Today read Proverbs 10:1-16.
The word “righteous” means “that which is right” or “one who is right.” Being “right” requires some kind of standard for measuring the “rightness” of something. In the Old Testament, the thing that is “right” is God’s law because it came from God himself who is always righteous. So, when the book Proverbs talks about “righteousness” or a “righteous” person, it is describing someone who acts as God would act, or as God expects us to act as defined by his laws.
Today’s reading from Proverbs 10 refers to righteousness directly in some way or other in verse 3, 6, 7, 11, and 16. Each of these verses praises the benefits of righteousness--the righteous won’t go hungry (v. 3), wear a crown of blessings (v. 7), have their names used as blessings (v. 7), speak words that are “a fountain of life” (v. 11), and earn life as their wages (v. 16a). Wisdom, then, calls a person to a righteous life. It points people to God’s character as revealed in his word and says, “Live this way and you will be blessed in so many ways in your life.”
Let’s drill down on verse 7, though, and think about what it is saying. The verse says, “The name of the righteous is used in blessings, but the name of the wicked will rot.” What comes to mind when I mention the names:
- Bernie Madoff
- O. J. Simpson
These are two high profile examples of people who made a name for themselves--Madoff in finance and Simpson in professional sports. Both of them were heroes to many for a long time in their lives. Before his “investment firm” was exposed as a Ponzi scheme, many people thought Madoff had made them wealthy or increased their wealth. Some of these people may have raised a toast to him or named their children after him in years past. But while they were praising his investment prowess, he was spending their money, not investing it. His wicked ways eventually caught up with him and his name is now synonymous with fraud, fulfilling this proverb, “the name of the wicked will rot.” Something similar could be said about O. J. Simpson, among guys who became interested in football or rooted for him or bought his jersey or made money in Buffalo because of his popularity.
In addition to these high profile people, there are millions of smaller examples of people who exploited others for their own selfish reasons. Though they may have once had a good reputation, their name is now rotting because of their wicked ways.
Those who lived a righteous life, however, are remembered fondly by spouses, by their children and grandchildren, by their business partners or co-workers, by civic leaders and neighbors. I see this whenever I attend a funeral for someone who lived a righteous life; people line up to say good things about that person because “the name of the righteous is used in blessings.”
In addition to the fact that we will answer to God for how we live on this earth, there is something to be said for considering your reputation when you make moral choices. Is this decision something you want to be said about you or is it something you would never want to be known? These questions can guide us toward wiser decisions in our lives.
Let me add, of course, that nobody is completely righteous--that’s a fundamental truth of scripture. God’s grace covers our sins and even those who have harmed their reputation can rebuild it with repentance and through sustained obedience. Don’t let this proverb cause you to feel guilty; let it warn you and motivate you to wise--righteous--in the decisions you make with your life going forward.