Friday, May 14, 2010

Extreme Excessivity - Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

"Do not be excessively righteous,
and do not be overly wise.
Why should you ruin yourself?
Do not be excessively wicked,
and do not be a fool.
Why should you die before your time?
It is good that you grasp one thing,
and also not let go of the other;
for the one who fears God
comes forth with both of them."
(Ecclesiastes 7:16-18)

Man, we tend to do extremes - and we tend to do them with excess. I know for me it is often "all or nothing". If I am going to serve Christ then - whammo - I'm tossing all my eggs in the basket and I'm going to serve full throttle - until I serve myself slap dab into the middle of burn out! If I'm going to bail on Christ then I'm going to do it with much gusto and shake my fist in His merciful face with all the arrogant chutzpa I can muster! I have always been a person of extreme excessivity so these particular verses are a needed balance for my wavering scales.

Upon first glance I had to pause and wonder at what Solomon could possibly mean when he wrote "do not be excessively righteous and do not be overly wise." Aren't righteousness and wisdom things we are to seek after and strive for? Don't we want more and more of them? Yes, of course, but the overarching theme of these verses is on balance - the BALANCED Christian life.

"Do not be EXCESSIVELY righteous...."

We have all run into the radically ridiculous Christian. The one who is so far in his extremeness that he becomes absolutely unuseful in his attempts to be used. Throughout history the extremely religious have been around. There have always been those who have sought self-denial and self-mortification as an outward form of excessive righteousness. There were the docetic stylites who so wanted to know God and so wanted to get away from their own flesh that they built huge pillars upon which to live. Up on these pillars they would deny themselves and show the seriousness of their faith. The godliest of the group were the ones with the tallest towers and the fewest neighbors. Christianity has seen its share of self-denying monasticism and extreme reclusivity. Even today we find those who seek to live in communes and congregate in holy huddles - avoiding any contact with culture to extreme levels. Self-righteous separatism is certainly one example of excessive righteousness that needs to be avoided.

However, that type of excessive "righteousness" is not what cuts at my own core this morning. No, I am convicted by another form of extreme excessivity - the excessive "righteousness" that is manifested in a critical spirit. I can be "excessively righteous" and "overly wise" in setting my opinions about Christ and His holy doctrines as the benchmark of holiness for everyone else. I can be a "righteous" jerk and this morning I am convicted that a critical spirit is not a truly righteous spirit at all. It is a fault-finding, self-glorifying counterfeit and it needs to die.

We are not to be excessively "righteous" nor excessively wicked. Bottom line we are wicked - even our attempts at excessive righteousness show our tendancy towards wicked pride. Oh how we need the wisdom and the grace that is given in Christ to strike the balance. Oh how we need to take hold and "grasp" the gracious wisdom that is found in Him.

Henry wrote:

"Wisdom will direct us in the way between the two extremes and will keep us always in the way of duty. Take hold of this wisdom not to run thyself into either snare. Take hold of the bridle by which thy headstrong passions must be held in, and having taken hold, keep hold."

Oh Lord my God - please keep me from extreme excessivity by keeping me grounded, balanced, and united to You!

In His glorious grace,


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