It feels a little funny to talk about the benefits of righteousness.
We all know self-centered people who are doing this or that simply for their own advantage and we don’t really want to have any part in that. And so we might wonder, is there really a place for us to think about the benefits of righteousness for our own lives?
But, there must be a sense in which it is right for us to talk about the benefits of righteousness for our own lives, because reading Proverbs, we find Solomon repeatedly talking about just that.
Throughout this book, he’s constantly bringing us back to just how good righteousness is for us and obviously, if he is doing that, as an inspired writer, there must be a place for us to think about it as well.
And really, it just highlights God’s grace.
After all, God could have made it so obedience was only hard. But instead He’s stuffed each one of His commands to us filled with delight and joy. If we look at the way He’s designed this world, His goodness keeps breaking through, because He’s made the world in such a way that righteousness is not only right, it is also very good. And what’s even better is that as Christians, he has not only commanded us to do what is good and made it good for us to do it, he’s also enabled us to do what is right.
So when I talk about the benefits of righteousness, I want it to cause you to rejoice in Christ and His work on the cross, because you know it’s only through what Jesus did and what the Spirit has done in your life, that now you are able to actually pursue righteousness like this.
In a previous post, we saw one way righteousness helps you.
It simplifies your life.
Now for a second way righteousness benefits you.
It maximizes your life.
To maximize something is to make the most of it and righteousness helps you make the most of your life.
You might think of life as a little bit like a car.
If someone gives you a car, that’s great but if you don’t know what a car is it’s not going to do you much good. The fact is, even if you know what a car is, but you don’t have a key and you don’t have any petrol, you are going to have this great gift that it is just going to sit there and go to waste.
Wisdom and righteousness are a little bit like the key to helping us use this gift that God gave us in life.
Specifically, righteousness helps us make the most of our lives in four ways.
1. Righteousness frees you to actually live life.
Listen to Proverbs 28:1.
What happens when you focus on yourself first is that self-focus actually ensnares you. It grabs hold of your leg like a trap and makes it difficult for you to move forward.
As Solomon explains in this verse, “The wicked flee when no one pursues.”
Here’s this person who is wicked and what does the wickedness do to him?
Does it give him courage?
It makes him paranoid. As a result, he’s constantly reacting and doing all these crazy things because he thinks people are out to get him when no one really cares. He is fleeing but no one is pursuing.
What happens when you become really concerned about people’s best and you are really concerned about what God wants is that you become less and less concerned about what people think about you and so as a result, you become more and more courageous.
In Solomon’s words,
“But the righteous are as bold a lion.”
And what’s the benefit of that? Well, what does boldness and courage do? It enlivens you. It frees you to do what really needs to be done instead of wasting your time enslaved by fear, running around when no one is even pursuing.
Proverbs 29:5 and 6 give us another very graphic and practical real life illustration of this.
“A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet.”
Here is a wicked man who is not concerned about his neighbor’s good, instead he is thinking about how he can take advantage of his neighbor and so what he is doing is lying to him for the purpose of getting his neighbor to do what he wants. He is spreading a net for his feet, he’s trying to ensnare his neighbor in other words.
But what happens?
“An evil man is ensnared in his transgression.”
This person is flattering the other person, why, because he thinks by deceiving him he will get ahead, but what actually happens is that he traps himself through his deception. He lays the trap for the other person, but he also gets trapped by it.
The righteous man on the other hand, Solomon says, “sings and rejoices.”
He escapes the snare, in other words and as a result is freed up to experience profound delight and joy.
2. Righteousness causes you to flourish in life.
If you have two seeds and you plant them in different soils.
There is a certain kind of soil that can produce a strong and mighty oak. Where there might be another kind of soil that you plant that same seed in and it just ends up this weak, little pathetic branch almost.
It’s so small, you can’t quite call it even a tree.
Righteousness is the soil that helps produce strong oaks of a life.
Take, Proverbs 11:28 and 30.
And really these verses are the conclusion of a whole bunch of verses starting all the way down in verse 16 where Solomon is contrasting someone who cares about others and looks out for the good of others and someone who doesn’t.
He says things like verse 17,
“A man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself.”
And verse 18, sure while the wicked may get rich, (there is a little bit of a confusing statement for some in verse 16, a gracious woman gets honor and violent men get riches) yes, but keep reading, verse 18, “the wicked earn deceptive wages” that money they get is not quite what they think it is, it is a lie, where “the one who sows righteousness” gets a reward too, it is a “sure reward,” one they can count on.
Solomon keeps pounding home the rewards of a righteous life in the verses that follow.
“Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live.”
“The desire of the righteous ends only in good, the expectation of the wicked in wrath.”
“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer, another withholds what he should give and only suffers want.”
What’s Solomon doing with all this?
He’s describing the fruits of the righteous life. What happens when you disadvantage yourself for the advantage of others and what happens when you disadvantage others for your own advantage?
“Whoever brings blessing will be enriched and one who waters will be watered. The people curse him who holds back grain, but a blessing is on the head of him who sells it. Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.”
When the soil you are planting your life in is self-centered soil, you don’t flourish, just the opposite.
“Whoever trusts in his riches will fall, but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.”
You want a life that is like a dried up tree knocked over by the first storm, focus on yourself and put your trust in what you can earn for yourself.
But, if you want a life that flourishes?
Diligently seek good.
And what happens when you plant your life in soil like that, verse 30, what happens when you pursue righteousness is that you bear fruit and what is that fruit?
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.”
The fruit that comes from living a righteous life is a tree and that tree is the tree of life and of course the tree of life is a picture of abundant life, I think for you but also for the people you interact with. By pursuing your own interests above all else, by putting what you want above what God wants and your good above other people’s good, you don’t make your life bigger, you make your life smaller.
3. Righteousness enables you to enjoy the life you have.
This is part of the idea behind the ‘better is’ passages in Proverbs.
“Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble with it.”
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.”
And Proverbs 16:8,
“Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.”
Now those are passages that are a little hard to believe at first. Because here you take a guy who has a treasure and you compare him with someone who is very poor. Or you take a guy who is eating meat and having a feast and you compare him with someone who is so poor, he’s basically eating grass for dinner. Or you take a guy who has all kinds of money coming in and compare him with someone who is barely making a living and if you were comparing lives, your first instinct would be to say who has it better?
The guy with the treasure.
The guy eating meat!
And the guy with all kinds of money coming in.
That seems kind of obvious.
Like a no brainer.
But Solomon says let me just kind of tweak this whole comparison a little bit, and say you add wickedness and righteousness to the mix.
So say the guy who has the treasure doesn’t fear God.
Say the guy who is eating meat doesn’t love others.
Say the person who is getting all this money is doing it through wickedness.
And the person who has little, let’s say he fears God, he loves the people around him and he is seeking their good.
Now, who has it better?
“Better is a little,” Solomon says, “with the fear of the Lord, with righteousness, and love.”
That shows you how valuable the fear of the Lord, righteousness, love is and how devastating wickedness is. Because you know what wickedness does, what self-centeredness does, it sucks the joy right out of stuff.
Even great stuff.
Because look it is not better just by itself to eat grass than it is to eat meat.
If you go to someone’s house for a braii and they just give you some pieces of grass on a plate, you don’t say wow, this is so much better than if you had meat. But what wickedness and self-centeredness do, they are so joy destroying that they can take something great like a treasure and actually ruin it.
Wickedness can ruin a million dollars.
That’s pretty powerful.
You look at a million dollars and you think that is so much money, can anything ruin it? Yes, easy, wickedness.
Righteousness, on the other hand, what righteousness, and the fear of God and love can do, they can actually take something that is little and something that is by itself not really all that enjoyable, like say eating herbs for dinner or living in a house where the roof leaks, and righteousness and the fear of God and love can stuff joy even into that.
Which you know, is practical, if you are thinking this year, what is the thing I can pursue this year that will produce the most joy in my family, it’s not going to be stuff, it’s not going to be an income, it’s going to be righteousness, the fear of God and love.
Righteousness maximizes your life by enabling you to peace and joy in whatever circumstance God places you in.
4. Righteousness gives you confidence about the future.
If I want to take away all your motivation for living, I just need to take away your hope.
How excited would it make you for example if I said I will give you a brand new Mercedes Benz today, but you are going to crash it and die in the afternoon?
Proverbs makes it clear that self-centered wicked living eventually results in disaster and righteous, God first, seek others good living will eventually produce just the opposite.
“Disaster pursues sinners, but the righteous are rewarded with good.”
Now ultimately we can say that with complete confidence because of what we know about eternity. Even when someone does what God wants and we know he is going to suffer for a little while as a result, Solomon expects us to keep the big picture in mind. There is such a thing as eternal life and so of course if someone says to you I am going to show you a great time and then they purchase a ticket for you to go to an island like Mauritius and on your way, the plane ride is a little bit bumpy, you don’t get off the plane in that island paradise and say, oh man, you didn’t keep your promise because the plane trip was so bumpy. When we get to heaven and God rewards us for righteousness, there is not going to be one person who is asking whether righteousness was worth it.
I remember when I was younger and my grandmother died, I received one thousand dollars as an inheritance. Now the other members of my family took their money and spent it, where I was always a saver, I didn’t like spending money, and so I took that money and I put it in an investment and ten years later, I had more money than I had at the start and I think what I was doing, was maximizing that money, I was taking the money I got and getting more out of it, that money did only help me in the moment when I was eleven, it also helped me later when I was twenty. And righteousness does that with your life. It is like a great investment. You can spend your life on self-centered living, sure but that’s a terrible investment because it not only doesn’t bring the joy you think it will now, it also brings disaster upon you in the future; where with righteous, lay yourself on the line for the good of others, when you make righteous choices, those choices bless you in the moment definitely, but those choices also reward you in the future.
This is why it is kind of silly to talk about righteous living as if it were this terrible sacrifice; sure, sometimes when you do what God wants and you sacrifice for the good of others it is going to make your life for a while less comfortable, there’s no doubt; but really if I say, I have one hundred dollars and I put it in an investment that is guaranteed to produce a million dollars, do you look at me and say oh poor man, you don’t have your hundred dollars because you put it in that investment, no you say, wow, so you are not able to use that hundred dollars now, that’s too bad, but look at what’s coming!
If you don’t want to waste this next year, if you want to make the most of it, to really live it, to flourish, to enjoy it, and to do something that will really last, endure, pursue righteousness.