All of us could illustrate how a word with one meaning years ago now has a different meaning. While we are conscious of that fact regarding “secular” words, we often are ignorant of that fact regarding “religious” words. It is easy to attach a 21st century concept to a biblical word and declare that always was the word’s thrust. Such can be done in innocence with tragic results.

For example, take the word “righteous.” In many minds the concept associated with “righteous” is “morally perfect.” Therefore a call to righteousness is a call to perfection. In some minds the word “righteous” is associated with the concept of “hypocrisy.” To these the call to righteousness is the call to insincere pretense. “Righteous” people are “hypocrites” who pretend to be something they obviously are not—morally perfect.

Luke 1:6 says Zacharias and Elizabeth both were “righteous in the sight of God walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord.” Matthew 1:19 says that Joseph was “a righteous man” because he did not wish to disgrace Mary when he discovered her pregnancy. In Luke 1:28 an angel called Mary God’s “favored one” [or richly blessed one]. Luke 2:25 referred to Simeon as “righteous and devout.”

These are not the only people who were called “righteous” or “highly favored.” In these, consider some obvious things. (1) They were extremely sensitive to God. (2) They were conscientious in devoting themselves to God’s ways. (3) Their understanding of God’s ways was flexible enough to surrender to God’s purposes rather than question His acts.

If your wife was 50 years old (used only for illustration purposes), how would you feel if she told you she was pregnant? If your fianceé was pregnant and you had never been intimately involved with her, what would you think? If an angel told unmarried you that you would be pregnant before marriage, would you say, “Behold, the bondservant of the Lord; be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)? If God revealed to you that you would see His most wondrous act before death, would you recognize His act in the baby’s birth who offered hope to people regarded as your enemies (Luke 2:26-33)?

Being righteous before God is more than knowing a “thus says the Lord.” It is more than singing a cappella, taking communion weekly, and worshipping in our order. It is more than names, words, and vocabulary. It is more than “issues” and “theological stances.”

It is also expressing compassion for the victims of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. It is also caring about those who suffer around us. It is also seeing God at work in ways and matters we do not usually associate with God’s work. It is allowing the Sovereign God to be sovereign as He pursues His purposes. It is also being God’s servant who serves—even in the face of the unusual!

Are we righteous?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 29 September 2005

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