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Bible verses about Super-Righteousness
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Ecclesiastes 7:15-18

Ecclesiastes is written chiefly for the benefit of the converted, for those striving to live an “above the sun” life. The Pharisees were not converted, thus Pharisaical self-righteousness is but a small part of what matters here. Psalm 73 is vital to our understanding of this subject, as it provides us the experience of a converted person.

What God promises about long life and prosperity will help us see the paradox clearly. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long upon the land which the LORD your God is giving you.” Deuteronomy 5:33 adds, “You shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”

“Well with you” points to prosperity. In a relationship with God, it is “normal” to expect these two promises to be fulfilled. Thus, Ecclesiastes 7:15 presents us with a paradox: The obedient neither live long nor are considered prosperous, yet the disobedient live long and are prospered. So, the question arises, why obey God?

The paradox does not always concern wealth. All that is necessary is a situation in which the Christian feels mistreated while the unconverted are being blessed. When this upside-down circumstance continues for some time, the Christian becomes impatient and compares his state with the unconverted.

Christians today are not inoculated against the kind of trial the psalmist endured. We do not always live to a ripe old age; we are not immune to cancer. Sometimes Christians suffer violent accidents. Sometimes their homes are wiped away by a tornado or earthquake, and perhaps they lose a family member. In such times, it is easy to ask, “Where was God?”

One commentator, by using the term “super-righteousness,” helps to clarify Solomon's teaching. To convey the sense of the context as well as the usage of the Hebrew, the King James Version translates the term in verse 16 as “righteous over much.” The New King James Version translates it as “overly righteous.” These translations are vague at best, wherein lies the danger. The commentator, Greidanus, feels that “super-righteousness” conveys Solomon's thought in our modern lingo.

Super-righteousness is a strange and dangerous state because it is a deceptive form of evil. In the next verse, Solomon asks, “Why destroy yourself?” and “Why should you die before your time?” In addition, he states that those who fear God will escape. Each of those phrases indicates some danger exists in the paradox.

How does this super-righteousness arise within a converted person? On the surface, it seems to be a natural effect of the circumstance. Super-righteousness is indeed a form of self-righteousness but not the kind we are familiar with. It is abnormal in that it develops as a misguided response to the paradox. The danger arises in the subtle-but-risky fruit the response often produces.

In such a paradoxical situation, continuing unabated, most would react by assuming that God is punishing them, reasoning that, if they were not sinning, they would not be experiencing this ordeal. Thus, to relieve the stress, they are likely to recall a scripture like Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

At that moment, they stand at a fork in the road. The desire to rid themselves of the sore trial sometimes motivates them to choose the wrong path: trying to become more righteous in order to impress God so that He will alter their circumstances.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Ten): Paradox


 

Ecclesiastes 7:15-17

Ecclesiastes 7:15 presents a Christian with a paradox about Christian living. A paradox is a circumstance, statement, activity, or conduct that is contrary to expectation. It is an inconsistency, a sharp irregularity, that often produces a conundrum, which is a riddle or puzzle. In Solomon's paradox, the righteous person may ask, “Why should such a situation exist? Where are the blessings God has promised? Where is God in this picture? Has He not promised prosperity and long life if we obey Him?” Yes, indeed He has.

There are two problems that may arise from this experience, both of which involve misjudgments made by the righteous. The first is to misjudge God and accuse Him of being unjust, assuming we know a better way than He does. Not much humility is shown in coming to this conclusion! We need to spend no more time on this one.

The second problem arises when one misjudges, not only God, but also the self, the circumstance, and the possible “solution.” This combination can lead to making the paradox truly destructive to one's spiritual health.

In the vivid description in Psalm 73, we see the spiritual and emotional agony of a converted man experiencing a situation similar to what Solomon describes. The author survived it because he responded in the correct way. God intervened to ensure his rescue, or he might have slid “right out of the church,” as we might say today. The author never slid into the “righteous over much” mode, as the King James Version phrases it in Ecclesiastes 7:16, or into “super-righteousness,” as some modern commentators call it. Solomon warns us that this reaction is destructive.

In Ecclesiastes 7:16-17, Solomon gives a warning right on the heels of his mention of the paradox, making a clear connection between the paradox and the possible reaction of a righteous person. He does it with a strong admonition: “Do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise: Why should you destroy yourself? Do not be overly wicked, nor be foolish: Why should you die before your time?” A stern caution indeed. Super-righteousness is a misguided response that seems to arise from our judgment that we are having all this trouble because we are being punished.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued


 

Ecclesiastes 7:16-22

Ecclesiastes 7:20 in the New Revised Standard Version says, “Surely there is no one on earth so righteous as to do good without ever sinning.” This includes even a super-righteous Christian (verse 16). Could we imagine God, who never sins under any circumstance and has continued so for eternity, being expected by a mere creation to give a blessing for performing what is required of him as a matter of course? Such arrogance! Clearly, near equality with Him would generate pride!

Solomon continues his thought in verse 22, “For many times, also, your own heart has known that even you have cursed others.” He is reminding us of how spiritually weak we are—that we cannot go a day without sinning in some manner! Thinking we can meet the terms we are setting for ourselves reveals substantial pride. Yet, by dedicating ourselves to super-righteousness, we are foolishly demanding blessings.

Solomon is not directly saying so, but such a course of straining for absolute, moral, spiritual, yet unattainable perfection leads to a frustrating dead end. Our resolve will not cause God to be persuaded to comply with our demands because it would not be good for us and our relationship with Him.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued


 

Ecclesiastes 7:16-20

Super-righteousness is destructive because one of its major fruits is a proud attitude of “God owes me” because of what we feel we have accomplished. Pride destroys humility before God and is therefore deadly. How destructive? Jesus began His preaching in the Sermon of the Mount with one of the most important of all of His sayings: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Humility begins and reinforces a right relationship.

Solomon charges us in Ecclesiastes 7:17, “Do not be overly wicked.” Does he mean we should aim at being just a little bit wicked? Of course not. He knows that we are already flawed, sinning creatures: “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin” (verse 20). He is not counseling us in any way to add sin to what we already are. His words caution against choosing to sin deliberately, for it is highly likely to lead to death. It reveals a “what's the use” attitude.

Sin is like a highly addictive drug. Solomon knows that some sin in everyone's life is inevitable because it dwells in us. But those who deliberately embrace it engrain it in their characters and are deliberately destroying the opportunity to be in God's Kingdom.

Thus, Solomon gives the solution, counseling in verse 18, “It is good that you grasp this, and do not remove your hand from the other.” The Revised English Bible translates this more clearly: “It is good to hold on to the one thing and not lose hold on the other.” What is he referring to? “Hold on to the one thing” refers to holding firmly to the counsel not to become super-righteous. “[Do] not lose hold on the other” refers to maintaining our grip in restraining ourselves from sinning. In other words, “Don't lose control of the character you have built.”

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued


 

Romans 7:13-25

Do we not believe that Paul was a sincere and dedicated example of a fully committed Christian? Yet, his testimony confirms that we have to face and accept the humbling fact that sin, as long as we are in the flesh, forever stains our character. We will never be rid of it until our change in the resurrection. Can we accept the fact that no amount of personal exertion to purge ourselves of sin will be completely effective? Paul did, and it led him to be thoroughly humbled and thankfully aware of God's mercy.

However, it did not cause him to disregard whether he sinned. Paul resolved not to sin because he loved Christ for what He had already done and continued to do every day. As a former Pharisee, he understood that super-righteousness (Ecclesiastes 7:16) on his part would never work.

In I Corinthians 15:8-10, he makes a telling statement about how he judged his past before his conversion:

Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Paul had a firm understanding that super-righteousness could not replace what Christ had already mercifully done in his behalf, and nothing he did could ever replace it. He used this as an example, as a prod to himself, so he would never forget exactly where he stood in terms of being gifted by God's grace. It took a perfect Sacrifice to pay for his past sins and also those he continued to commit as a Christian! Despite sin still being a part of him, he says, “I am what I am by means of God's grace.” He valued what was done on his behalf so deeply that he never let his appreciation lag.

He adds in Romans 4:4-8

Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
Blessed is the man to whom the LORD shall not impute sin.

Do we truly understand that we cannot add to the quality of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who lived without sinning His entire life? When His pure righteousness is accounted to us, we stand before God blameless because of His sinlessness. Even our righteousness done through our obedience following baptism and receipt of God's Holy Spirit lacks the purity of Christ's righteousness imparted and accounted to us, because our righteousness is still tainted by sin that remains within us.

I Corinthians 1:26-31 contains a truth of supreme importance to us: God called the weak and base of the world, and no flesh will ever glory in His presence. This is why our integrity must be guarded by humility because our obedience—given because of God's mercy and which He graciously accepts—is still flawed.

None of this removes our responsibilities regarding our continuing sanctification; it does not do away with our accountability to obey God's law and grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. We do not stop learning, obeying more perfectly, and maturing within the relationship that we now have with the Father and Son. Nevertheless, we cannot add to the righteousness of Christ. It is futile even to think such a thing—and that is why it is dangerous.

Upon receiving God's Spirit, attitude is of major importance. Conversion is a matter of a changed heart combined with more perfect knowledge of His truth. It is a matter of knowing, believing, living in, and accepting our place within the relationship. It is a matter of submitting with all our heart to the Father's placement of us within the body. A person with wisdom will know he must not go beyond what the relationship will permit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eleven): Paradox, Continued


 

 




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