Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked…
Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice…
Perhaps you, like myself, are familiar with the opening words of the first Psalm. Over the years I’ve heard many sermons on the words of the poet. Everything from “don’t go where you wouldn’t want to take Jesus” to “be careful with whom you associate.” That first warning I now disavow, especially when I look into the life of Jesus and see the places he went. Hebrew weddings were raucous with free flowing wine and he seemed quite relaxed. Even refilling the wine casks when the supply was running low. And then there was the dinner party where a female boldly interrupted the proceedings, probably between the appetizer and entrée just when the hostess thought she had everything well managed. I love the ways various translators describe the woman: from “a woman who lived a sinful life” to “the town harlot” to “an especially wicked woman”! And Jesus seemed not the least bit surprised nor bothered; in fact, he used the occasion to forcefully confront what we might call the mere appearance of religion.
So what could be a pragmatic application of the psalmist’s words? I was struck by how Dr. Dallas Willard describes what it means to walk in the counsel of the ungodly: It is just (talking) the way most people talk. It is to live as if it matters what people think of you. To live as if the outcomes of your life are on your shoulders and you control them. It is to live as if aging is something to worry about. It is to live as if satisfying your desires and appetites is central to your well-being and a wise strategy for living.*
Quite simply, Willard says that walking in the counsel of the ungodly is living just like those who do not have a God-ordained spiritual destiny, are not representatives of the Kingdom of God, do not march to a different Drummer. It’s in the everyday things that we live radically different from the world around us. We refuse to joke about ethnic differences. My first response to the person asking for help at the intersection is compassion, not judgment. We not only generously give of our time and goods but celebrate—and seek more!—opportunities to do so. Instead of kicking the Christian brother or sister who has fallen, I weep and pray and offer my friendship.
I don’t know about you, but I have a long way to go in this kind of walking. In Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this psalm, he describes the one who’s made progress: You thrill to God’s Word, you chew on scripture day and night. You’re a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, never dropping a leaf, always in blossom.
This old psalm is becoming new.
*Living in Christ’s Presence; InterVarsity Press, 2014