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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 26, 2012
The Way of Righteousness
Proverbs 12:15 says in part, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes. . .” We live in a time and society in which fools and foolishness abound. Our study last week of the warnings in Proverbs against foolishness and folly made that very apparent(See: Warnings on Foolishness & Folly). We live in a world filled with people who insist that what they do is fine, yet they live in a manner in which it is obvious that they do not have the fear of the Lord. That lack has allowed them to be deceived and become fools who despise true wisdom and instruction. That is sad and we all suffer because many leaders in government, business and society are such fools. They may be considered successful to the world, but before God they are utter failures who will pay the price of their foolishness for eternity. We do not want to be like them. We want to heed the warnings in Proverbs and be among those that listen to Wisdom’s call and turn in to feast at her banquet table of truth, righteousness, prudence, knowledge, discretion, counsel, power, justice, riches, honor, God’s favor and life (See: Wisdom’s Call).
This morning I want to continue in our study of the book of Proverbs and examine the issue of righteousness. We have already seen that subject come up in our previous studies because being wise or being a fool is directly tied into the concept of righteousness. While wisdom in a generic sense carries the idea of knowledge and understanding that can be applied with skill and ability in the experiences of life, in Proverbs, wisdom is also tied directly to human will and understanding being in submission to God’s will and His revelation, for wisdom resides in God (Job 12:13) (See: Introduction to Proverbs). There is both worldly wisdom and Godly wisdom. Worldly wisdom leads to foolishness, sin and destruction. Godly wisdom leads to righteousness and salvation.
I want to examine this issue of righteousness in three parts. First, seeking to understand the meaning of righteousness. Second, understanding the application of righteousness to man and specifically how humans can be right before God. Third, looking at the practical characteristics of righteous living as revealed in Proverbs.
The Meaning of Righteousness
The Hebrew word for righteousness tsedeq (tseh’-dek) and its cognates are also translated as just, justice, lawful, right, righteous, correct, fair, blameless and innocent. We can see this in passages such as Leviticus 19:15, “You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly.” The word “fairly” here is this word for righteousness. In the Septuagint, the word “injustice” is the Greek word meaning “not right” or “without righteousness.” Judges are to be impartial and render decisions based on truth. They are to be fair in giving a decision that is righteous so that those who are blameless and innocent receive a right and correct verdict. The breadth of this word is also seen in its application to commerce in Leviticus 19:36, “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt.” The word “just” in the verse is this word, tsedeq (tseh’-dek). The means of measuring things that are bought and sold – balances, weights, volumes – are to be just, right, correct, fair. Commerce must be done with measures that are true.
The root meaning of tsedeq (tseh’-dek) and its this word group is conformity to an ethical or moral standard, and there are three applications of it to human life – ethical, forensic and theocratic. Ethical righteousness is concerned with the conduct of men with one another. Forensic righteousness is concerned with the equality of all before the law. Theocratic righteousness is concerned with man being made righteous before God. I want to look at each of these in more detail starting with forensic righteousness.
The root idea of righteousness is conformity to an ethical or moral standard. Forensic righteousness is concerned about equality of all before the law. We have already seen from the verses in Leviticus that this ethical or moral standard, this law, must be one that is true. This means the law must refer to something that is both absolute and something that is not subject to any type of partiality otherwise there is no possibility of equality before the law. If the law is not absolute, then it will be ever changing in content and therefore its application to different people. If partiality is allowed, then the judge changes its application to people according to his own whims and God condemns such a practice. Proverbs 17:15 states, “He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous, Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.”
For these reasons the law cannot be one that is set by man, for man’s ability to even determine truth, much less remain impartial, is very limited. Man can observe, but all of his natural senses are easily fooled – sight, hearing, taste, touch, and smell. We have all seen various optical illusions. We have also all heard things that we thought were one thing that turned out to be something else. Some of you may have played the game in which you have to reach into a brown paper bag and identify the objects in it by feel. That can be fairly funny or disgusting depending on what is on the mind of the person reaching into the bag. Smell and taste are also fooled. My mom has made a pie out of crackers that you would think was an apple pie, in fact, the name of the recipe was “Mock Apple Pie.” If you mulled apple cider at the same time, the effect was even stronger. All of your senses can be fooled.
Man’s ability to reason is also limited. First, by the very fact that man does not know all the information necessary. Wrong conclusions are made for lack of enough information. Second, by the fact that man’s reason is limited because he is a finite being. People vary in their intellectual abilities, but no human could comprehend all information even if it was available to him. Third, by the fact that sin has corrupted his reason so that truth is twisted to what he would like it to be to one degree or another rather than what it is in actuality. It is the fool that believes his own way is right, and its end is the way of death (Proverbs 12:15; 14:12).
An absolute law set on truth with an impartial judge applying it means that man is in trouble. The absolute standard is the law of God. As expressed in Psalm 19:7-9, the law of the Lord is perfect, the testimony of the Lord is sure, the precepts of the Lord are right, the commandment of the Lord is pure and the judgments of the Lord are true. All men will be held accountable by God for He is the judge and He is impartial. Deuteronomy 10:17 states, “For the Lord your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords,
the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality, nor take a bribe.” God will not justify the wicked nor will he condemn the righteous. He does condemn the sinner – Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine. The soul who sins will die.” It continues on to say the righteous will surely live, but how can a man be righteous before God?
Even as something as basic as the Ten Commandments demonstrates man’s utter failure to be able to live without sinning. Even if a man were by some means able to keep himself from the outward actions that are prohibited – no idolatry, not taking the name of the Lord in vain, not murdering, not committing adultery and not stealing and not bearing false witness, how does one keep from committing the heart sins that occur before the outward actions take place? These would include having another god, hatred, lusting after a woman and coveting. Then there are the actions that must be kept the failure of which is sin. These include keeping the Sabbath holy and honoring your father and mother. When you add in the summary of the Law as Jesus described in Matthew 22:37-39 to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself, then every human stands guilty of sin before our holy Creator. As Psalm 14:2-3 explains, “The Lord has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, To see if there are any who understand, Who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” Isaiah 64:6 adds that even those deeds man thinks are righteous are like a filthy garment before God.
This question of how a man can be righteous before God brings us to theocratic righteousness.
Both the Hebrew & Greek portions of the Scriptures make it clear that no man can be made righteous before God by the Law (Psalm 143:2, Ecclesiastes 7:20; Galatians 3:11), yet God has always had for Himself people that He called to Himself and made righteous. There had to be a way in which man could be made righteous apart from the law, and yet the law is still satisfied so that God is just.
From Adam & Eve’s first sin we saw that this would have something to do with a substitute which would pay the sin price of death. Remember that God used animal skins to cloth Adam and Eve to cover their shame. Yet an animal is not the equivalent of a human so there had to be something more. We get our next clue into God’s work of righteousness in Genesis 15:6 when we are told Abraham “believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.” That theme is repeated throughout the rest of the Scriptures that man could be righteous before God on the basis of faith. But faith in what, specifically, and how does that allow God to be both merciful and gracious as well as just and righteous?
The clearest text in the Hebrew Scriptures that explains this is Isaiah 53. Without going through the whole text, God would provide the perfect substitute sacrifice in His suffering servant, the Messiah. He would be smitten of God and afflicted when he was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He would be sacrificed as a guilt offering and the Lord would lay upon Him all of our iniquity. This sacrifice would be accepted and “the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many.”
The New Testament explains the fulfillment of this promise in the Lord Jesus Christ when He died on Calvary as the perfect sin sacrifice. His resurrection from the dead is the proof that the sacrifice was accepted and that Jesus can and will keep all of His promises to His followers.
The Apostle Paul explains in Romans 3 that Jesus’ sacrifice was the demonstration of God’s righteousness and by which He became the just and justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. God is just because the requirements of the law are satisfied. Sin requires death and Jesus died in our place. God is righteous because He Himself has kept His own moral and ethical standard for the sacrifice was voluntary and not coerced. God is merciful because He has been longsuffering and patient with mankind withholding the immediate condemnation that all mankind deserves. God is gracious because He provided a means by which man could be reconciled to Himself, adopted into His family and changed in nature so that by the power of the Holy Spirit the redeemed man can live according to God’s standards. This brings us to ethical righteousness.
Ethical righteousness concerns the standard of conduct of men with one another. This cannot be according to the changing standards of man or of any society for man’s standards of ethics and morality are neither absolute nor impartial and therefore cannot be righteous. Any man or society that claims they can set the standard of morality for themselves have an immediate problem when they run into someone else or anther society that has a different set of standards. The claim they make for themselves must be granted to others otherwise they jeopardize the legitimacy of their own claim. In a world in which the absolute standards of God are rejected and man becomes the standard, then there is no foundation left to discern right from wrong. In such a world the atrocities committed by despots and terrorists of both history and the present are not cruel evils, but legitimate expressions of competing moralities. The only standard left then is survival and control . Whoever is then in the position to control whether by might and power or schemes and intrigue will determine what system of ethics will prevail for the moment. Even the thought that people such as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Idi Amin and Bin Laden could be considered righteous should be revolting. The same is true when considering the ethical standards of countries controlled by atheistic Communism – Red China, North Korea, or communist guerilla groups – FARC, Shining Path, etc., and Islamic fundamentalist groups – Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hammas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Abu Sayyaf, Muslim Brotherhood, etc., etc., (These are only a sampling of those known to have targeted Christians for persecution and martyrdom).
Some men and societies may have better ethical practices and standards of morality than others, but all fall short of God’s standards. Apart from God, man cannot know or live in righteousness for true righteousness is only found in God and in those that reflect Him. The Scriptures are full of the precepts and commands of God that direct us how we should live. Doing these things does not make you righteous before God, for as already pointed out, that can only come through God justifying you on the basis of faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Walking according to God’s standards should become the marks of those who are made righteous in Christ as they learn to walk with Him.
The book of Proverbs gives us practical instruction on ethical righteousness and how to walk in it. In the months to come we will be examining its teachings on many particular subjects – virtues, vices, relationships, family, use of the tongue, economics and even government. For the rest of this morning, I want to point out what Proverbs says about righteousness itself in terms of its characteristics, personal benefits and value to others. Part of the purpose of the book of Proverbs is to give instruction in wise behavior, righteousness, justice and equity.
First, righteousness is closely tied to wisdom, so all that I have said in the past few weeks about wisdom flows into living in righteousness. It is by wisdom that you will be able to discern righteousness (2:9) and keep to the paths of the righteous (2:20). Wisdom itself speaks the right things of righteousness (8:6, 8, 9). Righteousness is with Wisdom and she walks in the way of righteousness and path of justice (8:18-21). That is why by wisdom kings and rulers can reign and decree just
ice – what is right (8:15). It is the fool that is right in his own eyes (12:15). The wise walk with Wisdom and her righteousness.
There is no question it is of supreme importance to God that you walk in righteousness. Proverbs 21:3 proclaims, “To do righteousness and justice Is desired by the Lord rather than sacrifice.” That is an interesting statement because the type of sacrifice is not designated. It would make sense that righteousness and justice are better that sin and guilt sacrifices because it is better to avoid sinning that offering a sacrifice as payment for sins after they are committed. Or to put it another way, it is better to obey the law than have to pay the penalty for violating the law. But there are also the free will peace offerings that signify fellowship with God. We get some additional insight into this in 1 Samuel 15 when king Saul kept some of the animals as spoil to offer as sacrifices to God even though the Lord had already told him to utterly destroy everything. Samuel rebuked him saying, “has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” The true worship of God is found in obeying Him and not in later acts of worship. Walking in righteousness is not only superior to feigned worship, it is what leads to true worship.
Proverbs cites many of the characteristics of general righteousness as well as specific acts that are righteous. Here are some of the more general characteristics of walking in righteousness. It begins with having the right desires. Proverbs 11:23 – “The desire of the righteous is only good,” and Proverbs 15:9 adds, the Lord “loves him who pursues righteousness.” Wanting to do what is right leads right thinking. Proverbs 12:5, “The thoughts of the righteous are just.” He is cautioned when he considers the ruin that comes upon the house of the wicked (21:12), yet he recognizes that not all who suffer ruin are wicked. “The righteous is concerned for the rights of the poor” (29:7). The righteous are also careful before they speak. Proverbs 15:28, “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer.”
When the righteous do speak, it brings multiple blessings because it is the truth and right (12:17). What the righteous says flows with wisdom bringing forth what is acceptable (10:31-32) so that it is compared to choice silver (10:20), and a fountain of life (10:11) because it feeds many (10:21). They bring a blessing to themselves and others. All these things are the opposite of fools and the wicked who speak nothing of value because what they say is perverse, false and deceitful leading to ruin, violence and death.
The character of the righteous is marked by honesty in both what they say and do. This is so strong that a “A righteous man hates falsehood” (13:5) and considers an unjust man to be an abomination (29:27). Proverbs 20:7 says, “A righteous man who walks in his integrity– How blessed are his sons after him.” That integrity enables him to become firm for the “root of the righteous will not be moved” (12:3) and he will be bold as a lion (28:1). His honesty and integrity remain true even when things do not go well for him – Proverbs 16:8, “Better is a little with righteousness Than great income with injustice.” And if he is knocked down, he does not stay that way. Proverbs 24:16, “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again, But the wicked stumble in [time of] calamity.”
The righteous are humble and recognizing their own limitations seek out and listen to the counsel of the wise instead of being like the fool that considers his own way to be right (12:15). Because the righteous are not self centered they are concerned for others including their animals (12:10). They are generous to those in need (21:26) and will have something to give because they have learned to be content. Proverbs 13:25 says, “The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite.” That has to include contentment and not just an abundance of wealth because Solomon also observed, “When good things increase, those who consume them increase. So what is the advantage to their owners except to look on?” (Ecclesiastes 5:11). A righteous man will be careful with his wealth so that he can leave an inheritance for his children’s children (13:22).
The character and actions of the righteous will result in blessings upon themselves and others for “the path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, That shines brighter and brighter until the full day” (4:18) and “The light of the righteous rejoices” (13:9). The benefit of righteousness to the righteous includes the attention of the Lord, protection, victory, reward, wealth and life.
These benefits do begin with the righteous being able to go to the Lord and pray. Proverbs 15:29 states, “The Lord is far from the wicked, But He hears the prayer of the righteous.” Even though some of the benefits of righteousness may seem to be the natural outcome of what they do for “the wages of righteousness is life” (10:16), the reality is that it is still the Lord who places His blessing on the dwelling of the righteous (3:33). It is the Lord’s intervention that will not allow the righteous to hunger” (10:13). The “execution of justice is joy for the righteous (21:15), only because the righteous are in a right standing before God otherwise it would be a terror to them. Proverbs 29:6 states, “By transgression and evil man is ensnared, but the righteous sing and rejoices,” but this is only true for the transgressions of the righteous have paid for by Christ and forgiven. The continued walk in “righteousness of the blameless will smooth his way” (11:5).
The Lord will preserve and deliver the righteous. He will have “enough to satisfy his appetite” (13:25) and “the house of the righteous will stand” (12:7). But the Lord’s blessings often go much farther than that. Proverbs 16:31 says, “A gray head is a crown of glory; It is found in the way of righteousness.” Long life is a gift from the Lord. The Lord also entrusts wealth to the righteous as stated in Proverbs 13:21, “the righteous will be rewarded with prosperity,” and Proverbs 14:34, “Much wealth is in the house of the righteous.” This allows the righteous to be generous and “give and not hold back” (21:26).
The characteristics of the righteous and blessings he receives from the Lord allow him to benefit his neighbor as a wise guide (12:26), a source of nourishing instruction (10:21), provision (21:26), and better life (10:11; 20, 31). Everyone and everything in immediate association with the righteous certainly benefit. His beasts are treated better (12:10), his father rejoices (23:24), his sons will be blessed (20:7) and even his grandchildren will receive an inheritance (13:22). The general population also does better. “When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,” and “when the righteous triumph, there is great glory” (28:12 & 29:2). When the opposite is true, the people grown and hide themselves. That is why “righteousness exalts a nation while sin is a disgrace to any people” (14:34). That is why even “The memory of the righteous is blessed” (10:7).
Warnings to the Unrighteous
In the midst of these many encouragements to pursue righteousness there are also many warnings about the failure to do so and committing wickedness. Most of the Proverbs that express a characteristic or blessing of righteousness will contrast it with the wicked and the curses they bring upon themselves. In most of my examples I only gave the part that stressed righteousness since that it the point of this sermon. But there are also quite a few Proverbs that only give warning to the wicked and some of those should be mentioned before I bring this sermon to a conclusion
Proverbs 17:15, “He who justifies (makes righteous) the wicked, and he who condemns the righteous , Both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord.” Proverbs 25:26, “[Like] a trampled spring and a polluted well Is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.” Proverbs 14:12 is still one of the strongest warnings, “There is a way [which seems] right to a man, But its end is the way of death,” but it is even more serious than just outward actions as Proverbs 21:2 explains,“Every man’s way is right in his own eyes, But the Lord weighs the hearts.”
Righteousness will deliver a person from consequences of doing wickedness and even its curse if they will seek the Lord. It ultimately comes down to a choice of what you choose to believe and pursue. Consider these contrasts:
Proverbs 10:2, “Ill-gotten gains do not profit, But righteousness delivers from death.” Proverbs 13:6, “Righteousness guards the one whose way is blameless, But wickedness subverts the sinner.” Proverbs 11:9, “With [his] mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor, But through knowledge the righteous will be delivered.”
There is a hope for the unrighteous, but it is only in turning from their wickedness and placing their hope in the Lord Jesus Christ as the righteous have done. Proverbs 18:10 “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; The righteous runs into it and is safe.”
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Write down the scripture references and look them up later 2) Count how many times “righteous” or “righteousness”is said. 3) Discuss with your parents how to be righteous before God and the characteristics of living in righteousness.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. What is the relationship to a lack of the fear of the Lord and foolishness? What is the relationship between wisdom and righteousness? What is the general meaning of righteousness? What is forensic righteousness? Can there be equality before the law if either the law is changeable or is administered by a judge that is partial? Why or why not? What are the limitations on man’s senses? His reason? How does God’s law differ from man’s law? What is the evidence that man does not meet the standard of God’s law? How is God able to remain just in upholding His law and still be able to declare some men to be righteous? What part does substitutionary sacrifice involve? What part does faith involve? What must be the content of that faith? Why are the ethical standards set by man ultimately always unrighteous? If a person claims that they or their society set the standard of righteousness, can they have any legitimate criticism of other people or societies that have a different standard? What becomes the actual default ethical standard among competing nations? Why is walking in righteousness of supreme importance to God? What are the general characteristics of someone who is righteous? What is their speech like? What blessings do they bring on themselves? Others? How does the Lord respond to them? What warnings do Proverbs give to the unrighteous? What must they do to have hope? Are you righteous? Why or why not? Are you safe in the strong tower of the Lord? If not, how can you be? When will you be?
Sermon Notes – 2/26/2012
The Way of Righteousness – Selected Proverbs
Do not be a fool, but be among the ________ that heed the warnings & instructions of Proverbs
Wisdom and foolishness are both directly tied to the concept of _______________
The Meaning of Righteousness
tsedeq – also translated as _______, justice, lawful, right, righteous, correct, fair, blameless and innocent
Root meaning = conformity to an ethical or moral ________________
Forensic Righteousness – Equality of all before the ____- which must be true, absolute & without partiality
Law that changes or allows partiality is _________and results in abominations before God – Prov. 17:15
Man cannot be the source of law since he is too ____________ and partial
All of man’s natural ____________ – hearing, sight, taste, smell and touch – can be fooled.
Man is limited in his knowledge, ability to ______________ and is corrupted by sin
The absolute standard is the law of _________ which is perfect, sure, right, pure and true – Psalm 19
___________ is the omniscient and impartial judge of all men (Deut. 10:17; Ezek. 18:4)
Man’s sinfulness is seen in his _____________ to keep even the Ten Commandments
Theocratic Righteousness –
God’s ________________ of righteousness upon those He calls to Himself to be His people
The idea of a __________death as payment of the penalty of sin began with God’ clothing Adam & Eve
Genesis 15:6 brings in the idea of __________in the Lord being reckoned to a man as righteousness
______________ explains the suffering of Messiah as the perfect sacrifice that would bring justification
The New Testament explains that Jesus is the _________that made this sacrifice and rose from the dead
Romans 3 explains that Jesus’ sacrifice demonstrated God’s righteousness and the ________and justifier
God’s _______provided the means of redemption, justification, reconciliation, adoption & sanctification
Ethical Righteousness – concerns the standard of ___________ of men with one another
Man’s standards of ethics are neither absolute nor impartial and therefore ______________ be righteous
Man’s standards eventually reduce to survival and _____________ – whether by might or intrigue
Apart from God, man cannot know or live in _________ righteousness
The book of Proverbs gives us ____________ instruction on ethical righteousness and how to walk in it
Righteousness is closely tied to ______________ (Proverbs 2:9, 20; 8:6,8,9, 18-21, 12:15)
The general character of Righteousness: ________________(11:23); pursues it (15:9); thinks justly (12:5)
Cautioned by the ruin of the wicked (21:12); Considers the poor (29:7); thinks before speaking (15:28)
Righteous speech is: _______(12:17), acceptable (10:31-32), a fountain of life (10:11), feeds many (10:21)
The character of the righteous is honest, hates falsehood (13:5) and injustice (29:27); has _________(20:7)
is not moved (12:3); is as _______as a lion (28:1); remains true in hardship (16:8), rises again (24:16)
They are ___________, seek counsel (12:15); concerned for animals (12:10); generous to the poor (21:6);
_____________ and satisfied (13:25); leave an inheritance for their grandchildren (13:22).
The righteous are a blessing to themselves (4:18; 13:9); the Lord hears their _____________ (15:29).
They gain life (10:16); receive the Lord’s blessing their dwellings (3:33); are secure from hunger (10:13)
They rejoice at ________(21:15), sing & rejoice (29:6) for their transgressions have been paid by Christ.
The Lord ______________ & delivers the righteous from hunger (13:25), granting long life (16:31),
prosperity (13:21) and wealth (14:34) which allows them to be _________________ (21:26).
The righteous benefit others as wise ________(12:26) and are a source of nourishing instruction (10:21);
provision (21:26) and a better life. Beasts are treated better (12:10), fathers rejoice (23:24),
__________ are blessed (20:7), grandchildren inherit (13:22), the people rejoice (28:12; 29:2),
the ____________ is exalted (14:34) so that even their memory is blessed (10:7).
Warnings to the Unrighteous
Proverbs warns the _____________ (17:15) and those who yield to the wicked (25:26)
The only hope for the unrighteous is to turn and place their ___________ in the Lord Jesus Christ
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