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Righteousness, Plato, and a Flourishing Community

Did you realize that families, classrooms, and entire nations rise or fall based on a simple inclination?

The wisdom of Scripture has affirmed this. Plato argued for this in one of his seminal works. History has also clearly born this out and every person has experienced it, rather they can put their finger on it or not. Families, classrooms, workplaces, cities, and nations will rise or fall based on how one relates to the community. When the members of the community are willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community, nobility is cultivated and the community flourishes. When members of the community disadvantage others for the sake of themselves, lawlessness increases and the community crumbles.

The Bible actually prescribes disadvantaging oneself for the sake of others. Deut 24 says, “When you are harvesting your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back and get it. It is for the immigrant, the fatherless, and the widow…” The produce left on the ground and at the corners of the field are actually assigned to the needy of the community. The landowner has plenty for himself, but he is called to slightly disadvantage himself for the sake of the community. Bruce Waltke in The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15 says, “The righteous … are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” Thus those who live by trusting God and walking in a way that is honoring to Him will naturally disadvantage themselves for the sake of others.

Plato perceives this same dichotomy and argues for it in the Republic. A large portion of the book is spent on understanding justice through the soul and through the city. The good and noble city is that city which has leaders who see the truth and lead the city according to truth, goodness, and beauty rather than according to their own advantage. The moment at which the leaders of the city begin to pursue selfish gain, at that point the city declines and great is its decline. Plato outlines the decline through a series of stages. First the leaders focus on gaining honor for themselves (Timocracy), then they pursue riches for themselves (Oligarchy), next is the pursuit of pleasure for themselves (Democracy), and finally a leader rises up whose goal is to exploit the masses for his own pleasure (Tyranny). Everything turns on one’s pursuit of the good of the community or the pursuit of their own good.

The fulcrum between the righteous and the wicked, between the noble city and its decline is the same. Everything teeters on the interest for which one relates to the community. This truth regarding the flourishing of the city and its decline is true whenever there is a group of people who are associated together.

Every school and every classroom is a small community in which educators must cultivate an other centeredness rather than a self centeredness. In order to cultivate nobility amongst the students, they need to realize that their education is given to them in order to bless others not just themselves. Jesus said that it is more blessed to give then to receive, thus the joy a student desires to get from their education is most accomplished through using it to invest in others. Teachers can help the smarter students realize they ought not to be annoyed when peers ask them questions. Rather it is a special blessing that they can invest in the others in the classroom. Thus parents and educators are in the unique position of pointing little hearts to righteousness and nobility by directing them to use their learning for the benefit of others so that the community flourishes!

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