The Reward of Righteousness
(by Pastor Trent Boedicker)
Text: Proverbs 11:18-19
The wicked earns deceptive wages, But he who sows righteousness gets a true reward. He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death.
How many of you have ever planted a garden? I know that some of you have grown things like tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, green peppers, potatoes, carrots… There is something special about enjoying food that has come from your own back yard. When you bite into that juicy tomato, all of the hours spend pulling weeds will be worthwhile. When you sink your teeth into the ear of sweetcorn, all of the sweat is forgotten. It is rewarding to carry in a basket of fruit or vegetables that you had a hand in producing.
I’m not a farmer, and I haven’t done a lot of gardening, but I do know that there is a universal principle that is true no matter what you’re trying to grow. The type of seed you plant in the ground will determine the type of crop that you produce. If you plant tomato seeds, what are going to get? …tomatoes. If you plant radishes, what you would you expect to harvest? …radishes. Have you ever heard of anyone who planted a row of corn and ended up with a watermelon? No, not unless he mixed something up along the way. You reap what you sow.
The same principle is true in our spiritual lives, as well. Our passage this morning tells us that those who sow wickedness will end up reaping judgment. Whatever momentary gain that they think they have acquired will be short lived. Whether in this life or the next, it will eventually catch up with them and they will have to give an account of their actions before God. On the other hand, those who sow a life of righteousness will one day reap a reward as they stand in the presence of God. There are blessings that we will find, both in this life and the next, as we seek the Lord.
This was an important lesson that Solomon wanted to impress upon his son. How you live your life matters. Solomon knew that the young man would eventually take his place as king of Israel, and he wanted his son to rule with justice and integrity. So many kings in the ancient world imagined there was no higher authority than their own. They did whatever they pleased, because they didn’t think there was anyone to hold them accountable. But they were wrong. No matter how mighty or powerful a person might be, we will all have to answer to God.
This is very prominent theme that runs throughout the book of Proverbs. If you were to take a concordance and look up the word “righteous” you find almost 100 references throughout this book alone. There are at least 50 verses where Solomon describes the righteous person in comparison to the wicked. If we reap what we sow, God’s people ought to pursue lives of righteousness.
1. The first question that comes to our mind, and we read verses like this, is: Who is the righteous man? And who are the wicked?
Verse 18 says “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.” When we hear the word “wicked,” we automatically think that this must be someone who is really bad like a murderer, or a bank robber, or a terrorist. It has to be someone whose life is a lot worse than mine, right? Actually, when we look at how the word is used in Scripture, we learn that the definition is much broader than this. All human beings have sin in our hearts, and apart from God we are headed the wrong way. In the NT the apostle Paul tells us, “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does god, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). That’s not a very flattering description of the human race, but it’s the truth. Without the Lord, I am a part of that realm, I would belong to that crowd, that is who I would be. And so the wicked aren’t simply the worst kinds of criminals that you can imagine, it is everyone who does not know God, who doesn’t have room for the Lord in their life, and as a result lives for themselves.
When we read about the righteous, you might suppose this describes some kind of super-saint, someone who has a lived a perfect life, who has managed to keep every command in the Bible, they’ve probably never told a single lie, have never lost their temper, and haven’t even gotten a parking ticket. It must be someone who is flawless in every way. But if we look a little closer we realize that this can’t be what it means because no such person exists. There has only ever been one person in the history of the world who has a lived a sinless life – the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the Son of God. No one else has even come close.
If you turn with me to Proverbs 20:9 Solomon asks us a convicting question. He wonders, “Who can say, ‘I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin’?” The answer (of course) is no one. I don’t think any of us would want to claim that every thought that has entered your mind and every action you have ever committed has been faultless. If that’s what you tell yourself, you are lying. We have all stumbled. We have all failed. None of us are perfect. The only way that our hearts can be made pure is through God’s forgiveness. There is no amount of good works I can do to tilt the scale in my favor. There is no religious ritual I can perform to get right with God. It is only through God’s mercy, humbling myself before Him in repentance and faith, that I can be made right with God.
There are several people, throughout the Bible, who are described as being a righteous man or a righteous woman. It isn’t that they were perfect people, or that they never committed a sin, that’s not the case. What brought them into a right relationship with God was faith. They knew the Lord. They loved God. They had come to trust in Him. That was certainly the case if we were to look at the example of Abraham. Scripture tells us that “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Rom. 4:3) It’s not that Abraham was some kind of super-saint, or that he never stumbled, or that he always did everything right. He had faith. He trusted God. And it was on that basis he was brought into a right relationship with the Lord.
Whether a person lives in the dispensation of promise, or the dispensation of law, or the dispensation of grace… all throughout redemptive history faith is always the key. Proverbs 16:20 tell us “…blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” And so when we read about the righteous person, in Scripture, it is talking about those who have come to know God, and have experienced His forgiveness. The righteous person trusts in the Lord, relying on His grace for redemption rather than our own efforts.
2. Another question that comes to mind, as we explore the book of Proverbs, is: How does the righteous person live?
What is it that differentiates his character from that of the wicked? In essence, that’s what the entire book of Proverbs is about: listening to the wisdom of God’s Word, and walking in the ways of the Lord.
Proverbs 15:9 tells us that the path the righteous follow is very different from the world around us. Look at Proverbs 15:9. “The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, But He loves one who pursues righteousness.”
The wicked not only reject God, but they also disregard His ways. They do as they please, whatever seems good in their own eyes. They say, “I don’t care what the Bible says, I’m going to decide for myself what is right for me. You go your way, I’ll go mine, and don’t try to tell me that what I’m doing is wrong.” And it’s that rebellious attitude that is offensive to the Lord. The verse tells us that the way of the wicked is an abomination to Him. It’s not the sinner that that He hates, Scripture tells us that God so loved the world He sent His Son to save us. But it’s the sin that the Lord despises, (the way of the wicked) and the destructive results. The wicked only care about pleasing themselves, but the righteous care about pleasing the Lord. They follow the ways of the Lord, wanting to honor Him with their lives.
Even if the rest of the world is going the other way, the righteous continue to stand their ground. Even if the rest of the world chooses to live by its own set of rule, the righteous hold to values that are shaped by the Word of God. Our highest goal, and our greatest ambition, is that our lives would bring glory to God. As a husband, I want to do things that will make my wife happy, because I love her. I enjoyed cooking her a good meal, on Valentine’s Day, and I wanted to make something I knew she would like. She doesn’t like some things, so I wouldn’t serve them… believers enjoy living for the Lord, because we know it pleases Him, and the thought of bringing a smile to God’s face makes us smile, I wouldn’t want to displease him
3. We talked about who the righteous person is, and how the righteous live. What is the reward of righteousness?
What difference does it make, how we live (whether we choose to live for ourselves or live for the Lord)? Proverbs tells us that it matters a great deal. We started in Proverbs 11:18 which says, “The wicked earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness gets a true reward.”
It sure seems, at times, as if the wicked prosper on this earth. There are a lot of people who don’t care about anyone else, they certainly don’t care about God. They do whatever makes them happy, and from where we’re standing it might appear as if their lives are great. But it won’t last, the wicked are only fooling themselves. Sooner or later it will all come crashing down. Don’t envy the wicked, and don’t imitate their example. It is a mirage that will quickly fade.
The true reward comes from walking with God. For one thing, the righteous have a clean conscience. Look at Proverbs 28:1. “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are as bold as a lion.” Picture a gang of desperados, in the Wild West, camped out in the middle of nowhere, in the Arizona desert. They know they are wanted me, and do their best to avoid the law. One evening, as they sit around the campfire, they hear the sound of rustling leaves and immediately leap to their feet. It’s only the wind, but they don’t know that, and hop on the back of their horses riding away as quickly as they can, leaving all of their gear behind. That’s how the wicked live. They always jumpy, hounded by a guilty conscience, afraid of being found out. But there is confidence that comes from living for the Lord. We don’t have to pretend to be something that we’re not. There is no need to worry about anyone discovering the truth about us. What you see is what you get. We readily admit that we were sinners, but have been saved by grace. And even though we are far from perfect, God is still working in our hearts, shaping us more and more each day to reflect His character in our lives. We can be bold. Our lion-like confidence comes from the Lord, and knowing where we stand with Him.
Another blessing is knowing that the Lord is always near. Turn to Proverbs 15:29. “The Lord is far from the wicked, but He hears the prayer of the righteous.” God cares for us. There is never a moment when He is far away from His children. His presence is always with us. He hears our prayers, and He listens to our petitions. He knows our needs even better than we do. Does a mom or dad let their little toddler wander around by themselves in Walmart? I hope not. It would be scary thing if they did. God leave the righteous alone to wander this earth. We enjoy a personal relationship with Him, and take comfort in knowing that He is always a part of our lives. That’s not the case for the wicked. As one commentator puts it, “The wicked keep a distance from him; so he is “far” [away] from them, an idea that signifies that he is inaccessible or deaf to their appeal.” (Ross, A. P. (1991). Proverbs, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 5, p. 1000).
And as the righteous look to the future, they have an eternal hope. Turn to Proverbs 10:25. “When the whirlwind passes, the wicked is no more, but the righteous has an everlasting foundation.” I couldn’t believe how windy it was on Friday, all day long. I was studying in the office, most of the day, and I was starting to wonder if the whole church was going to be lifted off the ground and carried off to Oz. I’m glad that we don’t get many tornados here in our area, but now and then we get a bad storm that tears shingles off of people’s homes, or blows over large trees. That’s always something to see the roots of a tree ripped right out of the ground. One day the wicked will be carried away in judgment. The Lord is a loving God, and He has done everything to make it possible for a person to be saved. But for those who reject Him, who harden their hearts, who refuse His grace, they are headed for disaster. But the righteous have a foundation that will never crumble, and will never fail, where we are safe even in the day of wrath. When the rest of the world is carried away in the storm, God’s people will remain. It’s not because of who we are, or what we have done, but simply because our faith rests upon the solid rock of the Savior, Jesus Christ. We know where we are headed, and we look forward to that day with anticipation, longing to see the Lord face to face.
What kind of life are you living? Are you following the path of the righteous, or plodding along the way of the wicked? The verses that we’ve looked at this morning remind us that it matters. We will reap what we sow. There are consequences for turning our back on God, and rebelling against His ways. It may not catch up with a person in this life, though they will certainly be missing out on the abundant life that comes from the Lord, but one day they will have to give an account of how they spent their days on this earth before their Creator. At the same time, there is a reward for righteousness. It is not always received in this earthly life. The best is yet to come, when we enter glory. Yet, each day that we walk with the Lord, though filled with trials and difficulties, will overflow with the joy of knowing the Savior.
- Make sure that you are trusting in the Lord to bring you into a right relationship with Him. When we place our confidence in our own good works, the best we can produce is self-righteousness. God invites us to come to Him in repentance and faith, and He promises to give us a clean heart.
- If you know the Lord, follow His ways. Salvation is not a fire insurance policy that we can tuck away somewhere to escape the flames of hell. It is a change of heart, and a changed life. You were a sinner, but the Lord has given you a new name and calls you a saint. Live out your calling. Let Him shape your heart to reflect his holiness and righteousness and love.
- Look to the reward. When it seems as if the wicked prosper in the world today, remember that there is another chapter, the story isn’t over. Stay the course knowing that in the end it will be worth it. In fact it is already worthwhile, even if we might have to suffer for doing right. The blessing of having God in our life, and knowing that we have a future with Him, is enough to keep us going.