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The Scriptorium

Living in the Tension

Ecclesiastes 7.16-18

16Do not be overly righteous,
Nor be overly wise:
Why should you destroy yourself?

17Be not overly wicked,
Nor be foolish:
Why should you die before your time?

18It isgood that you grasp this,
And also not remove your hand from the other;
For he who fears God will escape them all.

The Story:Taken by themselves, these are some of the most perplexing verses in Ecclesiastes. Why would any believer settle for less than more righteousness? And why would any righteous person want to be wicked in any degree, much less “overly”? And what is “this, and…the other”? But if we keep these verses in the context of Solomon’s own experience, and his understanding of the sovereignty of God, we can make good sense of them. Solomon’s pride began to be his destruction when he considered himself wiser and more righteous than any man alive. If that’s your goal in pursuing righteousness and wisdom, Solomon says, give it up; it will only lead to your downfall. Moreover, Solomon seemed to think he could dabble in folly and still remain wise (Eccl. 2). This happened because he failed to realize the power of sin and thought he could “handle it.” His advice here should thus be understood as, “Don’t give sin any more length in your life than it will take of its own accord.” The result? We must learn to live in the tension between righteousness and wisdom, which we are called to seek (“this”), and the sin we cannot escape, but which we must not allow to rule us (“the other”).

The Structure:This is excellent advice for believers during this time of redemption and restoration of all things. Projected on to a social and cultural scale we can say that we must seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, so that righteousness, peace, and joy increase among men (Rom. 14.17, 18). At the same time, we must remember that there will always be tares, even in the fields of the Lord, and we must not think we can completely eradicate these (Matt. 13.36-43). Christians live in a time of tension between the “already” of the Kingdom of God and its “not yet.” The course of wisdom is to keep our eyes on the Lord in the midst of everything we do, lest we be overcome by the travail and folly of our age and sin that clings to our own lives (Col. 3.1-3; Heb. 2.9; 12.1, 2).

How do you experience this tension? How do you make the most of it (Eph. 5.15-17)? How would you counsel a new believer to prepare for and handle the pull that comes from either side of this tension?

Each week’s studies in our Scriptorium column are available in a free PDF form, suitable for personal or group use. For this week’s study, “Telling it Slant (2),” simply click here.

T. M. Moore

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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