By Elizabeth Yeamans Simrell (Guest Blogger)
Scripture Readings: Ecclesiastes 7-8
Key Scripture Verses: Ecclesiastes 7:16-18 (NIV, Life Application Bible)
“Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself? Do not be overwicked, 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.”
We might ask ourselves what Solomon means here—can we be too righteous, too wise, or even too wicked? The wise King Solomon believed we could.
Solomon clearly understood that no one on earth could be perfect and never sin, as he explicitly says so a few verses down in chapter 7 of Ecclesiastes and he warns us that how we judge others in their behavior might find us embarrassing ourselves when we realize that we also judge unfairly. He calls us to examine ourselves carefully on this point.
But, we are called to be righteous—can we truly be too righteous? Not really, at least not in God’s eyes, but if we see ourselves as good and better than others, seeing ourselves as righteous in our own eyes, we fail to see the truth. A haughty, prideful attitude can get us in big trouble with God.
When we believe ourselves to be more righteous and wiser than others around us, we tend to be legalistic in our faith, just like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time who nitpicked over the law and missed the spirit of the law. Remember when the Jewish leaders challenged Jesus about healing on the Sabbath and he answered them with a parable about the shepherd looking for the lost sheep and saving it from perishing, even though it was the Sabbath? At times we can be technically right about something, but if it causes someone to stumble and it causes discord, then we don’t do what is right by our neighbor to harp on it. Sometimes a tactful dismissal of an argument is more valuable than arguing the point that no one can agree on and causing a struggle and hurt feelings. So, if we believe so strongly in calling a sin a sin, and failing to love our neighbor because of it, then are we not sinning ourselves by creating discord?
If we tout ourselves as so wise, we will be humbled the very time we do something that is not so wise and others make a point to let us know. Ever done that? I have. Sometimes we learn this one the hard way.
Perhaps the point in not being overrighteous or overwise is that we should be humble, even when we are righteous and wise, because these traits come from our faith and God’s grace in making us righteous and wise—these come from the Holy Spirit who guides us in understanding and opens our hearts. It is a mistake to believe we are righteous and wise in our own right.
And can we be overwicked? Certainly, we can—we can know what is wrong and outwardly and defiantly choose to do it anyway, spitting in the very face of God! “Why die before your time?”
Solomon tells us not to be fools, but to use discernment. We are to trust in God and follow him, but never once to believe our goodness or our wisdom comes from our own effort.
To be too righteous in our own eyes will destroy us. To be too wicked, defying God boldly and intentionally, is foolish and can also cause us to perish. “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes.”
May God grant us the wisdom to see ourselves with the eyes of humility and his discernment in all that we do.