“Don’t be over-righteous” is a familiar caution often given to those who seek God in truth. These are from ‘well-wishers’ who tell their fellow brothers and sisters to attend a Sunday Service and discourage them from involving in spiritual activities like meaningful Bible Studies, Outreach Ministries or Personal Devotion. They are satisfied with what they hear in the Sunday sermons and want others to be satisfied with that without ever reading the Word of God. There will be so many social and welfare activities connected to the church, and no one will object you in participating in those activities, instead, they will insist on people attending those, because the devil knows that letting you grow in spirituality is a danger to him. Mostly, these discouraging words dominate people’s minds because of the prejudice prevailing in the church and inadvertently causes people to stay away from Jesus.
People who serve Jesus to earn credits become a stumbling block for the innocent worshipers as they suffer from depression or get caught up in a sinful life. Often, this will become a visible warning to the ignorant worshipers that going near to God may lead your life in this way. They come to this decision because they think that only the fallen people serve God genuinely.
The Bible itself has recorded one such advice given by King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. While we read that advice, we should understand that the Bible is depicting all the characters as transparent as they lived, so that we may choose the right thing from the lives of our fore-runners. Solomon spent a meaningless life despite the wisdom given to him by God. Throughout his life, we find him struggling with lust. Yet God kept his promise and gave him a peaceful life, and prevented hostility in his regime. Despite the solemn environment, he failed to discern what happens at the end and assumed that the righteous people are perishing while the wicked are living a long life.
In this meaningless life of mine I have seen both of these: the righteous perishing in their righteousness, and the wicked living long in their wickedness.Ecclesiastes 7:15
David, the father of Solomon, witnessed the flourishing lives of the wicked and wondered for a while why should I live a clean life. However, David was able to discern the truth (Psalm 73:12-20). Are we stuck with the assumption that the righteous are suffering endlessly in this world? If we think that the righteous are flourishing, it is evident that we are living a meaningless life.
Over-Righteous – Worldly View
With this background, Solomon was developing his thoughts further and recorded his advice as follows:
Do not be over righteous, neither be over wise—why destroy yourself?Ecclesiastes 7:16-18
Do not be over wicked, and do not be a fool— why die before your time? It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.
It appears like Solomon is advising us to lead a balanced life, partly righteous and partly unrighteous. Jesus is particular about His people walking with Him else they are with the devil. He warned His people that the world would hate them because of their unbalanced life. In the New Testament, starting with Jesus, all His followers led a non-compromising life and faced trials and death sentences as they did not see this worldly life as their end. They were eager to live with their Savior, and no concubines or prostitutes were able to lure them. As a result, John was able to witness the saints standing in the presence of Jesus.
I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.Revelation 7:14
When Solomon said that “the righteous are perishing,” he would have talked about the partly righteous who tried their best to prove themselves puritans by way of abstinence, fastings, pilgrimages, and penance. When Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to His Lord, who bestowed him with wisdom. It is for sure Solomon himself was caught in the snares explained by him in the below verse.
I find more bitter than death the woman who is a snare, whose heart is a trap and whose hands are chains. The man who pleases God will escape her, but the sinner she will ensnare.Ecclesiastes 7:26
Over-Righteous – Religious View
Opting importance to religion more than God is a kind of over-righteousness. People give attention to the order of worship rather than worshipping God. Fellowship with God is over-ruled by various groups according to gender, age classifications and ongoing projects. People restrict themselves to charity and utterly failed in sharing the love of Christ to the one who needs God’s love, provision and protection. Paul insisted that the believers should welcome people weak in faith without any argument (Romans 14:1). Paul requested his believers to be inclusive and not exclusive. The tenet of the below verse conveys a different meaning from that of Solomon.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Romans 12:16
Paul, while suggesting the believers to be kind to the people outside the church, he asked the followers of Christ to set apart the evildoers within the Church. Contradicting the suggestion given by the Psalmist to avoid the presence of evildoers, Paul purged the evildoers from the congregation(1 Corinthians 5:13). We act over-righteously and have them with us to entertain people so that more people may fill the pews of our church. We deliberate much about the evil things they render but spare them in the name of fellowship. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). People make an effort to reconcile the purged believers with the church to become sons of God.
True Righteous Life
The Bible neither asks us to be over-righteous nor teaches us to rely on our righteousness but to rely on the holiness of Jesus. Unlike Solomon, Paul considered every gain as a loss for the sake of Christ. We must understand that every fame, intellectual property and actual property would bury us that we may not be able to resurrect from the dead at the call of the trumpet. The below words written by Paul (and Timothy) to the holy people of God are relevant to us and self-explanatory.
But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.Philippians 3:7-11
These will become possible in our lives only when we believe that God sent His only beloved Son as an atonement for the sins of His people. Jesus, the Son of God, died on the cross, where we should have died eternally, and because of His righteousness and obedience, God the Father resurrected Him as the first fruit of the resurrection. Shunning away everything that hinders us from resurrecting from the dead will be inevitable. However, Jesus allows the righteous to continue to do good and the wicked to continue to do wrong. If we are cleansed by the blood of Christ and become His children, it is time to stay worthy of His children.
Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.”Revelation 22:11