A Devout Life: Part 4
"Right-ness" is not Righteousness
I use the word, "right-ness" to refer to my own personal filter of life, my own sense of what competence or success means. "Right-ness" is wrong, I believe. Instead, I should pursue "Righteousness".
But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life — a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, and courtesy. Run hard and fast in the faith. Seize the eternal life, the life you were called to, the life you so fervently embraced in the presence of so many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11-12 MSG)
Rather than pursuing a life built upon standards of my own creation, standards which compare myself to others, real or imagined, standards of "right-ness", Paul would have me pursue a life built upon God's standards: "righteousness".
Righteousness is best defined by our word, "equity", the quality of being fair and impartial, from Latin aequus, meaning equal.
Equal to what?
But you, Timothy, man of God: Run for your life from all this. Pursue a righteous life—a life of wonder, faith, love, steadiness, courtesy. (1 Timothy 6:11)
A devout life, a life of righteousness, is one which is "equitable", or equal to something, or someone else. When Paul says that righteousness means "equity", to what, or to whom are we to be equal?
Paul will answer this in verses 13-16, but he first primes us with how he defines "righteousness". He describes five different ways in which righteousness may be expressed...five tangible, real-life definitions of righteousness
Righteousness, then can be defined by looking at five ways in which God's standards of life can be expressed. Interestingly, each of the five expressions of righteousness could be illustrated by a direction in which a person might look:
- All around
Let's look at each expression of righteousness, beginning with "wonder".
This is the same Greek word translated earlier as "devout".
This first expression of righteousness is focused upward toward God: a sincere worship, a deep respect and a steady trust of God and what he has provided, what he is providing, and what he will provide.
The next expression of righteousness is faith.
Where wonder, or devotion, looks upward toward God, faith looks inward at one's foundation of life. What do I believe about God, and how does that affect what I see, feel, and do?
To say "I believe", requires only air rushing past vocal cords. To write "This is true" requires nothing but pen, ink and paper. But to act, to do, to live according to what we believe is true is the only valid test of whether or not we have faith in someone or something.
Righteousness is expressed first by the wonder of salvation and the glory of God's character and work. Following wonder is an expression of faith: saying and doing what we deeply believe is true.
The third expression of righteousness is love.
At the heart of love is generosity. Freely giving to another something that is valuable, necessary and good, without condition, without any promise of return or profit.
The early Christians used this word to describe their meals together. They gathered all the food they had, spread the table and invited those who were hungry to eat. No payment was expected, no requirement for pay back or profit.
Love, then, is the expression of righteousness that looks outward, to the people around us, people born little differently than us, people created in the image of God, people in desperate need of contentment and satisfaction.
One critical weakness of humans, one deeply disturbing result of our inborn sinfulness, is that of preferring or trusting other people who look, sound or feel similar to ourselves. We instinctively trust a person, and thus will love a person, who seems most nearly familiar. Sinfully, we will react, often subconsciously, with suspicion and reluctance toward a person who seems different.
We may acknowlege with our intellect that all humans are born naked and needy, but as our cultures diverge, our languages become confused, our skin color changes, our definitions of “good” and “bad” degrade and evolve, we become less and less likely to reach out in genuine, selfless love.
A devout life of genuine love is able to see past the differences and see the most important needs of everyone, regardless of appearance or culture.
The fourth expression of righteousness is steadiness.
This fourth expression of righteousness seems similar to faith. How are the two different?
Where wonder looks upward toward God, and faith looks inward at one's true beliefs, and love looks outward at other people, steadiness looks downward toward the place in which God has placed one’s feet..
When mountain climbers prepare for an ascent, they will look upward, studying the high peak, anticipating the joy of reaching their goal. They will look inward, examining their motives, their reasons for climbing, their trust in their training and equipment. They will look outward, seeing their climbing companions, sharing encouragement, food, equipment and protection.
But when mountain climbers actually begin the ascent, when they take the first difficult step, they must look downwards. They must study the rock or snow on which they are placing their next step, the ground upon which their life depends. Each step is an expression of all that they've done previously. Each step is a new expression of their goal, their determination, their reliance upon each other, and their perseverance.
When a Christian looks down, they are seeing the place where God has put them. Or they are seeing the condition of their body in which God has set them. Or they are are seeing the work to which God has sent them. Or they are seeing the problem before which God has placed them.
Steadiness is the expression of righteousness which acknowledges the place, condition or state in which God has placed a person. More than acknowledgement, however, steadiness is the decision to persevere, to endure, to remain under the situation for as long as God desires.
What? Why? How? When? Where?
A Christian does not usually benefit by asking God “What” or "Why?". Actually, the only benefit is that it serves as an expression of faith in the Only One Who can answer the questions. It is an emotional, spiritual relief, almost a joy, to express honest questions toward God.
However, rarely does an immediate answer come. I cannot think of any time when such revelation came to me. No do detailed answers come from asking "How, When, Where?” These questions are entirely in the hand of God, and there are few biblical instances in which God answers such prayer-questions, at least not in a clear, decisive way that is immediately clear. Prophets themselves were given visions and oracles that they did not understand. The understanding came only after the prophecies came true.
Indeed, in a sense already know the answers to these questions, at least in an ultimate, over-arching sense. What will God do? He will glorify himself through his Son, Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit which dwells within those who are in Jesus Christ. Why will God allow or do this? Because he is good, wise, merciful and just.
How will God do this? When and where will God do this?
God’s ways are mysterious, hidden from human intellect, even when God provides prophecy, the details of why, how, when and where are hidden until God discloses it to the world.
Steadiness is standing or stepping out in trust
This fourth expression of righteousness, steadiness, is seen when a Christian stands or steps out in devout steadiness, without insisting upon immediate, detailed answers to What and Why, or How and When, or Where. A life of devout steadiness may ask God these things, expressing faith that only he can answer them, but will at the same time stand or step out, trusting the One Who Sustains and Saves.
Devout steadiness is an inclination towards God alone, a desire that God would open one's eyes, a longing for all of one's fears and hopes to be united in God's hand, and a hunger for satisfaction and contentment in God's provision.
Steadiness asks God for direction, but does not quaver or turn back when the prayer is not quickly answered. Steadiness assumes that God is rock-solid in control of the situation, that God is supremely good, all the time, and each step up the mountain is in reality a step with God.
We began our expression of righteousness by looking upward with wonder at God's mighty mercy and power. Then we looked inward at our faith, preaching to ourselves that which we deeply believe is true. Next we looked outward with love at our family, friends and neighbors, eager to share our abundance with their need. The fourth expression of righteousness was a downward look of steadiness, seeing our situation clearly, and stepping firmly out with God at our side.
However, Paul's final expression of righteousness seems a bit out of place, at least when it is described as "courtesy".
Courtesy seems far removed from the exaltation of wonder, the boldness of love, the warmth of love and the perseverance of steadiness.
Wonder looks upward, faith looks inward, love looks outward, and steadiness looks downward. To where shall we look for courtesy?
Courtesy is probably best illustrated by a look that encompasses all directions. Courtesy looks all around, upward, downward, inward, outward, and all around.
A Christian looks upward with wonder at God's greatness; looks inward at what is deeply held to be true; looks outward at other people, all in need of contentment and satisfaction; looks downward at the place in which God has set him; and then continues to expressrighteousness by looking all around, showing courtesy to all, speaking and acting gently, with humility.
Righteousness requires courtesy Without courtesy, where would the other expressions of righteous be?
Wonder would cease to consider God worthy of respect and honor. Faith would erode into dogmatic doctrine, controlled by the elite. Love would refuse to look outward, ignoring the needy, clinging to one's own pile of treasure. Steadiness would become a trampling, a stomping, and impatient kicking of rebellion and tyranny.
Courtesy requires righteousness
Courtesy would evaporate if the other expressions of righteousness were absent.
- Without wonder, courtesy would become superior boasting and intimidation of others, including a secret, subconscious scorn for God.
- Without faith, courtesy would become inconsistent, weak and vague.
- Without love, courtesy would become harsh, judgemental punishment.
- Without steadiness, courtesy would become automatic, thoughtless, and meaningless.
Righteousness, then, depends upon five sincere, heartfelt, and intentional expressions of the heart, mind and body:
God, You are my Creator, Master, Savior, Companion, and Lover.
God, fill me with Your righteousness. Not the "right-ness" of human tradition or national politics. Not the "right-ness" of safety or convenience. Not the "right-ness" of fear or arrogance. No, God, fill me with Your righteousness. Grant me the gift of wonder, faith, love, steadiness and courtesy.
Scripture taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.
Bob May, for "effacing", https://flic.kr/p/qsyF3w, Creative Commons license,https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/