Avoiding Extremes

I was reading my Bible this morning, as I’ve been trying to do more often, and I came across a section titled “Avoiding Extremes” that made a lot of sense to me. It’s from Ecclesiastes 7:15-22 (HCSB):

15In my futile life I have seen everything: there is a righteous man who perishes in spite of his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who lives long in spite of his evil. 16Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? 17Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? 18It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them.

19Wisdom makes the wise man stronger than ten rulers of a city. 20There is certainly no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins.

21Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you; 22for you know that many times you yourself have cursed others.

In other word, being perfectly righteous is the best thing you could ever do, but it’s also impossible and you’ll die at the end of your life along with the wicked. These verses talk about maintaining a balance between the two, of a sorts.

Breaking it down verse by verse, the first verse says there is a righteous man who perishes in spite of his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who lives long in spite of his evil. All this is saying is that, no matter how hard we struggle to be as righteous as we can, the righteous will not always get what they seemingly deserve, and the wicked may get what they seemingly do not deserve. Life isn’t fair, and this world isn’t fair. This is something we simply have to accept as a fact of life, and something we shouldn’t focus on and despair over. The reward for righteousness may not always be apparent in this life, and in fact, most of the reward will be received in Heaven anyway.

The next verse says Don’t be excessively righteous, and don’t be overly wise. Why should you destroy yourself? I believe what he means by “excessively righteous” and “overly wise” is seeking righteousness and wisdom to the point that anything less than perfection is cause for distress. As humans, we need to constantly strive to better ourselves, but we can never be perfect. So it’s perfectly acceptable to be righteous and wise, but not excessively so.

In contrast, the next verse says Don’t be excessively wicked, and don’t be foolish. Why should you die before your time? This sort of sentiment is taught all over the Bible. A reckless lifestyle, seeking pleasure and self-fulfillment over righteousness, can easily destroy you faster than living the clean life will.

The next verse sort of wraps up the last two by saying It is good that you grasp the one and do not let the other slip from your hand. For the one who fears God will end up with both of them. This one is a little more interesting to figure out. The contrast between “grasping the one” and “not letting the other slip from your hand” I believe means that we should seek wisdom, while understanding that seeking it excessively is not always good, while always keeping a tight rein on our wickedness. The last sentence of the verse could draw back to the fact that following God, and the lifestyle He teaches, will lead to the end He desires for us.

Verses 19 and 20 tie-in with the first verses by saying Wisdom makes the wise man stronger than ten rulers of a city. and There is certainly no righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. 19 speaks about the power and value of wisdom, and 20 reminds of the fact that no matter how righteous any one of us is, we still sin.

Verses 21 and 22 speak another related truth, and something that speaks to me personally as well. They say Don’t pay attention to everything people say, or you may hear your servant cursing you; for you know that many times you yourself have cursed others. They are saying that we shouldn’t spend so much time listening to everything people say about us, because at one time or another, we’re going to hear someone say something we don’t want to hear, and we’re going to get offended by it. But of course, who among us hasn’t gone and said something bad about someone else in our time? The important thing to remember is, our opinions of ourselves shouldn’t be based on what others say, but upon ourselves, our never-ending quest for self-improvement, and God, Who loves us unconditionally.

So, to wrap up, do not get so focused on perfecting yourself, that anything less than that causes you pain. Remember that we will all still sin, as much as we try. But do not allow that fact to convince you that the pursuit of righteousness doesn’t matter, and throw it all away living recklessly. That will destroy you much quicker than anything else. Instead, live your life to the best of your ability.

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