When read quickly, all the psalms start to sound the same. “Praise the Lord.” “He is a shield, a refuge to his people.” “Steadfast love and faithfulness.” I can imagine that, when read for the sake of getting through them, the psalms would get pretty boring after a while.
But slow, intentional, meditative reading of the psalms yields so many blessings. Even just the first verse of this psalm is profound in its claim: “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright” (33:1).
Think about that second phrase for a moment. Praise befits the upright. It is fitting for the upright to praise the Lord. Praise is to upright, as hand is to glove.
This idea begs a question: which comes first, uprightness or praise? Do we praise because we are upright? Or are we made upright by praising?
It’s an important question, because an affirmative answer to one or the other will produce two different religions. If we are made upright through the act of praising, then salvation is dependent upon our work. It all comes down to an external act on our part. Righteousness, then, is the fruit of our labor.
But if we praise because we are already upright, then uprightness is not contingent upon us, but on someone else. Praise, then, is the result of uprightness, not the cause.
Which one is it? Many have been known to read the Bible in the first way. Are they right?
The answer comes from within the psalm, in verse 12: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
The psalmist is saying that we praise because God has made us his people. We praise because we have been made upright by someone else. Righteousness has nothing to do with our work; it has everything to do with God’s.
That is the very definition of grace. God, in Christ, has done the work of earning our righteousness for us. And then he freely bestows it upon us for no other reason than his steadfast love and faithfulness.
That is why the psalm opens, “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous!” We are righteous on account of God’s grace to us in Christ. Praise is fitting because we have been given everything. Praise earns us nothing; it merely expresses our profound gratitude and deepest thanks. Praise is to Christian as hand is to glove. Rejoice!