(From the sermon entitled, “Ang Masama at Matuwid na Pagmamapuri ayon sa Pagtuturo ng Biblia” for April 3, 2016)
Righteousness in other terms can be defined as blamelessness; it is about virtue, morality and justice. It is about being right according to a common standard. It is all about the purity of heart and living according to what is right.
The Bible teaches us that we can be righteous in the sight of the Lord if we keep His will and commands. The laws of God are good and righteous, therefore, anyone who keeps them will become good and righteous as well (Romans 7:12). Outside of the laws and commands of God, can we be considered righteous?
The Bible clearly states that we can only be righteous if we obey God’s will and commands. If the righteousness comes from within ourselves, it is not anymore called righteousness, but self-righteousness. Self-righteousness is a form of conceit, that is, being arrogant, having pride, giving importance to one’s self rather than others, much more of a vanity or a superiority.
The story found in Luke 18:10-12, is an example of self-conceitedness. “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Another can be found in Matthew 19:16-23, Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself. ‘““All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The two examples teach us that we can be self-righteous if we always see ourselves and exalt it before the Lord and to others. We can also become self-righteous if we cannot make self-sacrifices. Being righteous therefore, is about being selfless.
Another form of self-righteousness is found in Romans 2:19-23, there are those who teach others but do not teach themselves. They teach the laws of God but they are the first ones to break them. In other words, they do not walk the talk. This is self-righteousness and a form of hypocrisy.
Although self-righteousness is tagged as a negative behavior, we can always be righteous in the sight of the Lord only if we do it right. If we boast not ourselves but boast on what God have done for us, that is righteousness.
Prophet Jeremiah tells us, “This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches, but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord (Jeremiah 9:23-24).
An example of this is what Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans. Every time he speaks of his accomplishments, he never says that he has done everything because of his skills and abilities alone. He always says that all things were done through Christ, and he is only an instrument, and that he cannot accomplish anything without the help of God. He writes, “Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God” (Romans 15:17-18).
Our boast should be this, that we can do all things through Christ who strengthen us (Philippians 4:13), that we cannot do anything if we are apart from Him (John 15:5), that we have done everything because of His grace. Paul writes, “Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace” (2 Corinthians 1:12).
Meanwhile, praising others because of the positive and fruitful things they have done is also a form of righteousness. In contrast, praising one’s self is self-righteousness. We should wait for others to praise us instead of boasting one’s self.
An instance of such boasting was evident in Paul’s writings. He has praised the members in Macedonia, who despite of their poverty, have prepared long before the collection of contributions came. What they have done is an extra-ordinary feat that should be praised and worthy of boasting.
Therefore, not all sort of boasting is negative. If we boast, make sure that we are not exalting ourselves but God. Remember this, “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)