One Year Bible
Old Testament passage for Wednesday, September 4, 2013: Ecclesiastes 7:1-9:18
Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: why should you destroy yourself? Ecclesiastes 7:16 (NKJV)
What in the world does it mean, "Do not be overly righteous"? Sounds like we better not be too good, or too close to God, or too committed. In other words, "Cool down! Don't get so excited about Jesus. Be a little more lukewarm." But that is not what this verse means.
Mediocre No More
Ecclesiastes 7:16 is not a call to mediocrity. Solomon is not calling us to tone down our love for God. One of the central themes in all of Scripture is "You shall love the Lord your God with ALL your heart, with ALL your soul, and with ALL your strength." (Dt. 6:5, Matt. 22:37)
So what does Solomon mean when he says, "Do not be overly righteous?" The very next phrase helps us understand. There he says, "nor be overly wise." Solomon is talking about arrogance and elitism. He is saying, "Do not be a know-it-all" and "Do not be a holier-than-thou."
Few things are as obnoxious as someone who always wants to let you know how much smarter they are than you. Few things as unattractive as a self-righteous spiritual snob.
The Best People in Town
It is interesting that sometimes the people who are "do-gooders" become the furthest from God! Sometimes the best people in town have the hardest time understanding God's grace.
The Jubilee Bible translates Ecc. 7:16, "Do not be too legalistic." Legalists are good people on the outside, but they are dead on the inside. Rule keeping may make you look good, but it won't make you be good.
The classic example in the New Testament is the Pharisees. They were the guys who always did things the right way. They sought to keep every detail of the law. As a result, they completely missed Grace when it walked in the front door. They ended up killing Him.
Ecc. 7:16 is not a license to sin. It is a call to trust God for your righteousness. There is a controversial quote from the great Reformer Martin Luther. He said, "Be a sinner, and sin boldly." Most detractors stop right there and call Luther a heretic. But the entire sentence says this, "Be a sinner, and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly."
Luther is saying that we should fall so deeply in love with God that sin is no longer the issue. Our human tendency toward sin is overpowered by the knowledge of God's grace. Our focus shifts from our behavior to His sufficiency. How else can we live in CONFIDENCE while still robed in this mortal (sinful) flesh. Any honest man who contemplates his own worthiness will live in defeat.
All rule keeping must point to Jesus. Otherwise we fall into pride at our own accomplishments. In the final tally, it will be Jesus and Him alone that will be praised. Though might walk may rise or fall, His will always be steady. And HE CARRIES ME!