Ecclesiastes 7 v 16 - 17Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
We live in a time when being good is approved of (well, really, it always has been!). Trying to do the right thing, telling the truth and being nice is thought well of. Most people will believe that being good is good! But when being good starts to affect them negatively they realise that actually being good doesn't always work out well for them. 'Telling the truth is important most of the time, but sometimes telling a lie will be better for me'. 'Being nice to people is great - but not when it will make me worse off'. This is how the world works - like Ecclesiastes says - don't be overly righteous - I'll be good as long as it doesn't cost me too much. When we want to avoid getting into to trouble, we'll tell a lie, when we are angry about what someone else has done, we'll speak maliciously about them. This is pragmatic goodness.
But Jesus showed a different way. Jesus lived a life of radical righteousness. He chose to do good and speak the truth even when it cost him. He spoke the truth to the crowds even though that was not what they wanted to hear. He went to the cross because he knew that was the only way that the sin of the world could be paid for was if he died. Even when he was tempted and whipped and finally killed he chose to do the right thing because he loved God and wanted to do what He said and he loved people and wanted to act for their good.
So the question I need to ask is am I into pragmatic goodness or radical righteousness? Ecclesiastes asks if the meaning of life can be found in being good. Life itself shows that being good cannot bring us this meaning - it always disappoints, because at the end of life I am still going to die - and I can never be good enough for a perfect God. When I look at my life I realise that actually I am more into pragmatic goodness than I like to admit. I don't want to get into trouble, so I lie. I want to help others, but not if that means I have to live sacrificially. What would living a life of radical righteousness look like?
Because Jesus has given me his goodness when I asked for forgiveness it means I can turn around from acting pragmatically by loving myself and focus on loving God and others instead. Through the power of the Holy Spirit it would mean choosing to tell the truth even when it shows that I have done wrong. It would mean living sacrificially so that I can serve others in the way God has called me to (with my time, energy and money). It would mean loving God and trusting him totally so I would chose His way above my own, even when that is not what I want to do!
As a parent I need to remember that although rules are important in teaching boundaries, that actually teaching children to be good shouldn't be about pragmatism. We reward children if they do good - we bribe them to be good! But surely this only reinforces a world view that doing good is about serving yourself. I want Anna and Hope to know that choosing to do the right thing isn't so that things will be easier for them or so that they will get something out of it - but I want to model to them how radical righteousness is different. Thoughts on how I practically might do this are welcome!!