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Would You Rather Be Right or Righteous?January 16, 2023
It is a powerful scene. Jesus is hanging on a cross with two criminals on either side. All of Jesus’ enemies are gathered around taunting him, daring him to come down off the cross, and show them he is the Messiah. In agony, He looks down upon the crowd below, and speaks the words that set-in motion the pattern that will always be followed by his disciples when they are persecuted. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
The first Christian martyr, the deacon Stephen, would pray similar words calling for forgiveness of his murderers just a few months later (Acts 7:54-60). The power of forgiveness runs through the Bible, yet we struggle so much with giving and receiving forgiveness from others, even though we can all tell stories of how experiencing forgiveness changed our lives.
Usually, when we are in a conflict with someone we care about we get very concerned about making sure we prove we are right. Just as important to us is driving home the point that the other person is wrong. It is a power move that allows us to at least save face, and at best establish a superior position over the other proving that we are smarter. It can feel good to be right and can feel better to prove the other is wrong. It is also an attitude that will destroy relationships.
The Bible is always concerned with what is right. There are consequences to wrong teaching, preaching, and prophesying in God’s name. That is the key to understanding when righteousness is more important than being right. We usually fight to the bitter end to be right in our own name. Being right in God’s name is usually not nearly so important to us. We will concede that fight far too often.
The Bible also calls us hundreds of times to be righteous. Proverbs is full of wisdom like Proverbs 10:31, “The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be cut out.” If we would follow this wisdom, then the next time we are arguing about how to raise the kids we will back down and ask our spouse to go and do research together until we find the solution we can both live with. If we have a different political opinion from a friend, then we agree to disagree in the spirit of love. If we have done something that has strained a relationship, we step up, admit our guilt, and ask for forgiveness.
One of the most beautiful examples of choosing to be righteous over being right is the story of Joseph (Genesis 30-50). His brothers sold him into slavery, but God was with him. Over and over life would bring blessings and curses, and through it all Joseph would remain faithful to God. As God blessed him with the ability to interpret Pharaoh king of Egypt’s dreams, he went from a jail cell to vice-president of Egypt. When his brothers come for food to keep from starving to death he recognized them, but they did not recognize him. He could have them killed. He could have done it slow and painful. They had sinned so terribly against him. By all worldly standards he would have been right to do so. Instead, he chooses righteousness, he forgives them, and the nation of Israel thrives over the next 400 years. He says to his brothers, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:4-5).
We know how to fight. We can drive home a point until it is dead, crushed, and ready to be blown away by the wind. Who cares? God wants us to have peaceful, joyful relationships with those who are closest to us. Being right doesn’t amount to anything if it breaks up a relationship.
Is there someone you need to go to and ask for forgiveness? What can you do to begin healing a relationship that has been broken for too long? Do you have a story of church brokenness that you have not been able to forgive? Is there a time when you left the church disgusted, and have never gone back? Was the sin you saw or experienced worse than what Jesus experienced on the cross? Probably not! Look up Matthew 6:14-15. What does that tell you about your broken church experience? Ask God to take that pain away, and open doors to find the church He has already chosen for you. (To find out more about Al Earley or read previous articles see, www.lagrangepres.org).