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Do the Right Thing

A person thinks everything he does is right,

but the Lord weighs hearts.

Doing what is right and fair

is more acceptable to the Lord than offering a sacrifice. (Proverbs 21:2-3 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-8 GW)


The time is always right to do what’s right. Martin Luther King Jr

Every year, as our nation observes the birthday of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, a flurry of his quotes fill social media posts, news media, and speeches. As with many statements these days, these quotes are expressed outside of their original context.

Oberlin College Archives

Oberlin College Archives

The quote above is a statement Dr King made at Oberlin College in October of 1964. The thought of this statement permeates much of what he spoke and wrote about integration and civil rights.

The context of these words are the life and calling of Dr King—a Baptist preacher and the son of a Baptist preacher. The 50’s and 60’s were a tumultuous time in America. It was not empty rhetoric but truth grounded in the reality of his time.

Doing the right thing is a common theme throughout the Proverbs. It’s a common tenet of good business ethics and basic morality. However, what the right thing is depends on a person’s belief system, values, and cultural influences.

Each of us can be convinced of our own rightness but our words and actions in life need to be consistent within our daily lives. Otherwise, it’s a matter of saying one thing but living out something different. Then, what we claim as rightness is out of context with who we are.

A sense of our own rightness soon becomes self-righteousness—our own narrow view of right and wrong. This extends beyond religious self-righteousness and permeates every aspect of our life. It becomes an attitude of the heart.

Self-righteousness sets us up to be judgmental and prejudiced toward others

This narrow view of rightness produces a judgmental view of others and a sense of superiority towards those who don’t measure up to our sense of righteousness—our view of what’s true, right, and fair.

When self-righteousness goes unchecked it isolates a person from those deemed inferior in their religion, thinking politics, behavior, associations with others, and so on.

The only counter to self-rightness is humility—a sense of who we are in comparison to God rather than others.

God knows our heart. He knows our motives. He alone is able to judge in a true and just way and He is by nature merciful (Exo 34:6; Luke 6:36).

When we see our own sense of rightness in light of God’s mercy, we can be freed from a judgmental and prejudiced heart.

True humility can set us free from a self-righteous heart

Instead of the narrow view of self-righteousness—that no one can measure up to including us—humility sets us free to do what is right and fair. This is what is acceptable to God rather than any self-righteous attitude or effort on our part.

How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold. Is it our own or God’s? Do we measure our own sense of rightness in comparison to others or God?

Reflection—

No one can measure up to the narrow and judgmental perspective of self-righteousness. This include our self no matter how right we think we are. How we see and treat others is a good indicator of what standard of rightness we hold—our own or God’s—and He alone is just and merciful.

Prayer Focus—

If you find yourself looking down at others as inferior and wrong, ask God to give you His perspective on others—how He sees them and us. When you find a self-righteous attitude welling up in your mind and heart, humble yourself and ask God to forgive you.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Way That Seems Right

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There is a way that seems right to a person,

but eventually it ends in death. (Proverbs 14:12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 14:1-13 GW)


How often have you heard this quote, "To thine own self be true?" It's a famous quote from William Shakespeare's play, Hamlet. In those times it had a certain meaning but it's been reinterpreted in a different way in our present culture.

What comes to mind when you hear this saying? What does this expression mean to you?

Looking back on my own spiritual journey, it seemed I was always looking for a way to live that fit me—that seemed right to me. I was looking for something that was true for me.

But that kept changing as I went through various life experiences and sampled different approaches to life and spirituality. I found that being true to myself was an unreliable guide.

Using one's own self as a plumb line isn't such a great idea. It's unreliable because we tend to internalize values and beliefs based on our acceptance or resistance to what we encounter in life. Sometimes it's a combination of acceptance and resistance that results in a hodgepodge of beliefs and values.

I came to a turning point in my life where I challenged God to reveal Himself to me in some obvious way. After a morning of fasting, hiking through the woods, and waiting, I returned home disappointed. I saw no vision or sign, nor heard any voice of direction.

Later, after grumbling about this failure, I opened up a Bible someone gave me and began to read. I came to where Jesus said the wide gate and easy road leads to destruction and the narrow gate and hard road leads to life (Matt 7:13-14).

I realized I'd been looking for a wide gate with an easy road. I was heading in the wrong direction and I knew it.

Jesus also said, only a few found this narrow gate and hard road that leads to life. The day started with me challenging God but ended with God challenging me. I accepted that challenge and my way in life became clearer day by day from that point on.

I've never turned back since that day but life since then has not always been easy. But, my life from that point has been fulfilling and God has blessed me in countless ways.

This verse in Proverbs may be hard to hear but the larger context helps clarify its truth (especially verses 2, 10, 13).

We all need a reliable guide for our lives. God's written Word and God's Spirit are always reliable. They've been a trustworthy plumb line for many centuries for millions of people.

Reflection—

Are you wondering if you've chosen the right way for your life? Read through these verses, even listen to them read to you (Proverbs 14 audio). Allow the truth of God and His Spirit to give you insight on all of this.

Prayer Focus—

Ask God for discernment and confirmation of the way of life—a true and fulfilling life—that He intends for you. Ask God to guide you with the peace of His Holy Spirit and the clarity of His truth.

©Word-Strong_2018


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A Tongue of Pure Silver

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Whoever conceals hatred has lying lips.

Whoever spreads slander is a fool.

Sin is unavoidable when there is much talk,

but whoever seals his lips is wise.

The tongue of a righteous person is pure silver.

The hearts of wicked people are worthless. (Proverbs 10:18-20 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 10:8-21 GW)


If you "Google" silver-tongued, you might find something like—a person who has a clever way with words. Or, the old song, The Silver Tongued Devil and I might pop up. It alludes to the dark and evil side of a person hidden behind a saintly smile. Obviously, to be silver-tongued gets a bad rap in public opinion and Google searches!

So, how could it be a good thing to have a tongue of pure silver? 

Pure silver—when it's clean and polished—is beautiful. It shines with a mirror-like luster and understated dignity. Pure silver reflects everything around it through its beauty.

The key to the verse about the tongue of a righteous person being pure silver is found within the context of its nearby verses. Contrasting statements clarify the intended meaning—the exact opposite of the popular perception of a silver tongue.

When I seek to understand a verse in Scripture, I look at the context first, then observe anything the specific wording reveals. I'll compare various Bible versions to help me with other word usages for the same verse.

What stands out as most obvious is the comparison and contrast of the worth of the tongue or lips of a righteous person with the value of the heart of wicked people.

Why does this stand out? The tongue and the heart are different parts of the body having different functions. This is figurative language that illustrates the intended meaning.

The tongue represents a person's mouth and what they say, as made clear from the context of the nearby verses. The heart represents a person's inner being—their nature.

As so often is the case, Jesus helps us connect the dots for a clearer sense of the meaning. In response to some self-righteous religious leaders, He said—

You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. (Matt 12:34)

Jesus was blunt and direct in saying this and it stung those to whom it was directed!

We've all said something out loud we wished hadn't come out and then tried to excuse it or explain it away. But the problem isn't with the words so much as where they originated.

Reading the greater context of Proverbs 10:20—verses 8-21—speaks to our need to choose wisely what we hold in our hearts and minds. Sooner or later our true nature will be revealed by what we say.

Reflection—

We all need to be careful about what we hang on to and hold in our hearts and minds. Sooner or later, what is in our hearts and minds—our true nature—will be revealed by the words we speak.

Prayer Focus—

Guarding what comes out of our mouths requires constant self-monitoring but it often seems like an impossible challenge. Prayer—continuous prayer—and the constant presence and guidance of God's Spirit enable us to overcome this challenge.

©Word-Strong_2018


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Is It All Good?

The popular phrase, "It's all good," is used way too much. It's an expression that covers a multitude of situations. It's meaningless without context and often depends on a person's point of view on life in general.

King Solomon used a phrase throughout the book of Ecclesiastes that conveys the opposite—"It's useless...!" (Eccl 1:1 NCV). A more current way to say it is, "It's a waste of time!"

You Know

Sound bites reign in this day and age. For the most part, sound bites are quotes yanked our of a larger context. They're truncated thoughts disconnected from a whole sentence, conversation, or speech. These brief expressions often give a distorted sense of all that was said.

We all blurt out things we later regret or need to explain, and some of us do this more than others, especially when we allow our emotions or passions drive us.