The Good Life (Psalm 34:12-14)
What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? 13 Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. —Psalm 34:12-14
One might respond to the psalmist’s question in verse 12: “What man is there who does not desire a long, fruitful life—a good life rather than a bad life cut short by tragedy?” Yes, disillusionment with life can sap one’s enthusiasm to continue the forward journey. Yes, severe depression can lead one to the point of longing for life on earth to end. Yet the desire of the human heart to live a long, fruitful life is nearly universal and thoroughly natural.
Even deep disillusionment and depression bear negative witness to this primal longing. In this vein, we hear the observation from time to time that someone is “living the good life.” In secular society that usually means some lucky person enjoys an abundance of wealth, good health, strong family and social ties, ample opportunities to pursue fulfilling activities, and the like. As popularly conceived and defined, the “good life” is rooted in health and wealth, finding scant correlation to character or moral responsibility. Strongly influenced by our culture to view the good life on such terms, believers face the temptation to adopt the world’s definitions, fueling discontent for the many, and feeding the pride of the few who “luck out.”
Having posed the rhetorical question of verse 12, David tracks in a different direction. Godliness, not good fortune, epitomizes the good life. The qualities of life he highlights in verses 13-14 are merely representative, but they indicate that the good life is hardwired to the imitation of God’s moral perfections. David lists three couplets for our contemplation.
The first character trait of a good life is pure speech (v. 13). Evil words and deceptive speech suffocate life. True and righteous words adorn it. Second is godly action (v. 14a). The good life is characterized by saying no to sinful behaviors while actively pursuing righteous deeds. Doing good, not attaining affluent ease is the quest of genuine life. Third is a commitment to secure peace between warring, or potentially warring, parties (v. 14b). Those who stir up conflict lead dark lives. Peacemakers imitate God (cf. Matthew 5:9).
The context of Psalm 34 adds a decided hue to these verses. At the time, King Saul was the wealthiest, most powerful man in Israel. David was an outcast—hunted by Saul and rejected by the Philistines before whom he had recently suffered utter humiliation. Yet David realized he was living the good life and Saul, by God’s standards of speech, behavior, and peacemaking, was not. A life lived in fidelity to the Lord is the good life, no matter the troubling circumstances that may beset our daily lives.
This good life is not, of course, attainable by mere human effort. It depends ultimately on the Spirit’s fruit and God’s transformative grace operating in the lives of his people. Yet that grace flows to us as we actively pursue a righteous life in conformity to Christ. May the Lord spur us on in that pursuit, for his glory, and for our eternal good.
When you consider the three couplets in verses 13-14—pure speech, godly behavior, peacemaking—which one stands out in your conscience as most needy of reform in your life? Why is this the case? Pause in prayer to confess sin, seek God’s grace, and commit yourself to renewed faithfulness to the Lord.
Contrast how Saul and David pursued or failed to pursue peacemaking in their relationship with one another from the time David killed Goliath (1 Samuel 17) to the time Psalm 34 was written (cf. 1 Samuel 21:10-15).
List several examples and/or ways the pursuit of godliness has enriched your life as a follower of Christ. Pause to thank God for these evidences of his grace and blessing upon your life, despite the travails that have beset you along the way.