How are we to remain cool when we see evil men prospering?
The answer is to get our eyes onto the Lord. This does not mean we ignore evil. This question is about keeping our cool so we don’t let anger take us.
Think of Jesus cleansing the Temple. Were the people in that Temple “prospering?” Were they “evil” people? This Psalm directly applied to Jesus situation. How did He handle it? He remained cool and composed, but he had righteous anger that drove every ungodly person out of the Temple.
- He saw the evil.
- He made a scourge of cords.
- He drove them all out.
- With poise He taught them (Mark 11:17).
The following is taken directly from Boice Expositional Commentaries by James Montgomery Boice.
The Quiet Spirit
The first eleven verses are the most direct exposition we have of the third beatitude, which is where they end. They describe the quiet spirit of one who trusts in God and does not fret because of evil men.
The note is struck at the very beginning, in verses 1 and 2: “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.”2 The words “do not fret” literally mean “do not get heated,” which is also how we might express it. Or we might say, “Don’t get all worked up.” Or even “Be cool.” This is what the psalm chiefly wants to say to us. So in case we might miss it, the words “do not fret” are repeated three times, being found in verses 1, 7, and 8. They are the recurring theme of this section.
But how are we to do it? How are we to remain cool when we see evil men prospering? Especially when they prosper at the expense of truly righteous persons, as is often the case?
The beatitude says, “the meek . . . will inherit the earth.” But it seems to us that it is the ungodly who get it.
Nice guys finish last!
How can we not fret when we see that happening?
Verses 3-11 give two answers to those questions: We are to look up, and we are to look ahead.
The most important answer is to get our eyes off the wicked and even off ourselves and on the Lord. More than that, we are to trust him and commit our way to him. I suppose there is hardly a place in all the Bible better suited than these verses to teach us how to live godly lives and grow in the love and knowledge of God, which is what the godly life is about. They tell us to do five things.
“Trust in the LORD” (Ps 37:3)
Trust is faith. It is the proper starting point for all right relationships with God. Yet as always, faith is not merely passive but active too, and not merely God-related but related to others. This is why the verse adds the words “and do good.” It means that the person who is quietly trusting God will experience the life and power of God in his or her life and that this new life will express itself by doing good to others. I often say when I am teaching about faith as the channel of justification that there is never any justification without regeneration and that the one who is regenerated will necessarily lead a new life. In other words, although we are not saved by works but rather are saved by the grace of God through faith, faith will inevitably express itself in right conduct.
Faith (trust) has three elements:
- notitia or “content,”
- assensus, which is personal “consent to” or “agreement with” that content, and
- fiducia or “trust.”
The last point involves personal commitment to God, just as marriage involves a personal commitment of each marriage partner to the other. God has committed himself to us. We must commit ourselves to him if we are to be Christians.
[Does your faith involve all three of these components?]
“Delight . . . in the LORD” (Ps 37:4)
Before people are converted, they resist a relationship to God, because they do not think that God is desirable. They suppose him to be moralistic and harsh, establishing rules intended only to keep people from fulfilling themselves or having fun.
The truth is entirely different, for the God we come to know in salvation is entirely delightful. He is holy, to be sure. He is also the sovereign, exalted, awesome God the Bible everywhere pictures him to be. We cannot trifle with him. He cannot be taken lightly. But in addition to understanding those incontrovertible truths, the one who trusts God also finds him to be a source of exquisite delight. For he is the perfection of grace, compassion, mercy, kindness, patience, and love. He is, in other words, like Jesus Christ, and the better we know him the more we inevitably delight in him. The reason many apparent Christians do not delight in God is that they do not know him very well, and the reason they do not know him well is that they do not spend time with him.
The promise attached to this verse is that if we delight in God, God will give us the desires of our hearts. This does not mean that God will give us any foolish thing we may long for. It means that if we are delighting in God and longing for God, God will give us himself.
[Have you considered looking at God as the perfection of virtues? Does this make Him more trustworthy or less in your eyes?]
“Commit your way to the LORD” (Ps 37:5)
The command to “commit” our ways to God is not a redundancy, something that has already been covered in what it means to trust God (assent and commitment to a specific content), but actually carries us further in showing what it means to live with God whom we trust and in whom we delight. The word actually means “to roll one’s way onto God,” the figure being, as H. C. Leupold says, to “dislodge the burden from your shoulders and lay it on God.” 1
This is what the apostle Peter was thinking about in 1 Peter 5:7—in fact, he was probably referring to Ps 37:5 explicitly—when he wrote, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” He meant that we do not need to worry about things, because God cares for us, is equal to all circumstances, and will manage anything that can possibly come into our lives.
[Do you know how to dislodge the burden from your shoulders and lay it on God? How?]
“Be still before the LORD” (Ps 37:7)
One of my favorite quotes is from Blaise Pascal who said that the basic thing that is wrong with the world is that man “does not know how to stay quietly in his own room.”2 It is a good thought, expressed in humorous and therefore memorable language. But this fourth step in the life of godly trust in God goes beyond simply sitting quietly. It tells us to be still “before the LORD,” that is, to “wait patiently for him,” as the verse goes on to say. In other words, mere stillness is not enough. What is needed is a quiet waiting upon God. As we go on in our study of this psalm we are going to see how important waiting is. This is because the psalmist’s ultimate answer to the problem of the prosperity of the wicked is that the end is not yet; the wicked will be brought down and the godly will be lifted up, but only in God’s time.
[Do you know how to stay quietly in your own room? What is the key for you for doing that?]
“Refrain from anger” (Ps 37:8)
P. C. Craigie says that “almost certainly” this is anger against God.3
But whether it is against God or only against those who are doing wrong, particularly against ourselves, it is a mark of the godly person that he or she is able to maintain a settled and calm frame of mind because of trusting God.
[Does this mean anger controls you or you control your anger?]
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 303.
2Blaise Pascal, The Mind on Fire: An Anthology of the Writings of Blaise Pascal, ed. James M. Houston (Portland, Oreg.: Multnomah, 1989), 96.)
3P. C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, vol. 19 of the Word Biblical Commentary (Waco: Word, 1983), 297.