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“Gifts For His Loved Ones”

Psalm 127
Bob DeGray
July 21, 2002

Key Sentence

When will you accept the fact that you depend on a loving God?


I. Provision and Protection (Psalm 127:1-2)
II. Progeny and Posterity (Psalm 127:3-5)


        Almost every week I find that the Lord has some purpose in my life for the text I’m preparing. He wants to speak to me from the text as much or more than he wants to speak to you. So he puts me in circumstances where I need the truths of the text in my own life - to learn them, experience them and apply them.

        It’s evidence of God’s sense of humor then, that I’ve had four weeks to prepare for a text that starts “unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Most of you know that we worked real hard to get our house on the market, and finally succeeded in June. In the process there is a tendency to put your trust in how good a job you’ve done - of painting, of storing, of fixing up and cleaning up. But as the last four weeks have shown, it’s not just those things that sell a house. There has to be a buyer with the right set of interests and desires, and only the Lord can orchestrate events so that that buyer comes along. God gave me four weeks with this text to appreciate that truth.

        In the same way, even before our house was up for sale we began looking in Friendswood for the house God will provide. Many of you know that we fixed our attention on a house with a nice piece of property and a little pool. We even made an offer, but the seller got a better offer before ours. And, as it turns out, we weren’t going to sell our house quickly anyway, which we have to do before we can buy the next one. Once again, God was reminding us that unless we depend on him, we only face the frustration of our unfulfilled desires. “Unless the Lord builds the house.”

        As I’ve thought of these things I’ve imagined the voice of God himself asking me a question that has come to be the key sentence for this week’s message: “When will you accept the fact that you depend on a loving God?” Maybe God wants to ask you the same question today about the circumstances or uncertainties you face “When will you accept the fact that you depend on a loving God?”

        As usual with these Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 127 is brief and to the point. Let me read it to you as we begin. Psalm 127 A song of ascents. Of Solomon. Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he grants sleep to those he loves. 3Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. 4Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. 5Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

I. Provision and Protection (Psalm 127:1-2)
        The first thing to notice about this ‘song of ascent’ is that it is attributed to Solomon. This gives us some insight into the Psalm, especially into the first verse: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.” Solomon was the one who built the house of the Lord, the temple in Jerusalem. David planned it and gathered materials, but Solomon organized the task and had the work done. It would be very natural for him to feel that he was the one who built it. But in his better moments he knew that such building could only be done as the Lord allowed and provided. 2 Chronicles 2:6 “But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him? Who then am I to build a temple for him?” Solomon remembered what his father David had taught him, that everything we have comes from God.

        It was the Lord who provided everything needed to build the temple: supplies, skills, plans, peace, and perseverance. The Bible teaches that it is the Lord who supplies everything needed for anything that could be called ‘building.’ The prophets teach us that he himself built the universe as a building of his own design. He is building history by tearing down the edifices of the wicked while building up his kingdom. Job says “Behold he tears down and it can not be rebuilt.” But in Jeremiah God promises “My eyes will watch over them for their good . . . I will build them up and not tear them down; I will plant them and not uproot them.”

        Accordingly, anyone who builds without the blessing of the Lord builds ‘in vain’. This is one of Solomon’s favorite ideas, though the word he uses repeatedly in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities” is a different word. He probably chooses the word he uses here because it signifies that something is not only empty but false. A false foundation, built on our own sand instead of the Lord’s rock, always causes the house to fall, and the same is true of every part of the house. Our buildings have weak timbers, termites, mold and shoddy workmanship. His do not. You could almost say “Unless the Lord builds the house, whatever does get built is going to be pretty bad.”

        How do we apply this to our lives? We should look at every area of life and ask “Am I trying to do the building here, or am I depending on God for this building?” The first and most significant area to think about is salvation itself. In the last two thousand years too many have been told that eternal life is found when you keep a list of rules or perform a set of rituals. There is something in human nature that wants to earn salvation. If you ask almost any untaught child what they need to do to get to heaven they’ll give a variation on “I need to be good.” At some level in your heart you feel that way too. But the reason the Gospel is such radical good news is it says no to building your own salvation. It says everything you need to gain eternal life was done by Jesus on the cross. He paid the price for your sins, died the death you earned, conquered sin and death because you couldn’t. So don’t let any part of your mind deceive you into thinking you played even the smallest part in your salvation. It all came to you by God’s grace through faith in Jesus.

        Second, we tend to think that we build the Christian life. In the extreme we think that though we are saved by grace and by faith, we keep our salvation by our own works and our diligence. But the truth is that we don’t keep our salvation - it is kept for us - we are kept. Peter puts it this way “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, kept in heaven for you.” God does not save us by grace in order to make us slaves to some law that we keep in our own power. As Paul wrote to the Galatians “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” The qualities you really want in your life - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, are the fruit of the Spirit. They are not your fruit but his fruit in your life.

        It seems to me the closer we get to what appears to be within normal human ability, the more we forget that we are supposed to depend on God. That’s why this example is so powerful: building a house is something people are supposed to be able to do. But Solomon says unless God builds it, don’t bother. Even things we think should be in our power, and which do require our efforts, are ultimately dependant on God. Our church programs, which do require human planning and preparation and participation will not bear fruit or be useful in people’s lives unless God builds them and works through them. Unless God builds the ministry, those who minister serve in vain. Our families and marriages, which do require wholehearted commitment and effort won’t honor God except by his grace. Unless God builds a family, parents and spouses labor in vain. Even in our work, in which we think “everyone around me is a non-believer and they do this” even there, a believer must submit the work to God and receive his help, or the work will not be done effectively, and God will not receive the glory for your skill. Unless the Lord builds the chemical plant the draftsmen labor in vain.

        Just as our labor without God is useless, so our attempts to find safety without God are useless. The verse says “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Many of us struggle with anxiety about the common dangers and uncertainties of life. At times we take elaborate precautions to avoid those dangers. But unless God himself chooses our safety, all our precautions are in vain.

        Examples: there are some who find a tremendous amount of security in their retirement accounts and investments and interest income and capital gains. But as we’ve seen over the past few years in the markets, and more recently with Enron and the like, that security can prove extremely false extremely fast. It is God who gives us long term security and provides for us, not what we do ourselves.

        Again, there are some who really focus on the idea of health: ‘what do I do to get healthy and stay healthy’. They subscribe to magazines and haunt the health food stores and browse the internet to find just the right combination of vitamins and minerals and supplements to ensure their health. And there is nothing wrong with healthy living, just as there is nothing wrong with wise investments. But if we get obsessed with these things to the point where our trust is not in God, we’ve made them idols.

        In the same way, the quest for safety can be an obsession. On vacation we saw t-shirts that said something like “You can fall off a cliff and die. You can tip in the white water and die. You can roll your four wheeler and die. Or you can stay home and fall off your couch and die anyway.” The truth is whether we take risk or stay in our first floor office behind a desk, we don’t know what will happen to us. We don’t know God’s plans for our loved ones. I knew someone once who wouldn’t let his wife drive the kids anywhere significant in the car, because he was concerned for their safety. But ultimately it wasn’t his wife or even the other drivers he didn’t trust. It was God. When will we begin to live as if we depend daily on a loving God?

        Verse 2 expands on that thought and adds a key word. “In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat – for he grants sleep to those he loves.” I freely admit what all of you already know, that most of the time I do get up early and toil, and that I fall behind on sleep and become tremendously weary. The first few days at the Free Church conference I slept ten or twelve hours, and I felt better, though I’m already a little behind since coming home from vacation. But the promise of this Psalm to me is that I don’t have to worry about getting everything done, that God only has planned for me enough work to fill my time, that he wants to give me rest. He can make a way for you and for me to be rested and well and more effective for the kingdom than we are when we run ourselves ragged.

        Why? Here’s the key word, at the end of verse 2. “For he grants sleep to those he loves.” The King James says “he giveth his beloved sleep.” The word that struck me as I read this Psalm is ‘beloved’. We are his beloved. The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament tells us this word “is primarily employed to describe the nation of Israel and individuals as those who are greatly loved by the Lord. Such love brings protection and prosperity upon the beloved people. It is also the reason God was faithful to his people Israel, even when they were disobedient and unfaithful. It was upon the basis of that love that Israel could petition the Lord to hear and deliver her from judgment.”

        But now we are God’s beloved - the ones whom he now protects and provides for and continues faithful toward even when we stray, so that we can constantly call on Him for grace - unearned forgiveness. It is because he loves us that these things are true.

        God’s love is like the air that we breathe. It’s always there, we never see it, but at every moment it sustains us. We got to some pretty high elevations on our vacation - we camped for a week at 9600 feet, we went by car to the top of Pikes Peak at 14,110 feet, and we hiked to 11,000 and 12,000 feet. In all those places it was easy to feel that the air was getting thinner and thinner. There just wasn’t enough air to breathe while working hard. But God’s love never thins out, God’s love never fades away. We can always depend on it even when we are working hard.
        The New Testament reinforces this truth by pointing to what God did in Jesus, with phrases that are so familiar: “For God so loved the world that he sent his only son.” “God demonstrates his love for us in this: while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” “Nothing shall separate us from the love of God.” “This then is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us.” In your mind you know, as I do, that God’s love for you is one of the most basic truths of Scripture. But are you convinced in your heart? Do you really believe that, or do you doubt it at most key moments? This Psalm is teaching us that we can depend on a loving God.

        You are his beloved. So am I. It’s because he loves us, and for no other reason, we can depend on him: for salvation, for growth as believers, for our church, our families, our work. We can depend on his provision and protection for our safety and security. We won’t always understand his love, but we’ll always be his beloved.

II. Progeny and Posterity (Psalm 127:3-5)
        The second half of the Psalm focuses specifically on the provision of the Lord for our families - our progeny and posterity. Verses 3 to 5: “Sons are a heritage from the Lord, children a reward from him. 4Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. 5Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. They will not be put to shame when they contend with their enemies in the gate.”

        The NIV is guilty of a bit of paraphrasing in verse 3, which more literally says “Children are a gift of the lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” The NIV probably felt that ‘fruit of the womb’ sounded too much like ‘fruit of the loom’ to modern ears.

        But the point of the verses is that these children are a gift and a reward. I have to be very careful to say that if you don’t have children, this is not a sign of God’s disfavor. There are some whom God has called to be single, there are some whom God has allowed to be childless. Often this is sad or difficult. But the same is true in so many areas. There are some whom God has gifted to be well off financially. Others he has not. There are some whom God has given positions of influence. Others he has not. There are some whom God has given great musical talents or spiritual gifts. Others he has not. Solomon is giving an example here, one good illustration of the gifts God gives to those he loves. God does give marriages and families, children who grow to honor their parents and be a blessing. But the Psalm is not saying, and I am not saying, that this is the only way God shows his love.

        In fact it’s rather ironic that Solomon, son of David and father of Rehoboam should write this. David’s sons, as a group, didn’t bring much honor to him. One of them abused his sister. Another dramatically and fatally rebelled. Solomon, who more or less honored his father, was an exception. But Solomon’s sons were no sterling group either. The one who succeeded Solomon, Rehoboam, was responsible for dividing the kingdom into two countries which never reunited. Nevertheless, Solomon felt, as all fathers do, that his children were his blessing and his heritage. And God did ultimately bring honor through the offspring of David and Solomon - one of those descendants was named Jesus and he brought supreme honor to God and supreme blessing to people.

        So Solomon contends that children are one of the greatest gifts of God’s love. They are like arrows in the hands of a warrior, poised to shoot down through the years and accomplish things the parent himself could never accomplish. We also visited Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs this vacation, and one thing we learned was that James Dobson had a great-great grandfather who prayed an hour each day that God would be honored in the lives of his children and descendants. Dobson is the fourth generation of God’s answer to that prayer. God has used him to touch a lot of lives that even his father couldn’t have touched. Just as a warrior uses his arrows to be effective at a distance, so God gives children to be effective at a distance in time.

        Solomon says it is a blessing if God gives you a full quiver of these arrows. For some a full quiver might be two, for some twenty, but either way it is a blessing. Note that word. We’ve been saying that we’ve got to accept the fact that we depend on a loving God. Therefore we’ve got to accept that his gifts to us in the area of children or finances or giftedness or relationships are ultimately given for our good and for his glory. Part of depending on him is to accept what he has given us as a blessing.

        The Hebrew for blessing is ‘Asher’ or Asher, still a common Hebrew first name, a fairly common English last name. It means blessed or happy, but this specific word for blessing is always used of man, never of God. We bless God through praise, but God blesses us when he provides for us and protects us. The great example is Psalm 1: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.” This is the blessing God gives to those he loves.

        Children are this kind of blessing. According to the Psalmist the person who is blessed with children will not be put to shame when they contend for him in the city gate. The exact meaning of the Hebrew isn’t perfectly clear, but the sense is - children as they grow provide for and stand up for their parents, and this is a blessing.

        Remember though, that these children are just an example Solomon uses to say that God blesses those he loves. He gives them gifts, rewards, provision, protection, safety, security. He does them good. And who are those he loves? You and me. We are his beloved. The blessings he gives you may not be same he gives to me or to others. This example of children may either warm your heart or leave you aching. But if its not this blessing, he will give another, or many others, because he does bless.

        If you will, for a moment, examine your life, you will find countless examples of this blessing. If you believe in Jesus and in what he has done, you know he has given you the blessing of salvation as a free gift. Many do have the blessing of family and children - a free gift that we never earned, given to us out of his love. Some of you are tremendously gifted spiritually, or with human skills that you can use to bless your brothers and sisters in Christ or those who need to know Christ. Those are free gifts, not earned by you, any more than you worked for the color of your eyes or the shape of your nose. On top of that most here have been blessed with every daily provision: home, food, money. Maybe these things are not in the abundance or luxury you desire, but nobody here is starving, and though some might want to credit that to our form of government, ultimately the blessing is from God. It’s time to recognize that you depend on a loving God. He gives gifts to those he loves.

        You see, in reality you are dependent on him, so it makes sense to consciously depend on him as well. I’d like every one of us to be more aware of our dependence on God, to avoid the temptation to work in our own power and instead to work with the idea that I must depend on God if this work is to mean anything. In every area of our lives, whether it is spiritual, emotional, physical, financial, relational, we depend on a God whom we have learned loves us. “Unless the Lord builds the house, unless the Lord guards the city, all our building and guarding will be in vain.

        We’re going to have a chorus time next, as a response to this message, and I ask that you use the words of these hymns and choruses to express to God your dependance and your recognition that the God you depend on is a good and loving God. “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. 2In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat– for he gives rest to those he loves.”