“The Blessings of Righteousness”
Proverbs 11:5 and others
May 25, 2003
The wise pursue happiness by pursuing righteousness.
I. The Law of Consequences
II. The Outcome of Righteousness
III. The Way of Righteousness
MessageLast week West Brazelton used an illustration about the Appalachian Trail. He said only one third of those who set out to hike the 2,160 miles from Georgia to Maine make it. That brought back memories for me, because Im among those who never made it. Actually I never tried, but in the course of my Boy Scout and high school years we did hike over 300 miles of the trail in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia and Maine - still less than twenty percent of the whole length.
I think Ive told you that one of the cool things about the trail is how its marked. Every five or fifteen miles there might be a sign telling youre on the Appalachian Trail, and when you find one of those you really relax for at least a few minutes, because you know exactly where you are. But the typical marking is simply a white slash on a rock or a tree that says go this way. If theres a sudden sharp turn, or a place where the trail divides, youll see two slashes. Then you have to look around and find the next single slash to make sure youre on the right track. If you go the wrong direction youll usually find no slashes, though occasionally youll find a triple slash saying dont go this way. In addition, youll usually have a guide book that says things like proceed uphill three hundred yards through mixed forest before emerging on rocky ledge at 1.6 miles. Turn left to parallel ridge for 0.3 miles before turning right at a fence line and hiking sharply uphill for 0.1 miles to the top of the ridge. Between the slashes and the instructions you really dont need a GPS to know where you are on the Appalachian Trial, though I understand recent editions of trail guides also include GPS coordinates. Wimps! When I was young we didnt need technology to help us find the right way.
Actually though, in life, we all need some help to stay on the right path. The book of Proverbs were studying this summer provides a good deal of that kind of help. Its like a guidebook that tells us to go only this far and then turn this way if we want to get where we want to go. Its also like the slashes on the trees, in that it tells us when were on the right path and warns us when were getting off that path. The neat thing about Proverbs, though, is that the goal is not just to get to just some point on the trail or even to hike all the way to Maine. The goal of Proverbs is to guide us into right living before God. Its wisdom for right living. And the thing we want to notice this week as we look at Proverbs is that there is a benefit to right living. Right living is good. Right living is the only truly satisfying way to live. Proverbs teaches over and over that only those who follow the slashes, follow the guidebook, stay on the trail are truly happy, or as Proverbs would say, truly blessed. Proverbs teaches without hesitation that blessedness or happiness comes to those who follow the path of righteousness. The wise pursue happiness by pursuing righteousness.
I. The Law of Consequences
The wise pursue happiness by pursuing righteousness. Do you believe that? That you will be happier if you focus on righteousness rather than say success, or security or prosperity? Proverbs is clear when it promises blessing to those who stick to the right path. Its equally clear when it promises disaster to those who leave that path. And these promises fit the rest of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation we find this same truth, the law of sowing and reaping or the law of consequences. Actions have consequences. Wrong actions have negative consequences. Right actions have positive consequences. There is a concrete benefit to right living.
Proverbs reveals this law of consequences in many ways, some quite poetic. We only have time to look at a few. Lets start with Proverbs 11:5, which is a theme verse for this message. Proverbs 11:5 The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. Righteousness is a positive character quality. The underlying Hebrew word is tsedeq, which the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament says has the root meaning of to be straight. It came to mean conformity to an ethical or moral standard, and in the Bible that standard is the nature and will of God who is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works. Our righteousness is conformity to His standards.
His expectations of us are therefore very high. Next week were going to look at how Proverbs sees peoples hearts. Well find that like the rest of Scripture, Proverbs sees us as having sinful hearts in need of a Savior. Our hearts do not conform to Gods moral and ethical standards without Gods intervention. That truth is central: we have to remember it every week. We only become righteous in Gods sight when the penalty of our sins is paid, by Jesus, on the cross. Only then can we begin to live the righteous life Proverbs calls for. So when you see the word righteous, recognize that the Bible teaches you are made righteous by faith in Jesus; only out of the strength of a relationship with him can you begin to live the righteous life.
With this background, Proverbs 11:5 tells us that the righteous living of those who are declared blameless before God makes a straight way for them. To those living in the hilly and convoluted land of Israel, a straight way was valued. A road that had been leveled and straightened was a true luxury. In the same way, the thing that guides you into a life that is level and straight is the practice of righteousness.
This was brought home to me as we bought the new house. Since we got married Gail and I have tried to run our financial lives by Biblical standards sometimes weve done better, sometimes worse. One of the things weve done right is to avoid debt. So our credit rating was nearly perfect when the mortgage companies, utilities and insurance people began to look at it. That meant we saved hundreds of dollars in each of these areas as we moved toward closing - which made a huge difference in our ability to buy this house. This is the kind of thing I mean when I say that right living makes a straight path. It makes things easier. Its a very practical truth.
The other half of the verse is also a statement of the law of consequences: the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness. You reap what you sow: if you sow wickedness you reap wickedness. Think about this: isnt it usually true? If you indulge in alcohol or drugs or any pre-occupation or addiction, you pay a great price physically, emotionally, spiritual and relationally. You find stress and turmoil in every area of your life because you have taken a wrong turn in that one area. Our family recently rented A River Runs Through It, which none of us had seen. I loved the scenery and the fly fishing, but the point was that you cant help anyone who wont be helped. The younger brother in the story is on the path of gambling. The laws of probability say he will get deeper and deeper into debt and those he owes arent constrained by law. He perfectly illustrates that those consumed by sin will be consumed by it. It was true in Solomons day and is in ours: sin has a price.
Lets think briefly about a few of the ways Proverbs applies this truth: Proverbs 11:19 The truly righteous man attains life, but he who pursues evil goes to his death. This verse must be understood in the context of salvation. The truly righteous man is the one who believes in Jesus. Paul will say in Romans There is no one righteous, not even one. . . . But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. Thats the righteousness that brings life. Remaining in unbelief leads to death. Paul also says in Romans that the wages of sin is death, that eternal life is a gift of God. The righteous live, the wicked perish. And righteousness comes not by works but by faith in Jesus Christ,
Nonetheless, if we fail to live out the righteousness we have been given we will see day to day consequences. One of my favorite verses in this weeks study is Proverbs 26:27 If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him. Arent those just perfect images? Remember, these are proverbs, not laws. Sometimes the ungodly do prosper, but thats not the natural consequence. Normally when you dig a pit you fall into it. If you try to roll a stone uphill it rolls back. Examples? Enron, Arthur Anderson, Dynegy, Worldcom and more. They could keep those profit numbers rolling uphill by fraud for a few years, but the further they pushed up the faster that stone rolled down when it finally escaped their control. Evil men put huge amounts of energy into schemes for money or for power - they dig those pits, roll those stones, but in the long run they usually get caught in their own schemes. Its the law of consequences, the law of reaping and sowing.
Heres another take on it: Proverbs 27:12 The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Do you see the law of consequences at work? In Proverbs a prudent person is one who prepares for what might happen. And the opposite of prudent is not sinful but simple, a person who doesnt think ahead. We all know people who fall into these two categories: those who plan ahead and rarely get in trouble and those who stumble through life in a constant crisis.
The truth is that most of us are someplace in-between. Were prudent about some things but neglectful of others. The market downturn of the last few years has shown me to be a simpleton as far as financial things go. Rather than take the time and energy to shift my retirement accounts into something conservative, I just kept going with what I had, and I suffered for it - almost every investment I have lost money. My father in law didnt lose a dime in these last few years, because he was prudent.
Its the law of consequences. One last example. Proverbs 29:6 An evil man is snared by his own sin, but a righteous one can sing and be glad. This is great unless you are snared by sin. The picture is of putting your foot into a trap and having it drawn tight, with no escape. We make choices we tell ourselves are harmless - a little debt, a little drink, a little lust, a little anger. Suddenly were trapped, in over our head, caught in a maze of escalating sin and lies. Ultimately there is no joy in sin, because it ruins relationships, ruins ministry and ruins peace. But there is joy in righteousness. When we receive righteousness from God and live it in our choices, and relationships and work, we can truly rejoice, truly sing and be glad. We can best express our thankfulness and joy, to God, when walking with him in purity.
II. The Outcome of Righteousness
So there is a law of consequences. Sin has evil and negative consequences for each of us, while living out the righteousness we have received has great benefit for each of us. Lets pursue that thought further by noticing what Proverbs teaches about the outcome of righteousness. The first verse we should consider is one that touches on eternity, Proverbs 12:28 In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality. We looked at a verse in the last section that contrasted life through righteousness with death through sin. Here we are told that righteousness brings eternal life, literally in the Hebrew no death. There is a way of righteousness, a path of righteousness, a narrow road that leads to life. That narrow road is never free from danger, but we can have assurance that no matter what happens, the end of the story has already been written - the righteous will not die eternally, but live. Even if the road were on ends in physical death before Jesus comes, which it has for every saint so far, yet there is life and immortality beyond the grave. So we stick to the narrow path because its the path of hope, no matter how dark or dangerous our days may appear. The outcome of righteousness is life.
But as we saw before, Proverbs is concerned not only with the life to come, but with the life we live now. Is there a positive outcome of righteousness here and now? Yes. Consider Proverbs 13:25 The righteous eat to their hearts' content, but the stomach of the wicked goes hungry. It doesnt get a whole lot more here and now than that. The righteous have enough money to put food on the table and the wicked dont. Youll say to me wait a second, Bob, there are too many cases where the righteous do go hungry while the wicked prosper. There are, too many. But remember Proverbs isnt the whole Bible and these proverbs are not laws that govern God or man: theyre expressions of the way things usually or naturally work.
So sometimes God does allow the righteous to be persecuted, at times the wicked do get the palaces and feasts. But for the most part the person who walks morally makes ends meet. The person living in immorality, whether alcohol, drugs, gambling or sexual sin, pays a price. How often have we heard of the family living in poverty because the dad drank up his pay check. Proverbs knows what its talking about.
Proverbs 10:24 What the wicked dreads will overtake him; what the righteous desire will be granted. One of the great downsides to sin is the fear of getting caught or getting justice or of someone youve hurt getting even. Criminals and other habitual sinners are among the most paranoid of people. They presume everyone is suspicious and malicious. Sometimes theyre right: they often get from others what they give them. Even if they dont, they fear they will. The righteous, in contrast, often see their godly desires fulfilled. Take parenting, for example: when godly parents raise their children in the fear and knowledge of the Lord, it is not a guarantee those children will walk with Jesus, but often they do. You know both kinds of people, dont you? Godly people who have a child who has walked away from Jesus and godly people whose children are walking with Jesus. But as I count up people I know, I find that the children of godly parents who end up walking in righteousness outnumber the children who turn away. Very often what the righteous desire is granted.
All this is not just natural consequence. God is involved in these blessings. Proverbs 10:29 The way of the Lord is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil. Heres another great image: God is a refuge or fortress or place of safety for those who follow the right path and enter his protection. But like a fortress bristling with cannons, for those who make themselves his enemies, he is a place of danger, as his holiness brings their ruin. Those who flee to him find refuge; those who oppose him find danger. We must flee to him: it is only in God that we find the strength, security, love and forgiveness that allow us to do whats right.
The final blessing I want to mention is that the righteous have a firm foundation, deep roots that enable them to stand against the storms. Proverbs 12:3 A man cannot be established through wickedness, but the righteous cannot be uprooted. The picture is like Psalm 1, a tree firmly rooted and sure to stand; this is what the righteous are like. The unrighteous are like a tree with shallow roots that tips over when the first winds of opposition rise. In his parable Jesus told of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, and the fool who built his house on the sand. Thats the same contrast: the righteous stand firm, the unrighteous are swept away.
III. The Way of Righteousness
So the question is, do you believe all this? Is there a benefit to righteousness, or do the wicked prosper? The Bible is willing to ask the question, and even invites you to look around and see the apparent prosperity of the wicked. But the answer the Bible gives is that God is really on the side of those he has declared righteous, and he provides refuge, strength, eternal life and blessing to those who walk his paths.
But how do we walk his paths? Many verses in Proverbs give practical guidance for the way of righteousness. Each of the verses well now look at has a verb that tells us what the righteous person does. Listen for this practical help in righteous living. Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe. What does the righteous person do? Flees to the Lord, finds protection in the Lord. There is no shame in running to the Lord: it is the only sane thing to do when faced with sins strength and our own weakness. His name, that is his very nature, is a strong tower. There we find safety. There, by faith, in the face of temptation or grief or struggle or weariness we find protection and help.
So the first practical way to get on the path of righteousness is to run to God. The second step is to watch where were going - to stay on the path of safety, the one marked by the white blazes. Proverbs 22:5 In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them. The action here is guarding your soul, and this is accomplished by staying far from the paths of the wicked. Dont miss how practical this is: if you dont want to get caught in thorns and snares, the consequences of sin, then dont walk where the thorns and snares are. Stay away from those paths that seem so wide and easy but lead to unwanted consequences.
Some of us have been impacted by a sermon illustration I found a few years ago called Autobiography in Five Short Chapters. It illustrates this verse. Chapter One: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost .... I am helpless. It isn't my fault. It takes forever to find a way out. Chapter Two: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don't see it. I fall in again. I can't believe I am in this same place. But, it isn't my fault. It still takes a long time to get out. Chapter Three: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in ... it's a habit ... but, my eyes are open. I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately. Chapter Four: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it. Chapter Five: I walk down a different street. In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far away from them.
Just a few more verses to show how we continue in the way of righteousness. Proverbs 15:29 The Lord is far from the wicked but he hears the prayer of the righteous. The action here is to pray. Prayer is a practical way of running to God and guarding our souls. By prayer and worship and the Word we stay in contact with God, in relationship with Him, and therefore find strength to follow the narrow road. God hears those prayers, answers those prayers, strengthens us against unrighteousness, and always gives what we need and often what we desire.
So run to God, guard your soul, depend on him in prayer and next make plans for good. Proverbs 14:22 Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness. Planning good is a key to righteousness.
In the old days there was a saying that the idle mind is the devils workshop. I dont find that specifically in Scripture, but I do find a call for us to devote our minds to what is right and good. If our minds are taken up in serving God and loving his family, we will not be so pre-occupied with serving and loving ourselves. The path of righteousness leads to an outward focus, looking at the needs and opportunities in our church, our community, our world. This verse calls us to make plans, to set our minds on what the Spirit desires, not what the world wants us to want. As Hebrews says, let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds.
Finally, Proverbs 21:21 He who pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honor. The blessing of righteousness comes not only when we pursue righteousness, but when we pursue love - when we imitate Christ who loved us so much that he died for us while we were still unrighteous. His love is the model for our love, and the path of righteousness is one on which we must chose to love sacrificially, to love those in our families, our church, our neighborhood and community; to love those around us who desperately need to find the road to righteousness.
So you run to God, guard your heart, depend on him in prayer, plan good and love others as he loves them. These are the ways of righteousness. These things bring blessing - it may not be the kind of blessing the world counts, but it is the only kind that counts - the blessing of God on a life. On the one hand he keeps us from the consequences of evil. On the other hand he gives us both natural and supernatural blessing and joy as we do whats right. These are the benefits of keeping his ways.
One of my favorite fantasy novels is a series by John White called The Archives of Anthropos, similar to The Chronicles of Narnia. The first book of this series was The Tower of Geburah and its still my favorite, because so many of its scenes are acted out Biblical truths. For example, there is one about sticking to the right path and fleeing along it into the refuge of God. The character in the story, Lisa, has fallen under the enemys power. But at the last moment she cries out to Gaal, the Shepherd, who is the Jesus figure in the story, and he sends a pigeon, surrounded by blue light, to free her and lead her. The pigeon takes Lisa by a secret stair under the enemys foul temple and into a series of underground passages. Here the pigeon disappears, but the blue light that surrounded him continues, shining from the walls and ceiling of the tunnel. Lisa soon realizes that the blue light is true light, showing her the way to walk, or as we would say, the path of righteousness.
However, getting to Gaal is not quite so easy for Lisa as just walking down a blue lit tunnel, because every once in a while she comes across a passage of another color. At the entrance of these passages are various temptations. At the first, a red-lit passage, stands an old woman offering her rest. Only a flare of blue light shows the woman to be a malicious spider, luring her into its web.
Much later she arrives at a fork in the tunnel where a purple glowing passage beckons her with the smell of freshly baked bread. Here Lisa gives in to temptation and takes the wrong turn, only to find that the bread is counterfeit and that she is lost far from the blue light. She calls on Gaal, and again the pigeon comes to lead her to the right path. Finally Lisa arrives at a green passage, which holds no particular appeal to her except that in the blue passage a narrow log spans a bottomless chasm, and to follow the true light Lisa, who is terrified of heights, will have to cross. In despair, she almost turns away from the right path, but she is stopped by the approach of a man, Gaal, who says that he made the bridge across the chasm, and that if she will simply fix her eyes on him and trust him as she crosses, he will not let her fall.
Ladies and gentlemen, we walk along a narrow path called righteousness, led by the Holy Spirit and leading to the refuge of God the Father and Jesus the Son. There are many opportunities to leave the path and walk in the way of the wicked, to fall into the snares that trap the sinful. But true satisfaction and true blessing comes when we remain on the path of righteousness. In the dozen verses weve looked at and in hundreds of others in Proverbs, God promises that there is a benefit to doing what is right. Let us believe this truth together and follow the narrow path of life.