The Righteous Word

Been involved in a number of conversations over the past several days on what’s happening in our land. And I don’t think they’re fueled just by media coverage and news cycles. I do think there’s a stirring in our hearts which is sourced from outside of our hearts.

I have talked with people who think there’s a systemic problem and with those who don’t. Have tried to listen more to those who have a perspective different than mine and have nodded my head more than once with those with whom I agree. What’s not in debate in my circles is that, as a value, justice for all people is a good thing and that the basis for an “all people” view is the Imago Dei — that every human being is an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:26-27). What’s also not in debate is that this world is not as it should be.

I’m thinking that may be why the following caused me to pause and reflect this morning.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life . . .

(Philippians 2:14-16a ESV)

A crooked and twisted generation. That’s what captures me initially. Paul’s talking to a people who live in a world that’s gone off the rails and has distorted and turned aside from what is true. And he points that out, not so the people of God might withdraw from such a “squalid and polluted society” (MSG), but that they might be motivated to be the children of God they were called to be, blameless and innocent, and shine as lights in such a world. The church needs to be the church, without grumbling and disputing, in order to be light in a world which has twisted justice and is either unaware of, or in denial of, the Imago Dei.

That’s what hooks me. But what I’m chewing on is how, at least in part, this happens.

. . . holding fast to the word of life . . .

To have a grip on. To observe. To attend to. To apply. That’s what the children of God must do with the word of God in order to be the light of God among a crooked and twisted generation. To believe that the Word really is the word of life, and believing that, to hold it fast.

Chewing on that for a bit then set me up for my reading in Psalm 119.

Righteous are You, O LORD, and right are Your rules.
You have appointed Your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness.
My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget Your words.
Your promise is well tried, and Your servant loves it.
I am small and despised, yet I do not forget Your precepts.
Your righteousness is righteous forever, and Your law is true.
Trouble and anguish have found me out, but Your commandments are my delight.
Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

(Psalm 119:137-144 ESV)

In a book I’ve started reading, the author makes the case that righteousness is more than just an attribute of God, it is also a dynamic, “God’s powerful activity of making right what is wrong in the world” (Eric Mason in Woke Church quoting The Crucifixion: Understanding the Death of Jesus Christ by Fleming Rutledge). Justice flows from righteousness. And in this stanza from the psalmist’s love song for the word of God, the integral link between God’s righteous character and His righteous testimonies adds fuel to Paul’s thought of holding fast to the word of life if we are going to shine as lights in a wayward world.

To be sure we need to be doers and not hearers only (James 1:22-25), but there is no doing without first hearing. No making a difference without first holding fast.

How we need to be people of the word, the righteous word — the life transforming gospel and the redemptive story of God’s restoration of the Imago Dei. And from that righteous word, willing to be agents of God. Used of God to impact our world, even if it’s just our little piece of the world.

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5:24ESV)

Only by God’s grace. Only for God’s glory.

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