Be not righteous overmuch, and do not make yourself overwise; why should you destroy yourself? Be not wicked overmuch, neither be a fool; why should you die before your time?Ecclesiastes 7:16 RSV
This must be a favorite Scripture of many, because it seems to advocate moderation in both good and evil. The Searcher seems to be saying,
Do not be too righteous, and do not be too wicked either, but a little of both does not hurt. We have all heard somebody say,
Religion is all right in its place, but don't let it interfere with your pleasure. Moderation in all things, in other words.
In trying to understand this, however, we must notice carefully what the Searcher is saying. The phrase in verse 16,
do not make yourself overwise, is the key to understanding the verse. In grammar this is called a reflexive pronoun; that is why the word yourself is included there. What the Searcher is really saying is,
Do not be wise to yourself, do not be wise in your own eyes in regard to your righteousness.
This is a warning against self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is the attitude of people who regard themselves as righteous because of the things they do not do. That is, in my judgment, the curse of the church today. The New Testament calls this pharisaism; the Searcher rightly labels it wickedness. Wickedness is expressed not only by murder, thievery, and sexual misconduct but also by bigotry, racism, pompousness, and cold disdain; by critical, judgmental attitudes; by harsh, sarcastic words; by vengeful and vindictive actions. The evangelical prig, male or female, is a wicked person!
Not only is self-righteousness wicked, but the opposite extreme is wicked too, the Searcher goes on to say. The foolish casting off of all moral restraints, the abandoning of one's self-discipline and going in for wild and riotous living also is wickedness.
The godly way to live is:
He who fears God shall come forth from them all (Ecclesiastes 7:18 RSV).
To fear God is a full-orbed truth. It means not only to respect God but also to acknowledge His presence in your life, not merely at the end of your life someday, but now. To fear God is to know that He sees all that you do and that it is His hand that sends circumstances into your life. The knowledge of God's power, wisdom, and love and His willingness to accept you, to change you, to forgive you, to restore you, and to stand by you, are all part of fearing God.
To fear God is to know how to live in the midst of the world and yet not be self-righteous, priggish, smug, and complacent. That kind of wisdom
gives strength to the wise man more than ten rulers that are in a city (Ecclesiastes 7:19 RSV). It is better to learn to live that way than to have ten influential friends in high places that can bail you out!
Teach me to fear You, Lord, and lay hold of the righteousness that only You can give me through Christ.
Are we waiting to acknowledge God's presence at the end of our life someday, or do we know His presence now? What are some components of fearing God?