Solomon makes a trenchant observation contrasting the wicked and the righteous: “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive with them” (Pro. 28:4). Last week we examined the first part of that proverb. Today we will consider the second part.
It is axiomatic that a foundational quality of righteousness is antagonism toward wickedness. But that reality seems to have escaped a good portion of our modern generation. If “striving” against the wicked is an essential part of the definition of righteousness, the suspicion grows that many who profess to be righteous are deceived.
Note the object against which the righteous strive: “the wicked.” Biblical righteousness demands a striving against not just some disembodied principle of wickedness, but against specific individuals who perpetrate wickedness—not with guns, or fisticuffs (as they used to say), not even with legislation. The righteous strive against the wicked with the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God. True righteousness exposes and denounces sin and the sinners who commit it. Examples abound.
Nehemiah was granted authority by King Artaxerxes to leave Susa, the capitol of the Persian empire to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. He returned to Jerusalem to find the nation, the city, and its inhabitants in disarray and the temple forsaken. Nehemiah strove against that wickedness: “I reprimanded the officials and said, ‘Why is the house of God forsaken?’” (Neh. 13:11a). Having begun there, he “saw in Judah some” who were violating the sabbath by working and carrying on commerce. So “I admonished them on the day they sold food,” Nehemiah records (13:15b). Then he “reprimanded the nobles of Judah” (v. 17a) for “profaning the sabbath day” (v. 17b) by allowing commerce. So entrenched was the sin that “Once or twice the traders and merchants . . . spent the night outside Jerusalem” (v. 20) in the hope of sneaking in and conducting sales on the sabbath. “Then I warned them,” Nehemiah declares, “and said to them . . . if you do so again, I will use force against you. . . . And I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come as gatekeepers to sanctify the sabbath day” (vv. 21-22a). Not yet finished with his striving against the wicked, Nehemiah “saw that the Jews had married women from Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab” (v. 23). Did he ignore this delicate but grievous sin? No. “So I contended with them and cursed them and struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor take of their daughters for your sons or for yourselves’” (v. 25).
Are believers today called upon to physically attack the wicked? Of course not. But Solomon affirms that “to those who rebuke the wicked will be delight, and a good blessing will come upon them” (Pro. 24:25). Paul exhorts the church: “Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose [or “reprove”] them” (Eph. 5:11). There is no such thing as peaceful coexistence with sin. Whether John the Baptist, calling the Pharisees and Sadducees a “brood of vipers” (Matt. 3:7), the Lord Jesus pronouncing woe on nearly the same cast of characters (Matt. 23), Peter denouncing the crucifiers of Christ (Acts 2:23), or Paul rebuking the Galatians for succumbing to legalism (Gal. 1:6), the New Testament is filled with exhortations to strive against wickedness as well as examples of believers faithfully contending for the faith.
The wickedness against which believers must stand comes in various forms. We must strive against criminal behavior and against overtly sinful acts in our midst and those who commit them. We must strive against doctrinal heresy and those who promote it, and we must strive against sins of omission, like complacency and lukewarmness and those who submit to it. A believer receives a coat of armor and a sword, not in order to parade down Main Street, but in order to strive against wickedness and the wicked. We must start with ourselves.
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