What Does It Cost to be Righteous?

11 Jul

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The last time we were in Proverbs, we learned that joy and laughter are not necessarily joined together. Joy can’t be bought; it is delivered at the moment of our spiritual birth, but we do need to develop that joy which serves as life giving spiritual medicine for our soul. Happiness is dependent upon circumstances; joy is from Jesus and knowing who He is. Solomon clarified bribery and it’s still wrong and undermines the foundation of justice. Wise people have understanding which serves to help keep them focused. Fools are driven by the shifting winds of whatever suits their fancy. Finally, we saw that having a fool for a child is vexing for the father and the mother. No parent wants to raise a fool and the only way to minimize that chance is to continue to Deuteronomy 6 your kids. This morning, we’ll tackle some current events.

RighteousPro. 17:26-18:2 says, “It is also not good to fine the righteous, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness. He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom. A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.”

Solomon’s opening verse for today talks about something that we have seen happen recently. “It is also not good to fine the righteous, not to strike the noble for their uprightness.” Before we get to some applications, we need to evaluate what Solomon is saying in context. We have to ask ourselves, who has the power to impose fines? Who has the power to impose punishment in society? He’s still talking about justice and this is linked to verse 23. Justice can be perverted through illegal means like bribery, which could lead to innocent men being found guilty or guilty men being found not guilty. As a side note, the outcome of a criminal court proceeding results in the defendant being found guilty or not guilty. A not guilty verdict does not mean innocent. Criminal trial outcomes can have a very profound impact on society. Remember the Rodney King trial in Los Angeles that led to the LA riots of 1992. Remember Casey Anthony was found not guilty of murdering her children. Who can forget O.J. Simpson being found not guilty of double murder? The protests in Baltimore, MD and Ferguson, MO resulted after the deaths of Freddie Gray and Michael Brown. The riots and unrest in those two cities didn’t wait until a trial.

In a civil trial, the ruling is for the plaintiff or the defendant. Think Judge Judy. Those are always civil cases. It is a fairly common occurrence for an individual to be at odds with a governmental official. When the ruling doesn’t go in your favor. If you feel you were wronged. In a silly example, you’ve seen this dealing with your kids. The kids get into a fight and you ask what happened: he hit me first; no I didn’t he hit me first. That might result in punishment for both, but one of those kids is probably telling the truth, but just didn’t prove his case to your satisfaction. There will always be someone on the losing side, so to speak, which could cause issues. In a criminal trial, the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Our judicial system has been set up in this manner because they would rather let the guilty go free rather than the innocent be punished. Solomon’s take on this is that the righteous should not be fined. Don’t punish the right. Don’t, “Strike the noble for their uprightness.” So what are the applications for today? There is not enough time to cover every possible scenario, but I think recent events can illustrate this. Besides the court cases I already mentioned, we can see this on a smaller scale and it generally involves one’s will. This is the first year since 2011 that I have not served as the president of my neighborhood HOA. I’ve seen some unrelenting division among homeowners when they don’t get their way. I’ve had people call and rant and rave at me. I’ve had people come to my house and demand I take action against some perceived wrongdoing.

On a grander scale, there’s been a lot of talk about the rights to refuse service to someone based on personal convictions that come from one’s faith. I think some of this comes from a perception that one faith in particular seems to be discriminated above all others. The truth is there have been some pretty vile things done in the name of religion, Christianity notwithstanding. I think we do have a responsibility to defend the defenseless; speak for those that have no voice, but we need to do it for the right reason. Let’s not promote a political agenda or reiterate media talking points; let’s demonstrate the love of Christ and not apologize for what we believe. Are there corrupt governments out there? Of course, but I like to think that in our system there are built in checks and balances to prevent one branch from getting too much power. There are methods and systems in place so innocent people are not punished. We can’t eliminate false accusations against us. I have had this happen to me in every aspect of my life. It happened when I was in the Navy. It happened when I was president of the HOA. It’s happened in law enforcement. And yes, it’s happened here, I had a pastor that gave me a great piece of advice. I think I’ve shared this before, but it bears repeating. He said people are going to attack you and accuse you of things that are not true. You can’t chase down every accusation against you to prove your innocence. Jesus put it like this: “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me.” Peter gives us this great insight in 1 Pet. 4:12-16, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.” If we’re going to be accused, let’s be accused of being godly, holy, righteous, and loving.

Here’s another familiar and great verse. “He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” There is the old adage comparing listening and speaking. It was the Stoic philosopher Epictetus that said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It was James that said, “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger.” (Ja. 1:19) There is much wisdom in silence. Silence is golden. Will Rogers said, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” George Eliot said, “Blessed is the man who, having nothing to say, abstains from giving us wordy evidence of the fact.” Francis Bacon said, “Silence is the sleep that nourishes wisdom.”

The man of few words has a cool spirit – it’s a calm demeanor, not excited, anxious, or emotional. I love this description. It’s not that this guy has no emotion, but he’s able to control himself just like in Eph. 5:22-23 where Paul tells us about the fruit of the Spirit. When you are emotionally under control, you are able to understand. Picture it this way: your child comes to you crying and you ask what’s going on and they can’t formulate sentences because they are so emotional and you say those commanding two words: calm down! In a somewhat shocking parallel, Solomon says, “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.” I think that’s the first nice thing he’s said about fools. It’s like there’s a glimmer of hope for the fool if he’ll just keep his mouth shut. I think I said this earlier in Proverbs, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” It’s a quote commonly attributed to both Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain, but Solomon, through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, really is the author. Even a fool can sound smart as long as he doesn’t talk. There’s no actual wisdom or understanding in there, but when he doesn’t talk, no one knows that he’s foolish.

These next two verses are so very powerful. As I approach my ninth year of pastoral ministry and reflect back on all the people who we have crossed paths with, I can tell you this verse serves as a confirmation for so much that has happened over the years and is happening now. I want to spend some time here so we understand what we’re up against. In Pro. 18:1 Solomon gives us this incredible truth: “He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom.” Do you wonder how people can get off track? One of my favorite passages in Galatians is found in the opening lines of the letter. Paul gives us this in Gal. 1:6-9: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” The word amazed has been translated as astonished, marveled, astounded, and surprised. When he says, “I am amazed that” carries the idea of irritation and surprise. Paul was truly shocked at this turn of events.

When we go back to Proverbs, I think we get an understanding of the root cause of that and I can tell you that I have seen this with my own eyes on a number of occasions and it really is shocking. When Solomon says, “separates himself” he means to part company with. This separation isn’t because someone moved away or got married, or had children that leads to an overall we’re at different places in our lives kind of thing. That can happen to all of us. Rom. 1:1 tells us that, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” As Christians, we also have been set apart for the Gospel of God. Solomon is not talking about pursuing God, but an intentional separation to, “seek his own desire.” To drive this home, Paul says in Gal. 5:17-21, “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” This is the same thing Solomon is saying. And what’s the result? The biblical fool, “Quarrels against all sound wisdom.” This is wisdom that comes from knowledge which leads to understanding which is rooted in the fear of the Lord. When you live for Christ; when you study and meditate upon Scripture, you are confronted with unchanging truths. Each of us makes a decision to trust God or not. Have you ever quarreled against sound wisdom? Have you ever read Scripture that reveals something in your own life and you say, that’s not what that means? It is likely that we could all think of someone that fits into this category, but let’s make this personal. Have you ever justified your sin? Have you ever redefined your sin? It’s way easier to point this out to everyone else, but are we allowing the Lord to transform us?

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing in his own mind.” Isn’t that what you find? While ignorance may be bliss to some, Paul says something different. If we follow the mandate in 2 Tim. 2:15, there really is nothing in Scripture that should remain unknown to us. Of course, many mysteries will remain and there will be things we simply cannot understand, but we don’t really get to use the, ‘Gee, I didn’t know any better’ excuse. That’s what the fool does.

We started by asking the question, what does it cost to be righteous? The answer just might be everything. Sometimes we find ourselves at odds with the government and it’s just not right to impose punishment on people who are doing right. We still live in a society where wrongdoing is punished and there are ways to redress wrongs that have been committed. In a faith based setting, you can’t run down and correct all the nasty things that are said about you. David said in Ps. 54:1, “Save me, O God, by Your name, and vindicate me by Your power.” You must rest on the fact that God is the vindicator of the righteous and if people know you, they’ll know your character. We need to be calm, cool, and collected in our dealings with people and sometimes the best answer is silence. If people part company with you because you have been set apart for the Gospel, that’s one thing, but when people separate themselves from God’s people and God’s Word, it’s a good sign that there’s sickness in the spiritual health of that person. Ignorance of God’s Word is no excuse to live in the folly of your own mind.

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