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Joy to the Rigteous: By Jim McCotter

Proverbs 21:15 says: “The execution of justice is joy to the righteous, but it is terror to the workers of iniquity.”

There are many things that can give a righteous person joy, but perhaps one of the least thought of or experienced is the execution of justice. However, before we examine how executing justice can bring joy to the righteous, let us first consider why it is a terror to others.

Proverbs 21:15 gives only one reason. Those who fear justice are in some way “workers of iniquity.” They are doing something wrong themselves. When they see justice being carried out, they are afraid that, in some way, a similar judgment will fall on them.

Those who fear the execution of justice should honestly examine themselves and be willing to confess and forsake any sin. Often, they may be reluctant to acknowledge their sin because of a fear of punishment. They should realize that, “He who confesses and forsakes … will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13). Actually, the reason that justice is executed on the unrighteous is that they are totally unwilling to confess and forsake their sin. God will not show compassion to people who refuse to repent. But for those who forsake their sin and do right, He will be like the father of the prodigal son and “kill the fattened calf and celebrate.” Righteous men will do the same.

Romans 13:3 says: “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right” (Romans 13:3-ff). Notice that the verse does not say “some terror,” but “no terror” for those who do right. It goes on to say however, that there is terror for those who do wrong. Next, Paul asks the question, “Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority?” How would the natural man answer this question? Get out from under them? Rebel? Strip them of their authority since we all know that “authority corrupts”? But no … what does the Bible say? “Then do what is right and he will commend you.” And so will all authorities — parental, civil, and spiritual, all of which are to be a reflection of God’s righteous authority.

God has instituted authority for our good. A command with a promise is given to children in regard to submitting to their parents: “Obey your parents … that it may go well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Ephesians 6:2). A similar command with a promise is given to individuals in regard to their spiritual leaders: “Obey your leaders and submit to them for they keep watch over your soul … let them do this with joy and not with grief for this would be unprofitable for you” (Hebrews 13:17). Things will not “go well” with individuals who rebel against authority. Their lives will be “unprofitable.” God will have to take them through the school of hard knocks to teach them the value of submitting to authority. Their school will often be with their mates, spiritual leaders, employers, or civil authorities.

Rather than trying to escape authority, we should do right, and our authorities will commend us. Blessing comes from being righteous within our situation, not from fleeing from it. Don’t forget grandmother’s addage, “Out of the frying pan, into the fire.” Things will only get worse if we try to get out from under authority. God wants us to learn to be right and obey His Word right where we are.

For those who learn to do right, the execution of justice will never bring fear again, but will always bring joy. Now that we’ve seen why justice is a terror to the unrighteous, why is it joy to the righteous?

The individual. First, justice is joy because of the benefit to the individual who is disciplined. It obviously won’t seem beneficial in his eyes and, apart from faith in what God says, you may have difficulty seeing how it benefits him. But Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” That is the goal of all discipline. If peace and good fruit do not result, it shows that the person has not yet been trained by it.

Too often, individuals are diverted from training because of self pity encouraged by believers who are naively sympathetic. These believers are like a mother who stands on the sidelines and sympathizes with her son while he is undergoing strenuous training for the Olympics. But if she tempts him with the chocolate cakes too often, he may leave the track and miss the gold. Or they are like a humanistic neighbor who takes in a neighbor boy who has been disciplined by loving and God-fearing parents and so seals his future doom.

Jesus knew the destructiveness of self-pity. He never yielded to it, even when He Himself was right. He rebuked those who even tempted Him to pity himself or who sympathized with Him (Matthew 16:23; Luke 23:28).

How long will we, the people of God, be like children who do not realize that, “those whom the Lord loves He disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6)? Those who are truly your best friends will do no less. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Proverbs 27:6). For this reason — for the sake of the individual — the execution of justice is a joy to the righteous.

The Church. Second, there is also joy in doing justice because of the benefit to the church at large. “Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?” (I Corinthians 5:6). It’s like the old saying, “One rotten apple will ruin the bushel.” If we are “kind” or overlook the one who is sinning, it will destroy the rest. Joshua certainly learned this lesson well. Thirty-six innocent men lost their lives because Achan hid just a little gold under his tent (Joshua 7).

Justice becomes a joy when it saves others. The salvation I am talking about is that which Paul refers to in Philippians 2:12-16: that the church may not be just a little light in the corner, but be “a light to the world … holding forth the Word of life.” For this reason, the execution of justice is a joy to the righteous!

The World. Third, the doing of justice is a joy because of the testimony it declares to the world. The church is the body of Christ. People bathe, comb their hair, and put on clean clothes so they will look attractive to others. The church must look attractive if it is going to win others. What family would look attractive to supper guests if one of the children was continually picking fights and quarreling with the other children? Good parents would reprove the son. If he would not listen, they would take him up to his room, discipline him, and, if he would not straighten up, leave him there. If this was done discreetly, the guests might not know there was even a problem. But even if they did, the family would be more respected if the guests knew that they did not condone such poor behavior.

Winning the respect of outsiders is one of the main missions of the church (I Thessalonians 4:12; I Timothy 3:7). We cannot win them to Christ if they do not respect us. After Joshua’s army was finally holy, he began to conquer for the Lord.

One of the major numerical increases in the church in Jerusalem followed its first discipline — that of Ananias and Sapphira. And what a discipline it was! The Holy Spirit literally struck them dead for being hypocritically deceitful (Acts 5:1-14). It certainly should be clear that God does not tolerate sin among His people.

Though the Holy Spirit may not have always executed discipline this severely in the early church, it was not totally unique. Many in Corinth were sick and dying because of factions and divisions among them (II Corinthians 11:18, 30-32). The Lord must first bring judgment to the household of God so the Holy Spirit can convict the world of sin through a holy church.

Why didn’t God hide this severe discipline? Discipline can be a testimony to unbelievers that we, the people of God, are not like the world. People who profess to be believers but who are immoral, greedy, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, swindlers (I Corinthians 5:11), factious dividers (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10), freeloaders (II Thessalonians 3:11-14) or those who simply refuse to repent of sinning against another believer (Matthew 18: 15-17) are not a part of our company. They do not represent God’s family.

You might think that if unbelievers hear that Christians do not tolerate such sins, they will never want to believe in the Lord. But, “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events … No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.”

The execution of justice is a joy to the righteous, because “many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord” (Psalm 40:3).

The Lord. Fourth, I believe one of the most important and joyful reasons to execute justice is because it pleases the Lord. It is acting like the Lord. It is being obedient to the Lord. It may be one of the hardest, most faith-stretching areas of obedience to the Lord; for this reason it pleases Him.

Saul tried to cover up his disobedience by more sacrifice. But Samuel replied, “To obey is better than sacrifice.” It makes no difference how much you sacrifice; to disobey is nothing but rebellion. And “rebellion is as the sin of divination and insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry” (I Samuel 15:22-23).

Either we are obeying and bringing a fragrant aroma into His heavenly presence or rebelling and are a stench in the nostrils of our God.

It has to be one of the greatest privileges in the universe to express love and bring joy to our Creator. Psalm 2:12 says: “Kiss the Son…” To obey Him wholeheartedly is to kiss Him and at the same time throw both arms around Him. God is love! No one can appreciate love more than God. Obeying is loving. Loving is obeying. For this reason, the execution of justice is a joy to the righteous!

Ourselves. Finally, when we please Him, He always pours back a hundred times more joy on us. We don’t know what it is like to overflow with joy until we deny our own desires and put ourselves in complete obedience to Him. If we pour out our lives in obedience, He will pour joy freshly back on us. It will never stop. “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing You with the oil of joy” (Hebrews 1:9). When God anoints you with joy, there is no limit! Need we say more? Unquestionably, the execution of justice is a joy to the righteous!


Jim McCotter is a pastor of Great Commission Church in Silver Spring, Md., and is publisher of The Cause and Potential magazine.

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