In today’s world, people are acting crazy: rioting, screaming, crying, destroying the property of others, and tearing others down. They want their opinions heard, many times not based on any facts but on feelings. It’s an easy temptation in these times to combat an evil-doer’s behavior with our words and actions. But instead of fretting over a situation, the Lord wants us to look to Him. In the next few days I will be sharing a series from Nancy Leigh DeMoss on living out Psalm 37. The first is entitled, “Fret Not”. The final chapter has not been written. God is still on His throne. God is still overcoming evil in this world. And when the final word has been said, God will be on top.
Are you one of these people who sometimes feel as you’re watching the evening news that you want to throw something at the television? I mean, you find yourself arguing or debating or yelling at the person who is saying something on the screen.
Maybe you don’t react that outwardly. But I find sometimes as I’m hearing about immorality, violent crime, abuse, terrorism, corruption in the culture and in our world—sometimes it just feels overwhelming. You think, “Stop! How can this be? This is wrong!” And you want to do something about it.
Everywhere you turn you find that there are authors, there are entertainers, there are politicians who are promoting things that you know are contrary to the Word; their evil agendas. They’re promoting ungodly lifestyles: abortion, immorality, the divorce culture, feminist philosophies.
You just realize that we live in a very fallen world, and it’s not getting better. It gets worse and worse. The darkness seems to get darker and darker. It’s not just out there in the culture or in international affairs. We have to deal with it regularly on a more personal level in our own homes, in our workplaces; sometimes, sadly, even in our churches.
Let me read to you a few things that women have written to us in emails; maybe you can relate to some of these. One woman said,
“Another woman at work has caused me problems through gossip. I’m trying to be patient in this matter, but I’m feeling abused. Since I am very quiet and she is outspoken, when there is conflict, she verbalizes, and the boss takes her side, and I’m just rebuked without an opportunity to tell my side of the story.”
Now, that’s not a world-changing event. But this woman is living in this fallen world, and she says, “I’m feeling abused by what’s going on around me.” Another woman wrote us recently and said,
“I’m engaged to a man who is struggling with anger. At least once a week we get into an intense argument, which usually begins when I don’t meet an expectation of his. He has never hit me, but he curses at me and then tries to justify it by saying we all fall short.”
By the way, when I saw that email, I emailed our correspondence department and said, “Tell her to break up. Don’t stay in an engaged relationship like that.” If you’re in a marriage like that, however, it’s not so easy. What do you do? Married to an angry man, engaged to an angry man.
When we hear these things, when we see what’s going on in the world—sometimes we live with them in our own surroundings—what are some of the natural emotions and natural responses we feel in the face of people who do wrong, wrongdoers, wrong doing?
Those things can cause us to feel helpless, to feel out of control, to feel buried, to feel inundated by the evil in the culture or around us. We can feel abandoned.
I think often there rises up within us a sense of anger, agitation. We may feel, as that one woman said, fearful, discouraged, disillusioned. These are all natural responses to realizing it is a broken, fallen world, and it touches us everywhere.
I want us to look at a passage of Scripture that addresses what to do about wrong doing in the culture, about wrong doing in your home, about wrong doing in your church, about wrong doing in the work place—what to do about it.
I’m talking about Psalm 37. It’s a familiar psalm to most of us. We’re not going to work through the whole psalm, but I’ve been meditating recently on the first eleven verses of Psalm 37.
I’ve found myself dwelling on them, memorizing them, quoting them, saying them to myself, applying them to different life circumstances. I want to take some time for us to unpack these verses, not as deeply or thoroughly as we could, but just an overview of what to do when wrong feels so strong around us.
Many of you are familiar with Psalm 37. It deals with an issue that God’s people in every generation have had to face, and that is the active presence of evil and evildoers in our world; that evil is not just passive. It is active. It is surging. It is moving forward all around us. The question is, “How are God’s people to respond?”
Further, this passage grapples further with the fact that not only is evil strong around us, but mysteriously, or in a way that’s hard to explain, people who live godly lives often suffer affliction; whereas, people who live ungodly lives often prosper. Go figure. Why is that? How are we supposed to deal with that reality?
What about the manager at work who lies, who cuts corners ethically, who steps on people and then gets promoted? Why do the ungodly prosper? What about the married man who’s living in an adulterous relationship, carefree, having a good time—his life is going fine, so it seems—while his wife and his kids are dying at home? What about people who live on credit, who don’t pay their bills but have all kinds of stuff, while you’re trying to be financially responsible, but you can’t make ends meet? Things often don’t seem to add up when you look around you.
Now, Psalm 37 doesn’t really provide an explanation for these seeming injustices. But it does challenge those of us who are believers to view this reality in a different light. How are we to view it? We’re to view it in the light of eternity. It challenges us to respond to these injustices in light of God’s sovereign purposes and His will.
Now, Jesus would have been familiar with this psalm, no doubt. It’s very possible that He had this passage in mind when, in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).
When Jesus gave those Beatitudes, He turned conventional wisdom upside down and on its head. The things He said were totally opposite to our natural ways of thinking. Blessed are the poor in spirit? Blessed are those who mourn? Blessed are the meek? I mean, the world thinks just the opposite. But Jesus said those who are meek are blessed, for they will inherit the earth.
I believe He was probably thinking about Psalm 37 when He said those words because, as different commentators have pointed out, Psalm 37 is really an exposition on the third beatitude. “Blessed are the meek.”
Psalm 37 is one of eight acrostic psalms in the Psalm book of Scripture. With a couple of exceptions, throughout this psalm each stanza or each couplet (which is two verses in this psalm) starts with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
The Scripture tells us at the beginning that this is a psalm of David, and it was likely written by David as an older man. How do we know that? Look at verse 25. David says, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread.”
So David is an older man. He’s lived a lot of life. He’s seen a lot; he’s been a lot of places, and he reflects back on what he has seen over the years. He’s seen a lot of wrongdoing. In fact, David many times has been the victim of that kind of oppression: His son who tried to take the kingdom away from him; Shimei who cursed him; traitorous people who betrayed him. He’s been the recipient of this. He also realizes, with a humble heart, that he has caused some of this. He was the man who took another man’s wife and betrayed that man’s trust.
So he’s been the recipient and the one who has caused wrongdoing in the world. But as he reflects back, he thinks about God’s dealings with the righteous and God’s dealings with the wicked.
He thinks about King Saul, and how for years Saul pursued him and tried to attack him, and how it seemed that Saul was winning, that Saul had the upper hand. But he looks back now with the benefit of time and years, and he realizes how God has overcome it all, how God has cared for him, how God has brought him through the attacks and the opposition.
He realizes that the final word has not been written.
The final chapter has not been written.
God is still on His throne.
God is still overcoming evil in this world.
And when the final word has been said, God will be on top.
There’s no doubt about it in David’s mind as he looks back.
Now, as we move into this psalm, we’re going to see in the face of wrongdoing in this world one thing that we should not do, and we’re going to focus on that in today’s session. Then over the next couple of days we’ll look at several things we should do in responding to evildoers.
The passage starts out with how we should not respond. You’ll see this command, this exhortation, three times, beginning in verse 1 and then in verses 7 and 8. The one thing we are not to do in responding to evil—whether it’s in the big scope of things or just in the little issues—what are we not to do? The one thing we’re not to do is the one thing we are most naturally prone to do, and I think that’s why he says it three times. Verse 1, Psalm 37:1: “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!” Then in verse 7: “Fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!” And verse 8: “Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
Fret not. Now, when we use the word fret, we tend to think of it as worrying. “Don’t worry. Don’t be anxious.” And that is a meaning of the word fret. But the word fret as it comes to us from the original Hebrew language, as I’ve studied it, suggests something more than simply being worried or bothered. It means more than that.
Literally this word in the Hebrew means, “Don’t get heated.” The word means “to burn; to be kindled; to glow with anger; to grow indignant.” It means “to be hot or furious; to become angry; to be kindled. Don’t get heated. Don’t get angry over the wrongdoing of others. Don’t become agitated and angry. Don’t be steamed up.
In fact you see in verse 8 this connection between fretting and anger. Look at verse 8: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself.”
In Hebrew poetry you have what’s called parallelism, and that is, frequently one phrase will be said, in just a slightly different way but with the same meaning, one after the other. So “refrain from anger” and “forsake wrath.” What it means is “fret not yourself; don’t get angry.”
That word “refrain from anger,” the New American Standard says, “cease from anger.” It means, “Drop it; let it go.” The word forsake wrath means, “leave it behind; depart from it.” Don’t hold onto your anger. Let it go. Leave it. Depart from it. Drop it. Cease from it. Don’t get angry about it.
That anger, I believe, is often first anger toward God. We wouldn’t necessarily think of it consciously that way. You think, “No, it’s not God I’m angry at. It’s my eight-year-old. It’s my husband who’s acting like an eight-year-old. It’s my boss who is being totally unreasonable.” You say, “It’s the person I’m angry at.”
But invariably we find out that our anger, in some measure at least, is directed toward God, because what we’re really, at least subconsciously thinking is, “If God is in control and He’s so big and He’s so great, why isn’t He doing something about this? Why is this happening? Why doesn’t He change it? Why doesn’t He get me out of this circumstance? Why doesn’t He bring down that evil dictator?”
So first of all, anger toward God and His choices. Anger against our circumstances.
Then that anger focuses on others—how they impact our lives. We tend to get angry that our obedience, our trying to live right, doesn’t seem to profit us.
What good does it do to try to be God’s kind of woman, a true woman? It doesn’t seem to provide relief from pain or from living in this fallen world. I still have to face these people. We tend to be angry. We tend to fret. We tend to stew. We tend to get uptight, to get agitated about this. The Scripture says, “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.”
Some of your Bibles will translate that word as “evildoing.” I think the New American Standard says it that way: “It tends only to evildoing.” That word in the Hebrew is the exact same word that we read in verse 1, where it says, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers.” You see, we look around and we see evildoers. If we react by getting agitated or angry or fretting over evildoers, you know what happens? We become evildoers. “It tends only to evil.”
If you become fretful and angry around people who are provoking you or provoking God, you end up being the same kind of person that you are reacting to. And we’ve all seen that in ourselves. We may not do it outwardly. Some do, but most of us just do it inwardly. But you find out you become just like the person who is antagonizing you. If we fret, we become evildoers. It tends only to evildoing.
So the Scripture is saying here, “Don’t let evil people and those who do wrong—don’t let them make you sin.” That’s why it starts by saying, “Don’t fret.” Don’t get angry. Don’t get hot. Don’t get heated. That’s why we need to be careful not to even allow the anger to take root in our hearts. If we let it take root in our hearts—that grumbling, that chafing, that resentment—invariably it will lead to sin. So nip it in the bud!
“Fret not.” It’s talking about a heart attitude, a condition of the heart. Before you even blurt anything out, before you explode in anger, before you say unkind or evil things, before you do unkind or evil deeds, deal with the heart attitude of anger. Fret not. Don’t let it rise up in your heart. Don’t let it take root. Don’t fret yourself. You see, our response to sinful people and to the circumstances and providences of life reveals what’s in our heart. If we start to say harsh words, if we start to hyperventilate, or what I sometimes do, “Oh no! I can’t believe this is happening!”
If we start to have many words, anxious words, it’s a reflection of the fact that we are fretting in our heart. We’ve gotten heated. We’re overheated. And ultimately that steam starts to come out. James 1:20 tells us that “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” You will never overcome evil by being evil yourself. And when you fret, when you become angry, you become an evildoer.
The reason we don’t have to fret is because we’re not God. God is in control. He can manage this world. He can control it. He can change evildoers, and He will in His time. That’s what we’re going to see as we get into this psalm. Chambers said, “All our fret and worry is caused by calculating without God.” And, I might say, our fretting and worry and anger is caused by trying to be God—trying to be in charge of something we’re not in charge of. God is in charge.
So how do we apply this as we see evil in our culture—politicians, news stories, celebrities flaunting immorality, immodesty . . . and as we see it not just in our culture but in our homes, in our churches, in our workplaces. We see things that we know aren’t right. What are we supposed to do?
We are to grieve over sin. We’re not to be immune to it or put our heads in the sand and pretend like it doesn’t exist. But I think he’s saying, if I could use the vernacular of today, “Don’t let it eat your lunch.” Don’t let it give you ulcers. Don’t fret. Don’t let the wrongdoing of others steal your joy and your peace. If we respond to evildoers with anger, we become evildoers ourselves. Further, we forfeit the opportunity God wants to give us to influence and impact others and to be redemptive in their lives.
Listen, ladies, Christians should not be known as angry, reactionary people. There are a lot of things in this world that are very, very grievous, that are very sinful. But the world should not look at us and think, “They’re always blowing off about something. They’re angry, reactionary people.” Fret not. Don’t get overheated.
Is there a situation you’re fretting over? Is there something going on in your life that you’ve been hot and bothered about? You’re hot under the collar. You’re steamed. You’re seething inside. You can tell the temperature’s rising. Maybe it’s just, you know, simmering. But you keep that heat on, it’ll simmer, and it will go to a boil and things that boil, ultimately boil over. Are you fretting about something? Have you become angry inside, maybe even expressing it outwardly, agitated? Have you become or are you becoming like the evildoer that’s disturbing you so greatly?
Think about your marriage. Think about the dynamics, the chemistry with that one child for whom no textbook was ever written. Are you engaging at their level? In the workplace, in that relationship where there’s tension, have you been getting heated?
If so, before we go any further in this psalm, the starting place is to agree with God. Say, “Lord, You’re right. I’m wrong. I have been getting overheated. There is anger in my heart. It is eating my lunch. I am letting it get under my skin. I am angry; I’m fretting. I have sinned against You with my fretting.”
Confess it. Repent of it. Then, over these next couple of days, we’ll see not only what we should not do—fret not about evildoers—but what God calls us to do in a positive, redemptive way.