Rightness vs Righteousness

"I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live." (Job 27:5-6)

With these words Job once again takes a defensive posture. For much of the book of Job we find him at odds with his "comforters". It seems that after an initial one-week period of tears and grieving, his "friends" begin a prolonged period of debate with Job. The topic of their discussion is who was at fault for Job’s suffering … who was "right" and who was "wrong". In retrospect this seems to be somewhat of a silly conversation to have with someone who is hurting, wounded and in search of answers.

But such is the plight that many of us find ourselves in. I believe that his companions really wanted to help him … they shared their observations with Job and listened patiently as he spoke a defense of his situation. I think that they honestly wanted the same thing as he did … healing, restoration, comfort from the pain he was experiencing. I think that they believed healing would result if they could show Job the error of his ways and get a repentant confession out of him … but their focus on who was "right" eclipsed such an end … how could healing come if they couldn’t undercover the root cause of the problem … to them someone had to be "right" and someone had to be "wrong".

Their situation is a common one. When a crisis arises we often look for something or someone to blame the pain that we are experiencing on … it is quite normal to look for the one in the wrong … after all our "integrity" may be at stake. This brings me to another chapter in my life. I’ll attempt to share this knowing that I may sound biased … understanding that others may have a different point of view … but then again this is my story … this is how I saw it … how it played out before my eyes … how it touched me deeply … and changed my perspectives on right and wrong.

It was December 1998 and I found myself in a new position of leadership in my church. I, along with 5 other leaders, was faced with a decision regarding members of our pastoral staff. We each prayed, submitted ourselves to each other and made a decision that ultimately resulted in the loss of three members of our staff. Along the way we enlisted the wisdom and support of nine other leaders in our church. These men also prayed and mutually submitted themselves to each other and to us … needing help we made them co-leaders with us. In January 1999, believing to have the safety of a multitude of counselors, we announced our decision to our church body. The events following this announcement and how I internalized those events comprise the essence of my story.

To begin let me say that there was much disagreement over this decision. Many in our church disagreed with the "why" of the decision … that was understandable, as we the leaders, for confidentiality purposes, did not reveal all of the facts of the situation. Some others disagreed with the "how" of our decision … this somewhat caught me by surprise … as a new member of our leadership team I did not fully understand the dynamics of the relationships that existed in the church. Some contended that the additional nine leaders should not have been brought in on the decision … some had issues with a few of the new leaders … this complicated things. Tension was high. The issue of "right" and "wrong" were immediately brought to bear.

Over the next few months I, the newest leader in our group, sought to better understand the issues that continued to surface. I met with many people in our congregation. I sought them out for lunch, breakfast, coffee and any other setting where I could talk to them and try to understand their point of view. Oh how I longed to be able to reason with my friends and help them to understand the difficulty of our decision and how difficult it was for me personally. Again and again the issue of "right" and "wrong" surfaced. Some were convinced that their leaders were "wrong" and they were "right".

This issue of "right" and "wrong" also came up many times amongst our leadership team as well … we too were caught up as Job was, with a defense of our position and of our decision. As we communicated from a position of being ‘right’ we continued to stumble … our communication attempts rarely achieved their goals. We sometimes argued amongst ourselves over the issues of right, wrong and integrity. As hard as we tried we seemed to dig ourselves in deeper … at every turn we seemed to be stumbling. So we also find Job. He now seems to be at a point of no return … how can he give in … his integrity is at stake … his whole life of serving the Lord seems to have been called into account … HOW COULD HE BE WRONG?

Well, often in our lives, our desire to be right supercedes our desire to be wise. I am convinced that in the end we won’t tally a scorecard of our rights and wrongs … grace will take care of those things. I am convinced, however, that how we treated others will weigh in heavily. I am reminded of a story that my good friend Jim told me. Jim was wronged by a group of people. As he prayed he heard God whisper to his spirit, "You won’t be judged by how others treat you but by how you treat them". Sobering advice … wisdom from the Lord.

You know all this talk about right and wrong reminds me of a conversation that I had a few years ago with a seeker named Tom. He was not a believer. He told me that he thought that the church was a mess. I answered his concern and told him that I knew why the church was a mess and wondered if he would like to know why as well. Perplexed by my response, Tom said that he would like to know why the church was mess. God gave me some wisdom. I told him that the church is a mess because "I" am a mess … and I am in good company. You know that the church has always been a mess. The apostle Paul spent large parts of his letters dealing with messy situations in the early churches. Even he himself struggled. He said that the things he wanted to do he did not do and those things he didn’t want to do he found himself doing. I am sure that one such time was when he and his friend and co-laborer, Barnabas, disagreed whether Mark should be brought along on a missions trip. It is written, "they had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company". You see they parted ways over "right" and "wrong" … and God used each of them anyway. There is no denying it … families are not neat and tidy. Relationships, even good ones, are often messy.

So … in light of this and our discussion of "right" and "wrong" … what is wisdom anyway and how does it factor into church relationships … and Job’s dilemma. The book of James contains a passage that sheds some light on this. It says that:
"the wisdom that come from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness." (James 3:17-18)
During that time of struggle in our church body I sensed that God was calling me into the role of a peacemaker. I mistakenly thought that if I could understand where my brothers and sisters were coming from then I could find a bond of peace. I never did seem to understand how to make this happen. After all … how do you "make peace" when someone has to be "right" and the other "wrong"? How can there be compromise when that word carries such a negative connotation in so many Christian circles.

In retrospect I realize that peace only comes when it is fervently desired … when we are willing to say that "we" are wrong and no one is completely "right". Job and his friends had it wrong. I wonder what would have happened if Job’s friends came and said something like "what has happened really upsets us … we know that you are upset as well … lets seek the Lord together … lets covenant to pray for and support each other"? What if in our lives … when a crisis comes along … and one will you know … our focus turns to what is wise and not what is right.

I think that the church is filled with some that hunger and thirst after ‘rightness’ rather than ‘righteousness’. You see … you can be right on an issue but not right with God in how you deal with the issue. I believe that God is more interested in "righteousness" than "rightness". He cares deeply how we interact with each other and how we show care and love for His family. He said that the lost would know that we are His by the way that we love each other. How we seem to have gotten it wrong. How Job’s friends also had it wrong. As it happens neither Job or his friends were completely right … God showed up in the end and helped them see the error of their ways and the futility of "right" and "wrong". To which Job replied:
"Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know". (Job 42:3)
May we all have this attitude.


  1. The shepherds where I attend had to fire a well loved, by the children, minister. I at times had felt like I was banging my head against the wall with this man but his work with our children was amazing. He knew exactly how to reach them, he implemented programs that were great in teaching and most of all he seemed to love being with the kids.

    When they let him go many of us were devastated several of us talked about finding a new place to worship. To make matters worse the announcement of his firing was handled very poorly. Some were happy to see him go and celebrated. That was hard I’m friends with his wife, her calls ripped my heart out. She was grieving.

    I spent a lot of time in prayer and asked God to explain why it had to be so hard. God is so great He sent a shepherd to me one night. As I was packing up from my Cub Scout leading there stood my dear friend, one of the shepherds of our church. I asked him lots of questions and he was direct and honest. The man broke his contract. I knew he had broken rules in the past and always stood on the line but this was the last straw and couldn’t be ignored. I stayed and feel so much better. It’s good that you spent time with those who may have been in the same boat as I was and as you’ve pointed out that shepherd may have needed someone to see that you leaders are doing what’s best for us.

  2. What a beautiful take on an all-too-human situation.

    Job's transformation from a right man to a righteous one is humbling, and so is your story. I've been there, too, with brothers and it's shocking how hard it can be find a neutral ground between us sometimes - much less holy ground. I gather you didn't find peace between these brothers?

    Peace can only come when it's fervently desired.


  3. Codepoke, Some people left the church and some stayed. I occasionally run into one of them and have great experiences ... time has a way of putting these things in perspective.

  4. Good post.....I agree that we often are too willing to talk about rightness even at the expense of righteousness.

  5. Bob, this post is … well … wise! What a helpful thing to ask ourselves. Are we seeking "rightness" or "righteousness"? I know the messs that is me too often goes after the former rather than the latter!

  6. Great post. Really great. We can be right and be sooo worng. I've been there often in my life. Right but wrong.


  7. A good overall point there KB...

    Forgive me for harping, but i dont blamme Job at all for getting defensive. I see your point about the difference btween being right, and being wize, and it is a good one.. But lets not forget that Job did nothing wrong in the first place. we ( as you have kindly pointed out in my post) like to look for reasons for things rather than looking for understanding of things.

    In the end, Job was humbled, yes.. but he was also vindicated.

  8. good stuff KB...I don't know why I don't stop by very often...you have my permission to chastise me if you haven't gotten a comment in a while...sorry man

  9. You know that the church has always been a mess. The apostle Paul spent large parts of his letters dealing with messy situations..."

    WOW! That line helps me tremendously, KB. I cannot say why. I just know that it clarifies my thinking in many arenas of the Church today.

    The rest of the post was awesome, as well. Very convicting! (I mean...not for me you understand. But for some freinds who I think could use this lesson.) ;-)


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