Why does it matter how our politicians, celebrities and business leaders behave? Why the tabloid obsession with their misdemeanours? Partly it’s just gossip. But a big part of it links to a sense of justice – that good people should do well and when they do, we all do well.
It’s why we get behind the underdog -especially if they have a compelling back story. If an X-Factor’s singing ability is in doubt do a VT about how they love their nan!
It’s why we care about seeing the right people elected for the right reasons. It’s what made the 2016 referendum on Brexit so hard for many – on the one hand a perception of rulers who were remote, unaccountable, self-interested but on the other hand people stirring up hatred for their own ends.
And there was a time when the simple thing for Christians was to simply go to church, enjoy their faith in private and not to connect those things up -privatised. However, there’s been a renewal of the idea that our faith should influence our engagement with public life. Some people talk about our responsibility to seek the welfare of the City.
Proverbs 11:10-11 says:
10 When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices;
when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.
11 Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted,
but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed.
Exploring the Proverb
Why does it matter that the righteous prosper?
Because righteousness in a city results in
- Honesty (v1)
- Good judgement and neighbourliness (v 12)
- Wise counsel and guidance ( v14)
- Trustworthiness (v13)
- Kindness (v 16 – 17)
Wickedness results in
- Pride and disgrace (v 2)
- Evil desires/lust (v6)
- Gossip/slander (v9, 13)
- Cruelty (v 17)
These are general truths – generally speaking you are likely to be better off in a society where good people prosper. Generally speaking that’s what we want
But I think there’s a little bit more to this
- What is righteousness?
Righteousness is to do with having a right standing before God. It’s a status.
It’s a Legal status. A judge will declare someone righteous – justified. You are vindicated when this happens. You’ve acted in the right way. You are the one who has been wronged. For Israel and Solomon, it was God’s verdict that counted. Did they have a right standing before Him?
It’s a Relational status. For Israel/the Jews this mattered. What happens when you’re in the wrong, or your unclean or unholy. Well, it means punishment which might involve the death penalty or paying a fine but also shaming, and exile/exclusion. When the whole community was unrighteous it led to exile from God’s land.
So righteousness is about safety, salvation and belonging (see Proverbs 10:27 & 30, 11:6).
By the way, this whole idea of righteousness and justification meaning you belong to God’s covenant people is why Paul says in Galatians that how believers treat each other matters. Jews should welcome Gentiles to dinner.
- What is the City?
The obvious answer – literal in the UK has a royal charter from the Queen and perhaps a cathedral. More generally we think of a large urban population
But here, it means Jerusalem. This is the place where God reigned through his King. Jerusalem and its temple represented God’s presence and God’s protection. The Problem was that so often in the OT we see that the righteous did not prosper there (see e.g. Isaiah 1:21, 26). That’s why we need good news. Isaiah 65, Rev 22 speak of a new creation and a new Jerusalem. Jesus, God’s righteous king has conquered sin and death at Calvary. He is the righteous ruler. It’ Jesus who is the righteous one who prospers. This is the starting point for our application
Applying the Proverb
Believers can rejoice – we are safe and secure because Jesus the righteous one prospers/succeeds
-Praise: the biggest application for believers is that we should worship -give thanks, delight, enjoy God.
-Assurance: know that what ever is happening in the world around your eternal destiny is secure
– Rejoicing and praising includes witnessing: -we tell others. Evangelism isn’t just about telling people how to get saved it’s part of our worship. Even if they don’t respond, we are still praising. God hears.
- We can be righteous and love/bless our city
Justification leads to sanctification – right moral behaviour flows out from our status with Christ. We can be faithful witnesses, we can love and serve the community around us.
There is a consistent theme throughout Scripture, our relationship with Christ affects our relationship with others.
How we live today is a foretaste of the day when God will renew and restore Creation and the New Jerusalem will be fully revealed.
 NIV (2011)