“Who is someone who desires life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from deceitful speech. Turn away from evil and do what is good; seek peace and pursue it.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
We all want to live the good life. What exactly that means, however, isn’t necessarily something we all agree on – in fact, there is pretty wide disparity on what it means depending on who you ask. But however we might individually define it, it’s something we all want. The real question is: How can we have it? What we find here is a pretty good way forward no matter how you might define it. Let’s talk about what we see.
While every part of the Bible comes out of the same basic understanding of the world, some parts of it are expressed in ways that are more broadly palatable than others. Other parts are expressed in ways that seem like they are designed to be ideological forks in the road. Either you accept that part and continue on down the road toward a worldview fully informed by the Scriptures, or you take the other path and try to figure out some hybrid approach (which, honestly, never really works for very long; if your worldview is not fully informed by the Scriptures, eventually it will not be informed by the Scriptures very much at all). I’m thinking about parts like Jesus’ declaration that He is the only way to get to the Father. Claims of absolute exclusivity when it comes to getting to God have a way of dividing people.
Still, though, some parts really do seem geared to be invitations to anyone even remotely curious to come and take a look. What we find here from David in Psalm 34 fits into this latter category. The whole psalm is a declaration of the joy of seeking the Lord, particularly in the hard times of life. David celebrates the Lord’s provision for His people and His having their backs in hard situations when they trust in Him. But the question he asks here in v. 12 is one that invites everyone to consider taking up this path. Who is someone who desires life, loving a long life to enjoy what is good? Perhaps the better question would be who is someone who doesn’t want that? Everyone wants to have a long life to enjoy what is good.
In other words, what David is doing here is getting everyone to pay attention to what he has to say. He is establishing a common point of interest in all of humanity. Have you ever watched an infomercial? In effective infomercials, before the pitchmen start talking about their product, the first thing they do is to establish a common point of interest or need in the minds of their prospective audience. They know the odds are pretty good that someone is only going to find their ad when they are flipping through the channels, just looking for something to catch their eye. They may only have a few seconds to get your attention. Hopefully, then, you tune in right as they are establishing that point of connection: Have you ever struggled with _______. You fill in the blank there with something we’ve all struggled with or been irritated by or wondered about. The next part will be some version of, “Then you need _______ to help you solve that problem.”
David is standing on the ideological street corner and shouting, “Have you ever wanted to live a long life and spend the whole thing enjoying what is good?” Well, all of us have wanted that in some form or fashion. The whole structure here is to get you to pay attention to what he says next. He wants you to stop and think, “Why, yes, I have wanted that. And I’m not really living it. Do you know how I could have it?”
Well, as it turns out, David does have some suggestions. Think for just a minute about the world’s answer to that question. It is going to focus a great deal on what you have or who you have. Be in a relationship with the right person. Have a high-paying job. Make lots of money. Own your dream home. Save for a cushy retirement. We may not say those kinds of things out loud all the time, but it doesn’t take a very long survey of the kinds of messages our culture sends to hear the messages behind the messages.
What David offers is something completely different. If you want a good life, the way to that end is a great deal simpler than you might imagine. Furthermore, it is something that can be obtained by anyone no matter what your lot in life happens to be. No amount of material stuff can better enable it or stand in the way of having it. If you want a good life, keep your tongue from evil. Guard your words. Words are incredibly powerful things. Words are what called creation itself into being. Our words have the power of life and death. If you want a good life, make sure your words always call forth life in the situations you are in. Avoid words that invite or provoke evil at all costs. Make sure your words promote grace and Gospel exhortation.
If you want a good life, your words must not only avoid evil, they must advance truth. Keep your lips from deceitful speech, David says. If you want a good life that lasts, it will be a life that is lived in the world as it actually is. Sometimes reality is hard. In those moments, it is very tempting to use our words to create fantasy worlds that seem like they will be easier to live in than what we are currently facing. The ways we do this are too numerous to count. Our reasons for doing it might be noble, but they are more often nefarious. Furthermore, when we create these fantasy worlds, we don’t often simply try to live in them by ourselves. We look to bring or even force others to live in them with us. Doing this steals not only our ability to live a good life, it robs them of the opportunity as well. The reason for this is simple: Fantasy worlds eventually bump up against the walls of reality. Those confrontations are never peaceful or easy. And the more invested in these fantasy worlds we are, the harder these reality bumps will be. We must refuse any and all deceitful speech.
Living the good life requires us to not only avoid evil with our words, but with our actions. Our whole lives must be a rejection of evil in all of its forms. We must turn away from it. We don’t engage with it. We can’t reason with it. We dare not seek to rationalize it. We disengage from it and don’t turn back. But this can’t be the only thing we do. If we try to stop doing something evil, but don’t replace it with something good, the evil is going to come back. When we turn away from evil, we must actively seek what is good in its place. And how do we know what is good? We seek out the God who is good and follow His lead.
One last thing here. We seek peace and pursue it. We seek to not simply avoid conflict, but to resolve it. Conflict is a part of life. We will not be able to avoid it. Even if we aren’t seeking it out ourselves, it will find us if we live long enough. In those times, we don’t run from it, we seek peace through it. And when we find the path to peace, we pursue it. We go after it so that all our relationships are marked by righteousness and not strife.
These are all stops on the way to the good life. And they are things anyone can do. Indeed, the Christian worldview is something anyone can embrace. It applies to every single part of our lives. Nothing is exempt. Because of that, it is not just for anyone, it is for everyone. Including you. May you embrace it and find the good life starting today.