"Have you noticed how many "really strict" families seem to have problems with their children in later years?". This comment is common, and for some time I dismissed it by saying that such "exceptions" were more noticeable than the usual problems in families of "loose" upbringing.
But the observations continue. "We notice that some of the preachers who shout the loudest about immodesty get into moral problems themselves" Or -- "What about the ultra-conservatives who become ultra-liberal?" Again, I think there is a tendency to generalize -- to allow a few bad notes to spoil the symphony. Also, some may use such cases as their excuse for disregard of decency and truth.
But what about the real cases? How may we explain those seemingly wide swings of the pendulum from devoted husband to philanderer, from "perfect child" to delinquent, from God-fearing preacher to men-pleaser? Notice I said "seemingly" wide or abrupt swing. I do not believe such changes take place over-night -- we only see the manifestation of the change that has been taking place for some time. "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh" (MAT.12:34). "They went out from us, but they were not of us;" -- i.e., at the time of the physical separation (1JO.2:19).
Perhaps the most classic example in the NT is the "elder" son, of LUK.15:25-f. This seemingly model son became angry, stubborn, disrespectful, and showed a self-righteous spirit, when he should have rejoiced at his brother's return. It is difficult to believe this was a sudden, unpredictable change in character.
Solomon said, "Be not righteous overmuch; neither make thyself overwise: why shouldest thou destroy thyself?" (ECC.7:15-18). A. Clarke comments, "It cannot be supposed, except by those who are totally unacquainted with the nature of true religion, that a man may have too much holiness, too much of the life of God in his soul!" Yet, in our pride, we may become "presumptuously self-sufficient, as if acquainted with the whole of Divine truth" (J.F.&B.). Such "fanatical, pharisaical righteousness" may give the appearance of strict dedication to Godliness, when in reality it is but dedication to a sectarian form of religion.
The child who learns that certain things, words and conduct are expected of him may wear a shell of obedience externally, while seething with rebellion inside. Then the day comes when he throws aside his cloak and we say he has made a sudden change. The preacher may wish to be "sound in the faith" but through environment and schooling equate this with some sectarian "orthodoxy". Certain "firm stands" are expected of him, and he produces. But if inner conviction is lacking he becomes a miserable caricature of a preacher, or someday breaks the shell to go God only knows where.
I believe Solomon is telling us to avoid this sort of "overmuch righteousness" ("Overmuch wicked" of the same passage is antithetically worded and does not imply that a "little" wickedness is acceptable.).
And Solomon gives the solution. In the last verse of our text (ECC.7:18) he says, " -- for he that feareth God shall come forth from them all". We must live as servants of God, subject to him alone, and followers of them only to the extent they follow God (Note Paul's exhortation, 1CO.11:1).
We must not discourage the teaching of children. Certain conduct is rightly expected of them by responsible parents. But successful teaching, to lead to a truly Christian life, must be teaching that makes them aware of their responsibility to God. We must learn to be honest with ourselves, knowing that no amount of sham will fool the heavenly Father.
Orthodoxy is not a dirty word -- if God and His word are the "rule" for that faith. All Christians, including preachers, should learn what is expected of them by the Lord: and should hold to this tenaciously. There is no danger in our "cracking up" from too close adherence to this. But "foolish and unlearned questions" "profane and vain babblings" "eat as doth a canker" (2TI.2:14-f.) and will destroy us.
Those who become adept at striving about "words to no profit" are lifted with pride. They build an artificial shell about themselves that keeps them out of touch with reality. They are the "straight-laced" who finally "bust a gusset" (Look it up!).
Balance is not compromise -- it is honesty with God, man, and self.