The Path of Righteousness 31st Jan 2021

This morning I’d like to speak about the wisdom of ‘righteousness’. The Book of Proverbs tells us that one of
its goals is to teach us ‘righteousness’ (see Prov. 1.3).
Proverbs 8.20 (NRSV):
Why is it wise to be righteous? Why is acting with integrity really the best strategy for living life well.
When the Book of Proverbs speaks about righteousness, it uses a cluster of words. And these words may
differ depending on which version of the English Bible you are using.
So, the idea of righteousness is that there’s a morally right attitude to have over the course of life. There’s a
morally correct way to treat everyone. There’s a morally proper way to conduct our social relations and how
we organise society.
Proverbs 11:19 (NLT)
Godly people find life;
evil people find death.
Godliness (which is the word the NLT uses for righteousness) is a good strategy for finding life. I need you to
notice what that proverb is saying. Godliness is like positioning yourself to breath. Acting without integrity is
like trying to breathe underwater. It can’t be done (without equipment). Or let me try to use another image.
Integrity and righteousness are like working with the grain of God’s Creation. God has created the universe in
such way that we are designed to thrive only when we live our moral lives in a certain way.
When you act in a righteous manner, you’re taking the tool, which is yourself, and using it in the
circumstances of life in a way that you were designed to use yourself.
So, godliness or righteousness is just the smart strategy for life.
Some, whether they know it or not, choose an inferior or even harmful strategy for life.
Some, for example, think the best strategy to navigate life well is to make sure you have a hefty bank balance:
Proverbs 16:8 (NRSV)
But righteousness is more valuable than all. Jesus would put it this way:
Matthew 6.33 (NKJV):
33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.
So why is righteousness such a wise strategy for life?
What I’d like to do is to use one of the images we find in the Book of Proverbs. It’s the image where
righteousness is compared to a path or a way that we walk on. I think this is a helpful image because life can
often feel like a journey, a road we’re travelling on.
So, let’s imagine life from these two stages on the road: the journey and the destination. And while we’re
doing that, I’d like us to think about how righteousness helps us practically in each of these stages.
What help for life do we want our path to offer us? What do we want righteousness to do for us as we travel
For the journey, we need our path to do, at least, two things for us. Firstly, we want to be able to see clearly.
We want to know how to make decisions moment by moment. Secondly, we also want to know that we are
moving forward, that we’re making progress.
So, let’s look at how the path of righteousness gives us clarity for the way:
Proverbs 4:18-19 (NLT)
So, here’s the picture. When you start out on the road of righteousness, it’s like as if a light has started shining
on your way. You can see where you’re going. And the longer you stay on that road, the clearer and brighter
the road gets until it’s bright like the noonday. There may be potholes. There may be stones on the road of
life. But the clarity of righteousness helps you dodge them.
The ungodly don’t have such clarity. They’re like someone walking in the dark, stumbling to find the way. They
act the best that they know.
They trip over a rock or step into a hole. They do the best they can to avoid the obstacles of life given their
limitations. But the road feels like it’s shifting. And in the end, they don’t end up in a place that’s good for
But righteousness also offers something else that we expect from every road. It offers us progression.
We want to see movement in our lives. We want to see change and growth in us. And that’s exactly what the
path of righteousness offers the wise person who takes it: progression and transformation.
Godliness transforms you. Let me take you to another proverb:
Proverbs 11:23 (NRSV)
On the surface, this proverb seems to tell us that the righteous get what they hope for and the wicked don’t.
But here’s the thing. This proverb forces us to ask this question: How do the righteous come to the place
where they have honourable desires? You see, the righteous don’t wish for things that a good God wouldn’t
want to give them. They wish for the kind of things that God delights to give them. Well, how did those good
desires get into the person with integrity in the first place?
And it happens something like this: As a person behaves in godly ways; As a person cultivates righteous habits;
As a person responds with integrity over the course of their lives, their very nature starts to change. Their very
desires start to transform. They increasingly start acting in ways that line up with the nature and character of
God. And here’s the thing, they want it to be that way. They aren’t being coerced to feel those desires.
Righteousness shapes and transforms you. Righteousness changes you as you progress along its road.
Ultimately, it’s wise to be on the road of righteousness because it leads to life. Let me read the proverb I read
Proverbs 11:19 (NLT)
When you read the Book of Proverbs you get the sense that everything works out in the end for one who lives
their lives in the fear of the Lord, the one who walks in the way of righteousness.
So the question we ask the Book of Proverbs is: do all things work out in the end for the righteous?
And the answer this Book gives us (in fact, the answer that Bible gives us) is, ‘yes’. And the reason for that is
that ultimately our lives don’t end with physical death. There’s an afterlife. There’s eternity. There’s the
ultimate justice of God. There’s the ultimate reward for righteousness and judgment for evil.
As we honestly examine our own capacity for righteousness, there’s something we start realising fairly quick.
We aren’t ever really truly righteous (not as God is perfectly righteous). All the morally right things we seek to
do can often be tainted by self-interest and selfishness.
So, here’s the problem. It looks like we have been knocked off the road of righteousness before we can even
get on it. That’s the sobering truth.
But here is the hope-filled answer of the Bible. And let me turn to the New Testament once again to a passage
that I quoted a few weeks ago:
1 Corinthians 1.30 (NLT):
As we place our trust in this Jesus, we gain a righteousness we could never possess in our own strength. When
we look at our own hypocrisies. When we look at all our efforts and wonder if we can ever do the morally
right thing with perfect righteousness, Christ Jesus comes along and says, ‘yes you can, not by your efforts but
by trusting what I will do for you’.