“Unless the LORD Builds the House”


Sermon Text: Psalm 127:1-5

Watch Sermon Video: Click the link below

Main Points:
    I. Man’s anxieties
    II. God’s attributes
    III. Worshipper’s song of affirmation: “Unless the LORD builds”

Let me begin with the story of Joe and Sunday worship he attends. Joe is not a real person; he’s a hypothetical example of an ordinary Christian and regular worshipper on Sundays. Two Sundays ago, I named our hypothetical example Max, but this time, I’d like to call our example ‘Joe.’ So, hear what happens to Joe on a Sunday and compare his case with your experience.

Joe comes to church and attends the worship service on a Sunday. He bows in prayer together with all fellow Christians and rises to sing praises to God. He reads and listens to the word of God during the service; he focuses on the sermon preached and, with much appreciation, thanks the minister after the service for the message delivered. He enjoys fellowship with all church members and delights to take an opportunity to welcome anyone new. In all these, he focuses, smiles, gets serious (I mean, during prayers as he pours his heart out to God and as he listens carefully to the sermon message), and he also laughs. He enjoys every bit of his time in the church on a Sunday.

Nevertheless, in the back of his heart, his anxieties and worries are still there – anxieties and worries coming from his works, his business, relationships, health, finance, future, and so on. They often take over his heart while he prays or sings or even listens to sermon. He tries to shake them off as often as he could and focus on worship. His enjoyment of worship suppresses his anxiety though temporarily. When the time comes for him to go back home, not too long after his departure from church, he feels that his mind is waking up and comes back to reality, being busy once again. At last, he sighs and thinks, ‘OK, where was I? What’s on for this week?’ By this, his anxieties and worries of life in the world have overcome him.

I wonder how many of you experience like Joe does on Sundays. I wonder how many Christians see their smile disappear not too long after their departure from their churches on the Lord’s Day and their face returns to their usual ‘weekday look,’ if you know what I mean. Many Christians worship God on Sundays. But, not many of them return home after the worship service, keeping the joy of worship in their hearts. Apparently, that joy does not last long in them and, usually, their anxious heart overtakes them during the weekdays, if not immediately after their worship service on Sundays.

Thinking about it, I thank God for making a seven-day week and not a ten-day or twenty-day week, and for allowing Christians to quickly come back and be recharged with this joy of worship on the seventh day.

But losing this joy of worship too quickly from a believer’s heart isn’t commendable; something is not right. When we worship our Lord, our joy should last much longer than a day or two. In fact, it should continue till next Lord’s Day, and during the weekdays, as this joy gets slowly faded from our hearts, we should long for going back to the house of God, to the house of worship, to top it up. When we join the worshipping congregation on Sunday and face the Lord once again in worship, our joy should be deepened and multiplied and overflowed. But Joe loses this joy quickly on Sunday and hardly remembers it during the week. And many Christians sympathise with Joe’s missing the joy of worship.

That’s the theme this particular psalm deals with. This psalm we’ve just read talks about why many worshippers lose their joy in the Lord so quickly and live joyless during the week. This psalm teaches us what we should focus especially in worship and enjoy our God and His blessings daily, not just on the day of worship but on every day.

In a word, this psalm speaks about the need for every worshipper to believe, thus, affirm wholeheartedly that God begins and completes all things of his/her life. Just like God introduces Himself to us as ‘the Alfa and the Omega,’ the beginning and the end, all things of Christian’s life begin and end with God, and we ought to affirm this in our worship. Joe unfortunately missed this in his worship to God; it is unfortunate that many Christians miss it and fail to affirm it in their worship. To affirm in worship that God is the beginning and the end of each worshipper sounds simple and straightforward, easy to do, but strangely many worshippers fail to do it in worship. So, their joy of worship disappears quickly, if not immediately at the end of their worship service, and they miss out on enjoying God’s blessings on many days until they come back to another worship.

So, I’d like you to follow me and listen to the words of Solomon – I mean, these words he wrote, being inspired by the Holy Spirit – and see what Joe and many of us miss in worship. Seeing it, I want you to affirm God and His grace in worship and have this joy of worship today and over the weekdays. Then, I pray that you may see your joy in the Lord overflowing from your heart.

The first thing our psalmist talks about is the anxieties of man. In other words, what you and I and all people consider most as important for man’s life. Man’s anxieties are from the things people consider as important, especially when their desires for them are not fully satisfied.

Our psalmist counts, firstly, ‘building house,’ as what man considers as important. ‘Watching over the city’ is the second, as found in v. 1. These are followed by ‘living one’s life’ and ‘having children’ or ‘establishing a family.’ In addition, setting up justice and raising self-esteem are also hinted in vs. 4 and 5.

Interestingly, this list looks quite similar to a famous theory on human needs called ‘Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.’ A psychologist whose name was Abraham Maslow presented in 1943 his theory on human’s needs, pointing out that humans required five different levels of needs, starting from ‘physiological’ and ‘safety needs,’ moving toward ‘love and belongingness’ and ‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualisation.’ I wonder whether Maslow got an idea from this psalm of Solomon.

These things Solomon points out are what every human being considers important. Each of us needs a house; not only as a building, but also as a place to dwell and have our being; from it we go out and to it we return. We also need a city to dwell in; a city not as an address for delivery of letters and parcels or as the host of a sport team, but as provision of safety and protection. Everyone requires ‘living’ through having food and rest and satisfaction. Establishing a family and bringing up children is also an important part of man’s life.

At least three truths can be pointed out with these important needs or desires of human beings. Firstly, all people work hard to have all of these things. Secondly, no one is satisfied with what he/she has; everyone desires more. And thirdly, there’s an unfillable gap between people’s desire for these and their ability to acquire them. And this unfillable gap becomes anxieties in people’s mind.

Joe had this angst in his heart and all Christians have the same frustration. Like Joe did, all worshippers bring their anxieties with them when they come to God in worship. And it is a right thing to come to God with their worries and it is a right thing to put their frustration down before God, seeking the Lord’s guidance and comfort.

Then, our psalmist talks about something else, that is, the attributes of our God. In other words, the characteristics of our God. His nature of ‘building up’ and ‘watching over’ and ‘giving’ are especially pointed out here. As you read from v. 1, God ‘builds the house’ and He ‘watches over the city.’ As in v. 2, God gives to His beloved ‘sleep’ and ‘children’ as v. 3 says.

These attributes of God are described here as the unique exercises or works or activities of God. God builds but not in a sense He does it alongside a bricklayer or carpenter or even a construction engineer, but in a sense that no one builds as God does, no one could even mimic God’s work of building something up. About His ‘watching over the city,’ it describes God’s unique work of safeguarding a city or people or nation according to His righteous will. It also depicts His will and power to put down a city, people or nation based on His righteous cause. In this, no man can intervene, let alone notice, God’s work even though he is in its midst.

Our God is a working God who interacts with His creatures, unlike the gods of all false religions. Our God is a God who remembers His creatures, understands their needs as well as their shortcomings, and provides them out of His love and care. He builds up; He watches over; and He gives.

Then, our psalmist overlays these attributes of God on man’s desires and anxieties, helping us to see, firstly, that God and man are engaged in the same kinds of works. Man strives to build while God builds; man watches over while God does the same; man toils to give himself food, rest and satisfaction while God gives. Man also strives to have children while God gives children as a heritage to man.

With this, the psalmist points out a couple of important truths, that is, firstly, we fail in what we do while God succeeds, we’re anxious because of our failures while God is unshakable. And secondly, we are so, unless we’re on God’s side, unless we work together with God. “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

We’re told here that if man works apart from God and apart from the foundation He has laid, there’s no future for that work. It cannot proceed, let alone provides any benefit. It’ll be void. Jesus’ analogy of building a house on sand is an exact illustration of this. You must have a rock on which a house is founded and built.

And what is this foundation? The work God does. Simply put, we build upon the work of God; we watch over, based on God’s work of watching over. We toil to provide, depending upon what God gives. God begins and we follow; He provides and we process; the Lord grants and we enjoy. There’s nothing we could do and achieve apart from God’s work – ‘unless the LORD builds, unless He watches over,’ we labour in vain.

This teaches us a truly interesting truth, that is, once man builds on what God builds, once man watches over based on what God watches over, there’ll be no failure but a guaranteed success. If a house is built upon the foundation God has laid, it’ll surely go up and stand, and there’s no need to worry about it. When a man works together with God according to the way of the Lord, that work will see no failure, but success, a glorious end. So, there’s no need to be anxious about it.

The message for us to heed is that we ought to embrace this truth in our worship, we must be reminded of this truth in worship. This should be the confession of our hearts and souls in worship. As we come to God, as we bow to Him and open our ears and heart to the Lord in worship, this truth should smear into every part of our heart and every sphere of our soul. You and I cannot miss the comfort this truth brings to our soul. I said, this is a ‘comfort’ for our soul – yes, that’s right. It comforts our soul and heart because we simply build upon what God builds up, because we simply watch over based on the Lord’s watching over. Then, there’ll be no failure; all our works will surely bear sufficient fruit and benefit us. So, this understanding is a great comfort for our soul.

This comfort dismisses anxieties and worries from our heart. As I explained earlier, man’s frustration is from the unfillable gap between his desires and his ability of acquisition. Man cannot build apart from God; man cannot safeguard his own safety apart from the Lord; man cannot even provide what he needs for his living apart from the true Giver of the world. So, man’s heart is packed with angst which man cannot ease, let alone remove.

But when a Christian builds, watches over and toils upon the works of His Lord God, no longer is any dissatisfaction in his heart because what God has laid exceeds man’s desire, what God provides goes beyond what man seeks. God knows His beloved thoroughly and knows his needs and desires. More importantly, He knows what is best for him and when is the best time for him. So, such a Christian who works with and alongside and upon God will surely see a glorious success and blessing of God at the end of his work. In fact, it’s what God does on his behalf.

So, it dismisses man’s anxiety and worry; instead, he is rewarded with ‘sleep’ as in v. 2 and ‘children’ as in vs. 3-5. These rewards can be understood literally because anyone without any worry in his heart will surely sleep well at night, unless he drinks many cups of coffee before bed. Children also are God’s reward because life comes from God and every child, every soul is a God’s image bearer entrusted to us to care for.

But these can also be understood as symbols of God’s blessings. By ‘sleep,’ it can mean the way God does various things for the benefit and blessing of His beloved. For example, various things are done for a Christian without his/her knowing their progress. It is like how you’re kept safe and cared for while you’re asleep. That’s the only moment in your life that you don’t, cannot remain conscious of what is going on with you or your surroundings. In your sleep, you’re no different from a corpse except the point that you’re alive and the corpse is not. But you’re kept safe overnight and when you wake up in the morning, you’re refreshed and restrengthened in an unknown, mysterious way. In this sense, ‘sleep’ God gives to His beloved could mean our gracious Heavenly Father’s invisible hand working for His beloved like you and me.

‘Children’ also could mean God’s gracious blessing for all His beloved because we beget, give birth to people as we deliver the seed of the gospel and sow them and water them as the Lord guides. You might not realise how many ‘children’ of faith you’ve brought about in your life in the Lord Jesus, but surely it’d be a great and delightful surprise to you and to us all when we finally realise the lives you’ve influenced with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Wouldn’t that be a great reward from the Lord? It would surely be! About this, the Apostle Paul says in 1 Thess. 2:11-13, “For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. And we also thank God constantly for this.”

In worship, bowing our heads and raising our voices in prayers and praises to God, listening humbly to the word of God, we ought to remember this truth and be content with all our works in the Lord, our gracious Heavenly Father. If any of us has missed it, has forgotten it, he/she should quickly repent and return to the Lord and regain strength to continue his/her works together with the Lord and in the Lord and by the Lord.

This is our song of affirmation in worship. We affirm that God is our Guide; He is our Guard; He is our Giver. All things we have, all things we toil, all things we desire are taken care of by Him who never fails but succeeds, and always grants the best for His beloved, even in many mysterious ways! In worship, we must affirm it and sing our praise to God. Then, we enjoy His blessings.

So, are you ready to sing in your heart and soul as much as with your mouth that ‘unless the LORD builds, unless the LORD gives, we labour in vain; yet, our gracious Father gives to us, His beloved, all treasures of heaven abundantly, overflowingly, as He has given to us His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us so that we may have and enjoy His eternal life!’ ***


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