Proverbs Thematic Sermon: Pursue Righteousness and the Righteous, Flee Wickedness and the Wicked (Er

Apr 21, 2024    Erik Veerman

We’re resuming our Proverbs study this morning.

This is our 26th sermon in the book of Proverbs. We’ve learned a lot of things about wisdom and foolishness and righteousness and wickedness.

Before we begin, I wanted to take a few minutes and summarize our Proverbs series to date. It will be helpful for our study today.

1.   First, while Proverbs does give us day to day wisdom for life’s decisions, it goes way beyond that. Proverbs teaches us how to understand life and death and good and evil and the world and God. In fact, the foundation to making day to day life decisions is understanding God, his world, and his word. Let me put it this way: Proverbs reveals a worldview for living.

2.   Second, we learned that wisdom is a lifetime pursuit. It is a path. The path of wisdom calls us to pursue God’s wisdom and his righteousness. And when we do, we will grow in discernment of what is good and right and true.

3.   Third, Proverbs reveals that there is not just one path. There are two divergent paths of life. The first path, as I mentioned, is the path of wisdom and righteousness. The second path is the path of foolishness and wickedness. Our thematic sermons starting in chapter 10 have been expanding our understanding of each path. Remember, foolishness and wickedness relate, but they are different. Foolishness is actively or passively ignoring God’s commands and his law. Wickedness and evil are hostile to them and often to the detriment of others. So, two paths. And we are called to walk the path of wisdom and righteousness.

4.   Fourth, and this is very important. The path of wisdom begins with fearing the Lord. That is where Proverbs began – fear the Lord. And we’ve seen that phrase over and over. In fact, listen for it in our verses today. Fearing the Lord means recognizing who he is as the sovereign, holy, and just God; it means trusting in him, honoring him, and reverently worshiping him. And we fear the Lord through faith in Christ. The promises of God which are fulfilled in Christ are all throughout the Proverbs. We’ve seen that in each chapter and each theme. He is wisdom personified. Jesus models perfect righteousness. He leads us down the path of righteousness. Jesus is the one who at the end of our life on earth, will preserve us for eternity… as Proverbs promises. The fear of the Lord, which comes through Christ, is the first step on the path of wisdom. But it’s the first of many steps on the path.

5.   Fifth, and last - you can fear the Lord, yet stumble down the path of wisdom. You can get stuck in a rut; you can be on the path of wisdom but do foolish things. And that will lead to struggles and difficulty in life. In other words, believing in Christ does not mean you coast to the end. No, God calls us in Proverbs to continue pursuing what is good and true and right. Remember, Solomon is writing primarily to his sons. Besides teaching them about God and wisdom generally, Solomon want’s his sons to prosper in the wisdom and righteousness of God. He wants them to make wise decisions in life, and Solomon warns them about foolish and wicked decisions.

Let me recap: (1) Proverbs gives us God’s worldview for living. (2) It teaches us that that the path of wisdom is a lifetime pursuit. (3) we’ve learned about the divergent path of foolishness and wickedness. (4) We’re given the starting place, which is to fear the Lord, and (5) We’re exhorted to persevere on the path of wisdom and righteousness and warned about the consequences of not following it. That last point, #5, is where our verses today fit within Proverbs as a whole - warnings about wickedness and exhortations about righteousness.

I know that was a very long preamble, but I wanted to make sure that we understand these verses in the context of Proverbs.

Please take out the Proverbs insert in your bulletin and turn to the inside.

As I read, listen for those encouragements about pursuing righteousness and those warnings about wickedness.


Reading of selected Proverbs


11:27 Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.

15:9 The way of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD, but he loves him who pursues righteousness.

17:15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.

17:26 To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.

19:19 A man of great wrath will pay the penalty, for if you deliver him, you will only have to do it again.

24:1 Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them,

24:2 for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble.

24:15 Lie not in wait as a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous; do no violence to his home;

24:16 for the righteous falls seven times and rises again, but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.

24:17 Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles,

24:18 lest the LORD see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.

24:19 Fret not yourself because of evildoers, and be not envious of the wicked,

24:20 for the evil man has no future; the lamp of the wicked will be put out.

24:21 My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise,

24:22 for disaster will arise suddenly from them, and who knows the ruin that will come from them both?

24:24 Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations,

24:25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.

24:26 Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.

25:19 Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.

28:4 Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them.

28:9 If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.

29:27 An unjust man is an abomination to the righteous, but one whose way is straight is an abomination to the wicked.



We are a people easily influenced.

Speaking of being influenced, did you know, in the United States, Instagram has about 177,000 social media influencers. These are people with over 10,000 followers on Instagram. And let me give you an example - Dwayne Johnson – you may know him as “The Rock” has 398 Million followers. Because of that, when a company wants The Rock to market their product, they will pay him $1.5M per post because of his influence.

I know some of you are worried about my growing influence on Instagram. Well, I just checked my number of followers, I am up to 204 followers. Maybe you can help me catch up.

We are a people easily influenced, easily persuaded… and people are paid to influence us.

A recent study of peer pressure in teenagers showed that 61% of teenagers would break a rule if their friends were already breaking the rule. And 55% of those kids continued to break the same rule even when their friends were not around. The study also captured the peer influence on beliefs – it showed that 94% of kids are influenced by their peers in what they believe… to some extent.

I’m bringing this up because one of the things we learn from these verses is to be on guard against the persuasions and temptations of wickedness. Instead, we are called to be influenced by righteousness. We’re to actively pursue righteousness and avoid wickedness and the wicked in his ways.

Alright, take a look at the insert again. I want you to see a pattern here. There are many direct commands throughout. And most of them are formed in the negative. For example, look down at chapter 24 verse 1. “Be not envious.” A couple verses later, 24:15: “lie not in wait” and later in that same verse, “do no violence.” There are a total of 9 negative commands in these verses. Even more, there are also similar negative proverbs just not in an imperative form. And every single one of both types are about how we should relate to wickedness. Some of them are warnings and others direct us how not to react to wickedness.

So, let’s look at these verses in two main categories:

1. Be wary of wickedness

2. Be resolute in righteousness

And, by the way, each of those categories has four commands.

1. Be wary of wickedness

So again, first, Be wary of wickedness. The four command here warn us not to be drawn into wickedness.

And let me say, these warnings very much relate to our last sermon on wickedness and righteousness. Remember, it’s ultimately a heart matter. A heart of wickedness gives way to wickedness. A heart of righteousness gives way to righteousness. The warnings in these verses take us back to the heart. We need to guard our heart in Christ and not be drawn into wickedness.

The first warning is about envy. We’re not to envy wickedness. That’s what chapter 24:1-2 says: “Be not envious of evil men, nor desire to be with them, for their hearts devise violence, and their lips talk of trouble.” A few verses later there’s a similar command.

To envy is to want something or be to jealous of something. To envy the wicked is to have a heart desire to either want what the wicked has or to be jealous of his associations. I’ll illustrate these in a minute – I want to start by explaining them.

So first, envy. And next, envy leads to some sort of rationalization. The word “justification” is used in 17:15 “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the LORD.” Justification in this sense is saying or believing that what the wicked are doing is somehow right. A few verses later, it says, “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples…” It’s the same idea. The temptation is to believe that what the wicked are saying or doing is right.

Now, we’ve talked a lot in our Proverbs study about the dividing line between wisdom and foolishness and between righteousness and wickedness. And what is that dividing line? It is God’s Word – his commands and law. God determines the divinding line. Look at chapter 28 verse 4. It captures that line. 28:4 “Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law strive against them.” What it is saying is that to justify or agree with the wicked is to actually forsake God’s law.

So, do not envy the wicked; do not justify or praise their wickedness; and then, next, do not seek out wickedness. That seeking is captured right there in 11:27. “Whoever diligently seeks good seeks favor, but evil comes to him who searches for it.” Do you know what happens when you search for evil and wickedness? You will find it! There’s no lack of evil to be found when you search for it.

That path obviously leads, next, to participating in wickedness. Joining in wicked ways.

24:15 “Lie not in wait as a wicked man against the dwelling of the righteous; do no violence to his home;” That envy and rationalization and seeking out wickedness turns to an active involvement in wickedness.

Here’s the scary part here. It’s often a subtle drift away from righteousness and toward wickedness. We are incrementally influenced by wickedness until we join in wicked ways.

I studied German in college for a year. My professor was from Germany and he was born right when Hitler was ascending to power. This professor had such a gentle and Christ-like spirit about him. And that is because as a young child, he experienced the devastation of war with evil all around him… but God’s mercy through it.

He wrote a book about his family’s experience. In it, he highlighted his mother’s faithfulness to disciple her children to stand against the evils of the Nazi regime. They were trapped like many others… in a world of evil.

He wrote this about his mother’s struggle: “What could a parent do to instill in one's children values of decency, respect, faithfulness, and diligence when all around the only thing that seemed to guarantee success was the rejection of such qualities?”

They sought to be faithful to the righteousness they were called to in Christ… and faithful to minister the hope of the Gospel in the darkness around them.

But their beliefs were in direct opposition to the Third Reich. My professor’s older brothers were forced to participate in the Hitler Youth. They had to mentally and spiritually fight against the brainwashing of the Nazis. By God’s grace, the boys held firm to their beliefs in Christ. At one point, one of them fled his Hitler Youth post and almost escaped out of Germany, but he was detained. He was maybe 13 years old. Because of his age, his life was spared.

The oldest brother was drafted at age 17 into the German military. Even there, he sought to be faithful to Christ and forthright about his Christian beliefs. At one point, his commanding officer found out… and this young man was cursed at in front of the entire company. The commander yelled at him that it was a great crime to be a Christian because Jesus had also been a Jew. Again, by God’s grace, this brother survived the war, despite being later captured by Russia and imprisoned for 5 years.

I want you to imagine the pressures to either give in to the wickedness… or the temptation to envy or desire the power of the wicked. Let me ask the teenage boys here… imagine being 12-years-old in the Hitler Youth. You are told that your race and nation were superior to all others… and that you would participate in conquering the world. Would you find yourself tempted to believe the lie and then actively join in the evil machine?

Or for any of us, if you lived there in that time… and you saw the power and the privilege afforded to those aligned with the Nazis, would you go down the path of these warnings? First, envying them, then rationalize their evil, then searching it out, then participating.

Did you know, many churches in Germany either supported the Nazi regime or turned a blind eye to the atrocities? Directly or indirectly, they were saying of evil, “you are in the right.”

Now, it’s one thing, of course, to look back 85 years at another generation in a country across the ocean, but what about wickedness and evil that exist today? What things today are we turning a blind eye to or supporting directly or indirectly? Over the last three sermons, we’ve considered several examples of evil – human trafficking, tragic shootings, our culture of death and the life of the unborn. But is there another evil that has drawn you in? For example, has your sin drawn you into porn? No, you are not the one driving that evil industry, but besides the sin of lust and heart adultery, your sin is feeding the industry… just like those in Nazi Germany supporting the regime. Now, we’re going to get to the righteousness that we can pursue in Christ, but I wanted to press the question of our sin and wickedness.

Alright, those are the four warnings. Be wary of wickedness.

2. Be resolute in righteousness

That brings us to a second set of commands. Again, I’m naming them - Be resolute in righteousness.

The question is, when faced with wickedness, how should we respond? Instead of being influenced and drawn toward the wicked and wickedness… how can we respond in righteousness?

And, as I mentioned, there are four admonitions here:

First, do not worry about wickedness. 24:19 says “Fret not yourself because of evildoers.” The word “fret” is stronger than the word “worry.” To fret over wickedness is to have an internal turmoil because of it.

I think this is perhaps the hardest command in all these verses today - especially when you are the target of evil. Or do you look around and see all the injustice and prosperity of the wicked, and you worry? But God says, do not fret. The wicked will come to their ultimate destruction. That’s the second part of the Proverb in verse 20 – “The lamp of the wicked will be put out.” On the day of judgment, they will stand before judgment seat of the Lord and be judged, but the righteous in Christ will be vindicated.

Again, this is a hard one. And, I have to say, I struggle with this. I have to remember that God will have victory in the end. His righteousness will prevail… despite evil at times seeming to overcome righteousness.

In the book I mentioned by my professor, I was struck by how often their family prayed…. by how they sought to trust in the Lord. As bombs were falling all around them, as they were helping their injured and grieving neighbors, as the evil of their own countrymen seemed to be prevailing, they prayed for protection and help, but they did so trusting the Lord’s will. Do not worry about evil.

And second, do not trust the wicked. That one is right there in chapter 25:19 – “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.” But it is so tempting, isn’t it? You are down and out. Maybe you are overcome by your situation. And someone comes along says, “hey, I can help you out but I need you to do something for me.” But it turns out his offer is merely to use you for his evil schemes. Trust not in the wicked.

Ok, third, do not rejoice when the wicked fail. This is another difficult one! Look at 24:17 “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles…”  I mean, who does not want to celebrate when your enemy falls?

But we are not to rejoice. It is a humble reminder of two things. Number 1 – it is only by the grace of God in Christ that you are counted among the righteous and can, in him, pursue righteousness. And number 2, it’s a reminder that the wicked need the Lord. Instead of rejoicing, we should pray that he would redeem them.

So, worry not. Trust not. Rejoice not when the wicked stumble. And last, rebuke wickedness. Honestly, all four of these responses to evil are all difficult. Beloved in Christ, we are called to call out wickedness. Proverbs 24:25. “those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.”

We are afraid to stand up for goodness and righteousness. We will be called names and perhaps persecuted. Think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a pastor in Germany during World War 2. He was part of the confessing church which did not support Hitler. He was in a position where he could speak out against the atrocities, and he did. He was jailed multiple times for his stance. In a tangential way, he also participated in a plot against Hitler. In the end Bonhoeffer was executed for that.

Now, I am not saying that on social media, you should call out every evil thing you see and hear. No, we should be thoughtful, sensitive, and clear. At times, it may require a bold witness like Bonhoeffer. But at times, like my professor’s family, it may require an under the radar testimony to neighbors and family who are tempted by wickedness around them.

In all of this, the call is to be resolute in righteousness. May we heed both the warnings not to get pulled into evil, but also the call to stand firm in the righteousness to which we are called.


On Thursday evening, we had our Smoke Rise home group gathering. We were looking at these verses and someone made a very helpful observation. I want to share it with you in conclusion. Chapter 24 verse 21 unlocks all these verses. Take a look at it. 24:21. It says, “My son, fear the LORD and the king, and do not join with those who do otherwise…”

It is the fear of the Lord, which I mentioned in the introduction, which enables us in each of these commands. It is the reverent trust in God through Christ, by which we can be wary of wickedness… and heed the warnings and be resolute in righteousness.

Here’s what I mean:

Instead of envying or justifying wickedness, we fear the Lord… we desire him and what he determines is right.

Instead of searching for evil and getting pulled into evil ways, we fear the Lord… seeking him and his ways.

And similarly, it is through that fear of the Lord, knowing his judgment and his love for us in Christ, that we can be resolute in righteousness.

Instead of trusting in the wicked, we trust in the Lord. That trust is really at the center of what it means to fear the Lord.

Furthermore, when we fear the Lord, we can set aside our worry and not fret about wickedness. He has and will overcome all evil. Yes, the cross of Christ atoned for the sin of those who fear the Lord, but through the cross and in the resurrection, Jesus also triumphed over evil. In the end, when he returns, all wickedness will be defeated. That is a great comfort.

And last and related… in that same confidence, we can rebuke wickedness. We can stand firm against wickedness because it is God’s standard and not ours. We can declare that in Christ, God has revealed righteousness and the path of righteousness and he has overcome wickedness.

So, may we fear the Lord, and in that holy fear, may he lead us in the paths of righteousness for his name sake. Amen?