Sunday, May 30, 2010

2010 – May 30 – Avoiding the Extremes

Study from God’s Word Today I was led to study the Proverbs of the Teacher – Sayings of Solomon dealing with life issues coming from the wisdom of having lived for many years … Passage for Reflection: Ecclesiastes 7: 16 - 18… NIV 16 Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise — why destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool — why die before your time?
For Scriptural Comparison: Ecclesiastes 7: 16 - 18… NKJV 16 Do not be overly righteous, Nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? 17 Do not be overly wicked, Nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?

My Journal for Today: Yes, there are PROVERBS in the book of Ecclesiastes as well as those in the Book of Proverbs, both attributed to the teachings of Solomon. So, what’s the difference? Well, the answer lies partly in when they were written in Solomon’s life. Proverbs was written much earlier in Solomon’s reign, very likely for a younger father to impart what wisdom God had entrusted with him to his first born son, his family, and Gods’ people. But Ecclesiastes was written to impart wisdom to all of God’s peoples from a King who had lived many years in disobedience to God’s law and His commands to Kings of His chosen people. In Ecclesiastes these are the proverbs of experience rather than the teachings of anticipation we find in Proverbs.

Solomon had learned, by this time in his life, important lessons from life about life; and he was compelled, and I believe Spirit-led – to document those lessons into the Book of the Teacher, which we call “Ecclesiastes.” And today one of those lessons, which teacher Smith focused upon, had to do with doing what we can to avoid extremes in our life. The lesson, in a nutshell, is to find healthy balance in life so as to avoid the stresses from extremism which shorten our life span. “Moderation in all things” … is the saying we’ve probably all heard. And I enjoy the translators of the NIV version of Eccles. 7: 16-18 coining non-words, like “overrighteous” or “overwicked” to describe the extremes of life styles which we can choose to be a part of as we live for Christ. These may not be real words; but they communicate the meaning of moving in our lives to find the balance of Godly living which avoids extremism, legalism, and perfectionism.

But a teaching like this one raises questions, which are explored by author/editor Smith. We know that we’re all wicked (see Romans 3: 23). We’re all sinners; so avoiding being overly wicked is certainly an extreme I can see we should avoid. However, what about the admonition in today’s passage to avoid being “overrighteous?” Is it ever the case that believers should tone down our efforts to be sinless? Didn’t Jesus, as Smith points out, say (in Matt. 5: 48), Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect? And that one caused me to pause a bit when thinking about today’s lesson from Ecclesiastes; because I’d certainly like to be a sinner who is striving hard to become like the model of “sinlessness” we have in our Savior, Jesus. And I know that God’s Spirit has been imparted into my heart to help reshape me, through sanctification, into my Lord’s image.

So, what about the words in Solomon’s teachings to avoid being “overrighteous?” Well, I agree with Dr. Smith that the answer lies in THE EFFORT to be sinless, not the aspiration toward sinlessness. Have you ever known someone, likely a very insecure Christian, who became “burned out” from mind-numbing and body-draining efforts to be perfect? This is the person who can – in their own eyes – never be good enough? And when we see such a person, we can reasonably say that we’re observing “graceless” perfectionism and a person who’s captured in the tentacles of legalism.

God’s grace, which was modeled by Jesus, is a life of balance between grace and truth; and that should be the life we live … with enough grace in our lives to forgive our own foibles and with a pursuit of truth which drives us into a lifestyle of worship where obedience to Christ’s commands is our goal and prize. We can avoid the extremes of self righteousness where legalism becomes a lifestyle. And hence, here is the self examination question, Smith uses to get us to look at ourselves in this regard: ”From what I honestly know of myself, do I need to be far more harsh with myself … or far more gentle?” And I’ll charge you to answer that one for yourself as I pray for myself.

My Prayer for Today: Lord, help me to be diligent in my commitment to be more like You; but give me the grace to forgive myself, as You do, when I fall short. Amen

No comments: