In my vain life I have seen everything. There is a righteous man who perishes in his righteousness, and there is a wicked man who prolongs his life in his evildoing. Be 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? It is good that you should take hold of this, and from that withhold not your hand, for the one who fears God shall come out from both of them. (Ecclesiastes 7:15-18, ESV)
I admit my behavior swings constantly from legalism to liberalism and I get it right like two days a year. Balance is hard for me. Is it hard for you? Do you find it difficult just to follow Jesus? I do. I often want to add to what God requires and tragically, I subtract from it sometimes. Solomon gives us three principles for living in balance before God.
- Don’t trust in your own Pharisaic righteousness: Solomon says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” Solomon is pointing to the self-righteous tendencies of the legalist, much like Jesus in Matthew 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”
- Don’t be foolish with your freedom: Solomon warns us not to be overly wicked nor to be a fool. This is the other extreme from the legalist. While we acknowledge that sin is a part of our existence, even as Christians (Galatians 5:16-17), we must jettison the idea that because the presence of sin remains we have no responsibility to put it to death. That’s not wise, nor is it safe. Christians put sin to death (Romans 8:13-14).
- Fear God: Reverence, worship God. Solomon takes the focus off of behavior and puts it on God. This is the journey of our existence as we seek to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Seek the balance between legalism and license: worship. We know that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10), and that Jesus Christ is to the believer “wisdom and righteousness” (1 Cor. 1:30), so we, as God’s people must avoid these extreme behaviors and seek to do the ordinary thing: worship Christ.