I'd like you to turn back to Psalm 73 if you would please and just have that in front of you. Note that it's the beginning of book 3 of the psalms, there are 5 books in the psalms.

The psalms we often treat as kind of just little units. They're not as a whole order to the sums and the way they operate, which I certainly don't have time to go into, but it's worth noting that that when we look at sums, they exist in a context We do context very well with all sorts of bible passages and bible sections, but actually sounds very often we treat a sort of little individual units on their own and they aren't. They're part of a whole. So bear that in mind please as we begin this little section in Psalm 73. I want to think though just briefly about music for a second.

It's a really powerful thing, isn't it? The great gift that god has given us to human, as human beings. And it's powerful because it can stir really deep emotions. And it can express deep emotions. It can be made even more powerful if you join it with words like poetry And that's why hymns are very important to us as Christians because some of the very best enablers to pour out our hearts and certainly, in my ministry over the years, I've sat with dying saints and it's hymns that they have been a sighting or listening to or we have sung together as they've moved on to glory.

And it's for that reason that the Bible's very own hymnbook, which is the book of Psalms, is where we so often go because it expresses the whole range of human emotions. As 1 pastor puts it, they speak the universal language of the human soul. So here we find films of praise which catch those moments of deep joy and delight in god, And then there are also Psalms of lament which we may be less familiar with, I think, in our culture and in our churches. But lament captures those seasons when our souls are in deep agony and overwhelmed with sadness. Lement is that hearts cry when in the words of the hymn all around my soul gives way.

There's an interesting example of lament being practiced by people who weren't Christians during the Second World War, allied prisoners who were considered a nuisance or who constantly tried to escape, were sent to a particular prison called Colditz. It could be bleak and men struggled with life in that castle. Apparently, sometimes An eerie howling could be heard from the French prisoners as they sang in the night. They said it felt much better afterwards. It was lament.

And then there are Psalms of confession, and that's what our Psalm here is Psalm 73, is the confession song, if you like. But bear in mind the Psalms as a whole are more than just an emotional connection with our lives. They celebrate the coming of the lord Jesus. It's hardly surprising then the lord Jesus often quoted the Psalms, and I read recently, and I think there's something to this that maybe in his 6 hours on the cross, He was reciting to himself all the salter because he would have memorized that, and someone has worked out just read slowly. You can recite this arms in about 5 hours.

So in his 6 hours of agony, he may well have been recalling all the psalms as he died. That's a suggestion. But these psalms would express his times of joy along with his moments of lamented sadness as well, because these songs ultimately point to him and his work. So there's a little bit of background that sort of thoughts about the Psalms in general. When I was a young Christian, I thought that a mature Christian was someone who had life sorted whose faith never wobbled and who dealt with life's difficulties, unruffled.

How wrong I was and how thankful I am for this Psalm for showing me the reality of living for god in a fallen world struggling with my own sin and the sinners around me. For here, the Psalmist asaf is struggling. He tells us what he's struggling with. Look at verse 3. I ended the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked and that turns his whole life upside down.

So these emotions are essentially very unstable. We see this in the 3 things he says, he's sure about 3 certainties if you like. Let me just point you to them. Here's the first 1 in verse 1. Surely, god is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart.

Okay? We've got that. We'll come back in a minute. Now verse 13, what a contrast this is? Surely, In vain, I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in incense and then finally dropped down to verse 18 surely You place them on slippery ground, you cast them down to ruin.

So if you like, there are 3 certainties in this Psalm, which are very much contrasting as we go through them. So let's turn to the first 1, certainty 1 I've called this. God is good to everyone who believes in him verse 1. That's what he says. Surely God is good to Israel to those who are pure in heart.

Here's something he's certain is absolutely true. God is on the side of people who love him. This is Romans 8 28, if you'd like, back in the old testament. Remember? And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to his purpose.

But that's not how he continues. In fact, he certainly has a bad wobble. Look at verse 2, but but as for me, My feet had almost slipped. I had nearly lost my foothold. Actually, it's more than a bad wobble It's more like a scrape with death.

It's as if he's walking on a mountain path which he has used before and found no problem, but now He slipped and is grappling around for something to hold on to, to stop him falling off the edge into the yawning valley below. This thing almost destroyed his trust in God. It was deadly, which is why I've entitled this message, a deadly sin to avoid. Okay? So what was the thing that did this to him?

It was something we do all the time. It was comparison. He compared his life with others. And don't we do that? In his case, he compared his life with the lives of people who weren't Christians.

And at first glance, you may think, oh, come on, Asaf. I mean, we can't help but notice our friends at school or online who aren't Christians who are so popular. It's impossible to ignore our neighbor's new car. Or our workmates description of their fabulous family holiday that will never be able to afford on our salary. That's life, isn't it?

Well, let's listen as he describes what he saw versus 4 and 5. They have no struggles their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens. They're not plagued by human ills. In some, he's saying, I think, as I look at these people, lies pretty sweet for them.

Now, of course, we have friends who actually really are struggling, people for whom life really is tough, but think of the many others either at school or in the sports team or online or at work who seem to get along just fine without god. That's certainly the folk asaph is focusing on, look at verses 9 to 10. Their mouths lay claim to heaven and their tongues take possession of the earth. Therefore, their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. Look, they're the in crowd who seem to run the entire show.

Everyone wants to be their friend, everyone fears being left out of their group, or maybe they're the sporty lot gifted at their sport who people look up to and admire. Or maybe they're the prima office prima donnas who strut around it if they own the firm or they're the work colleague who cuts corners, but instead of getting their comeuppance gets praise and promotion. And as for god, If they think about him at all, it's just to mock him. Look at verses 11 and 12, they say, how would god know? Does the most high know anything?

This is what the wicked are like. Always free of care. They go on a massive wealth. So life is pretty peachy for them. No worries.

Popular, wealthy, gifted, How good can life get? What in their case, not much better? They have it all. The certainty that god looks after his own doesn't look so certain now, does it? And that leaves him therefore to certainty too in verse 13.

Certainly 2. There's no point in living as a Christian. This is now ASaf's second move, if you like. It's a certainty that completely disagrees with what he started with. Verse 13, he says, surely in vain, I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence.

He thinks now, just you know what? Don't bother following god. It's not worth it. The people having the fun don't care about god 1 bit. So if you want to enjoy life, give up being a Christian.

And he backs that certainty up with evidence verse 14. All day long, I've been afflicted and every morning brings new punishment basically says, you know what? My life as a Christian is pretty grim. Notice the emphasis all day long. I've suffered every morning brings new punishments.

Certainly 1 may have said god is good to everyone who believes in him, Well, it certainly doesn't feel like that to our sun writer. Good? Not in this life. He's filled with self pity. Might as well give it all up then.

Join in with everyone. You'll not get on at work by doing what is right. You'll not be with the in crowd at school by being different. There's just no point in following god and suffering because you won't be popular Why deprive yourself of all the fun? Certainty 2.

But then we have certainty 3. Drop down to verse 18, certainty 3. Here's perspective, people who ignore god will suffer in the end. Here we see another shift. His emotions, it seems to me in this sum, are a bit like a roller coaster ride.

He's now completely changed again. From certainty 2, he now moves to a completely different way of thinking. Okay. It's as if he now sees that certainty 2 isn't certain at all after all, and maybe certainly one's right. He's now absolutely certain he says that the people he knows who ignore god do not have it all.

He acknowledges that appearances can be deceptive. I remember a friend of mine who ran a company and they were going through recession and so he had to call various, employees in and say, I'm gonna have to con we're gonna have to reduce your wages if you stay. And they said, that's fine. Reduce our wages, but don't don't get rid of the company car. And he'd used from that that what they were more concerned with was what their neighbors thought So long as they could see the nice company car on the drive, they must therefore be signaling to their neighbors they were doing very well.

It was all about appearance. And that's what Assaf sees here. It's all about appearance because all these popular successful wealth of wealthy folk he says are actually in terrible danger. Look at verses 19 to 20. How suddenly are they destroyed completely swept away by terrors?

They're like a dream when 1 awaits. When you arise lord, you will despise them as fantasies. What he is now certain of? Is that all the popularity, all the money, all the things, all the gifts his friends have are actually not going to last. And what's caused this complete change?

Remember, he is terribly conflicted as we've seen, and what's happened But he let me re repeat and go over this. He begins with a certainty. Verse 2, surely, god is good to Israel to those who are pure in art, then he shifts No, that's not right. Look at the people who ignore God, what are their lives like? Well, verses 4 to 5.

They have no struggles, their bodies are healthy and strong. They're free from common, human burdens, they're not plagued by human ills. So then it becomes con convinced them another certainty, verse 13 surely in vain. I've kept my heart pure, washed my hands in innocence, it doesn't pay to be good. Now finally, he's changed once more.

He's moved to another certainty. Verse 18 surely you place them on slippery ground. You cast them down to ruin. If he was a politician, we'd accuse him of flip flopping, wouldn't we? When will this guy make up his mind?

What does he really think? Come on for goodness sake. Get a grip. So what's actually brought him to the point that he reaches in verse 18? Which is verses 16 and 17.

When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply. Till I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood their final destiny. As Asaf tried to work it all out, none of it made any sense, until, that's the keyword verse 17, till. Here's what completely changed his mind and outlook. It was till I entered the century of god.

For Asaf, this meant the temple in Jerusalem, the place where heaven met earth. And the great fulfillment of the temple we know is the lord Jesus himself. Here's the 1 who brings heaven to earth as a son of god. And when our eyes are opened, to see him dying on the cross to pay the debt for our sins, then finally finally things begin to add up. Things begin to make sense.

Our world suddenly falls into a proper understanding, if you like, and we're less easily troubles by what's going on. There is a lesser fulfillment of the temple I think here in the church. I say lesser because there will be times when our fellow Christians will fail us and if we're looking to them primarily for our sense of stability, we'll be sadly disappointed, whereas Christ will never fail us, will never disappoint us. Nonetheless, there is something, and I captured that this morning just by being here in terms of this little word culture there is something of a culture when we are together that is hugely encouraging. Think sport.

Think England playing Australia for the ashes a few months ago. The roar of support, especially in that final 2 games, as the batter slammed the ball all around the ground or as the bowlers raced in. There was a kind of sense of unity togetherness a purpose or obviously now and the match has started and I don't know what the score is and I'm not going to ask. Okay. That sense of we're all behind the lionesses.

That sense of togetherness and churches meant to be like that to reflect that. Okay. At its best, it can help us to keep going. It can help us to remember what's true. And with the lord Jesus of our future is absolutely certain without any doubt at all.

You see, versus 18 to 20 make pretty frightening reason reading, don't they? Surely, you place them on slippery ground. You cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed? Completely swept away by terrorists.

You see the speed of it, the suddenness of it, They are like a dream when 1 awakes, when you arise lord, you will despise them as fantasies. They're not substantial. There's nothing that's solid about this life that these people live. It will not last. It will be like as if a click of fingers and they're gone, and the life is worthless.

So this leads us have to conclude that far from envying friends who don't know god, we should actually feel deeply concerned for them because he now focuses on what is going on in his life. And what will happen to him and every Christian in the future? Let's follow the end of the Psalm verse 23. Yet I am always with you. You hold me by my right hand.

God is there. He is there protecting us, he says. Verse 24. You guide me with your counsel and afterward. You will take me into glory.

God is there guiding us and will. He will make sure we get to be with him forever when we die. We will not vanish like into the ether We will live on. It's what he's saying. So verse 25, whom am I in heaven but you?

And Earth has nothing I desire beside you. You god are the only person worth having and knowing ultimately. Verse 26, my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Even when my body breaks down, either in illness or old age, and I'm totally at the end of all my hopes and dreams. Do you know what?

I've still got you god. I've still got you. Verse 27, those who are far from you will perish you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. The future of people who ignore god, he says again, is a frightening thing and it is certain. Finally, verse 28, but as for me, It is good to be near god.

I have made the sovereign lord my refuge. I will tell of all your deeds. Remember verse 2, but as for me, my feet had almost slipped, Now it's different. But as for me, now, says Asaf, I will find rest from comparison in you, the sovereign god. And if he has anything to say, then it will be just how good god is.

So it's 3 certainties, a topsy-turvy emotional journey. What do we learn from this? As we finish. Well, 2 things. Firstly, and I don't think this is the main point, but I would encourage you to think about it.

Think about enjoying the Psalms a bit. Think about dwelling in them, staying in them, reading them, d living in them for a little while, Let them feed your soul. There is something incredible. Thank god that he's put a book in his word that expresses the complete range of emotions. From utter despair to the heights of joy.

To read the Psalms, I think, is like discovering a companion who's been into the same dark tunnel as you and come out the other side to tell the tale or to hear of a friend who's enjoyed the same joys and delights. Don't think it's the main point of this sum, but I do want to make that point. Here I think is the main point. Exclude comparisons, exclude comparisons. Late Queen, how does 1 of her guiding principles never complain, never explain.

Can I suggest that 1 of our guiding principles as Christian should be never compare then complaint will be rare? Not quite as snappy, I know, but it might it might just help. And if you can improve it as I'm sure you can, please do. We all know comparing our lives to others is a 1 way ticket to complaint and envy, and the sin of envy can wreak havoc in your soul which is why as I've said, I've called this message dealing with a deadly sin. Think about the first monumental sin that Adam and Eve committed.

Pause and listen to the serpent as he cunningly suggests they could have a better life. Satan was getting them to compare their current life in Eden with a supposedly better 1 that he had an offer for them. Fast forward to thousand years. Listen to the lord Jesus undergoing temptation after his 40 day trial in the desert. Satan promises in something far better that he's currently experiencing yet again using the comparison temptation to bait the hook yet Jesus doesn't fall for the lure.

He trusts what his father and he have agreed on as his chosen pathway. He trusts in God. But notice how dangerous comparison is and how much it is at all in Satan's armory. And our world is constantly messaging us to compare ourselves with others. The adverts for the cruise or the family holiday the perfect clothes to wear or make up to apply, the perfect home, the perfect meal, And when you stop and think it seems so silly for advertisers to invest their creative energies.

It's such an obviously crass message but it works, which is why they do it and get paid big bucks for it. And if young people here were here and there aren't any, so I will just pass over this quickly. I would have said they need help to avoid the messaging of social media, which is constantly about comparison. All the time they're being told there's something better to enjoy through the carefully curated images of Facebook or TikTok or whatever it is. But actually, it's not just the young is it.

We older believers face just as serious a challenge all the time. And let me move a little bit into this. It isn't just comparison with the world sometimes. It's so hard. It can be comparison in the church.

Can't it? It can be really hard for the unmarried Christian who would love a partner to hear of yet another engagement orbiting. It can be really hard for the couple struggling to have children to hear of another pregnancy or birth. It can be really hard for the parents of whose children have walked away from the gospel to see other families whose children are growing as believers. It can be really hard for the person struggling to make ends meet to see others enjoying much better financial situation.

And comparison is just a step away from complaint and bitterness of soul Look at verses 21 to 22. When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant. I was a brute beast before you as he looked at others and what they had ASSA became bitter and twisted. And I have to tell you I've been there. Back in 2003, a particular family crisis hit us It was stunning, it was staggering, it shattered us, and I began to blame god for the mess that followed.

At the time as an elder in a church, I was lecturing in a theological college but for 2 years, I became absolutely consumed with bitterness towards god. Why me? Implication, why not others? And I'm ashamed to say that's what I thought. Why my family Why not that family?

Why not them? And I would walk the streets at night with my dog raging raging against god. Thought he was doing. Thankfully, as part of my work as a lecturer, I went out to a conference in the States to hear a man give his testimony about having a son born with no eyes and severe learning difficulties. He too felt abandoned by god.

But then he slowly came back to the lord. And at 1 point, he said this, I came to see that self pity is nothing less than pride. And it was like an arrow to my soul That was my asaf moment. That was my till moment, and it broke me, and I needed to be broken. To recognize what I was doing and what I was thinking.

And it's true, isn't it? Because self pity is basically saying, God, you owe me something better. That's what self pity says. Brothers and sisters. God calls us to trust the way he has set up our lives and to be contented.

Remember what Paul tells Timothy, 1 Timothy 6 6, godliness with contentment his great game. Or again, in Philipp, Paul's honest enough to say this, I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content. Notice that. I have learned the secret Not.

Oh, it's easy. I got it straight away. He's basically saying I had to go through a process of being taught and going through circumstance, after circumstance, after circumstance, and learning to trust god with my life. May god help us to learn from asaf that contentment with god is great. And comparison is to be resisted at every turn in our Christian lives.

Let me pray, shine. Further we thank you that you can be trusted to take care of us. Why would we ever doubt that? And yet sadly far too often we do. And then complaint starts, and then a lack of trust in you follows.

We're truly sorry for those times, but thank you for this reminder this morning that you can be trusted utterly and completely. To guide our lives in the places that you wish us to go. We thank you for the lord Jesus who trusted you completely with his life. And so because of him, we are safe this morning. In his name, we pray, amen.

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