The LOVE of righteousness

A thought occurred to me last night as I was working through Psalm 45 and, more specifically, the implications which it has for joy. Namely, in verse 7, we see this: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed you with the oil of joy above your fellows” (NASB). A number of things stand out about this verse and its message, but I want to focus on one: if we want joy, we must love righteousness.

What does this mean? Well, first and foremost, God is less concerned about actually being righteous than our attitude toward righteousness. Now, that’s not to say that God does not expect us to do our God-enabled best to be righteous. To be clear, He certainly does. But notice what it is that He’s actually looking at: “You have LOVED righteousness and HATED wickedness.” In other words, you like righteousness. You want righteousness. You pursue righteousness. And while, on occasion, you may fail in that pursuit, righteousness is still, always, your objective. And you want nothing to do with anything else.

Please understand that this is far more important than it may initially seem. You see, I know lots of Christians who do righteous things because they have to. In fact, I am ashamed to admit that I’ve done righteous things because I had to. I did what I knew was right out of some sense of obligation: if I didn’t do it, I would end up in Hell. When I should have been doing it out of a sheer love for righteousness: I actually, truly wanted to do it – no matter what it was – because it was the right thing to do.

See, God isn’t so much concerned about my actions as He is my motivations. As the prophet Samuel was reminded in 1 Samuel 16:7, “the Lord looks at the heart” (NIV84). And it only makes sense that, if I don’t WANT to be righteous, doing righteous things will only make me miserable. Certainly, I can’t expect to find joy in that! And yet, how many believers – myself included – walk around focusing on all the stuff we can’t do as though we would do it if we could!

Because we would do it if we could!

So, how do I get to the point where I love righteousness and hate wickedness? Well, I think there are two parts. The first is found in Romans 12:2, where St. Paul wrote, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV). From the perspective of Paul’s readers, this statement made a lot of sense because actions were ultimately controlled by the will, which was seated in the mind. I must decide to shun wickedness and pursue righteousness. This is the part that I often feel I get, but there is another, equally important step which I fear that I and too many of my brothers and sisters in Christ sometimes miss: Psalm 37.

Psalm 37 starts out exhorting the reader to not worry about – or be envious of – wicked people. That’s the hate wickedness part. Rather, “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture” (v3 NIV84). That’s the love righteousness bit. And then we get the key: “Delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (v4 NIV84). So often, I parse this in my own head that, if I delight in the Lord, I get what I want. But in reality, as I’ve been told – and told others – time and again, it’s really more about God transforming the desires of my heart into His likeness so that I will not only do what’s righteous, but I’ll love what’s righteous. The key, then, is to delight in the Lord, but what does that mean? To “delight in” someone is to derive great pleasure from them.

The problem is that I really don’t know how many times I’ve truly found great pleasure in the Lord. See, too often, I sit in prayer for a time, reading off my laundry list before I run off to the next appointment or item on the to-do list, generally without feeling like I’ve really met the Lord, much less delighted in Him.

The psalmist, David, provides yet another key in this 37th psalm for what it’s going to take to delight in the Lord when he says, in vs 7, “Be still before the Lord and wait for Him” (NIV84). He goes on to reiterate that we shouldn’t worry about wicked people when it looks like their schemes are working and they’re meeting nothing but success, regardless of whatever they do. And then again, in vs 34, he adds, “Wait for the Lord and keep His way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it” (NIV84).

So, what is this second step to getting to where we truly love righteousness and hate wickedness? Well, I think it’s patience. Coupled with a resolve to do what’s right. Coupled with fervent prayer that God would change what we want to be the same as what He wants. Coupled with more patience. Coupled with more resolve to do what’s right. Coupled with more fervent prayer. Coupled with more patience. And on and on and on.

And when I mean patience, I don’t mean counting the Mississippi’s as I did when I was a kid. I mean truly waiting for Him to show up and do something amazing in my heart so that I will truly delight in Him.

So that my heart can and will be transformed.

So that I, too, will love righteousness and hate wickedness.

So that God will anoint me with the oil of joy.

Because that joy will be worth waiting for!


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