Biblical Rigtheousness Goes Beyond the Private
For biblical righteousness is more than a private and personal affair; it includes social righteousness as well. And social righteousness, as we learn from the law and the prophets, is concerned with seeking man’s liberation from oppression, together with the promotion of civil rights, justice in the law courts, integrity in business dealings and honour in home and family affairs. Thus Christians are committed to hunger for righteousness in the whole human community as something pleasing to a righteous God.
Taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7: Christian Counter-Culture) by John R.W. Stott Copyright (c) 1985 by John R.W. Stott. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Dedicated to the Project of Self-Salvation
Jesus does not divide the world into the moral “good guys” and the immoral “bad guys.” He shows us that everyone is dedicated to a project of self-salvation, to using God and others in order to get power and control for themselves. We are just going about it in different ways.
The word righteous comes from the old Norse word rettviss and the old English word rihtwis, both of which mean “just, upright, virtuous.” This meaning has been carried into the modern English words righteous and righteousness, although nowadays those words have strong religious connotations because they are usually used to translate the Hebrew word tzedek.
Tzedek is a common word in the Hebrew Bible, often used to describe people who act in accordance with God’s wishes, but it is also an attribute of God and of God’s judgment of people (which is often harsh but always thought to be just). The linkage of righteousness and judgmentalism is captured in some modern definitions of righteous, such as “arising from an outraged sense of justice, morality, or fair play.” The link also appears in the term self-righteous, which means “convinced of one’s own righteousness, especially in contrast with the actions and beliefs of others; narrowly moralistic and intolerant.”
Leaving the Letters up to God
There is a story told about a Jewish farmer, who ended up stuck in his field for the Sabbath. As the sun went down, the farmer realized he would have to remain in the field until sunset the next day, for according to the laws of the Sabbath, travel was prohibited. This resulted in him missing both the synagogue services and the family’s Seder meal.
Arriving home the next evening, he was met by his angry wife and a fuming Rabbi. The Rabbi began to lay into the farmer for not taking the sabbath more seriously. Finally, he asked, What did you do in the field by yourself all day? Did you at least pray?”
“Rabbi,” the farmer answered, “I’m not a very smart man and I don’t know many prayers. All the prayers I knew, I said in five minutes. What I did the rest of the day was simply recite the alphabet. I left it up to God to make some words out of all those letters.”
Stuart Strachan Jr, Source Material from Ronald Rolheiser, The Restless Heart, The Crown Publishing Group. 2004, p.35.
Oaks of Righteousness
In his excellent book, An Unhurried Life, Alan Fadling contrasts our overly busy lives with a vision of the kingdom from Isaiah chapter 61:
Isaiah envisioned a kingdom in which those people in need of grace become, over time, solidly rooted in God’s grace, enough so as to be able to extend his grace to others. He envisioned a kingdom where we would experience favor, comfort, blessing, honor, new perspectives and deepening roots that enable us to do the rebuilding, restoring, renewing work in places, structures and persons who have long been ruined (Is 61:4). These characteristics of oaks of righteousness are the fruit of apprenticeship.
Further, we, as these oaks of righteousness planted by the Lord, put his splendor on display, a display quite different from human excitement, enthusiasm and thrills. Splendor is quieter, stronger, less hurried and more deeply rooted. Oaks take a long time to grow. A newly planted acorn can take between two and three decades to provide significant shade, and these slow-growing oaks can live more than two hundred years. One reason for their longevity is the taproot they send deep into the earth that makes them very drought-resistant.
Oaks are indeed solid, stable, reliable, majestic trees—but it takes them a while to get there. Do we take that same long view of growing in Christ ourselves and helping others do the same? If so, what can we do to help others become attentive and teachable apprentices to him so that one day they will shine with his splendor and flourish in the fruit of his Spirit? Whatever it is that we do, I believe it will require a less hurried, longer perspective approach than we have commonly taken.
Taken from An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus’ Rhythms of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling Copyright (c) 2013 by Alan Fadling. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The One Thing Going For Us
As for Christians, well, we really have just one thing going for us. We have publicly declared… that we are desperately in need of Another to give us his righteousness, to complete us, to live in us. We have publicly and flagrantly abandoned the project of self-justification that is at the heart of every person’s compulsion to manage perceptions…
This means telling the world-before the world does its own investigative journalism—that we’re not as bad as they think sometimes. We’re worse…If we’re being honest about our own beauty and brokenness, the beautiful broken One will make himself known to our neighbors.
A Righteous Car Dealer
I knew a man who was the head of a set of car dealerships in the South. The way in which things were done was you could come in and negotiate, and the salesman had a pretty big window of what they could give you the car for. They would negotiate, you would negotiate, and it was a lot of horse-trading going on except there was car-trading I guess. The salesman couldn’t go lower than this, but they could get this high and so it was a tradition. Somebody did some research and found out that men always were better negotiators with the salesmen than women and white men and black men were better negotiators than African American women.
When somebody actually looked at what was going on, African-American women were regularly paying far more for their cars and were actually subsidizing the price of what white men who were paying for cars in that particular town. They realized that even though nobody thought they were doing something — if the result was unjust, and it was unjust — then even though there was nobody in there who originally had said let’s do it this way because that way we will really hurt African American women, but they were hurting African-American women.
There’s two things you can do. On the one hand, you could say because we’re not deliberately trying to hurt African-American women, we make better profits this way, we have no responsibility.
The owner, a Christian man, said we do have responsibility and he changed the model. He changed the whole approach. His own profits have gone down, but he says it’s the only way to be just. Have you got the eyes to see systemic evil or are you a typical white Westerner? I know a lot of you aren’t white and a lot of you aren’t Westerners, but I’m particularly looking to you. Do you have the eyes to see that kind of thing? If you do see them, do you take responsibility?
Righteousness is Out of Style
Sometimes people are careless and speak disparagingly of all human righteousness, as if there were no such thing that pleased God. They often cite Isaiah 64:6 which says our righteousness is as filthy rags. It is true–gloriously true–that none of God’s people, before or after the cross, would be accepted by an immaculately holy God if the perfect righteousness of Christ were not imputed to us (Romans 5:19; 1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
But that does not mean that God does not produce in those “justified” people (before and after the cross) an experiential righteousness that is not “filthy rags.” In fact, he does; and this righteousness is precious to God and is required, not as the ground of our justification (which is the righteousness of Christ only), but as an evidence of our being truly justified children of God.
What is Wrong with the World Today?
“What is wrong with the world today?” a Times newspaper editorial once asked. G. K. Chesterton wrote in reply, “Dear sirs, I am. Yours faithfully, G.K. Chesterton.”
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on Righteousness. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!