The Blessings of the Righteous

Stephen Terry


Commentary for the January 31, 2015 Sabbath School Lesson


“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other. Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.” Psalm 85:10-11. NIV

The aphorisms of Proverbs, chapters ten through thirteen, seem to have a consistent theme: life is better for the righteous. They have a strong foundation that prevents their fall when trouble arrives for everyone else.[i] They will never go hungry.[ii] Many other blessings are pronounced for the righteous as well. But in the context of the Old Testament, how does one become this righteous person? According to the Pentateuch, it is achieved by keeping the Law.[iii] It would seem then that righteousness comes through obedience, and if we are obedient to the Decalogue and perhaps a host of other lesser laws derived from that greater one, we are righteous and therefore blessed with all these things and more. That seems pretty direct and straight forward. So if we simply focus on obedience, we can all be righteous. Simple, isn’t it? Or is it?

It is so simple that no one has achieved it except Jesus, and perhaps Enoch and Elijah. There may have been others such as Noah. But when we make comparisons, Jesus was uniquely righteous through the divinity He possessed, while Enoch and Elijah were unique for entering heaven without dying first. When we consider the population of the Earth is over seven billion, today, and couple that with all the billions who have lived up until this time, it becomes pretty astonishing how small the list actually is. Some might argue in favor of a few other candidates, but whether you can wring out a hundred or even a thousand from a list of potentials, the number is still abysmally small. Paul felt it was non-existent. He wrote that no one was righteous for all have sinned.[iv] In other words, no one has achieved the obedience required by the Pentateuch. Is righteousness then an impossible standard? Can mankind find salvation in spite of his disobedience? Or is obedience to the Law our only hope for eternal life?

Deuteronomy 6:25 would not have been written were there not an intent for the Law to produce righteousness and life. Yet, it failed in that purpose and the law which was intended for good, instead only brought condemnation and death.[v] In the face of universal transgression, the Law cannot be anything but just, and justice demands full price for sin, for us as for the primordial pair, Adam and Eve. That price was death. It was a price paid by that first couple, and it is a price that continues to stalk us today. Every time we look at the Law, it confronts us with its demand for obedience, and we are shamed by our disobedience. We may attempt to finagle our way out of that condemnation, by insisting that the demands of the Law have been changed or somehow set aside. But if this were true, then death would also have been set aside. However, we can see that it continues to reign over all of us, and not just us, but all of creation as well. One might say that being born, whether man, animal or plant, is to begin to die. Can we find a way out of this charnel house? Righteousness seems to be the key to eternal life that unlocks the golden gates of heaven and allows us to enter in. If we cannot be obedient to be righteous and saved, can we obtain righteousness some other way?

Jesus answered that question when He said that He is the way.[vi] He did not say “a” way, but “the” way. That leaves little room for any philosophy that teaches that there are many paths to heaven. There may be many different experiences along that path, but there is only one path. That is because Jesus is the only one able to give us what we need to enter heaven. We need righteousness to enter. We cannot be righteous because of our universal disobedience. But Jesus was obedient on our behalf, even obedient to the point of paying the price of death for sin.[vii] Though He was without sin, He willingly took our reward, so we could receive His. He traded His righteousness for our sin. Because that righteousness is worth all of heaven and our sin in contrast is worthless, it becomes a gift beyond our ability to reciprocate.[viii] Perhaps this is why a natural outgrowth of accepting Christ’s gift to us is an overtly more obedient life, not in order to achieve righteousness, but in gratitude for righteousness received. The love which our Savior so willingly showers upon us germinates a seedling of love that begins to grow within our hearts. As it does, we find ourselves with a growing love for God and our fellow human beings. Since that love brings us into harmony with the principles behind the Decalogue, we find ourselves obedient, not because of any effort to be so, but because Christ’s presence in our hearts brings it about.[ix]

The heart cannot endure a struggle of war with itself. Once we allow God’s presence to enter our hearts, our struggle for supremacy of self over others begins to wane. We find ourselves loving the very Law which we may have despised before. We find that because we love God, the first four commandments of the Decalogue are not a burden, but simply echoes of a desire to be in a loving relationship with our Creator and Deliverer. We won’t want another. We would not want to cheapen the relationship by worshipping an effigy instead of the real thing. We would not want to take His name on our lips as a curse. Could you imagine taking the name of your truest love and using it as a curse word? The thought would not even enter your mind. In the same way that we would look forward to every date, every outing, with our precious loved one, we would look forward to the blessing of spending special, intimate time with God. Who would say of their fiancé, “What a burden it is to have to show up to spend time with her only when she chooses. Why can’t she just accept whatever time I want to give her?” If we heard someone say that regarding their relationship, we might question how much love one has for the other. Rather, young lovers tend to dote on every opportunity to be together, no matter how inconvenient. So it is when the love growing in our hearts reaches out to the love flowing from the throne of grace. As a matter of course, things like the Sabbath become a matter of love and blessing, not a matter of earning salvation, for grace has already provided that.

The same love that brings us closer to God and consequently in harmony with the first four commandments, also brings us closer to our fellow man and in harmony with the last six. As the love of Christ flows out of our hearts toward others, we naturally will be more respectful, not only honoring our parents but everyone else as well. We won’t want to steal their blessings, be they life, wife, property, or reputation. We won’t even entertain the thought of doing those things in our minds. It is out of the heart that these things come,[x] and if our heart has been filled with the presence of Christ, then as He fulfilled the Law through love, that Law will also be fulfilled in us, not as a matter of obedience, but out of love.[xi]

Perhaps we can see, as a result of the life and death of Jesus, the aphorisms in these chapters in Proverbs are in their own way illustrating the wisdom of a life of love. For as each dichotomy is expressed, we may see that the way of the righteous is the way of love and the way of the unrighteous is the way of selfishness. If we see righteousness only as a matter of obedience, then we can easily fall into the trap of assuming that because someone is blessed they are more righteous and if someone is suffering then they must have been disobedient. Job struggled with this when he suffered in spite of his righteous deeds. The Jews of Jesus day also tended to equate success or failure in life as a matter of obedience or disobedience and the resulting judgment against them by a vindictive God. But Jesus corrected them on this.[xii] God is not motivated to seek vengeance against the disobedient. It is a strange work that He will one day deal with sin. Throughout the universe, it is a problem unique to our Earth. The rest of His creation operates on the heartbeat of love. Only here have we chosen a different path. Yet, in spite of that, God cannot be other than He is. He continues to love and send his blessings on righteous and sinners alike,[xiii] and with His loving presence in our hearts, we will want to do the same.



[i] Proverbs 11:8

[ii] Proverbs 10:3

[iii] Deuteronomy 6:25

[iv] Romans 3:10, 23

[v] Romans 7:10

[vi]John 14:6

[vii] Philippians 2:8

[viii] Romans 6:23

[ix] Romans 8:10-11

[x] Mark 7:21-22

[xi] Romans 13:10

[xii] Luke 13:4-5

[xiii] Matthew 5:43-48



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