What is the Mission of the Church? Part 7: What About Justice?
April 29, 2021 | by: Dale Thiele | 0 Comments
Posted in: Pastoral Encouragement
In the discussion about the mission of the church the topic of justice inevitably comes up. In our current cultural moment, justice is a hot topic. And we know from Scripture that God cares about justice. So, how do these three things intersect?
Let’s start with Scripture. The oft-quoted verse about justice is Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In chapter 6, the prophet asks, “with what shall I come before the Lord?” (v. 6). As a means of exhorting Judah, the prophet uses this rhetorical question to call the people of God to covenant faithfulness toward God. God is not pleased with “burnt offerings,” “rivers of oil,” or “my firstborn for my transgression.” As Micah’s contemporary, Isaiah has the same exhortation, God is not pleased with superficial religious activity (see Isaiah 58). God desires his people to be transformed by his covenant love and faithfulness into the sort of people who do justice and are gracious and humble.
We need to press a little further into Micah to understand his call to “do justice.” He condemns “those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds” (2:1). These evil doers “covet fields and seize them, and houses, and take them away” (2:2). He confronts the leaders, who ought to “know justice,” for hating the good and loving the evil (3:1-2). These evil rulers “declare war” against the helpless poor (3:5). They bribe and extort the people (3:11). They use deception to steal from others (6:11-12). His exhortation to “do justice” is a rebuke against the blatant injustices committed in the land.
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert summarize well Micah’s (and the Bible’s) vision for justice: “The Old Testament is passionate about doing justice. But Christians haven’t always given much thought to what the Bible means by that phrase. Doing justice is not the same as redistribution, nor does it encompass everything a godly Israelite would do in obedience to Yahweh. Injustice refers to those who oppress, cheat, or make judicial decisions with partiality. Doing justice, then, implies fairness, decency, and honesty. Just as importantly, we see that the righteous person does more than simply refrain from evil. He positively seeks to help the weak, give to the needy, and, as he is able, addresses situations of rank injustice” (What is the Mission of the Church? p. 161).
As Christians, we are called to “do justice” as well. DeYoung and Gilbert have a caution, though. “Doing justice means not showing partiality, not stealing, not swindling, not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you. We dare say that most Christians in America are not guilty of these sorts of injustices, nor should they be made to feel that they are. We are not interested in people feeling bad just to feel bad, or worse, people thinking there is moral high ground in professing most loudly how bad they feel about themselves. If we are guilty of injustice individually or collectively, if we are guilty of hoarding our resources and failing to show generosity, then let us repent, receive forgiveness, and change. But when it comes to doing good in our communities and in the world, let’s not turn every possibility into a responsibility and every opportunity into an ought. If we want to see our brothers and sisters do more for the poor and the afflicted, we’ll go farther and be on safer ground if we use grace as our motivating principle instead of guilt” (p. 176-177).
We have many opportunities to do good in our communities. Part of loving our neighbors as ourselves is seeking to do good for others (we discussed this last week). DeYoung’s and Gilbert’s caution is that we must be hesitant to turn every opportunity to do good into a responsibility by calling it a justice issue. The additional caution is to refrain from using guilt to motivate one another. Much more can be said about a careful understanding of biblical justice.
Let’s be Christians who “do justice.” Let’s also be Christians who “walk humbly with their God,” seeking to follow his Word.