Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 3

Roxette_19025

Swedish pop duo Roxette made a fortunte out of telling a generation to “listen to your heart,” which is the worst advice ever in this history of advice.

The title of this sermon series comes from Ephesians 3:20 –

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us… (Ephesians 3:20. KJV)

By the end of this series, we will have looked at what Paul was really saying to the Ephesians in that verse, but for now, we’re using the words, “exceeding abundantly above” as a springboard to discover some of what God does for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” That’s really a phenomenal thought. God’s provision is way, way beyond what we need. He never gives us “just enough” but always more than we could imagine.

We’ve already discovered that God, through His endless grace, has provided us with “peace that transcends all understanding.” God’s grace is abundant, according to Romans 5:20, and through that grace we are at peace with God and the world around us.

We also found out that there is no accumulation of sins so great that God cannot pardon, because God’s pardon is abundant, according to Isaiah 55:7.

This time, courtesy of Psalm 36, we’ll be amazed with the fact that the satisfaction God gives is given in absolute abundance – exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.

They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures. (Psalms 36:8 | KJV)

What the heart is really like

We’ve often heard people say things like this, “He has a good heart.” If you believe the Bible, then you know that’s not true of anybody. Psalm 36 paints a grim picture of the human heart. It is wicked. It’s hard to believe, but the Bible is never wrong. Jeremiah, the so-called weeping prophet, wrote this concerning the human heart –

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9 | KJV)

Perhaps that’s one reason Jeremiah wept so much; he knew what people were really like. People are not “born good.” We are born sinners. Nobody is a “blank slate.” We are all born with the distinct slant to sin. That baby doesn’t stand a chance without Jesus Christ.

Psalm 36 is “a psalm of David.” He wrote it, and if anybody knew the human heart, it was King David. David knew people better than he knew himself. Bible scholars refer to Psalm 36 as a “wisdom psalm” that contrasts two ways of life: the way of wickedness and the way of wisdom.

Verse one is a declaration of the state of those without God –

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1 | KJV)

That’s an awkward way to translate the Hebrew, so let’s read it in a more reasonable translation, the NIV84 –

An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psalms 36:1 | NIV84)

Well, that’s slightly better but it’s still a bit murky. The new and improved NIV might give us a clearer sense of what David was trying to get across –

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1 NIV)

That nails it. David, a godly man, has a message “in his heart” concerning the state of the godless. Previously, we noted that the heart is wicked and can’t be trusted. How can we trust what David wrote, if that’s true? David was a redeemed, though imperfect, man. God holds the cure for the wickedness of the human heart.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10 | NIV84)

That was the David’s prayer and God’s will. David had a re-created heart; a new heart that sought to serve God. So we need to pay attention to what David wrote here; it’s coming from a pure heart. The wicked are sinful and they do not fear God at all. David doesn’t have in mind the atheist here. Here’s his opinion of the atheist –

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. (Psalms 14:1 | NIV84)

That’s the atheist. He’s a fool who never gets anything right. But here, David has in mind the average person, who’s not an atheist. He’s probably a decent citizen, believes in God, but doesn’t have a relationship with Him. He sounds like the average, hapless American, who believes in God but lives like he doesn’t. This person is worse than the atheist, because while he acknowledges the existence of God, he disregards Him completely.

That’s why he’s wicked. He believes in God but doesn’t honor Him in the way we lives. Paul would write this to the Romans –

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11 | NIV84)

From there, he quotes a bunch of Old Testament verses, including what David wrote here in Psalm 55. People without Christ are not righteous, they have no understanding, they don’t seek God, and they have no fear of God. That’s the real state of the human heart. We say sentimental things like, “follow your heart,” but that’s just awful advice. You should never, ever follow your heart. A heart without Christ is wicked and can’t be trusted.  And if you “listen to your heart,” as Roxette counselled, you’ll always find yourself in big trouble.

The folly of living without God

Here’s the big problem with people who believe in God but don’t have any kind of a relationship with Him:

For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. (Psalms 36:2 | NIV84)

That’s right. If that doesn’t describe the average American, nothing in the Bible does! “I’m not so bad,” they say. “There are plenty of people worse than I,” they tell themselves. The problem is, that’s not how God sees people. Matthew Henry in his classic commentary on the Bible had this to say about what David wrote here:

They are self-destroyed by being self-flattered; Satan could not deceive them if they did not deceive themselves.

He right about that. Humans beings can talk themselves into anything, justifying even the vilest of sins. And this cuts to the heart of the problem of people – “good people” – who believe in God but are not born again. In the very core of their being they are wicked because they prefer to listen to their hearts rather than to God. The result is a blasphemous attitude and lifestyle. It is blasphemous to run around claiming to believe in God yet live as though He doesn’t exist.

God’s perfect character

From the wickedness of human beings, the psalmist turns to the incredible character of God.  The whole tenor of the psalm changes at verse 5. Now the mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice of God are brought in sharp focus.

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. (Psalm 36:5, 6 NIV)

Now, look very closely at what David is saying these verses, because while it is poetry, the theology behind the words is profound and limitless in its scope. God’s attributes – His love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice – literally sustain the universe! God preserves man and beast alike.

Elsewhere in the Psalms, we read similar statements –

The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. (Psalm 135:6, 7 NIV)

If you don’t like the poetry, how about this verse over in the New Testament –

He [Jesus Christ] is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:17 NIV)

Yes, Jesus Christ is the Superglue that binds the material universe together. Without His sustaining power, we’d blow apart. We serve a God that is much more involved in His creation than most people imagine. Remember the wicked person David began this psalm describing? He imagines that God is afar off in the far flung corners of the universe someplace. He sees God as an “absentee Landlord.” Sure, they believe in God, and believe that somehow, in some way, He created everything, but that now He’s gone. He’s away “resting.” These people with the wicked hearts, don’t see God as bad or evil, just as irrelevant because – to them and their deluded imaginations – He’s not involved in His creation. But they’re wrong.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 36:7 NIV)

This is one of those verses that must be read with the overall context of the psalm taken into consideration. The privilege of God’s protection is extended to the godly only. Not just anybody may enjoy this “refuge in the shadow of God’s wings!” Only those who know Him as He knows them may. This verse, and others like it, are often wrenched out of context and appropriated by people who have to regard for or relationship with God. They – the aforementioned wicked people – should expect nothing from Him. The godly alone have access to God’s presence and His house, as noted in verse 8 –

They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (Psalm 36:7 NIV)

Would you expect to find a wicked, ungodly person in the house of God? Of course not! Therefore, the abundance of His house, including protection, is reserved only for those who go into God’s house. That brings us to the point of this third “exceeding abundantly above.” True satisfaction is available only to those who are in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. The metaphors of food and drink in verse 7 represent all the blessings of God, both material and spiritual. Through God and God alone may you receive all that you need to get along in this world and the next. The believer who thinks otherwise – and there are plenty of those – and seeks satisfaction outside of God will always be miserable. And the non-believer who thinks they can get what is promised only to believers will also be miserable.

Yes, human beings are strange indeed. Both believers and non-believers want to live the good life, yet both believers and non-believers go about it the wrong way! Believers want what they shouldn’t have and non-believers want what they can’t have, and both are miserable until they finally understand that they’ve been lied to by their hearts their whole lives. Remember how this whole thing began?

I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Psalm 36:1 NIV)

Far too many of us follow our deceiving hearts without so much the tiniest bit of consideration that in doing so we might be offending God. No wonder so many Christians are living hollow, unsatisfied lives. If you’re a Christian, you’ll never find what you need outside of God. Never. But what God gives you, He gives in abundance. A good New Testament commentary on this psalm may be found here, in the words of Jesus –

But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. (Luke 12:31 NIV)

 

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