Practical Righteousness Part I
Dr. Joe Temple


Open your Bibles to the book of Proverbs, chapter 28, that portion of the Word of God that we have been studying together. You will recall that we are studying the book of Proverbs according to the natural divisions into which the book falls. At the present time we are in that portion of the book that begins with chapter 25 and concludes with chapter 29 and has been described to you as The Gleanings of Hezekiah's Men , according to chapter 25, verse 1.

Each chapter within that division has to do with some definite truths that need to be brought to our attention, for the book of Proverbs is a book which is related to the earth more than it is to Heaven, related to living here more than it is there. That is one of the reasons it is not as popular as it might be, ordinarily speaking. We love to sing about “The Sweet By and By,” because we don't have to reckon with it, but when we come to living in the “nasty now and now,” it takes an entirely different attitude in the lives of many people.

The book of Proverbs tells us what is expected of us on this earth. We suggested to you that in chapter 28 you would find the subject of practical righteousness discussed. If you will look at chapter 28, you will see that it has 28 verses. If you are familiar with the makeup of the book of Proverbs, you know that we would profit very little from reading those 28 verses at one sitting because so many of the Proverbs are not in continuity—many of them are not continuously related to the subject at hand.

Instead of doing that, I have grouped together the proverbs which have the same theme connected with practical righteousness, and I want to give you a little survey of what we are going to find in the chapter. Then we will continue, as time permits, within the chapter itself.

In this chapter dealing with practical righteousness we are going to find discussed for us practical righteousness and the nation. We are going to find discussed for us practical righteousness and the individual. We will find discussed for us practical righteousness and the poor, and we will find discussed for us practical righteousness and the rich.

If you are interested in knowing how to live a righteous life practically in these various areas, we will discover how in the chapter that is before us. But I think before we try, it would be wise for us to get together in our thinking and understand exactly what I am talking about when I am talking about the subject of practical righteousness because everybody may not be thinking along the same line in this connection. Let me suggest to you that the definition of practical righteousness, as far as I am concerned, is “righteousness in practice.”

There is an imputed righteousness which is yours because you come to know Christ as Savior, and because of that imputed righteousness you are looked upon as righteous in the sight of God. It does not necessarily follow that you will be righteous in your actions simply because you are considered righteous in God's sight. Because individuals do not understand the difference between imputed righteousness and practical righteousness, quite often they are confused about a person's relationship to Jesus Christ. They look upon the lack of practical righteousness in a person's life and immediately say, “That person could not be a Christian.” How do you know he isn't? “Well, I work with him; I live with him; and he couldn't be a Christian the way he lives.” It is sad to have to say it because it ought not to be true in a sense, and yet it is truly a marvelous thing of grace that that person with whom you work, that person with whom you live, who does not act like a Christian and does not live like a Christian could be a Christian because of his faith in Christ, because of God's redemption that is without cost to every man.

I am sure that it would make the heart of God happy indeed if all of us who claim the name of Christ would follow the exhortation found in Paul's letter to Timothy which contains a wonderful promise that we love to think about. But we are not too concerned about the exhortation that goes with the promise. You recall that Paul, writing to Timothy, gave this young preacher the encouragement of—and he needed it I am sure—the foundation of God's standard: “…having this seal, the LORD knoweth them that are his.” I am glad for that. I am glad that the Lord knows who belongs to Him. I am glad it is not my responsibility to determine that.

How we rejoice in that promise: “The LORD knoweth them that are his.” But you will notice that immediately following the promise is the exhortation: “Let him that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity,” and I think that that is where most of us fall short. We rejoice in the fact that our salvation is sure, but we are not as careful in our living as we ought to be.

Practical Righteousness and the Nation

Having suggested this definition for practical righteousness—righteousness in practice—I would like to think with you about righteousness in practice as far as the nation is concerned. A nation is made up of two groups of people—rulers and ordinary citizens, rulers and the ruled. Solomon kept that in mind in this chapter, and he gives us instructions concerning practical righteousness as far as rulers are concerned. As we examine the chapter we are going to discover that rulers are very definitely responsible for anarchy in their kingdoms if they do not exercise God-given wisdom, and so we consider what Solomon has to say about wisdom and anarchy in verse 2. You will notice:

Proverbs 28:

2 For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.

Looking at that proverb on the surface, you may not catch the real meaning and the real significance of it at the outset, so let us look at the word, for a moment, that tells the story. It is the word transgression . “For the transgression of a land many are the princes…” What that phrase is saying is that because of a certain transgression or transgressions, a land oftentimes has many rulers.

We immediately begin to think and evaluate the word and determine that the transgression that the Spirit of God had in mind is rebellion —rebellion against legal authority, rebellion against the laws of the land, rebellion against the ruler of the land, for in the day in which the proverb was written that was to be considered. Should there be any question in your mind about that, we would remind you that this word transgression is not the usual word for transgression in the Hebrew. It is the word that is usually translated by rebellion or rebel . As a matter of fact, in II Kings, chapter 1, verse 1, an example will be found where men rebelled against the rulers of the land and the word is used often in that book with that connection.

Look at the second part of the verse and notice what follows the conjunction but . Notice as we read again:

Proverbs 28:

2 …but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged.

If there is a man in authority who has knowledge, if there is a man in authority who has understanding, there will not be this constant state of anarchy in the sense that there is no sure governing power within the land. It is an interesting thing, isn't it, that Solomon, who knew much and was wisely great, did not bring the anarchy of the land upon the citizens. He blamed it upon the leaders, and that is where the real responsibility lies.

I want to share with you some other renderings of this particular verse, so that you might be able to get the real thrust of it. The Amplified Bible says it this way: “When a land transgresses it has many rulers, but when the ruler is a man of discernment, understanding, and knowledge, its stability will long continue.” The editors of the Amplified Bible have tried to capture in that statement all of the various shades of meaning of the words transgression and the words understanding and knowledge .

We recognize, because we are dealing with the Word of God, that any transgression, regardless of what kind of transgression it is, is a moral transgression, that any kind of transgression is a transgression against God. You may not consider it so. You may violate the speed limit and not be particularly concerned about it, and if you are, you say, “Oh, I have never gotten a ticket for anything except speeding.” You assume by your very actions and your statement that after all, what is that. Well, it may be a minor infraction of the law of man, but it is very definitely a transgression against God, for violation of the laws of men, which are God's duly constituted authorities, is a transgression against Him, and He doesn't smile upon it.

Another rendering catches that idea, which reads: “When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily, but with honest, sensible leaders there is stability.” Moral rot within begins always with a careless attitude concerning the law on the part of its citizens. We will have more to say about that later. We are talking about rulers now, and I would like for you to look with me at verse 3:

Proverbs 28:

3 A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.

Then, I would like for you to glance down at verse 15, and notice:

Proverbs 28:

15 As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.

Then notice down in verse 16:

Proverbs 28:

16 The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.

As we continue our thinking about rulers I would like for you to think with me about what Solomon has to say concerning the devastation that it wrought in any nation by oppressors in authority, regardless of who they be or the kind of oppression. Oppression, whether it is peaceful or warlike, devastates the subjects of any nation.

Look again at verse 3, which speaks of the poor man in authority. You may wonder why I am suggesting this poor man is a ruler. A poor man would have no opportunity for oppression if he were not in authority. The whole thrust of the verse is that a poor man by some means or other is installed in a place of authority. It seems that he is harder on the class of people from whence he is come than upon any other class. So devastating is a man in authority, unprepared for that authority, that he is described in this verse “as a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.”

Oftentimes the harvest is used as an illustration in the book of Proverbs, and here is a case in point. Notice:

Proverbs 28:

3 A poor man that oppresseth the poor is like a sweeping rain which leaveth no food.

The sweeping rain floods all the harvest fields and ruins all the grain. It leaves absolutely no food before it. It is a devastating thing. The whole land will starve because of it. Why? Because there is a poor man who is oppressing the poor—the poor man in authority. It is a characteristic of individuals who are unprepared for authority, who lust for power. They become oppressors.

Something far more dangerous than a desire for money is a desire for power. Something far more dangerous is when that desire for power is a desire for fame. You might keep these things in mind as the election draws near.

Notice verse 15:

Proverbs 28:

15 As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.

Notice the reference to this wicked ruler. What kind of wickedness could there be in mind? Certainly the Word of God would not generalize and simply refer to a man as being wicked without emphasizing the kind of wickedness since we are talking about different kinds of rulers in this chapter. We learn the kind of wickedness that the Spirit of God had in mind by the illustration that He gives. Look again at verse 15:

Proverbs 28:

15 As a roaring lion, and a ranging bear; so is a wicked ruler over the poor people.

Another rendering perhaps will make it clearer: “Like a starving lion or a thirsty bear is a wicked man ruling helpless people.” The wickedness of which this ruler is guilty is so oppressing the people under him that they are utterly helpless, and he is eating their food and drinking their water, figuratively speaking, without regard to their needs, slaking his own thirst and satisfying his own appetite at the expense of the people whom he is supposed to be caring for. The concept of government that is taught in the Bible is that the man who is in authority is in authority under God to lead the people in righteousness.

Notice verse 16, where we have a ruler lacking in understanding. We read:

Proverbs 28:

16 The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor: but he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.

Notice the first statement, please:

Proverbs 28:

16 The prince that wanteth understanding is also a great oppressor…

We have been talking about poor men in authority who oppress. We have been talking about ranging bears and roaring lions who oppress. There is also another kind of man that will oppress if he is put in authority, and that is the man who wants understanding. Surely it is not necessary for me to emphasize that understanding , here, is not a word that describes education. It is not a word that describes training. We have already had it once. It is discernment , and it is a discernment of truth as it is found in God's Word. Any ruler who is lacking in discernment, either naturally or Biblically, will be an oppressor.

Summing up the subject of rulers in the last statement, you will notice in verse 16:

Proverbs 28:

16 …he that hateth covetousness shall prolong his days.

The reference is to his days of leadership in the nation. “He that hateth covetousness…” He who has nothing to do with the idea of feathering his own nest at the expense of those whom he rules will have his days prolonged.

Another rendering, if you please: “Only a stupid prince will oppress his people, but a king will have a long reign if he hates dishonesty and bribes.” Solomon was thinking in terms of his own day, not in terms of the day in which we live, but the principle is the same, for God raises up and God puts down to accomplish His own purposes.

I am glad we can say something before we leave the subject of rulers that is more encouraging than what we have been looking at, though it certainly has been very factual. I would like for you to notice verse 12 for another suggestion:

Proverbs 28:

12 When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.

Then glance down at verse 28:

Proverbs 28:

28 When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.

On the surface you probably would not recognize any reference to rulers, but in these two verses there is presented to us the concept of freedom under under righteous rulers. In verse 12 there is the rejoicing that there is in any land when the righteous are in power. Notice:

Proverbs 28:

12 When righteous men do rejoice, there is great glory: but when the wicked rise, a man is hidden.

This King James translation is not a happy one as far as conveying the real meaning of the verse, so let me suggest another rendering: “When the just are in power there are great celebrations. When the wicked come to the top others are downtrodden.” The contrast presented between the righteous and the wicked rulers is evident. There is rejoicing when the righteous are in power.

If you will glance down at verse 28 again, we see there is freedom:

Proverbs 28:

28 When the wicked rise, men hide themselves: but when they perish, the righteous increase.

The last thought of verse 12 tied in with this suggests the idea of wicked men in power cause good men to hide themselves. Sometimes they have to hide themselves for their very safety's sake; but sometimes they have to step out of the picture because they have no choice because they are not of the party in power. Whatever the suggestion might be, they are unable to have any say in what the government is doing, so they are in hiding for all practical purposes of speaking.

Then when they have the opportunity they come out of hiding and take a place of authority. The land rejoices when there are men who hate covetousness and love freedom.

In our land we have been blessed with those, rarely, who love freedom. There have been many times when we have had to live with those who were more interested in oppression than they were in freedom; but you will have a responsibility soon that you ought to be thinking very serously about, for in this land of ours the leadership of the nation is not an inherited office, and it is not meant to last forever, though some may think it is. There is something that can be done about it. At least, an effort can be made.

A Guilty Conscience and the Law

I would like to pass from the rulers to the citizens of the nation because in this chapter both the ruler and the citizens are dealt with as far as the welfare of a nation is concerned. It is an interesting thing to notice in this chapter that everything that is said about the citizens is in relation to the law. How you as a citizen feel about the law determines the welfare of this nation unless the Word of God be a liar. Please notice verse 1:

Proverbs 28:

1 The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion.

We describe this verse as representing a guilty conscience and the law. Will you tell me why it is that, by and large, when a policeman knocks on your door you sort of catch your breath? You don't know why he is there. You just see a police car out front. He knocks on the door and your heart sort of sinks. Now, why is that?

I know that you could conceive that he is coming with some bad news; somebody has had an accident or something like that. But if you are perfectly honest in your thinking, couldn't it be that the thought comes across your mind, “What have I done?”

If you had done absolutely nothing you wouldn't say that, but you begin to think back: “I wonder if he could be here because I came to a rolling stop instead of a regular stop. I wonder if he saw me in that school zone going 30 miles per hour instead of 20 miles? I wonder if he is here because I didn't change from 40 to 35 coming in off the Buffalo Gap road? Wonder why he is here? Wonder what he wants?” You say to yourself, “There usually is a policeman sitting under a tree on such and such a street, but I don't believe he was there today.”

Do you see what I am saying to you? I can tell by the expression on your faces I am getting close home to some of you, unless there are some of you folk who are saintly enough for glory already, and you can tune me out at the moment. The righteous are as bold as a lion, but guilty consciences flee when there really isn't a reason to flee because the policeman at the door may not be there because of anything you have done, but there is a twinge of conscience.

Thank God for conscience. Don't override your conscience too much or it will soon lose its influence, and don't override that sinking feeling when you see a policeman at your door or hear a siren behind you. It may be what will save your life sometime.

Respect for the Law

Notice what is recorded in verse 4:

Proverbs 28:

4 They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.

I suggest to you that verse 4 deals with respect for the law. How do you feel about law breakers? How do you feel about laws that are on the books to regulate certain facets of our society? Let me establish that I am well aware that you cannot legalize righteousness. We know that, but there are certain laws concerning pornography, for example. How do you feel about those laws? You say, “Well, they are no concern of mine because I'm just not interested in pornography.” Well, granted, but do you sort of bristle when there is some law that you think infringes on your personal liberty? You say, “Of course I am never going to do that, but I don't think people ought to be told what to do.”

Laws concerning intoxicating beverages: “Oh, I don't drink. I am a teetotaler, but I still don't think people ought to be told how much they can drink.” Is that your attitude? This is what Solomon is talking about, and it becomes even clearer if you will notice another rendering of verse 4. Look at verse 4 again in the King James rendering. We read:

Proverbs 28:

4 They that forsake the law praise the wicked: but such as keep the law contend with them.

One rendering has it: “The lawless praise wicked men. The law abiding contend with them.” That is putting it pretty strong, isn't it? Another rendering: “To complain about the law is to praise wickedness. To obey the law is to fight evil.”

We are talking about laws of the type that I mentioned. To complain about laws that are connected to practical righteousness, God's Word says, is to side with the wicked. That is why I have always been bold to say in this town that I do not believe you can legalize righteousness; but if a liquor election ever comes up I am always on the side of those who want to keep this city dry. People who want to drink will drink, but I don't want to ever be classed with the people who endorse it, so I always take my stand according to this proverb here.

Presently connected with what we are noticing thus far is something brought to our attention in verse 7:

Proverbs 28:

7 Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

You will notice where this particular verse has its beginning. It is in the home. Notice the first part of the verse again:

Proverbs 28:

7 Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son…

We are talking about the father/son relationship. But if a son does not keep the law of the land, who is hurt most forth? His father. His father is brought to shame. It is the father who has to go to bat for the child he loves.

We have noticed in the book of Proverbs the parent/child relationship rather consistently. There is quite a bit to say about it, in fact. We notice quite often the failure on the part of parents, but you look closely at this verse and you will see that is not the case here. Why is it the son lost his respect for the law? Why is it that he was influenced against the law? Why is it that he had the idea that there was no real need to observe the law? Look at verse 7 again:

Proverbs 28:

7 Whoso keepeth the law is a wise son: [notice carefully] but he that is a companion of riotous men shameth his father.

Where did the trouble begin? When the individual in question began to keep their own company. When the individual in question began to have companionship with riotous men, for these riotous men were an influence against the law.

Parents, you are very careful about many things, and you have trained your children well, but let me suggest that you don't sit back and think there is nothing else for you. Know the people with whom your children associate. Make it your business to find out who they are. If your children associate with people who, in the light of the discussion, have no respect for the law, don't hesitate to forbid your children to associate with those kinds of people. The principle taught in the New Testament is still true. “Evil communications corrupt good manners.”

I recognize that there are times when children reach the time when what you have to say about it is not going to do much good. After all, if your child reaches that place in maturity that he refuses to obey you, and he is old enough to do as he pleases about it, you can't cut off his head. What can you do?

I believe that you should go to a power higher than your son and the power higher than yourself. I believe that you should go to the Throne of Grace, and if you cannot forbid your son or your daughter, as the case may be, as to the company they keep, ask God to interfere in their lives. God can do it. I shudder to think what might have happened in my family if Cricket and I had not believed in intercessory pray in their behalf and asked God to do what we could not do.

I say that through—and my children know it—no unkindness nor lack of respect for them. Father, you may do the best that you can, but watch out for riotous companions who have no respect for the law because their influence is easily absorbed.

Interference with the Law

Look at verse 17:

Proverbs 28:

17 A man that doeth violence to the blood of any person shall flee to the pit; let no man stay him.

I suggest that we treat this verse under the phraseology interference with the law because that is what it suggests to me. This is couched in Old Testament language. The verse is speaking not about manslaugter, but about murder. Those of you who are familiar with Old Testament practices know that the man who was guilty of manslaughter could flee to any city of refuge and find refuge from the kinsman avenger until the danger was past. This man is not going to the city of refuge; he is going to the pit. The pit is the place of departed spirits. He is slated for death.

The real thrust of this verse is in the last statment: “…no man stay him.” Never interfere with the law. There is a personal sense in which this may be interpreted. A man is fleeing from the law and you aid him and abet him. God is forbidding you to do that in this verse, but a principle is involved—the principle that is related to God's eternal law that He hasn't changed. That is what we know as capital punishment. You have lived to see man interfering with the laws of the land, interfering more serously with the law of God and abrogating corporal punishment.

All of the sob-stories in the world do not change the fact that God laid down the law of capital punishment and He doesn't expect it to be changed. If you have been duped into any movement to do away with capital punishment, ask God to forgive you for your ignorance. Then study the Word of God and take your stand on the Word of God. Don't interfere with the law.

You see, there is a principle. You can interfere with the law by interfereing with some of the basic laws of God upon which our laws are based just as certainly as you can interfere with the law by giving sanctuary to a fugitive from justice.

Dishonesty in the Courts of Law

There is one other thing that I would like to call to your attention that is found in this chapter. Glance at verse 21:

Proverbs 28:

21 To have respect of persons is not good: for for a piece of bread that man will transgress.

In the light of the context and the thrust of the verse itself, I am going to suggest that that verse deals with a matter that we see much of in our day and that is dishonesty in the courts of law.

Another rendering makes it clearer: “Giving preferred treatment to rich people (influential people) is a clear case of selling one's soul for a piece of bread.” The suggestion of the verse is that if a man can be bribed, it doesn't take a whole lot to bribe him.

Sometimes you have seen things in the paper that speak of dishonesty in the courts, and you have seen things that speak of dishonesty in high places and you tend to doubt what you see. Your logic is, what could they hope to gain by a thing like that? It is not worth it, but God said, “A man that is susceptible will do it for a piece of bread, and just a little crumb of bread at that.” You see, it is not a matter of the bribe, the reward—whatever word we want to use; it is a matter of the heart of the individual who is in the position.


This is God's message to you from chapter 28 concerning practical righteousness and your nation. Examine your leadership in the light of this Scripture. Examine your own life in the light of it, and make whatever adjustments need to be made.

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