One of the things that makes getting around relatively easy in Oklahoma is that the whole state is basically divided into 4 quadrants by I-35 which runs north & south, and I-40, which runs east & west. These 2 great highways serve as landmarks to guide you, so you can tell someone, “We live just south of I-40” and so on. (Now, as an aside, I will say that it is not this way here in Morganton. Cheryl & I are used to getting our directions based off of the interstate, but y’all don’t! In trying to find some different homes or businesses, we will ask: “Is it north or south of I-40?” — and we just get a blank stare! No one knows! Then the next question we typically get is something like: “Do you know where the old Wal-Mart was?” 🙂 (Now I finally did run into someone the other day who said that you can navigate your way around Morganton in a similar way using a couple of our main highways — but that was the first such person I have run across yet!)
But just as those two key highways divide the state of Oklahoma, or even Morganton, so there are two key relationships in every person’s life, around which their whole lives are organized. We find those relationships delineated in several places in scripture; one of them is Psalm 16:2-3, where David writes:
“I said to the LORD, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.’
As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.”
Here in these second and third verses of Psalm 16 we find the two basic relationships around which every human life is organized: your relationship with God, and your relationship with other people. Let’s look at what these verses teach us about the importance of each of these in our lives today:
I. Your Vertical Relationship With God
Psalm 16 may be my very favorite chapter of scripture, and when we come to it in our Wednesday night Psalm & prayer time in a few weeks we’ll look at it in more detail and I hope you’ll see why. But I love this Psalm because it teaches us so much about our relationship with God, beginning with the fact that GOD is the ultimate good in our life. Nothing else can take His place. David says here in :2:
:2 “I said to YHWH, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good besides You.'”
First of all, notice that David is addressing his statement specifically to YHWH as God. Whenever you see the word “LORD” in all caps like it is here, it means that in the original Hebrew text, it is not “Adonai” or “Lord”, but YHWH, the personal name of the God of the Bible. So when David says here that God is his ultimate good, he is not just talking about “any” god, or “any” religion. He is specifically referring to Yahweh God, the God of the Bible; the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And, importantly, David had made a Personal COMMITMENT to this YHWH God: He says: “I said to YHWH, You are my Lord”. The word “Lord” here is “Adonai”, which means “head of the family” or “Master” or “Boss”. So David had said, “Yahweh, You are My Master.” And this was a previous commitment he had made: he says, “I SAID to YHWH, You are My Master.” So David had a long-standing, previous commitment to Yahweh as the Master of his life.
This is important. The God of the Bible is not just someone to “study.” He is someone to commit your life to in a personal relationship with Him. This is just where a lot of people miss it. They say, “Well, I go to church …” or “I study the Bible”. Those things are good, but they are not what real Christianity is about. Real Christianity is about committing yourself to the God of the Bible as your own personal Master & Lord. Jesus called everyone He called in the New Testament to follow Him as LORD. And that is what He is calling YOU to do as well. If you have never made the commitment to follow the God of the Bible as the Master of your life, you need to do that today. You will never get any further in the real meaning of life until you do.
With this settled commitment of his life to God, then, David says: “I have no good besides You.” We really need to understand what he is saying here:
First of all, the word “good” here could be translated “welfare” or “well-being.” Then, the Hebrew word translated “besides” here (al), according to the renowned Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch, “frequently introduces that which extends beyond something else” (KD p. 37) It could be translated: “Whatever makes me truly happy, is not above thee”; or “in addition to Thee, beside Thee … or without Thee.” (KD)
What David is saying here is, GOD is the source of his welfare and well-being; GOD is his “good.” Sure there are other “good” things in his life, but he can’t really enjoy ANY of them without God. God is the One Person who makes them all good, and the One through Whom he is able to enjoy them all. If he didn’t have God, he wouldn’t be able to really enjoy anything else.
As George MacDonald wrote back in the 1800’s: “In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably.” God is our ultimate good, and nothing else is really good without Him.
What this is teaching us is that God created us to be satisfied in Him. Psalm 100 says; “For Yahweh is good.” God is good — that’s one of the first lessons our preschoolers learn. But unfortunately, many of us as adults still haven’t really internalized what this really means: that GOD is the goodness, the welfare, the blessing, which every one of us is seeking in life. We were made to be fulfilled by Him, and nothing else will do!
In his classic book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote:
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”
That is why so many people “burn themselves out” trying to find real happiness and fulfillment through the never-ending pursuit of new relationships, or sex, and substances and possessions and business and busy-ness and accomplishments … they never stop pursuing these things because they never really find what they are looking for! Because real happiness will never be found in those things. Real happiness is only found in GOD! “I have no good besides You”!
— this is why people go from partner to partner looking for the relationship that will finally fulfill them, but they never find it — because they were never meant to be totally fulfilled by that other person, but by GOD!
— this is why people are never ultimately satisfied with the drugs that get them high, or the alcohol they drink, or the new “things” they buy that give them a temporary “rush” — or why thy get disillusioned with their sports team, or their hobby, because these things can never provide for you what only God can. NONE of these things can ultimately fulfill you — only God can: “I have no good besides/apart from You.” If you have God, then He can make a life that includes these things enjoyable, because HE is at the center of it. But there is no ultimate fulfillment apart from Him. As Lewis said, “it is not there.”
And quite honestly, that explains to some of you what is going on in your life right now. You’ve been trying to get some meaning and satisfaction out of life from something(s) besides God — and you have found out the truth of what Lewis said: that “it is not there.” You need to realize today that your life is never going to make sense until you get this One Great Relationship right: until you realize that God made you to know Him, but that you turned away from Him in sin, and your sin separated you from God, and the penalty for your sin is being separated from His joy forever in hell. But God loved you, and still wanted you to have that relationship with Him, and to live with Him forever in heaven, so He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, and died on the cross, and paid for your sins, so that if you would repent (turn back) from your sins, and follow Jesus as your Savior, your sins could be forgiven, and you could start to have that relationship with God that He made you for, as you learn to walk with Him every day in His word and prayer — and one day, you will go to heaven where you will be absolutely fulfilled in the presence of His glory and His goodness forever.
That is the gospel. And the gospel is really about getting that First Great Relationship in your life set in order. And until you do that, nothing else in your life will ever really “fit”, or satisfy. You’ve got to get your relationship with God right, by making your own, personal, settled commitment to Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior. And this is exactly what some of you need to do right here today!
II. Your Horizontal Relationships With People
:3 “As for the saints who are in the earth, they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.”
It is very interesting that David turns from :2 to :3 in such a quick manner: he goes from telling Yahweh, “I have no good besides You”, to speaking about PEOPLE — and in a very dramatic way; he says of them: “they are the majestic ones in whom is all my delight.” It is such a dramatic turnaround that it almost seems contradictory: first he says he has no good besides God — but then all of the sudden he is talking about these people who are “all his delight.”
But this is really explained by Jesus in the New Testament, when He was asked: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36) And Jesus responded that the first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength. But then He immediately followed that up with: “The second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Mt. 22:39) Here Jesus basically says that this second commandment is just behind the importance of the first one. The greatest commandment is to love God — as we talked about, you have got to get that first great relationship right — but the 2nd great commandment is right behind it in priority, and that is your relationship with other people. So both from David in Psalm 16, and Jesus in the New Testament, we see the importance of the 2nd great relationship in your life: your horizontal relationship with other people.
We see how important people are to David by the description of them that he gives in this verse:
— First he calls them: “the majestic ones” (The Hebrew word for “majestic” means “splendid, majestic, high ranking like kings”)
— Then he says of them that they are those “in whom is all my delight.”
I don’t know how many of us would say that we describe each other as God’s people in quite such glowing terms!
When we were studying Don Whitney’s book, “10 Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health” in discipleship last year, he talked about this in his chapter, “Do You Delight In The Bride of Christ?” He said this term “the majestic ones” in Psalm 16 can be translated “excellent ones” or “glorious ones”, and then he asked: “Do you ever refer to your fellow believers in such magnificent terms? When you think of John the computer programmer who teaches teenagers in your church, or Mary the homemaker who works with the children, do you say to yourself, ‘There’s a majestic one?'” And most of us would say, No Way!
But if the truth be known, it is not David who is off base, but WE are — because we are not looking at people from God’s eternal perspective.
C.S. Lewis is my favorite writer, as you may guess since I am quoting him twice in one sermon. If you have never read his sermon, “The Weight of Glory”, I would encourage you to get the book by that name that has that message in it, or you can probably find the text of it online. It is probably my favorite sermon of all time; because of the way it stretches our imagination about what heaven will be like — and how seriously we ought to treat our relationships with people here because of eternity. It’s that latter idea that Lewis addresses near the end of his message when he writes:
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously – no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
Do you hear what Lewis is saying? We should take every person we meet so seriously, because every person you meet will one day, either be so glorious that if you could see them now you would think they were a god; or more hideous than your worst nightmare. That is because every single person you encounter is either going to heaven or to hell, where they will either be made glorious and shine like the sun, or be tormented forever — there is no in between. And there is no exception. Every single person WILL be either one or the other.
That makes every single person you meet, important. And that makes every interaction you have with every person you meet, critical as well. Every person you meet, you are either influencing towards heaven or hell! Every time you contact any person, you should consider: Which of these am I helping that person towards?
There is no in between! Every single person you meet is like that.
— Every single child you have in school, teachers, has this future ahead of them: of glory, or hideousness. Which one are you nudging them towards?
— That grimy looking person ahead of you in line at Wal-Mart to get their prescription — they will either be as glorious as a god or as hideous as a demon one day. Are you allowing them to continue to slide towards hell, or are you doing anything to help influence them towards heaven?
— Even that person who just “doesn’t catch your attention” one way or the other because they are just boring or non-descript (the kind of person that Jane Austen’s “Emma” said was “just the kind of person I would have nothing to do with because they are not high enough to be in my friendship, nor low enough to need my help” …) one day that so-called “boring” person will have your full attention: they will either be so hideous you can’t stand to gaze at them, or so glorious that if you didn’t know better, you would fall down and worship them! EVERY SINGLE PERSON YOU ENCOUNTER WILL BE ONE OR THE OTHER!
I am thankful that our Dominican Republic mission team is back. We didn’t have much communication with them during the week, as the internet connection was intermittent. But one day Keith posted some pictures, and to me they said all that needed to be said. Here’s my favorite one: it is my son Michael holding a little boy with a soccer ball. To me, this is one of those pictures that speaks 1000 words. Someone might ask: “What did the team DO in the Dominican Republic? What did they build; what did they ‘accomplish’?” I don’t know what all they “did” — but this picture — and those like it from our team members — tell us about all we need to know: it tells us that they LOVED PEOPLE. That they connected with people there in Jesus’ name. Someone may say: So what? So what’s the big deal about holding a little black boy with a soccer ball? The big deal is that that little boy has an eternal soul. And if he becomes a Christian, and one day goes to heaven, if you could see him like that now, he would be so glorious that you would fall at his feet and worship him. And if Michael, and our team, share the love of Jesus with him and take him one step closer to that eternal destiny, then that trip was worth it all.
And it’s not just true for kids in the Dominican Republic. It’s true for kids in the neighborhoods around this church; of the kids in VBS; and at school and those next door to you — of every child and every adult, of every person you meet anywhere. God reminds us here that every life matters! Every black life matters; every white life matters; every blue life matters; every life of every color of every person that God has planted every place on this earth matters because they have an eternal SOUL which will live forever either in glory in heaven or in eternal horror in hell!
There are no “unimportant” people. There is no one “beneath” your attention. They matter to God because He made them. And they should matter to you, too: one day they will be so glorious you will be ashamed that you never paid them attention — or if no one influences them towards Christ, one day they will be so hideous that you will be ashamed that you didn’t do something to keep them from that fate. But the bottom line is: we have got to take people seriously. We cannot just “blow anybody off.” Every person matters. What their eternal soul is becoming is too important to ignore.
Do you know that your whole life here on earth is going to be defined by the two key relationships I have just described? You may not think so — you may not have lived your life that way so far. Many of us act as if our life is going to be defined by how successful we are at our job; at what kind of home or car we have, or how much money we put in the bank; or how much recognition or how many awards we receive. But it is not. Your life, in the end, will be almost entirely defined (and rewarded by God) on the basis of what you did with these Two Key Relationships:
1) Did you make a settled commitment to Jesus as your Lord & Savior, and did you really seek Him every day as your highest good?
2) And did you treat people — ALL people; every person God put in the path of your life — with the seriousness that the final state of their eternal soul demands?
— Some here may say I have never made a real, personal commitment to Jesus as my Lord & Savior, and today I need to do that
— Others might say: I have given my life to Jesus, but I have been trying to fulfill my life with things other than Him …
— Maybe you would admit that you have not been taking people as seriously as you should: every person, of every color, every background, every one that God brings into your path. And you’d ask God to help you love and minister and nudge every person you meet towards glory in heaven with Him
— Maybe there is a specific person God is prompting you to pray for this morning …