When have you taken time to work on a relationship?
The word “righteous” has a bad reputation in our society, because it brings to mind people who are “self-righteous” or “holier-than-thou.” But in the world of the Bible, a person who is righteous is in right relationship with God and with their neighbors. They treat others fairly, in line with the commandments of God.
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings about how to live a good life, and it contains 83 mentions of the words “righteous” and “righteousness.” The proverbs “provide insightful instruction, which is righteous, just, and full of integrity” (Proverbs 1:3). God “blesses the home of the righteous” (Proverbs 3:33). “The expectations of the righteous result in joy” (Proverbs 10:28), and the “light of the righteous rejoices” (Proverbs 13:9).
There is nothing “self-righteous” about such people. Instead, they are in right relationship with God and with their neighbors, and most have gained this status over time. When I was first ordained as a pastor, I remember feeling resentful that some churches would only consider candidates if they had ten or more years of experience. “What do they know that I don’t know?” I wondered. “I have a divinity school degree! I passed my ordination exams!”
Then I entered my first church and began to learn about the dynamics of congregational life, the difficulties of counseling, and the many challenges of ministry that were never addressed in divinity school. I had much to learn about becoming right with God and with the people around me.
Yes, I learned that Proverbs was right to say, “The empty-headed cause conflict out of pride; those who take advice are wise” (verse 10). For me, wisdom came from listening to mentors and colleagues in a clergy support group. I found that it is true that riches “gotten quickly will dwindle,” whether those riches are monetary or spiritual. Riches such as faith, trust, and integrity take time to develop, and “those who acquire them gradually become wealthy” (verse 11). I have discovered that there are no quick-fixes for problems in a congregation, and that the right solutions need to be implemented slowly and deliberately.
The good news is that God is active in our efforts to become righteous. When we take the time to work on becoming right with God and with our neighbors, we find that these efforts are rewarded. Proverbs says that “longing fulfilled is a tree of life” (verse 12), and this is certainly true when our longing is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, as well as to love our neighbor as ourselves. Such efforts bring us vitality and fruitfulness, as individuals and congregations.
Righteous God, help me to take the time to become right with you and with others. Amen.