Wednesday, February 08, 2017
Balance in the Christian Life: "Be not righteous over much"
Note: Devotion taken from sermon on Ecclesiastes 7:11-18.
Ecclesiastes 7:16 Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself? 17 Be not over much wicked, neither be thou foolish: why shouldest thou die before thy time?
The exhortations given in vv. 16-17 are somewhat hard to understand and might be easily mishandled.
It begins, “Be not righteous over much; neither make thyself over wise” (v. 16a). Charles Bridges warns that an “insincere professor” might attempt to use this passage wrongly in order to find “an excuse for loving the world in his heart, and meeting it half way in his practice” (Ecclesiastes, p. 162).
He then asks if Solomon is really saying it is possible for one to have “too much of the substance of religion?” (p. 162). He answers: “We cannot love God too warmly, or honour him too highly, or strive to serve him too earnestly, or trust him too implicitly” (p. 163). The danger, he concludes, must lie “in defect, not in excess” (p. 163). The problem warned against here is not having too much zeal for the Lord but having a misdirected zeal.
Bridges then offers some insightful analysis of such cases (see pp. 163-164):
Religion is made to consist mainly in externals. Self-conceited professors insist upon their Shibboleth, without regard to the different judgments of their brethren. Christian duties are pressed beyond their due proportion, interfering with immediate obligations, and making sins where God has not made them. Scrupulosity in matters indifferent takes the place of the free obedience to the Gospel. In the exercise also of Christian graces there may be danger of extremes. Boldness may verge to rashness, benevolence into indiscriminate waste, candour into weakness.
Even in ‘well-doing there may be over-doing,’ and this over-doing may inadvertently progress toward un-doing.
It is important that our religion should be reasonable, consistent, uniform, --not matter of opinion, but of the heart.
With regard to Solomon’s warning here of being “over-wise” Bridges exhorts:
Avoid all affection or high pretentions to superior wisdom. Guard against that opinionative confidence, which seems to lay down the law, and critically finds fault with every judgment differing from their own.
Solomon asks, “why shouldest thou destroy thyself?” This legalistic, self-righteous, over-scrupulousness is self-destructive! Bridges again:
Men may be martyrs to trifles magnified unduly. They may bring needless trouble upon themselves, by making conscience of doubtful or subordinate matters.
To be wise up to that which is written is diligence…. To be wise “above that which is written” is presumption…. (p. 165).
Next in v. 17 Solomon continues: “Be not over much wicked….” How do we interpret this? Surely God is not tolerant of any wickedness (see Hab 1:13). Any and every sin is too much sin in God’s sight. Surely, the Lord is not approving here a “moderate” amount of sin in any man’s life.
We must shun the least sin as a pestilence. But many—so far as ordinary causes are concerned—might have lived longer, but for their wickedness. Take care not to loosen the reins of sin (p. 166).
Here is the balance: Don’t be a self-righteous, judgmental Christian! But by the same token, don’t rest easy with any sin in your life.