The Fulfillment of Righteous Desire

The desire of the righteous ends only in good; the expectation of the wicked in wrath.”

- Proverbs 11:23

Unlike other religions, such as Islam, that tend to view sin merely in terms of actions, Christianity emphasizes the role of motivations and attitudes in the transgressions we commit. This comes straight from the Bible and is taught from Genesis to Revelation.

Genesis 4:6 records God’s warning to Cain about he anger that seethed within him. Deuteronomy 5:21 warns us against coveting, or the illicit desire to have what others possess. Mark 7:14–23 records Jesus’ instruction that acts such as sexual sins, theft, and murder spring from hearts bent on evil.

James 1:14–15 uses the term “desire” specifically when it is talking about the origin of sin. The actual act of sin is not the first instance in which we go wrong; rather, sin begins when we desire what is forbidden. If this desire is not mortified, it gives birth to the act of sin, and if we continue in this sin, our end is death. Here, James echoes Proverbs 11:23. It is quite possible that he actually had this proverb in mind, as his epistle is known for the way that its proverbial nature mimics the book of Proverbs. In any case, both James 1:14–15 and Proverbs 11:23 make the same essential point, namely, that sinful desires and expectations do not lead to a good end when they are entertained and followed. Proverbs 11:23 seems to refer specifically to the desire to do evil to others, to gain prosperity at the expense of others or to inflict harm with the expectation of bettering one’s position. The point of the proverb is that no matter how successful following this desire makes one in the short term, the ultimate end is judgment. No impenitent evildoer will ever escape the wrath of God even if he seems to avoid it in the here and now.

If the desire or expectation of the wicked ends in wrath, it follows that the desire or expectation of the righteous ends in good. Scripture would have us not only put to death our evil desires in order to escape punishment but would have us also cultivate good and holy desires that result in good things. Here, the desire of the righteous is fundamentally a desire to bless others, so it causes good to come to friends, family, and neighbors. However, it would be a mistake to limit the benefit that results to others. The person with the desire benefits as well. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts (Matt. 22:37), and our Creator will reward not only the good deeds that are motivated by this attitude of love but also the very attitude itself.

Coram Deo

Scripture often calls us to guard our hearts, and this is not only so that we can avoid sin and the discipline it brings but also so that we would cultivate love and the rewards that come with it. God wants us to have a true, heartfelt desire to serve Him and His people, a love born of gratitude for what He has done for us and for who He is in His holy and merciful nature. Let us reflect on God’s goodness that our love for Him might grow this day.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 37:4
Romans 13:14

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