Well Built, Well Kept, Well Rested (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 127   |   Sunday, May 26, 2013   |   Code: 2013-05-26-PJ

Last month looked at the first two verses of Psalm 127, and I promised we would return to look at the psalm as a whole. Remember, the theme is the sovereignty of God. "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain." Nothing we do can prosper without God's involvement. And when we prosper, He deserves the all the credit and glory for it.

      That is a consistent theme throughout Scripture. We have nothing to boast about. First Corinthians 1:29: "No human being [can] boast in the presence of God." And, "As it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'" Jeremiah 9:23: "Thus says the LORD: 'Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches. . .'" but "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord." Isaiah 10:15: "Shall the axe boast over him who hews with it, or the saw magnify itself against him who wields it? As if a rod should wield him who lifts it, or as if a staff should lift him who is not wood!" And Romans 3:27: "Boasting . . . is excluded . . . . by the law of faith." That's one of the great lessons of the truth that God is sovereign over all things.

      Last time we also stressed that divine sovereignty doesn't nullify human responsibility. Builders and security guards are useless unless God Himself causes their work to prosper. But that truth doesn't eliminate the need for laborers and lookouts. God gives us work to do, and Scripture says, "The labourer is worthy of his reward." It also says "that if any would not work, neither should he eat."

      So God's sovereignty does not eliminate human responsibility, and that was what we focused on as we looked at those first two verses last time.

      In this hour, I want to take a more birds-eye view of the psalm, because the central lesson of this psalm is a lesson about faith and the goodness of our sovereign God. This is a truth that lies at the very heart of the gospel: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above," from the hand of a good and gracious and generous God. So it is sheer folly to trust our own labors or look to our own works while neglecting to trust God—as if we could gain what we need in life and eternity by our own works.

      And the corresponding truth is this: If all your expectations, all your trust, and all your hopes for prosperity are invested in your own skill and hard work, then you are truly in a hopeless condition (whether you realize it or not). And this psalm is a series of arguments that make this point inescapable: No matter how hard and how skillfully you work, you cannot guarantee your own prosperity in this life, much less earn a place of blessing in eternity. "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." That, of course, is Ephesians 2:8-9, and it is essentially the same truth highlighted in this psalm. Ephesians 2 is speaking specifically about how we are saved from the guilt and condemnation of our sin; Psalm 127 applies the same principle to everyday life, and to family life in particular. Everything we get that's good is God's doing. Everything we try to do for ourselves apart from God's grace is doomed to failure.

      And this is the central lesson of this psalm: All true success depends on the Lord's blessing. Don't put your trust in yourself and your own works. To borrow a saying from John the Baptist, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven." That's John 3:27. If God is truly the sovereign giver of every good and perfect gift, then it is folly to hope for any true and lasting success, or blessing, or worthwhile achievement without Him. If God is not the center and the focus of your trust, you can work as hard as you like and accumulate as much as you can, but without God, it is all wasted effort. No matter how skilled you are or how hard you work, eventually you will discover that if God is not your portion, you will have nothing.

      On the other hand (Psalm 37:4), "Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." If He is what you delight in and desire the most, your cup will always be full to overflowing. There can be no true success at all apart from God, but He gives His blessings freely and abundantly to those who trust Him.

      And the psalmist proposes a series of proofs that show the wisdom of this worldview. Last time we focused only on the first two verses. Let me read the entire Psalm. Psalm 127:

A Song of Ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.

2 It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.

3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward.

4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth.

5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.

Now at first glance you might not see how the second half of the psalm connects with those first two verses. What does a quiver full of children have to do with the builder of a house or the watchman on the city walls? Those last three verses look like a totally separate thought—like two sets of proverbs that jump from one subject to another without any connection or transition.

      But I'm going to show you that the logic here is perfect, and it all underscores the same point we began to see in those first two verses. Here's a summary. Follow the tight logic of this argument:

      Nothing can be blessed or prosperous apart from God, because He is the sovereign giver of every good and perfect gift. In other word, the best things we enjoy in life are not the works of our own hands, but gifts that come to us from above. And God is not only sovereign; He is also good and gracious and generous, especially toward those who trust and acknowledge Him. He gives His blessings freely and abundantly, and faithfulness requires us to acknowledge that.

      So that's the key idea of this psalm. Everything truly good in life is a gracious gift that God provides. And what better proof is there of that truth than children? They are "fearfully and wonderfully made," and not by our effort or cleverness. They aren't the result of labor or diligence. Verse 3: "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward"—not a wage we earn, but a gracious gift from God. That goes right back to the central message of this psalm, and it is an irrefutable proof of the truth taught in the psalm. You could not build a child by any amount of toil or careful design, even if you gave your entire life to the project. (The story of Pinocchio is pure fiction.)

      Of all the tangible blessings in this life, children are by far the most rewarding, the most profitable, and the most delightful gifts God gives. They are the richest of all possible common-grace blessings. Other than the grace that redeems us from our sin and the inexpressible gift of His own Son, there is no greater gift from God to humanity than our children. And we know—or we ought to know, by the very nature of the thing itself—that our children are not the fruit of our labors. They are not the works of our own hands. They are amazing, intricately-designed gifts from the very hand of God, His workmanship, not ours.

      And in that regard, children serve as an object lesson of every blessing we enjoy in this life. From our daily bread to the very air we breathe—and this certainly includes whatever success or wealth you enjoy—all life's blessings are gifts to be thankful for, not personal achievements to boast about. And every verse in this psalm underscores that truth.

      Now, in the first two verses of the psalm, we have already met three kinds of people who are easily distracted by earthly cares, and who therefore tend to lose sight of the truth this psalm highlights. There is the workman (v. 1), who is building a house. Then there's the watchman (end of v. 1), who is guarding a city. Then there is the worrier (v. 2), who gets up early and stays up late, "eating the bread of anxious toil." The workman, the watchman, and the worrier.

      Let's consider each of those three characters one at a time this morning, and I think you will see that in each case, the same point is being made. This life is full of hard labor, deadly danger, and nagging worries—and without God all the energy we expend trying to carry the load is ultimately ineffectual and utterly worthless. But if we simply trust the Lord, He will make our yoke easy and our burden light. That point is illustrated with each of these three characters. We start with—


1. The Workman

      This workman is building a house, and that does require a lot of labor—but we are reminded here that if God Himself is not engaged in the building of the house, the entire project is totally worthless, pointless, and without any lasting benefit. All the skill and diligence in the world cannot bring real success to the building project. It is good to be skilled, and it is right to be diligent. But it is wrong to trust those things for success. Deuteronomy 8:17-18: "Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth."

      In other words, God wants us to acknowledge Him in anything we achieve and in every good thing we enjoy. All blessings, in every endeavor of life, come from Him, and therefore lasting, meaningful prosperity is impossible apart from him. That is true even in the relatively insignificant features of everyday life. That's why we are commanded in Colossians 3:17: "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." And 1 Corinthians 10:31, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." Don't ever lose sight of who gives you the blessings you enjoy, and don't ever become so absorbed in the work that you neglect the One whom you are supposed to be working for. Colossians 3:23: "Whatever you do, work heartily, [but do it] as for the Lord and not for men."

      That was Martha's error, right? Luke 10:40: "Martha was distracted with much serving," and she missed the opportunity to sit at the Lord's feet, which Jesus Himself said would have been better. In fact, He said it's the "one thing . . . necessary." As crucial as work is, it is not the one thing most needful. Faith is. Worshiping, listening, submissive, earnest faith.

      It wasn't that it was wrong for Martha to work. The meal did need to be put on the table. Martha's problem was that her work became a distraction that drew her attention away from the Lord. That in turn opened her heart to evil resentment. She complained to Jesus when she ought to have been worshiping Him. In fact, she complained about her sister who was worshiping, and listening, and properly focused.

      Work can be just that kind of distraction. It's a good thing, in and of itself, and we stressed that in our earlier look at the first two verses of this psalm. Scripture repeatedly commends diligence. Listen, for example, to this string of Proverbs:

      !  Proverbs 12:24: "The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor."

      !  Proverbs 12:27: "Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth."

      !  Proverbs 13:4: "The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing, while the soul of the diligent is richly supplied."

      !  Proverbs 21:5: "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."

      !  Proverbs 10:4: "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich."

That verse from Proverbs 10 intrigues me. Keep a finger here in Psalm 127 and turn with me for a moment to Proverbs 10, because I want you to see this with your own eyes.

      Proverbs 10:4 is a typical Solomonic truism: "A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich." In other words, "Being lazy will make you poor, but hard work will make you rich." The fruit of idle hands is poverty; the fruit of hard-working hands is wealth. Now, that is a proverb, not a promise. It is a truism, not an absolute guarantee. It's a general truth stated as a common-sense maxim. It is not a divine promise that God is obliged to fulfill for every hard-working person.

      (Like Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it." That's not an iron-clad guarantee, you know. It's a general truth, underscoring the parents' duty. But even well-trained children do sometimes rebel. Solomon himself in his later years departed from the way he should have gone.)

      Likewise, when Proverbs 10:4 suggests, basically, that riches are the result of hard work, it's not establishing a sacred principle in contradiction to the principle of our psalm. It's a plain fact of real life that lots of people work hard without becoming wealthy. The point of Proverbs 10:4 is indeed true: idleness and sloth are a fast track to poverty, and without hard work, wealth is hard to come by. It's making an observation about laziness and labor from a human perspective. If you want to be poor, be lazy. If you want to be wealthy, work hard.

      But then, just down the page, Proverbs 10:22 makes clear where wealth ultimately comes from: "The blessing of the LORD makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it." Despite what verse 4 says about work being the pathway to riches, verse 22 acknowledges that ultimately "it is the LORD's blessing that makes you wealthy." That's the main point of the proverb. It's clear, and it eliminates any notion that verse 4 contradicts Psalm 127.

      Now, the second half of verse 22 is hard to translate from the Hebrew. In the New American Standard Bible it says, "It is the blessing of the LORD that makes rich, And He adds no sorrow to it." The ESV and the New King James and the King James versions all say something similar. The NIV says, "The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, without painful toil for it." I think that's closer to what the proverb actually means. in fact, the Holman Christian Standard Bible nails it: "The LORD's blessing enriches, and struggle adds nothing to it." It is the Lord who gives us wealth, and neither worry nor workaholism can make you any richer than God has sovereignly decreed.

      Put verse 4 and verse 22 together and you have once more this twin emphasis on divine sovereignty and human responsibility. God's sovereignty does not nullify human responsibility, and vice versa. (Divine sovereignty is what establishes human responsibility.)

      Verse 4 teaches human responsibility. Hard work is a necessary duty. Your labor in the Lord is not in vain. But then verse 22 reminds us of the sovereignty of God. All true blessing comes from Him. If you pretend you have no need of Him; if you think you can gain advantages on your own by hard work; if you dream that your own efforts can improve on God's gifts or gain more prosperity for yourself; if you are so deluded as to believe worry or anxiety or long hours of overtime can add anything of value to God's grace, then you don't understand your need for grace at all.

      Hard work is a good and necessary duty, but we cannot let it supersede or crowd out the higher duties of faith, worship, reliance on God, and gratitude.

      If you do your work as unto the Lord, it shouldn't be a drudgery. And if you truly want to serve the Lord in your work, you must always bear in mind that He is the one who both empowers and rewards your labors, so He deserves all the credit for every success, every blessing, and all the fruits of our labors. Deuteronomy 8:18 again: "You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth." We have to plant, and we have to water, but it is God who gives the increase. Hebrews 3:4: "Every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God."

      Listen to 1 Corinthians 15:10, where Paul acknowledges the role of diligent labor in the context of God's sovereign grace. He writes: "By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me."

      Every workman must have that same perspective. Whatever your vocation, it is just that: a vocation—literally, a calling; an opportunity to serve the Lord. That's true no matter what rung of the corporate ladder you are on. Paul even applied this principle to slaves in Ephesians 6:5-8: "Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."

      Here's another way to say it, and this is the very starting point of a biblical work ethic: All legitimate work is an opportunity for worship if we perform our labor as unto the Lord. And you must not lose sight of that truth, or else your work will eclipse worship in the order of your priorities. Only one thing is needful, and that is worship.

      Hard work, by the way, is made inevitable by the curse. It is unavoidable; not "needful" in the way worship is needful, but inescapable. Genesis 3:17-19: "The ground is cursed because of you. You will eat from it by means of painful labor all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. You will eat bread by the sweat of your brow until you return to the ground."

      And yet, if you do your work as unto the Lord, Scripture says you "will receive back from the Lord, whether [you are] a slave or free." That is the proper biblical perspective on work. Don't let your work, or your pursuit of prosperity, or any project like the building of a house, or any of the cares of life take first place in your heart over the Lord Himself.

      Unless God is in it, your labor is in vain—no matter how hard you work, no matter how long you stay at the task, and especially no matter how much anxiety you invest in the project.

      We'll return to this issue of anxiety in a moment. But what we have here is a reminder for the workman. Don't let work eclipse worship. Don't try to take credit for blessings only God can give. And above all, do all your work as unto the Lord, knowing that without the Lord your all your effort and all your works are worthless. "Your labor in the Lord is not in vain," but all labor that leaves God out is utterly and completely worthless.

      So you have first of all a lesson for the workman. Here's a similar message for—


2. The Watchman

      Second half of verse 1: "Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain."

      The obvious biblical illustration of this truth is in Matthew 27-28. After the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb (Matthew 27:62),

the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate

63 and said, "Sir, we remember how that impostor said, while he was still alive, 'After three days I will rise.'

64 Therefore order the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first."

65 Pilate said to them, "You have a guard of soldiers. Go, make it as secure as you can."

66 So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard.

Notice Pilate's command: "make it as secure as you can." These were imperial Roman guards—elite soldiers—assigned to their task by the governor himself. They made that tomb as secure as humanly possible. But all their efforts to keep Jesus' body in the grave were utterly vain, because the whole aim of their enterprise was the antithesis of God's plan.

      Now these were not the type of men who were prone to fall asleep on the job. For one thing, these were career soldiers, special forces, whose best skill was guard-duty. They were members of the praetorian guard—men trained and qualified to guard Caesar himself. In order to serve in that capacity, they had to have at least ten years' military experience.

      A typical guard unit consisted of sixteen soldiers. They stood guard overnight in teams of four, one team for each of the four watches of the night. At least four men were on guard at all times, each group of four taking a three-hour stint.

      The tomb was "sealed," which means it was fastened shut with an emblem of Caesar, and the penalty for breaking such a seal would be death. The penalty for any guard who fell asleep on duty would likewise be death. So this was not a casual attempt to guard the tomb. It would have been impossible anywhere in the Roman Empire to guard anything (small or large) any more securely than those soldiers were guarding the opening to Jesus' tomb. They "made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard."

      This, by the way, is one of the great facts that made the truth of the resurrection so compelling. This makes it impossible to dismiss the empty tomb as a parlor trick and a fraud or a misunderstanding. The presence of these guards proves the truth of the resurrection. If the Romans and the Sanhedrin had simply handed over the body of Christ to His disciples, no one (except those who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes) would have believed in the resurrection. There would have been no reason to doubt the Sanhedrin's claim in Matthew 28:13 that "His disciples came by night and stole him away." But with the tomb sealed and guarded by praetorian guards, that claim simply wasn't plausible.

      Here was a group of professional guards, skilled watchmen, and in spite of the lie the Sanhedrin paid them to tell, they stayed awake while on duty. But they stayed awake in vain. They could not keep Jesus in the tomb. The assignment Pilate gave them was overruled by God.

      So here's the lesson for the watchman: God is more trustworthy than all your skill and watchfulness, and (like the workman) if you are doing your job in the power and confidence of your own flesh, without any sense of trust in or dependance on the Lord, what you are doing is useless. It is an absolute waste of your time and energy. If you are standing guard to try to thwart the will or the work of God, you will fail in the attempt. If you are standing guard to try to ward off some evil or enemy, you need God's own watchful eye to guarantee your success.

      God Himself "is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." He is our shelter and our fortress. He is our only safe "refuge, a strong tower against the enemy." And if you are looking for a savior or defender from any other source, your disappointment is virtually guaranteed.

      This is why the doctrine of God's sovereignty is so important, and this is why we stress it all the time. If you doubt or disbelieve God's absolute sovereignty, you will be strongly tempted to look for help from another source—or still worse, you will fall into the trap of trusting your own skill and your own resources. And there is no more foolish expectation.

      So we've met the workman and the watchman. There's a third character in verse 2. He's


3. The Worrier

      To be perfectly accurate, this is not necessarily a distinct third character. Both workmen and watchmen are prone to anxiety. In fact, worry is inevitable for those who constantly lose sleep because they are always at work and always on the watch without faith in God. How could someone stay at work or stand at watch constantly alone and not be troubled by anxiety?

      But I'm going to treat the worrier as a third category, because you can be a worrier without being a worker or a watchman. Even slackers and deadbeats worry. And well they should, because trouble is bound to catch up with them eventually.

      But worry is as much a waste of time as the toil of the godless laborer and the tedium of the unbelieving lookout. Freedom from constant anxiety is the birthright of every true believer. This is one of the great benefits of genuine faith. Verse 2: "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep."

      Now, le me remind you that this is a Solomonic psalm. According to the inscription, Psalm 127 was either written by Solomon or for him. It has special significance for Solomon as the builder of the first Temple and the king who watched over Israel during the first ever extended reign of peace over the Promised Land. The Hebrew word translated "beloved" in verse 2 is actually a form of Solomon's nickname. When he was born, according to 2 Samuel 12:25, Nathan the prophet "called his name Jedidiah." That means "beloved by God." It's the same Hebrew word we have here in verse 2: "He gives to his beloved sleep." To "rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil" is a sheer waste of energy. Trust he Lord, and sleep well. That's one of His gracious gifts to us.

      Furthermore, rest is both a characteristic and a fruit of faith. To have faith is to rest our hearts in God; to be at ease because we trust Him. There's a passive element in trusting God that is the very essence of faith. Hebrews 4:10: "he who has entered [God's] rest has . . . ceased from his works as God did from His."

      Earlier I pointed out that expression "the bread of anxious toil," and I promised we would look at it a little more closely. That's how the ESV translates the phrase: "the bread of anxious toil." In the New American Standard, it's "the bread of painful labors," and the King James Version says, "the bread of sorrows." The Hebrew phrase covers the whole range of all those meanings, but the context makes clear that the idea the psalmist has in mind is an unsettled heart, heavily freighted with disquiet, worry, fear of the future. He's talking about a troubled state of anxiety that makes sleep impossible.

      All such angst is worthless, the psalmist says. Worry is wasted energy. Jesus (of course) said the same thing in Luke 12:25-26: "Which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?"

      Worry is the polar opposite of faith. In other words, it is a form of unbelief. It's a wearying energy-drain as well. One of the great gifts God gives us is sleep—rest from our labors, relief from the cares of life, and refreshment for both body and soul. The older I get the more I appreciate the value of sleep. And for some of us, sleep is not as easy to come by as it used to be. But we need to see and appreciate that sleep is a blessing of God. It is a reminder of how dependent we are on Him. See: if you truly understand and embrace the principle of God's sovereignty and the truth of His grace, you should know that "for those who love God all things work together for good" (Romans 8:28). Isaiah 54:17: "No weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall confute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD." That ought to make it easier to sleep.

      Who stands guard while we sleep? God does. It hasn't been long since we looked at Psalm 121, the second of these Pilgrim Psalms. It says, "My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep."

      Who promises to make our way prosperous and bless us with good success? Who holds our fortunes in His hands? God does.       As we said at the beginning, He is the giver of "Every good gift and every perfect gift."

      It is the very height of folly not to keep our hearts and expectations firmly fixed on our heavenly Father throughout the workday, in the dark night watches, and during those times in between when our minds are prone to the cares and anxieties of life. "Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you."


      Now look at verse 3. Here the psalm almost seems to take up a completely different subject. The change is so dramatic, you might wonder if there is any connection at all between the first two verses and the three closing verses.

      Verses 3-5 are all about children and what a blessing they are. They are (verse 3) "a heritage from the LORD . . . a reward." They are (verse 4) "Like arrows in the hand of a warrior." And (verse 5) "Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!" A quiver, of course, is that tubelike container that an archer uses to hold his weapons. So a man with lots of children is well armed. "He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

       (By the way, this is not a mandate to have the largest family you possibly can. Children are a blessing, and a quiver full of them has great benefits, but if you think this is a condemnation of small families or if you think childlessness is a sign of divine disfavor, you're missing the actual point. There's no need to spend a great deal of time about that. Let me just say: be on guard against people who try to turn verse 5 into some kind of legalistic imperative. It's not that at all.)

      Now I promised to show you the logical connection between those first two verses and the final three verses. Remember the principle that underlies the main point of this psalm: Everything that is truly good in life comes to us by grace from God. All of the truly good things in life are blessings to be grateful for, not accomplishments that we ourselves can take credit for. And the classic example of this is a son or daughter. "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD." God is the one who made our children, and they are His gifts to us. You can't build a baby with any amount of human skill and worldly material. If you wanted a living illustration of verse 1, you couldn't find a better one than a little baby. Try to construct your own, and you'll get nowhere. These little ones, "made in the likeness of God," are not only the best of all the earthly blessings God gives us; they are also living reminders that He is the One to whom our praise and trust and loyalty belong.

      Children are a better heritage and a more lucrative reward than all the houses, lands, money, jewels, or other material possessions you could ever accumulate.

      It's true that with children comes increased responsibility, multiplied motives to worry, more trials, and many potential heartaches. But on balance, the blessings far outweigh the troubles that come with children (although some of you younger parents may not fully appreciate that until you start to have grandchildren).

      The assumption here, of course, is that these are children who have been raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and discipled according to the Word of God—children who honor their father and mother. The last phrase in the psalm makes clear that it's talking about faithful, responsible, honorable children. Here's how the New American Standard Bible translates it: "They will not be ashamed When they speak with their enemies in the gate."

      The pronoun "they" in that verse is a reference to the children themselves, who grow up to be respectable and responsible, and who therefore are in a position to answer their father's enemies with authority, and valor, and honor in a place of public conflict—in this case, "in the gate" or at the place of judgment. The context suggests that they are speaking in defense of the parents, or the family honor, or some principle of righteousness. The idea is that they honor their family; they gratify the hearts of their parents, and they answer the threats and charges of the enemy.

      Keil and Delitzsch, commenting on the Hebrew expression in this verse, say, "Unjust judges, malicious accusers, and false witnesses retire shy and faint-hearted before a family so capable of defending itself."

      Spurgeon says, "Nobody cares to meddle with a man who can gather a clan of brave sons about him. [His] own sons make his words emphatic by the resolve to carry out their father's wishes. This is the blessing of Abraham, the old covenant benediction, 'Thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies'; and it is [a promise that applies] to all the beloved of the Lord in some sense or other."

      Faithful children like that are of far greater value than success in any construction project. They bring a kind of security that no military guard could ever provide. And they are a greater tonic for anxiety than any business plan or retirement account.

      But the point is not that we should trust our children or look to them for our security. They are a token of the Lord's care for us. They are merely instruments through which the Lord mediates his blessings. It is God whom we should trust, and that is the whole lesson of this psalm: God is the one whom we should depend on for success in everything. True and lasting success is not possible at all apart from divine grace. Everything depends on God's blessing. We should acknowledge that, and seek to glorify Him first of all, or else our own labor will be in vain. "Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." And "do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." It's uncanny how closely Jesus' sermon on the Mount echoes this psalm.

      Notice: this is the same truth that constitutes the very heart of the gospel message. Think about this: If the work you do in an earthly building project is worthless apart from the Lord's blessing, how much more are your efforts to earn his favor by good works, religious ritual, legalistic self-righteousness, or whatever? You can't be successful in any endeavor if you are trusting in your own work. That is the very lesson of this psalm. How much less can you earn God's favor by trusting in your own goodness?

      We are sinners. All our works are corrupt and worthless by the very nature of who we are. Scripture says in our natural state we are enemies of God. Romans 8:7-8: "For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God."

      We need a Savior, and that is why Christ came: to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. If you are not trusting Christ for salvation, all your religion is vain. All your supposed goodness is merely wicked self-righteousness. Your works are futile.

      But Christ's works were perfect. He is the sinless, unblemished lamb of God. He not only paid the price of sin in full; he meticulously fulfilled all the demands of perfect righteousness. His work was not in vain.

      For those who bow to Him as Lord and trust Him as Savior, His death counts as payment for their sins, and His righteousness is imputed to them. That is the gospel message. It starts with a recognition of the truth of this psalm: that everything we do in pursuit of our own agenda is utterly worthless—vain—defiled by sin and therefore devoid of any eternal value.

      But the gospel then culminates in a promise and an invitation so lavish and so abundant that it almost seems too good to be true:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.

2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?  . . .

6 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near;

7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.

That's the gospel according to Isaiah 55:1-6. The same promise is repeated in the closing verses of the New Testament (Revelation 22:17): "The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let the one who hears say, "Come." And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price."

      "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." But Jesus told his disciples that He is building an eternal house for them (John 14:1-2): "I go to prepare a place for you[.] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."

      That's where our all our trust and all our hopes need to be focused.