“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”
For years, Ecclesiastes 7:16 has puzzled me. I come back to it again and again. How can the wisest man who ever lived tell us to not be overly righteous or overly wise?
To counsel as much is to say that there is such a thing. It is possible therefore to be both excessively righteous and excessively wise.
The answer to the question of how has everything to do with motives. Wisdom and goodness are not ends unto themselves, but must be understood in the context of loving God with all our being and loving one another as we love ourselves.
Otherwise we fall into the same trap the Pharisees did. Otherwise we run the risk of trying to beat God’s high score on the pinball machine that is morality and virtue.
As it turns out, trying to be holier than the Lord is a very hubristic ambition, and not one with even the slightest chance of success.
This must be understood as a subset of what it means when we read “Be holy for I am holy.” Our righteousness is like filthy rags unless it is actually Christ’s righteousness. And our wisdom is folly unless it is actually the wisdom of God.
But in that case, we are bound to subordinating our definition of what does or does not constitute righteousness and wisdom and God sets the standard. we cannot improve it by making it more strict or severe or austere, nor by making it more lax and accommodating or along preferable lines.
As a consequence, we find that subordinating our definition of righteousness and wisdom to God makes genuine humility not only possible, but inevitable. Only in such a condition will the Lord bless our goodness and discretion because only then will they truly be righteousness and wisdom.
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