“Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34 NKJV)
What do you think of verses that mention the words “righteousness” and “nation” together? Some think they apply only to nations of the past that were widely religious in culture. Others think biblical views on righteousness no longer apply today because they believe that humanity’s “philosophical awakenings” and seeming “advancements in thinking” have invalidated biblical standards and principles of righteousness and other issues.
But back in 1947, this is exactly the kind of thinking that Carle Zimmerman, a distinguished Harvard sociologist, warned us about in his book, Family and Civilization. His study of the rise and fall of civilizations proved exactly what Proverbs 14:34 is saying: that moral degradation in society has been a largely ignored major factor in the fall of past civilizations.
So what exactly does this truth have to do with us Christians as individuals? How does one ordinary life matter in the larger moral landscape of one nation?
#1: Sin Has a Much Greater Effect than Normally Recognized
The word “reproach” in the second part of Proverbs 14:34 is used only one other time in Scripture. Leviticus 20:17 used it to describe the evil of immorality within a family relationship. Even today, most people consider that as something wicked or that brings disgrace.
Through the years, we see an alarming rise in people’s receptivity to obvious disgraceful acts. This began when Christians chose to take a more tolerant stance. When Christians do not speak out against the sins around them, others easily misconstrue that passivity for a sign of a Christian’s approval or acceptance.
One cannot presume that one sin (or one sinner) cannot really affect others on a larger scale. The Bible warns us about how sin progresses (James 1:14-16) and how it can develop into a stronghold that needs to be torn down (2 Corinthians 10:4-5). This is not only true of sins in the life of an individual because the sin of one can surely affect many others around him. This was true of Achan (Joshua 7) and of Ananias and Saphira (Acts 5:1-11). That’s why the Lord chose to cleanse their respective scopes of influence from being corrupted by their actions.
Today, we see celebrities and prominent people commit disgraceful acts. Yet, society still accepts and celebrates them. Some Christian leaders even openly support them. Thus, people get more confused about what standards to follow. And so they start accepting these sinful acts as okay and normal. This is the mindset that has spread quickly and corrupted many throughout the past decades. Indeed, the sin of one, once allowed and accepted, can greatly corrupt many and largely affect and disgrace even a nation.
#2: Righteous Living is a Means of Impact Many Christians Ignore
The word “exalts” in the first part of Proverbs 14:34 literally means to “lift up” or “prosper.” This means righteousness greatly affects how God honors that nation and how others regard it. However, this is a truth that some Christians ignore or pay very little attention to.
Just as many think that the sin of one doesn’t have that much of a wide impact, so do some Christians think that their lifestyle doesn’t really have much effect on society and that their lives are too insignificant to affect those around them. But Scripture says exactly the opposite. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 says that God chooses those that society thinks are foolish, weak, and insignificant to make a difference in the world.
“Righteousness,” as the verse says, is indeed a means by which Christians can impact and help their respective societies, even their nation.
#3: Christians Should Influence Society Through Personal Righteousness
Huge fires don’t start large right away. It takes a spark to start a fire and other factors to make it spread and become huge. Just like with fires, movements don’t start out with large organizations. They start with individuals who dare to make a difference in their society. Christian influence is exactly like that. It starts small until it catches on and spreads.
Creating an impact of righteousness in society starts with us making sure we have the right influence first as individuals. As we become spiritually strong believers, it becomes our task to nurture spiritually strong families. And as we raise spiritually strong children, we have a better hope of producing spiritually strong leaders who might be able to lead with righteous principles. But it all starts with the small ripple we begin as individuals. Then it widens and allows people around us to catch onto the vision. And thus, we all create a larger series of ripples that impact and lift our nation.
Israel is a classic historical example of Proverbs 14:34. Israel thrived and prospered when led by a good king, and righteousness prevailed. But they suffered and were judged whenever evil kings were in position, and the nation was in sin.
Today, we don’t have to wait for righteous rulers to lead us. It starts out with us as individuals being righteous, until it catches onto our families, relatives, friends, neighbors, and eventually, our society. We need to live spiritually contagious, righteous lives that impact the world around us.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.