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Sunday, July 18, 2021

Unless the LORD Builds the House” Psalm 127 [Matt's Messages]

"Unless the LORD Builds the House”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
July 18, 2021 :: Psalm 127

Psalm 127 is another one of the Psalms of Ascent, those traveling worship songs that the families of Israel would sing to one another as they traveled together on pilgrimage up to the holy feast days in Jerusalem. There are fifteen of them total. Psalm 127 is the 8th of the Psalms of Ascent, and the 7th that we’ve studied together in this sermon series.

It’s attributed to King Solomon. One of only two psalms that he gets credit for in the Psalter. The other is Psalm 72 that we looked at back in April

As you might guess in dealing with Solomon, this psalm is often classed as a Wisdom  Psalm. It’s not a prayer like many of the other psalms. The singers aren’t singing directly to God.

No, it’s more like they are singing to each other.

It’s like a reminder song.

Psalm 127 is a reminder song.

I mean, we know the truth of Psalm 127 if we’ve been around the Lord for even a little while, but we so easily forget. We so easily lose sight of this truth.

So we sing this song to ourselves and to each other to remind each other what is true.

It is a short but beautiful song with strong images that really stick in your head.

It begins with an image that fits our theme for Family Bible Week to a T.

And it also begins by repeating to emphasize and repeating to emphasize and repeating to emphasize one haunting, ominous word: “vain.” 

Psalm 127, verse 1.

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.”


The scary word there is “vain.” It means “empty” or “meaningless” or “pointless.”

And Solomon is going to repeat it three times in just two verses.

He says, “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I do something in vain.

When I spend a lot a time on a project just to find out that it isn’t going to happen after all? That was part of what made the cancellations of COVID so maddening.

When you invest a lot of money in something, and it turns out to be throwing good money after bad.

When you stand in line for a long time, and it turns out to be the wrong line.

Now, often we can chalk some of that up to a learning experience and good can come out of what may seem, at the time, pointless.

But this psalm says that unless the LORD builds the house, its builders are truly engaged in an exercise in futility.

It is pointless to build and build and build if the LORD is not in this building project.

Do you get the picture? A crew of burly men excavating the foundation, pouring the footers, laying the block, framing the walls, roofing the house–and then ...failure. The foundation collapses, or the walls cave in, or the house is finished, but the man dies before taking occupancy, or a tornado hits, or the family moves in but then the bank forecloses. Laboring, working, stretching, putting forth all that effort–in vain.

Unless...Yahweh builds the house. And then it’s another story.

Or the second image is some watchmen keeping watch on their city. V.1 again.

“Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”

So he’s obviously not just talking about buildings and houses. These are metaphors.

And the second metaphor is about security. It doesn’t matter if you have 2 watchmen or 200 watchmen or 2000 watchmen, unless the LORD is protecting you, your city will be overrun with intruders. If you have a missile defense shield but God is not watching over your city, you will be destroyed.

Unless...Yahweh watches over the city.

Solomon knew an awful lot about building projects and defending cities.

So that’s where he turns for his metaphors.

This isn’t just about buildings and cities.

It’s about all of life.

It’s about any human endeavor. 

Unless the LORD is in the endeavor, it is all done in vain.

That goes for Family Bible Week.
That goes for the Good News Cruise.
That goes for all of our other ministry endeavors here at Lanse Free Church.

But it isn’t just about church either.

This is all of life. 

Including all of our work lives. I think Solomon has great insight here into what we do all day, and what we do all week in our jobs.

And in our homes. And in our neighborhoods. And in our civic and political efforts.

Anything we pour ourselves into–which might look good at first but will ultimately be in vain–if the LORD is not in it.

There is a rebuke here.

This song is not just a reminder song. It’s a rebuke song for those times when we have excluded the LORD from our plans and efforts.

To the degree that we have factored out the LORD, this song rebukes us.

“In vain”
“In vain”
“In vain”

“Unless the LORD.”

Now, notice that this does not say that we should not put forth effort. It doesn’t say, “Just let go and let God.”

This song does not rebuke us for trying, for working, for doing our bit. In the Proverbs, Solomon praises hard work.

The builders still need to build.
The watchers still need to watch.
The disciplemakers still need to make disciples.

But if they try to do it without the LORD, then ultimately it’s in vain.

Solomon should know. He certainly made this mistake many times!

So there is a rebuke here to make sure that we do things the LORD’s way. To make sure that the LORD is involved in every endeavor in our lives at church, at home, at work, at play.

We should pray for our endeavors and invite Him to work powerfully in the things we are working on.

But I also think that verse 2 takes the rebuke even deeper and turns it into a great gift of grace.

Look at verse 2 again. I think this is the beating heart of the psalm.

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

I have two points of application from Psalm 127 for you today, and here’s the first:

#1. REST IN THE LORD’S LOVE.

The rebuke is not just about how we need to include the LORD in our efforts.

The rebuke is also that we need to stop trusting in or hoping in our efforts at all and start relying on Him and His efforts alone.

“In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat...”

As if it’s all up to you!

I preached this Psalm once before on Father’s Day in 2001. I looked it up yesterday because I knew that I had preached it before. 20 years ago last month. Heather and I already had Robin and were expecting Andrew in December. We were purchasing the property in Lanse upon which we were going build the house we live in today, and Wild West Day was coming up at the end of July. 20 years ago.

And here was the title of my message on Psalm 127: “It’s Not Up To You.”

We tend to believe that it’s all on our shoulders.

That if we don’t do it, it ain’t going to get done.

And so we get to work, and we get anxious, and we get feverishly busy trying to make it all happen.

And we begin to think that it’s all up to us.

Does that describe a dynamic inside of your heart?

We even do it with salvation. We anxiously do good works hoping that we can do enough good works to outweigh our sin and bad deeds. As if it’s all up to us.

But Solomon’s song says that that is foolish.

The New Living Translation says it like this, “It is useless for you to work so hard from early morning until late at night, anxiously working for food to eat...”

Again, he’s not against hard work. He’s against hard worrying.

It’s not up to you.

You can rest.

Look at the reason why at the end of verse 2.

“...for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

You are loved. So you can sleep.

You can rest because you are loved.

It’s not up to you. If it was all up to you, it would be in vain.

But it’s not. It’s up to Yahweh. And you belong to Him.

You’re His beloved. Remember what we saw last week in Psalm 60? He says over you, “MINE.” And He says, “BELOVED.”

And so here He says, “REST. Rest in My love.”

Stop striving. Stop worrying. Stop fervently building, watching, doing, doing, doing as if it all depends on you.

Rest. Rest in the LORD’s love.

Now, there is a little ambiguity in the last phrase of verse 2. Some of you have a footnote that shows it. 

It may not be saying that the LORD gives sleep to His beloved. It may be saying that the LORD gives to His beloved even while they sleep. That’s another way of taking the Hebrew, and I think it’s true and captures the gist of the psalm either way.

God is so gracious!

He gives to us even when we are sleeping.

He works even when we are resting.

So, it’s okay to rest.

It’s okay to take a break.

It’s okay to practice the Sabbath.

In fact, we should. When we go and go and go acting as if everything depends upon  us, we are not honoring the LORD and His gracious provisions for us.

The last year and a half, I have fallen many times into thinking that if I don’t do this or I don’t do that then this whole church thing is going to fall apart.

And you know what, if that was actually true, then it wasn’t really the church. Because Jesus said that He would build His church.

If it was all up to me, then I was “holding the church together” in vain.

So again and again, I have had to take my hands off. 

And I have practiced Sabbath. I have taken breaks. I have done more releasing the whole thing into God’s hands than I have ever done in the last 23 years as your pastor.

I still fall into it over and over again. I need the reminder of this song.

Sing this song to me when you see me taking on more than I should.

Remind me, “He grants sleep to his beloved.” “He gives to His beloved even while they sleep.”

Rest in the LORD’s love.

That’s true for salvation. Before we are saved, we aren’t just spiritually asleep, we are spiritually dead. And we can’t save ourselves by our own efforts.

But the LORD is so gracious! He sent His Son to do for us what we could never do for ourselves. So we don’t trust in our good works but in His work on our behalf.

Rest in the LORD’s love.

This is true for every area of your life. Your work. Your civic responsibilities. Your voting. Your finances. Your home-life. This is true for parenting. 

It is not up to you.

Rest in the LORD’s love.

I got stressed out about writing this sermon on not getting stressed out!

So I fired up Spotify and listened to one of my favorite songs by the late Keith Green that captures the dynamic of Psalm 127:

“Just keep doing your best
And pray that it’s blessed
And He’ll take care of the rest”


Sing this song to each other and yourself: “He grants sleep to those he loves. / He gives to his beloved even while they sleep.”

Point number two is to focus on the granting/giving part there. 

#2. REJOICE IN THE LORD’S GIFTS.

“He gives to His beloved even while they sleep.”

They aren’t doing anything to deserve it. They are sleeping!

And still He gives them wonderful gifts full of blessing.

Like...children.

Solomon wants to illustrate this idea of God’s graciousness, and looks around and he says, “I’ll tell you what kind of gifts God likes to give. He doesn’t just like to build a “house” as in a building, but a “house” as in a dynasty. God loves to bless His people with more people.” Look at verse 3.

 “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him.”

There are not our achievements. They are gifts from God’s hand.

[By the way, there is a play on words here. The word for “builders” and the word for “sons” sound almost exactly like in the Hebrew.]

In the Old Testament, children were often seen as a sign of God’s blessing. They were, in fact, promised to Abraham as part of God’s covenant with Him and His offspring.

God promised to send children to Abraham like sand on the seashore or like stars in the night sky.

Children are a blessing. Verse 4.

“Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth.”

Imagine being a warrior with a bow but no arrows.

Children are a valuable asset.

This is often missed in our culture today.

Even in the church, I see a lot of Christian couples deliberately choosing childlessness for no good medical or missional reason. They just don’t see the value in bearing and raising up children.

It is a lot of work! Those blessings can be “a handful before they are a quiverful.” (Derek Kidner).

And Solomon sure saw the hard parts of parenting up close!

But he says, “Sons are like arrows.” Verse 5.

“Blessed 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.”

Whether that’s standing up for their dad in court, which happened at the gates, or standing with him as they defend the gates militarily against approaching enemy forces, this Dad will not regret having them. He knows that they are blessings.

My children are a blessing to me.

Our church is full of blessings like this. We have had 5 babies born in the last 14 months in our church family. And there are a bunch of toddlers that are just a little bit older than that.

I love that we get to celebrate the blessing of children this week at Family Bible Week. The kids have had a hard year and a half, and I’m glad that we get to focus in on ministering to them over the next week.

Rejoice in the LORD’s gifts.

Rejoice in the LORD’s blessings.

Like children and other gifts from the LORD's hand.

Not because you deserve them.
Not because you earned these gifts through your frantic efforts.
Not because it’s all up to you.

But because it’s all up to the LORD.

Unless the LORD builds the house...
Unless the LORD watches the city...
Unless the LORD provides the children...

It’s all in vain.

But if the LORD does build the house...
If the LORD does watch the city...
If the LORD does provide the blessings...

Then it will be wonderful.

And that’s what kind of a God He is.

He gives to His beloved even as they sleep.

He says, “You are mine, mine, mine, mine.”

And “I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6, CSB).

We know that!
You know that!
I know that!

But we need reminding.

We need to sing this song to each other and to our hearts.


***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 to Summer 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96
20. "Hear My Prayer, O LORD." - Psalm 86
21. "May All the Peoples Praise You" - Psalm 67
22. "A Wedding Song" - Psalm 45
23. "My Feet Had Almost Slipped" - Psalm 73
24. “Rejoicing Comes in the Morning" - Psalm 30
25. 'The Waters Have Come Up To My Neck" - Psalm 69
26. "Cast Your Cares on the LORD" - Psalm 55
27. "“My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me?" - Psalm 22
28. "You Will Not Abandon Me To the Grave" - Psalm 16
29. "He Will Rule" - Psalm 72
30. "Taste and See That the LORD is Good" - Psalm 34
31. "Since My Youth" - Psalm 71
32. "Your Statutes Are Wonderful" - Psalm 119
33. "The LORD Our God Is Holy" - Psalm 99
34. "Not To Us, O LORD" - Psalm 115
35. "Blessed" - Psalm 32
36. "Sit At My Right Hand" - Psalm 110
37. "Your Love Is Better Than Life" - Psalm 63
38. "Blessed Is the Man Who Fears the LORD" - Psalm 112
39. "If the LORD Had Not Been On Our Side" - Psalm 124
40. "Shout for Joy to the LORD, All the Earth" - Psalm 100
41. "You Have Raised A Banner" - Psalm 60

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