Characters In Contrast

Bible Book: Psalms  1 : 1-6
Subject: Character, Differences in; Christian Living; Godly Living
Series: Psalms - Kirksey

Characters in contrast provide an effective teaching tool allowing us to show the stark difference between two individuals. Although we find this technique throughout the Bible, none is more telling than the one featured in Psalm 1, where one man is preserved and the other man perishes. What a difference!

Rev. J. Hampton Keathley, III (1934-2002), longtime pastor and occasional professor at Moody Bible Institute, explains, “This first Psalm stands as a kind of introduction to the rest of the Psalms. Its subject matter is very general and basic, but it touches on two subjects that continually occur throughout the Psalms. It declares the blessedness of the righteous and the misery and future of the wicked. . . Psalm one is a wisdom Psalm. There are praise Psalms, lament Psalms, and enthronement Psalms and all contain wisdom, of course, but as an introduction and door to the rest of the Psalms, this Psalm declares in just a few words some of the most basic but profound truths and propositions of the Bible.”[1]

From our text found in Psalm 1:1-6, we read, “Blessed is the man / Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, / Nor stands in the path of sinners, / Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; / But his delight is in the law of the Lord, / And in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree / Planted by the rivers of water, / That brings forth its fruit in its season, / Whose leaf also shall not wither; / And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, / But are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, / Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, / But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Allow me to point out three contrasts in our passage.

I. There is a contrast in wisdom.

Note the contrast between the wisdom of the two men. In Psalm 1:1-2 we read, “Blessed is the man / Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, / Nor stands in the path of sinners, / Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; / But his delight is in the law of the Lord, / And in His law he meditates day and night.”

We read in James 3:13-18, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

We also read in James 1:5-8, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Rev. Keathley, points out the parallel between Psalm 1:1 and Ephesians 4:17-19, where we read, “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Keathley asks, “So, how can we avoid this? Psalm 1:2 is our answer! The man who experiences great blessing is one who has a love affair with God’s Word. He/she is a person of the Scriptures. . . . The church is not a social club, a welfare organization, a religious or a ritualistic institution. It is a spiritual body, an organism of living people whose lives are nurtured and sustained through the teaching of God’s Word (Amos 8:11-12, 2 Tim. 4:1-4). According to Scripture, everything in the church is to flow from and around this emphasis and activity. Its organization, its fellowship, its works, testimony, witness, and giving. This does not deny the ministry and work of the Holy Spirit or other valid functions of the church like music, but central to everything is the Word (Jam. 1:19f).”[2]

From James 1:19-25 we read, “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”

The Lord through Amos the prophet, warns in Amos 8:11-12, “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord God, ‘That I will send a famine on the land, Not a famine of bread, Nor a thirst for water, But of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, And from north to east; They shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the Lord, But shall not find it.”

The Lord through the Paul the Apostle, warns in 2 Timothy 4:1-4, “I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”

In Hebrews 4:12 we read, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Dr. R. Kent Hughes shares, “George Whitefield, the great eighteenth-century evangelist, was hounded by a group of detractors who called themselves the ‘Hell-fire Club.’ They derided his work and mocked him. On one occasion one of them, a man named Thorpe, was mimicking Whitefield to his cronies, delivering his sermon with brilliant accuracy, perfectly imitating his tone and facial expressions, when he himself was so pierced that he sat down and was converted on the spot! Mr. Thorpe went on to become a prominent Christian leader in the city of Bristol.”[3]

From Joshua 1:8 we read, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” W. Phillip Keller, (1920-1997) comments, “The Word of God to us today is exactly the same as it was to Joshua long ago.”[4] While we must remember God did not close the canon of Scripture until the completion of the New Testament, we agree with the spirit of Keller’s comment.

II. There is a contrast in works.

Note the contrast between being “like a tree” and being “like the chaff” (tares).

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards shares in the Bible Reader’s Companion, “The Psalms are especially rich in imagery and various figures of speech. Metaphor, which implies comparison, is frequently used to enrich the sense of who God is for us. Thus, the Lord is our strong tower, our shield, our sun. Similes also abound: the godly are like a tree, whose deep roots drink in life-giving water. In contrast the wicked are like chaff blown away by the wind.”[5]

W. Phillip Keller wrote another book titled, As A Tree Grows, in which he describes how a believer can grow in godliness. We read in Psalm 1:3-4, “He shall be like a tree / Planted by the rivers of water, / That brings forth its fruit in its season, / Whose leaf also shall not wither; / And whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, / But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” Dr. Adam Clarke (1762-1832) comments, “His profession of true religion shall always be regular and unsullied, and his faith be ever shown by his works.”[6]

We find another study in contrast in Jeremiah 17:5-8, “Cursed is the man who trusts in man / And makes flesh his strength, / Whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, / And shall not see when good comes, / But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, / In a salt land which is not inhabited. ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, / And whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, / Which spreads out its roots by the river, / And will not fear when heat comes; / But its leaf will be green, / And will not be anxious in the year of drought, / Nor will cease from yielding fruit.”

We read in Matthew 3:12, “His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

III. There is a contrast in ways.

Note the contrast between “the way of the righteous” and “the way of the ungodly.” We read in Psalm 1:5-6, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, / Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, / But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Rev. David Charles (D. C.) Hughes, D.D. (1832-1909), eulogized in a memorial service by his friend, Rev. Dr. Robert Stuart MacArthur, longtime pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, New York, shares the following, “Lessons from these contrasted pictures.--

I. That true happiness is not the result of chance, but of law--fundamental, immutable, Divine. This law may be thus stated: Every effect must have an adequate cause. An uprooted tree cannot bear fruit; so a soul whose faith and love are torn away from God cannot be happy or prosperous. The specific law of spiritual good is this: Character determines destiny.

2. That God has so graciously arranged the conditions of happiness or misery that it is dependent upon each one’s personal choice.”[7]

John Oxenham, pseudonym of William Arthur Dunkerley (1852-1941), penned these perceptive words,

To every man there openeth a way, and ways, and a way,
And the high soul climbs the high way,
And the low soul gropes the low.
And in between, on the misty flats, the rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth a high way and a low;
And every man decideth the way his soul shall go.[8]

Dave Brannon, former managing editor of Sports Spectrum magazine, now editor of Discovery House Publishers, shares the following about Greg Buchanan in Where Do We Go From Here? A Handbook for New Believers, “If you are looking for some interesting music to enhance your spiritual life, try his. Don’t be put off by the fact that he plays the harp. Listen anyway. His rare style of plucking and strumming produces a toe-tapping worship experience that you never thought you’d hear from a harpist.

Anyway, the reason I mention him is that he is a good example how Romans 12:2 works. Before he accepted Jesus as his Savior, Greg blended perfectly into the contemporary way of life. He was a heavy drinker. He was a drug user. He was a womanizer. He played his harp in all the smoke-filled night spots be could haul the thing into.

Then he heard the gospel and was saved.

Within months, he stopped conforming to the pattern of this world, and he was transformed. He changed from a hard-driving, alcohol-swigging, miserable druggie to a sober, God-praising, joyful Christian. He took the first and most important step of accepting Jesus as his Savior, but he didn’t stop there. He sought a change for the better by renewing his mind with Scripture and Christian fellowship. Today he stands out from the world in sharp contrast, and his testimony is as beautiful as his music.”[9]

I remember hearing Greg Buchanan play on a Christian radio program in about 1990 and I just wanted to get a recording of it. I tried to find it in a music store in Richland Mall in Columbia, South Carolina, to no avail. I did eventually find some of his recordings.

Several years later, Sharon and I heard Greg play his harp at Agricola Baptist Church in Agricola, Mississippi, when Dr. Don Boone was pastor.

A few years later, while returning from the Christian Life Convention at the Stephen Olford Center in Memphis, Tennessee, we stopped at the Western Sizzlin’ Restaurant in Magee, Mississippi, when a group of people came to sit in a nearby booth. We noticed it was Greg Buchanan. He came over to our booth and we enjoyed a time of food and fellowship. Afterward we made some pictures to mark the event and he gave us some recordings of his heavenly music.

I agree with Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, who said, “Greg is a master musician, playing the harp with such skill that we all listen with focused attention. He is also wildly in love with Jesus, which gives his music that extra touch of feeling that reaches our hearts.”[10]


“Characters in contrast” is a great theme through the Bible. For instance, we think about the contrast between Cain and Abel, related to their act of worship, as we read in Hebrews 11:4, “By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts; and through it he being dead still speaks.” In addition, there is the contrast between Cain and Seth, in their life and lineage as we find in Genesis 4:16-5:20. We further note the contrast between Simon Peter and Judas Iscariot in terms of sorrow. Simon Peter had a “godly sorrow” and Judas Iscariot had “the sorrow of the world.” Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:10, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

Dr. Lawrence O. Richards explains, “In every experience of our own, no matter how deep the pain or how great the frustration or how exhilarating the joy, we can find psalms which echo our inmost being, psalms which God uses to bring comfort or to confirm release.”[11]

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981), longtime pastor of Westminster Chapel in London, shares in Seeking the Face of God, “The Psalms are treasures from those who earnestly sought the face of God. They are honest messages of sorrow, joy, praise, and wisdom from real people who experienced real struggles. In the psalmist’s words we see their hearts open before God.”[12]

Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe, former pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, wrote a book titled Meet Yourself in the Psalms.[13] Each one of us finds our match in one of these characters in contrast.

[1]J. Hampton Keathley, “Psalm 1: Two Ways of Life – A Psalm of Wisdom: General Introduction to the Psalms,” accessed: 09/02/13,


[3]R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1993), 1: 121

[4]W. Phillip Keller, Walking With God: Wholeness and Holiness For Common Christians, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1998), 21

[5]Lawrence O. Richards, As A Tree Grows, (Colorado Springs, CO: Cook Communications Ministries, 1991, 2004), Database © 2007 WORDsearch Corp.

[6]Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament, Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.

[7]The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1905), 1: 28

[8]John Oxenham (William Arthur Dunkerley), “The Ways,” in Familiar Quotations, ed. John Bartlett, (Boston, MA: Little, Brown & Co. 1955), 796

[9]Dave Branon, Where Do I Go from Here? A Handbook for New Believers, (Grand Rapids, MI: Discovery House Publishers, 1993), 132-133

[10]Greg Buchanan, Gospel Harpist, Recommendations, accessed 09/07/13,

[11]Lawrence O. Richards, The Teachers Commentary (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2002), 325

[12]D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2005), Back Cover

[13]Warren W. Wiersbe, Meet Yourself in the Psalms, (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983), Cover

By Dr. Franklin L. Kirksey, pastor First Baptist Church of Spanish Fort 30775 Jay Drive Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527

Author of Sound Biblical Preaching: Giving the Bible a Voice Available on and / / (251) 626-6210

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