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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Righteousness Exalts a Nation
Text:LD 39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 5th Commandment (Obedience)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 98:1,3                                                                                            

Hy 1

Reading – Proverbs 16:8-15; Proverbs 29:1-14; Belgic Confession Article 36

Ps 72:1,5,7,10

Sermon – Lord’s Day 39, part 1

Hy 84:1,2

Hy 44:1,2,3,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, almost every week the news is filled to the brim with politics. You can hear discussions about our prime minister/president. There is speculation about this or that leader’s future. There might be a scandal or two, or some important meeting or a new policy. With all the cameras and commentary that constantly swirl around our leaders, you can forget sometimes that they’re real people. You can also forget that they have a job to do, more than just providing us with discussion points or comic relief. They have a task to lead their countries, to make good and responsible decisions for the benefit of their citizens.

Which brings us to the fifth commandment of God’s law, and Lord’s Day 39: “You shall honour your father and mother.” This commandment is certainly about the authority of parents in the home. But other kinds of authority are included in this commandment too. Listen to the explanation about what God requires: that “I show all honour, love, and faithfulness to my father and mother and to all those in authority over me…”

“To all those…” This afternoon we consider the role of the civil government, people like our prime minister and premier and even our local mayor. According to Scripture, just what is their calling? How does God want a leader to lead, and a government to govern? Here we shouldn’t expect more from Scripture than is warranted. That is, God doesn’t give a list of precise instructions for civil authorities, how to make a budget and when to build a new road or hospital. But what Scripture does give is a couple of foundational points.

First key point: “The earth is the LORD’s.” Christ’s kingdom is over all and includes all: this universe, this world, this country, this state, this city. He rules all—therefore, as a second key point: God’s will must be honoured in all the earth, from the highest heights of power, to the most average moments of ordinary life. Those key points are reflected in a passage from the book of Proverbs, chapter 14:34, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Under that theme, and using the book of Proverbs as our guide for this commandment, we’ll look at three things this afternoon:


“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

  1. the calling of those who rule
  2. the guide for those who rule
  3. the blessing for those who are ruled


1) the calling of those who rule: Every new leader enters office in an atmosphere of great expectation. Probably because of all the promises that get made during election time, people expect politicians to do marvelous things. They will unify the nation, they will inspire and give hope. They will protect us from terrorists, and bring prosperity. Later on people might grow cynical about a government, and dubious about their decisions—but at least initially, there’s a great confidence placed in them by the people. This government will do things!

The problem is that many of these grand things are attempted without consideration of the true God. The citizens believe, and rulers often believe, that they can solve all kinds of political and social problems without listening to the LORD and knowing his will. Making use of the latest sociology, economic theory, and scientific study, we’ll find our way to success.

But there’s something else. Leaders have a responsibility which means that they must do more than consult the experts, or take an opinion poll. Solomon teaches us that to ensure a country’s well-being, it’s always the path of the LORD that needs to be followed. Remember our theme: “Righteousness exalts a nation.”

So what is that? Obviously we need to define righteousness before we can apply it, or even be exalted by it. Scripture says that righteousness is upholding God’s truth; it is maintaining the LORD’s “rights,” if you will. Righteousness is sticking closely to that which is required by the LORD in word and deed, and in all things.

Actually, this whole book of Proverbs shows us what righteousness is, and also how practical it is. This book teaches us to fear God and submit to his holy commandments in each department of our life: to fear God in your worshiping, in your talking, and your spending; to honour the LORD through your daily work, through your marriage, and through your weekly schedule—in everything. That’s the wise life, says the Holy Spirit, that’s the righteous life. That’s how individuals ought to live, and so it follows that that’s how nations ought to live—according to the truth of the LORD. “Righteousness exalts a nation.”

Someone who is paying attention might object here. Because when Solomon talks about “a nation” in our theme verse, he’s not talking about Philistia or Babylon, Canada or Australia, but Israel. He’s describing the holy kingdom that he, as God’s anointed one, was commissioned to rule. This was the church! By and large, Israel was a nation of believers under God, a people unified by their devotion to the LORD. For all its sin and ignorance, this was nation that recognized the law of God as having authority, as being true.

So can His words apply to us, here in a secular nation like ours? Millions of our fellows citizens do not know the true God. We have Hindu neighbours, and Muslim neighbours, and there’s wide array of other faiths. Can we still say that God’s “righteousness” should be the foundation of a diverse society like ours, or should it have a more “inclusive” foundation?

It’s a good question. But has the basic definition of righteousness ever changed? As Creator and law-giver, have the truths of God’s law been negated? Are his decrees right and beneficial for any person, or just for Christians? His laws are good for all people, no matter what their background or faith!

We recognize that our prime minister is not King Solomon, that this country is not ancient Israel. What is more, we know that some of those old laws can’t be applied directly anymore—laws about cities of refuge, and canceling debts, and going to war. Today we also need different kinds of laws for modern situations—laws about voting, and driving a car, and buying securities. But truth is truth; and God’s righteousness endures forever. The Lord still calls all his creatures to live according to his holy commandments.

So this is what will make a nation great: righteousness. Greatness is not determined by the strength of our economy, or the influence of our prime minister at the G20, or by some other thing. “Righteousness exalts a nation!” Just like in all of life (also our personal life, and the life of our family) what counts more than anything is this one thing: our faithfulness to God’s revealed will. This is what Solomon tells us in chapter 16, “Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice” (v 8). Words like that would give a bold new shape to any government policy or budget plan, wouldn’t they? “Better is a little with righteousness, than vast revenues without justice.” Rather for this country to be poor but upright in God’s ways, than to be affluent and corrupt!

So how is righteousness put into effect? Consider the wisdom of these proverbs. From 29:4, “The king establishes the land by justice, but he who receives bribes overthrows it.” Justice must rule in a righteous nation, where every citizen is treated fairly. Or 29:14, “The king who judges the poor with truth, his throne will be established forever.” In a righteous nation, God requires judgments that are made in truth for all people, whether they are rich and poor, whether they’re considered elite or lowly.

A government honours those ideals of justice and truth through making proper laws. This is how God’s righteousness can be brought to bear on the people. Think of how the Belgic Confession speaks of the role of the civil government, “[God] wants the world to be governed by laws and statutes, in order that the lawlessness of men be restrained and that everything be conducted among them in good order” (Art. 36).

Probably the eyes of most people glaze over when you start talking about “laws and statutes.” To many, government is about building better highways and improving the economy—that’s influence we can see. But the Belgic Confession reminds us that the most fundamental task of government concerns law. Because law says what a country stands for; it expresses what a country values.

And how does anyone know what we should stand for, unless we study the firm and steadfast decrees of the LORD? The leaders of the land should be committed to making laws that are righteous. They should be committed to making laws that uphold God’s holy standards in every area of the life of a nation.

A related part of the government’s God-given calling is to maintain the laws it has made, to enforce them. That’s the truth behind 16:15, “In the light of the king’s face is life, and his favor is like a cloud of the latter rain.” Solomon is describing the great power that was held by a ruler in his time, even the power of life and death. If you were accused of some crime, and the king’s face was turned against you, that was the end. But if he smiled, it was as refreshing as a shower of rain, because it meant you would live. “In the light of the king’s face is life.”

In modern times, authority is divided among the different branches of government—there’s not one man who holds the ultimate power over another person. But together the government still has real authority to enforce the people’s obedience. As the Confession says, “[God] has placed the sword in the hand of the government to punish wrongdoers and to protect those who do what is good” (Art. 36). Through their position, they can uphold righteousness in the land, and see that justice done. This is what God calls them to do.

Here we should say something about our calling as citizens and residents of this land. For it’s not hard to be critical of the government and its decisions. We become cynical when we hear about corruption and scandal and wastefulness. Part of us enjoys how the media rips into politicians, and pokes fun of their appearance and their blunders. We might even give up on government because it seems tilted against Christians who want to follow the Scriptures.

But then listen to Proverbs 24:21, “My son, fear the LORD and the king.” He places those two right beside each other—the LORD and the king. Fear of God is necessarily followed by respect for our leaders, for as the apostle Paul says, “Every authority that exists has been put in place by God.”

We could ask again if that still applies. Wasn’t the author talking about the God-fearing sons of David, appointed by the LORD to rule his people? Of course he’d say, “Fear the king!” But even in secular society we are called to loving submission, to truly esteem those put in charge. In our words, in our thoughts, in our deeds: to honour those placed in authority.

This is what Lord’s Day 39 says in relation to the civil government. There the Catechism explains that we should “have patience with their weaknesses and shortcomings…” And why? “Since it is God’s will to govern us by their hand.” No matter their political affiliation, no matter their education and background, those who rule us will not be perfect. They will make mistakes. That’s not an excuse to be critical, that’s a call to be patient.

It’s also a call to prayer. When we consider the demanding task of the civil government—making and upholding righteous laws—then we must remember to bring them before the LORD. They so badly need God’s help, and need his wisdom! Pray that they’d be faithful in their office. Pray that they’d resist temptation to be unjust, or show partiality to the powerful. Pray they’d have the ability to make proper decisions, that they’d be guided by God’s holy truth.


2) the guide for those who rule: In election campaigns, there are times when personality seems more important than policy. People want a leader with a certain charisma and character; what he actually stands for can seem like an afterthought. But we go back to what exalts a nation: righteousness!

As we said, righteousness isn’t some vague concept. Rather, it’s rooted in the Word and law of God. This must be the general guide for those who rule. And once again, the book of Proverbs shows this. For example, if we turn to chapter 8 we find the words that are spoken by Wisdom (capital “W”). Solomon likes to “personify” wisdom as a woman, to make her more real, and her invitations more urgent. In chapter 8, Wisdom is talking about her many good qualities and benefits.

And we can read in verses 14-16, “Counsel is mine, and sound wisdom; I am understanding, I have strength. By me kings reign, and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.” Wisdom points to herself as someone who should be hired onto the staff of all those in authority. “If you’re a king, a ruler, a president, a prime minister, a judge, you need to get a hold of me,” she says. “I will be your guide.”

The same thought comes back in Proverbs 16:10-15. These verses have been described as something like a handbook for kings, teaching leaders what God requires of them. The first verse sets the tone for the rest, “Divination is on the lips of the king; his mouth must not transgress in judgment” (v 10). When Solomon mentions “divination,” he’s referring to how a king of Israel had direct access to divine guidance. If there was a tough judgment that he needed to make, God would show a king what he needed to do. The LORD would grant “divination” sometimes through the voice of prophets, or through dreams in the night, or the Urim and Thummim.

Today’s civil rulers certainly don’t have a heavenly guide in the same way—just like we don’t, as Christians. But all the same, we know where to go. We seek God’s wisdom in prayer. We run to his Word. We cherish the good advice of fellow believers. Those are the options each of us has when making a decision—those are the options for our leaders as well. Will they seek out the will of God, take his wisdom on their lips? Will they recognize who has placed them in power, and will they bow before him as LORD?

Solomon here offers a warning and an encouragement, “It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for a throne is established by righteousness” (16:12). There’s that word “righteousness” again. If a ruler wants a faithful advisor, he needs to begin with the righteous standards of God. Because on so many issues, the Word of God isn’t silent, but it speaks with wisdom for how a nation ought to be governed. So much of God’s law—ancient though it is—is immensely relevant, here in this nation, in the 21st century.

Think of all the good guidance that God’s law can lend this nation. It teaches about the importance of honouring the Lord’s day, of having one day out of seven to stop working. God’s law shows how we can be proper stewards of the wealth God give us. It shows how there should be just treatment of all, no matter a person’s position in society. It emphasizes the need for protection of those who are vulnerable: the poor, the elderly, and the unborn. The law of God defines what a marriage is, and defines what a family is. It even provides a divine perspective on things like the environment, and refugees. This is wisdom that this country needs.

Once again, this brings us to think about our own calling as citizens of this land. If it’s so important for our leaders to abide by God’s wisdom, then we should tell them this wisdom. “By me kings reign,” Wisdom said, “and rulers decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, all the judges of the earth.”

If we bring that divine perspective, we might expect to be ignored. When we email our elected representatives, or when a Christian organization makes a submission to government, we might anticipate that our voice will be drowned out by those who are louder and more demanding than we are.

Sometimes people make that an excuse: “Why should we bother to speak up? They’re just going to do what they’ve already decided, and we’ll be ignored.” But we shouldn’t be defeatist. Listen to what Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Don’t doubt the power of God’s Word to change hearts. There is a good guide for those who rule—the only guide for those who rule. And it alone is the path to blessing.


3) the blessing for those who are ruled: Paul calls the fifth commandment “the commandment with a promise.” He does, because the LORD adds to it that promise of blessing, “Honour your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long on the earth” (Eph 6:3). It’s true that when parents are obedient, when they carry out their task faithfully, God often crowns their work with his favour. The promise of this commandment is that when we honour God’s ways in the home, He may grant a lot of peace and joy.

The same thing is true when this commandment is applied more widely. If the fifth commandment is honoured by a government and its citizens, God promises to bless such a country. That’s the teaching of our theme text, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (14:34).

First, the dark side of that verse: “Sin is a reproach to any people.” If sin is left unchecked and God’s will is ignored, there is a national misery that is certain to follow. And the problem is, this is where we always want to go! The Belgic Confession speaks of this in Article 36, “We believe that, because of the depravity of mankind, our gracious God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers.”

Without the restraint of good government, there is always a descent into chaos. Without righteous laws being enforced, there is little respect for the life, or property, or safety of others—so many living in fear of being murdered, assaulted, raped, or robbed. Around this world, there are many countries that are ripped apart by lawlessness, where the government doesn’t uphold the law and where the citizens have to pay the price.

Righteousness builds up a nation, but wickedness breaks it down. And that destructive process so often starts at the top. Proverbs 28:15 describes it well, “Like a roaring lion and a charging bear is a wicked ruler over poor people.” A leader who doesn’t fear God causes great damage. That was how the kings of Israel were always appraised. They were judged whether or not they lived according to God’s commandments. Did they lead the people in holiness? Did they preserve true worship? If they didn’t, there’d be bitter results for all.

Times have changed, but it’s still true. If a country consistently rejects God’s law, this will only lead to confusion, and then to misery. For example, if a nation degrades marriage and devalues the family, its society will surely begin to weaken. If a nation doesn’t have courage to stand up against evil in the world, or if it approves of wicked behaviours like prostitution, drug use, and gambling—things might seem fine at first, but eventually, the grave results will be felt. Sin brings reproach to any people.

But righteousness—that will exalt a nation! Holding to God’s truth instills integrity among our leaders. His truth provides a direction for decision and policy. It provides all the citizens with an atmosphere of peace and stability, where justice is done and laws are upheld.

And when our land is stable and peaceful, we as church have a great opportunity, a wonderful occasion to carry out our holy mission unhindered. Listen again to the words of our confession, about the government’s calling: “Their task of restraining and sustaining is not limited to the public order but includes the protection of the church and its ministry in order that the kingdom of Christ may come, the Word of the gospel may be preached everywhere, and God may be honoured and served by everyone, as He requires in His Word” (Art. 36).

God’s blessings will keep flowing when the church is allowed her place to share the gospel. And His blessings will flow when we make use of that opportunity, when we tell others about the righteousness that comes from God through Christ. So we should pray that many more of our fellow citizens will become rich indeed: rich toward God, with lasting revenues laid up for themselves in heaven.

Let’s pray that in this country, the church will remain faithful to our King and Saviour. Let’s pray for the courage to bring a blessing to this nation through God’s Word. This is the kind of righteousness that will exalt our land—and even more, it will honour Jesus Christ, our great King and perfect Lord!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was:

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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