Exegesis of Proverbs 21:21
I gave a speech last week exegeting Proverbs 21:21. The following are my notes.
“Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honor.” (Proverbs 21:21 ESV)
My Thesis In a culture of death, impiety and corruptness, men of God must pursue righteousness and loving-kindness by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Exposition—Key Elements The key elements of this proverb are the word 'pursues' as well as the phrase 'will find.' Men are told, by these two elements, what to pursue and what will be the the result of this pursuit.
The objects of pursuit are attributes in relation to both God and fellow man. The first attribute is righteousness, and is the state of being right with God; being holy pure and upright. This state is only attained by the work of Jesus Christ, which is the ground of our justification. It is this attribute which gives us the basis of pursuit—this attribute which should structure our entire life purpose—to be made right in the sight of God. The second is kindness, or lovingkindness, which is the state or quality of bing kind in relation to fellow man. Treating our fellow man with loving-kindness is to be our ambition. This should be our goal, with all of our dealings with man. He is created in the image of God, and is entitled to be dealt kindly with.
The phrase 'will find' reveals the end of our pursuit—life, righteousness, and honor. It is these treasures that contrast with our corrupted culture of death, impiety, and immorality. It is these treasures that motivate us to strive after righteousness and kindness!
Exposition—Context Explained The preceding and succeeding verses both speak of the actions of the the wise man and the importance of structuring your life after a pattern of righteousness. A man of God will pursue righteousness in all he does—in his relation to God, and his relation to man and this world.
The Scriptures have much to say on the topic of righteousness. We are told in Proverbs 15:9 that the LORD “loves him who pursues righteousness,” and Proverbs 11:19 says, “Whoever is steadfast in righteousness will live, but he who pursues evil will die.”
Exposition—Parallel Verses The apostle Paul gives Timothy instruction to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (II Tim. 2:22). The apostle Peter says in I Peter 3:11, “seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” Our LORD Jesus Christ said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Mat. 5:6), and commanded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Mat. 6:33).
Main Point I—Godly Men Pursue Righteousness Godly men must pursue righteousness and set their minds on the things of God (Mat. 16:23; Mark 8:33). This is done through prayer and diligent study of the Scriptures (II Tim. 2:15). Man cannot be ignorant in regards to the Law of God, for it is by this standard that He judges the world (Rom. 7:25). We must fear God and keep His commandments to pursue righteousness (Ecc. 12:13).
Main Point II—Godly Men Pursue Loving-Kindness Godly men must pursue kindness in relation to other men, and all his deeds must be motivated out of a love of God and his fellow man. “The whole law [of God] is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Gal. 5:14). We must be just in our dealing with other men, therefore, “let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Rom. 14:19).
These two attributes toward which we strive, encompass the whole Law of God as Jesus summarized when asked which was the greatest commandment. He said that “the most important is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mar. 12:29–31).
Main Point III—Godly Men Have Their Hope in Christ Godly men must hope in Christ, because he is the fulfillment of life, righteousness, and honor, and he is the reward of mans diligent pursuit. Christ said that He is life and in Him alone we can find new life (John 14:6; John 3:3). Christ is the personification of righteousness, according to I Corinthians 1:30, and it is by the grace of God and through His death that we attain a right standing before the LORD (Rom. 3:24; Rom. 5:9). Christ is the Lamb of God to whom belongs all glory, honor, and praise (Rev. 5:13). It is to this glorious end that we strive—to praise the LORD in His courts (Isa. 62:9). And we strive in faith—not to be accepted based on our own merits, but on the righteousness of our Lord.
Main Points Defended Some may say that man need not pursue Christlike character because he has God's grace and the penalty of sin is atoned for. But the apostle Paul admonished those who would live after the flesh to forsake such worldliness. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). He admonished Timothy to flee the lusts of this world, and to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (I Tim. 6:11). “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it” (Rom. 6:2)? We must Pursue the Character of Christ!
Some may say that man does not have the responsibility to be kind and loving with unbelievers. However, loving-kindness does not only apply to the household of faith, but also to those who are in the world. The apostle Paul said that believers should “abound in love for one another and for all [men]” (I Thes. 3:12), that they should “do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10), “be patient with them all” (I Thes. 5:14), and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all [men]” (Rom. 12:18). Men of God must live with patience toward all men, showing loving-kindness in all of their deeds.
Yet some will say that man can still pursue the things of this world and still love God. But the Scriptures emphatically state that “no one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mat. 6:24; Luk. 16:13). One cannot strive after the things of this world and serve God with his whole heart. He must strive after one or the other. God has commanded in His Word how we are to pursue him, and it is not by a pursuit of the world. To pursue the world is to be at enmity with God. For His Word says, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him” (I John 2:15). Our Lord said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple” (Luk. 14:26).
Application The line is drawn men. Where do you stand? With Christ, or with the world?
Men of God must stand with Christ. There is no alternative, because one is either for Christ, or against Christ (Mat. 12:30; Luk. 11:23). We must stand out from a dark culture because we are the light of the world (Mat. 5:14). This means that we must be proactive—we must be about the business of transforming culture. This is done by the grace of God through the preaching of the gospel and pursuing righteousness and loving-kindness.
We must live out the gospel in our lives! Gird up your loins like a man for God will demand an answer from you (Job 38:3)! Get off the gaming councils, stop polluting your minds with corrupting media, quit defiling yourself and conforming yourself to the things of this world!
Conclusion Stand up and be men of God! Get a vision for your future, commit your work to the Lord (Prov. 16:4), and by God's grace (Phil. 2:13) you will pursue righteousness and loving-kindness in service of the Lord Jesus Christ.