Introduction

A few weeks ago, for one of my daily scriptures, I shared today’s key verse for one of my daily food for thoughts.  At the end of going over those two verses, I asked, “Is this a spiritual conundrum for us?” Merriam-Webster defines a conundrum as an intricate and difficult problem – a dilemma.  Some other definitions conclude that a conundrum is a difficult riddle where there is no right or wrong answer.

16 Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?

key verse – Ecclesiastes 7:16-17 NKJV

I’m not trying to play a game of “got you”. This is not a trick question that I am about to ask you, thought, you may feel it is. There is a right answer.

The question I asked in my food for thought and the question I will ask you today is this: Is it better for the genuine believer to be overly righteous or to be a bit foolish? For some of us, answering this question might be really easy and we will answer it right away.  However, I tell you that there are many believers who struggle with answering this question through their actions (or works).

The mindsets

Again, we find ourselves in the book of Ecclesiastes looking at some of Solomon’s writing and wisdom.  From my sermon last Sunday, we understand the mindset that Solomon had when he wrote this book. He had a clear understanding of the error of his ways when he was younger, and had course-corrected to get back on a righteous path.

The foolish and wicked

While Solomon is considered one of, if not, the wisest men to walk in this world, he could also be considered one of the most foolish men to walk the earth.  How could this be possible, you ask?

To understand my reasoning, we must understand what being a fool means according to scripture.  We believe a fool is someone who acts or is silly.  One definition you will find in the dictionary is this:  a harmlessly deranged person or one lacking in common powers of understanding.  We are more familiar with that definition and I assume that many of our own definition for the word resembles that definition.  

However, Solomon spent a great deal in the book of Proverbs describing and defining to us the difference between the wise and the foolish.  Solomon stated that a wise person will hear (comprehend) and increase learning, and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel (Prov. 1:5).  On the other hand, Solomon described a fool as someone who would not listen to and, in fact, hate correction — rebuke (Prov. 12:1; Prov. 13:1).

Because of their failure to listen to wise counsel, the fool would go astray (Prov. 10:17).  Going astray, meant drifting away from the Lord spiritually and so Solomon equated foolishness with wickedness.  Solomon wrote repeatedly that continuing down such a path would lead to destruction (Prov. 10:29). I want you to understand that he was talking from experience.  When you see him saying in Proverbs, “son, receive my words,” he’s saying that because he did not listen to what David (his dad) told him about remaining faithful to God (1 Kings 2:1-3).

There are many people who live with a foolish mindset according to scripture.  The reason being because they do not listen to the counsel of being obedient in the Lord’s way.  So, when we look at the spiritual conundrum, it does not seem like much of a conundrum at the moment.  Living foolishly (or wickedly) certainly does not sound like the right choice to make.

The righteous

So, it would seem that being overly righteous would be the right choice, right?  But is it really the right choice? Let’s continue taking our look into what Solomon said.  Solomon warns, “do not be overly righteous, nor be overly wise.”  Why would he give this warning?  Is it not good to be righteous?

Well, we would have to evaluate the kind of righteousness that Solomon was talking about.  This is something we discussed in a Sunday School lesson about a month ago titled – Turning Sinners into Disciples.  In that lesson, I asked this question about becoming righteous: Is there any other way that we can become righteous without going through Christ?

The responding answers of no were sharp and quick.  The response was the right response and it came from those who had been in the faith for a long time now.  We, the genuine believer, know that there is nothing we can do ourselves to gain righteousness but gain our righteousness from the one who is righteous.  In this righteousness we learn to do the good works of the Lord with humility and through the genuine love of God.  This form of righteousness is not the form of righteousness that Solomon warns against.

The dark side of righteousness

Simply being righteous is not good enough for some.  I don’t want you to think that there is something wrong with growing in your righteousness because there is not.  There is no such thing as being “too holy” or “too righteous”. However, there is a righteousness that some use for show and this righteousness is incredibly dangerous.

Beginning with being overly wise

Let’s notice that Solomon ties being overly righteous together with being overly wise.  It is hard to have one without having the other and you will see why in a moment. The overly wise start out by seeking to understand and they will attain wise counsel.  Solomon was not speaking about wisdom in the manner of book smarts or street smarts but wisdom in understanding the way of God.

For some, they can begin to believe they know more than anybody else.  As we have said in the past, it is very dangerous when you begin to believe you know more than everybody and need nobody’s help.  There are some who will put themselves on a level where they do not need anybody’s counsel, not even God! When one is overly wise, they typically refrain from listening to those around them.  

The scariness of being overly righteous  

In this sort of wisdom, this person then begins to build up their righteousness to appear holier — more perfect — than others.  Perfect is how some men want to be seen and they want others to believe that they are indeed perfect.  Solomon stated that there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin (Eccl. 7:20).  

However, the overly righteous would disagree with Solomon on this matter.  How so? Well, they go beyond what the Lord has commanded of us and bend His Law (His Word) into their own law.  You see, when you create the rules, you can’t break the rules, only others can.  This is what the Pharisees did: came up with their own observances (for days like the Sabbath) and rules that went beyond God’s Law. 

The overly righteous become very strict and rigid in the keeping of their law and despise those who do not keep to those laws.  They judge others in a manner that is apathetic — with no care.  Whereas the righteous ones in Christ should be more empathetic — caring and loving — to those around them.

Do you notice what has happened here with the overly righteous?  They have become self-righteous, a righteousness that is not of God. As one commentator put it, they have “[wrested] salvation from God, instead of receiving it as the gift of His grace. It is a fanatical, pharisaical (hypocritical) righteousness, separated from God.”  In other words, this sort of righteousness has become a religious righteousness that is far removed from the Lord where the overly righteous has become god.

The gray area – the conundrum

So, which is better: to be of the foolish (wicked) who are moved from the Lord or be of the overly righteous who are also moved from the Lord?  Neither, right? Solomon makes that point very clear when he tells us that both paths lead to destruction. Yet, there are some who will read these scriptures and believe that duality is being called for here.

You may ask, why is that? Well, if you look closely at what Solomon says, he says, “do not be ‘overly’ wicked.” There are some who believe they can walk in the way wisdom that can also dabble in the way of the wicked – duality.  They believe that there is nothing wrong with a bit of wickedness if it is done in moderation. This is where the spiritual conundrum kicks in. 

Is it OK for the believer, the righteous one, to also dabble in wickedness in moderation? Is it OK for us to live in this gray area and walk a fine line between the light side and the dark side?   

There is no such thing as a gray Christian – you’re either a genuine follower of the Lord or you’re not. We should not be foolish in our way, but at the very same time, we should avoid the extreme of being self-righteous. The Lord has already set for us the principles that we should follow; all we have to do is follow those principles to the best of our ability – nothing more or nothing less.