In a world of situational ethics and the forced acceptance of all beliefs and lifestyles, does it really matter if I live a righteous life? Is there really any kind of standard? Who enforces it? Are there really any consequences for not living righteously? Again, Solomon weighs in, with at least 68 passages in Proverbs dealing with the idea of blessing for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.
Who enforces the standard?
Prov. 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the LORD tests hearts.”
Prov. 15:3 “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good.”
God is the judge. He tests hearts like a goldsmith tests gold. He sees everything, whether good or bad.
Is it really that important?
Prov. 23:15-18 "My son, if your heart is wise, my heart too will be glad. My inmost being will exult when your lips speak what is right. Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the LORD all the day. Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off."
Prov. 15:24 “The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.”
Prov. 19:16 “Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises his ways will die.”
If you continue in the fear of the Lord, you have a future. (What's the alternative? No future.) The prudent life leads up, away from hell. The commandment keeper also keeps his life. Otherwise, he dies. Is it that important? Yeah, I'd say so.
Yet, it's not only important because it averts destruction, but because God blesses the righteous. You see, righteousness allows for hope.
Prov. 10:24, 28 What the wicked dreads will come upon him, but the desire of the righteous will be granted. . . . The hope of the righteous brings joy, but the expectation of the wicked will perish."
While the wicked have nothing but dread, the righteous can confidently expect the joy of the Lord.
Prov. 11:18 “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but one who sows righteousness gets a sure reward.”
Prov. 11:23 “The desire of the righteous ends only in good, the expectation of the wicked in wrath.”
Christians should never feel hopeless. Because we are living righteous lives, we have a hope that can be counted on. We can wait for the sure reward. God has also set up many other blessings for the righteous. (Perhaps this is a good place to remind ourselves that proverbs are general statements that are generally true. The temporal blessings all carry that caveat, the eternal ones do not.)
The righteous are established.
Prov. 10:25 “When the tempest passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous is established forever.”
Prov. 10:30 “The righteous will never be removed, but the wicked will not dwell in the land.”
Prov. 12:7 “The wicked are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous will stand.”
Prov. 12:19 “Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment.”
The wicked often seem to get ahead, but their status rarely survives even in this world and when death comes, they are truly removed. The righteous remains, and when death comes he is truly established.
The righteous are a blessing to their children.
Prov. 11:21 “Be assured, an evil person will not go unpunished, but the offspring of the righteous will be delivered.”
Prov. 20:7 “The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him!”
The children of the righteous are blessed and delivered. They are inherently better off than the children of the wicked. How often does a kid get a second chance because of who his parents are? Not the evil influence of powerful men, but a situation like this: "This is Joe's kid. Joe's a good guy. I'm going to give his kid a second chance." That happens, quite often. Why? Because the righteousness of the parent blesses the child.
The righteous are provided for.
Prov. 10:2-3 "Treasures gained by wickedness do not profit, but righteousness delivers from death. The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry, but he thwarts the craving of the wicked."
Prov. 13:25 “The righteous has enough to satisfy his appetite, but the belly of the wicked suffers want.”
Have Christians ever starved? Yes. But the general truth is that, unless he needs them as modern day Jobs, God provides for His own.
Prov. 22:4 “The reward for humility and fear of the LORD is riches and honor and life.”
Prov. 28:25 “A greedy man stirs up strife, but the one who trusts in the LORD will be enriched.”
We are not proclaiming the Prosperity Gospel, but, generally speaking, if a man is righteous and follows the principles in Proverbs, he will do well for himself.
The righteous walk surely.
Prov. 10:9 “Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”
Prov. 11:3 “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.”
Prov. 15:19 “The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns, but the path of the upright is a level highway.”
Making decisions about how to live can be hard, but if we follow the principles of righteousness we can be sure of the path. Our lives will be like a level highway that we can cruise. Not that everything will be easy, but choosing the path and knowing where to go can be easy if we are guided by righteousness and integrity.
The righteous can rely upon God.
Prov. 14:26 “In the fear of the LORD one has strong confidence, and his children will have a refuge.”
Prov. 18:10 “The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe.”
Prov. 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”
Prov. 21:21 “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.”
We can trust in the Lord and have a refuge. He will be a strong tower to keep us safe and as we pursue righteousness, we will find life. If we live in righteousness, we can count on the Lord for help and protection.
Finally, the righteous live.
Prov. 19:23 “The fear of the LORD leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.”
Prov. 11:19 “Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.”
Prov. 14:11 “The house of the wicked will be destroyed, but the tent of the upright will flourish.”
These passages not only show the security of the righteous, but the end of the wicked: death. We can be blessed by God for living righteously, or we can live in dread because of our wickedness and, ultimately, die.
So, how do I live righteously? A few quick passages:
Prov. 12:10 “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast, but the mercy of the wicked is cruel.”
Prov. 29:7 “A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.”
A righteous man is kind even to animals and doesn't squash the rights of the poor. Instead, he treats them as people too.
Prov. 13:5 “The righteous hates falsehood, but the wicked brings shame and disgrace.”
Prov. 15:28 “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.”
The righteous man never lies and thinks before he speaks.
Prov. 19:11 “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.”
Prov. 12:26 “One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray.”
The righteous man can control his temper and his life is a guide to all who see him.
So, yes, there is a standard, set, and watched, by God. It does matter because the wicked will be destroyed while the righteous enjoy many blessings both here and eternally.
Prov. 15:9 “. . . He loves him who pursues righteousness.”