“Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?”—Ecclesiastes 7:16 (ESV)
A few years ago, I was given the opportunity to preach in a worship service on Sunday morning. It was ‘Youth Sunday’ on our denominational calendar and I was preaching through Ecclesiastes.
I remember re-echoing the words of Solomon to the congregants that day that “a life without God is meaningless, and that we would lose sight of our journey if we walked for walking’s sake.” That if our lives are going to have any meaning and direction, we will have to have God not just as the centre, but the everything of our lives.
God has to be your everything. I remember re-echoing those words time and again.
After I had stepped off the pulpit, a certain gentleman got up and grabbed the mic to conclude the worship service. However, his conclusion was longer than my sermon.
In his ‘forest of words’, what struck me was this statement he made: “Don’t be too spiritual, too much of everything is dangerous.” His self-help mode had been turned on. “Most of the people who claim to be preachers”, he added “are mentally ill. They sleep in mental health facilities but come in the morning to preach to you.”
Woo! I didn’t know that! But for me, that was not the problem. My problem was that he was undoing my entire sermon before I could even settle in my seat. And he was using fear, guilt and shame to do it.
It turns out, he was speaking from ‘wisdom’, he had read Ecclesiastes 7:16 and he was showing us the danger of being “overly spiritual”. He also had application for it—the guys who are losing their minds because of being overly spiritual. At that moment, he didn’t care that he was junking my entire sermon.
The problem, however, is that that is not what Solomon is trying to relay to us. He is not saying “be moderately righteous because you will lose your minds if you become overly righteous.”
Commenting on this verse, a respected bible teacher Warren W. Wiersbe has this to say:
“In the Hebrew text, the verbs in verse 16 carry the idea of reflexive action. Solomon said to the people, “Don’t claim to be righteous and don’t claim to be wise. In other words, he is warning them against self-righteousness and the pride that comes when we think we have “arrived” and know it all.”
Now it’s clear that Solomon’s plea is not to be “very righteous or very spiritual or very wise” rather, “to claim to be very righteous, very spiritual, and very wise.”
When we start to “claim” that we are very righteous, we tolerate the nonsense that we can earn a seat at God’s table on the basis of our ‘mind-blowing righteousness’. The bible would never tolerate such rotten theology.
In verse 18 of Ecclesiastes 7, the preacher says that “It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them.” That we should look to God alone and trust Him who is able to save us from self-righteousness and pride by being our true righteousness and wisdom (Pr. 3:7; 1 Cor. 1:30-31).
Because of Jesus, you have an alien righteousness the world can never give or take away and in Him alone, wisdom the mightiest of libraries can never contain.
That is your Lifeline, AMEN.