As we approach Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday on Monday, I would like to offer excerpts from the sermon I preached for chapel at Nebraska Christian College yesterday, January 16, 2014. It concerns “Justice,” and much of what I know of this subject was formed many years ago by reading Dr. King. This post is much longer than my usual ones. Hope you enjoy it.
Situation 1: Year-end always generates “top ten” stories. In one of these the author gave the top quotes from the past year, and opined about the five most important words to be spoken in 2013. These came from the lips of the new leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis: Who am I to judge?
Situation 2: Last week I was at Journey Christian Church in Wayne, NE. Great church. I had this message on my mind, and was struck after church by a girl, maybe 7 years old, carrying a big pink plastic tote bag that had this message on the side: love justice. I stopped her and asked her where she got it, and was told it was from the Westroads Mall in Omaha. So I stopped there on my way home. It is a store called “Justice” that has clothes and accessories for girls. I wanted to buy a bag like hers, but they didn’t have one. But I did understand, the “Love Justice” on her bag had a double meaning.For her: I love this cool store called “Justice.” For someone in the “Justice” company: I want to plant a seed with young girls, that they should love justice.
Judging and Justice. How do they go together?
Boom Generation: passion for evangelism, developing many evangelistic methodologies. This culminated with the “seeker sensitive” church model, which at its core operated on the assumption that the lost were more important than the saved.
Generation X: alienated from the church and the corporate image it projected yearned for “authenticity.” This fueled the worship renewal movement. The result is that the worship service has become a worship experience that walks the line between participation and performance.
Millennials: They ask these questions, “Why doesn’t the church do anything? Is it all about buildings and budgets? There are people in our world who need help. Can’t we help them? There are people in our community who need help. Can’t we help them?”
Similar ideas in the Bible: Judging, Justice, and Righteousness
Judging is wisely applying God’s standards for human behavior.
Justice and Righteousness are quite different in our understanding, yet the same word in Bible languages. We think Righteousness is the removal of the guilt caused by sin. We think we are righteous if we have no sin. And this, we believe, comes by believing in Jesus. He has come to save us from our sins, and we think that this is to be saved from our unrighteousness, our guilt. This is a very Pauline view, and is something of a confusion between righteousness and holiness.
We think Justice is when the law is applied evenly, fairly, without corruption, without prejudice. No celebrity justice.
But how could justice and righteousness be so different?
Suggestion #1: Righteousness is doing the right thing. It is doing the right thing for others. And so is justice. The one who loves justice is the person who wants to see the right thing done for others. That is the connection.
Suggestion #2: Sin is not simply about breaking rules; it is not caring about justice. This is what invokes the wrath of God. Is God angry when we break some rules, even intentionally? Or is God angry when we see others suffer and don’t care? Jesus did not get angry when he was around sinners, he got angry when his critics used a man who needed healing to trick him. He got angry when he saw unscrupulous merchants in the temple taking advantage of people who had come to worship.
I’m afraid we have let Paul’s doctrine of righteousness/holiness overshadow the OT’s call for justice.
The church doesn’t need any more judges. It needs people who love justice. The core of justice is caring about others more than we care about our own comfort.
Deuteronomy 16:20 (NIV): 20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.
- Moses, giving his final sermons to the people of Israel as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, includes advice and a veiled threat: Seek justice, Moses says. If you do, you will live and the land will be yours to possess. But the threat is there: if you ignore justice, if you pervert justice, if you don’t care about justice, you will lose the land.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
8 He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
- Micah 6:8 is sometimes called the key to the prophets, maybe the most important verse in the Old Testament. The prophet lifts up three things, and none of them has to do with keeping rules. Number 1 on the list: acting justly. But they all go together: Justice/Mercy/Humility.
2 Samuel 23:1-3 KJV: Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, 2 The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. 3 The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
- Aside from the political aspects of this, the expectation of God that we would have a just society that begins with our leaders, notice the link here: Being just motivated by the fear of God (not the fear of a re-election challenge). Why? Because David knew that hating justice moved God to anger.
Habakkuk 2:1-4 (KJV): 2 1I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower, and will watch to see what he will say unto me, and what I shall answer when I am reproved. 2 And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it. 3 For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. 4 Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.
- Paul’s favorite verse, and he insightfully applies this to the matter of Christian faith in Romans and in Galatians. But Habakkuk is not about personal righteousness. The crisis in Habakkuk is a lack of justice in his land. So, if we put this in perspective with what Moses said, they are called to trust God fully, even to the point of seeking justice. They are called to care about other people: the widows, the orphans, the homeless. This is living by faith.
Amos 5:14-15, 21-24
14 Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
15 Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.
21 “I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
22 Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
23 Away with the noise of your [worship] songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps [your vintage pre-CBS Fender Stratocaster guitars or your personally customized Taylor acoustic/electrics].
24 But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!
- I added a couple of words, but here’s a shock: God cares more about our justice than about our worship!
Careful: If we make everything about social justice in the church, we have missed the point. Justice is wanting to do the right thing for other people. Justice is wanting to have the right thing done for others. Justice is caring about others more than ourselves. Justice is living in the fear of God, and remembering that nothing provokes God’s wrath more than when we lose a passion for justice. And if we really love justice, we will care about those in our family, in our community, in our city, and in our world who are lost and need a Savior. And if we are ready to go to Thailand to help stop sex trafficking, but don’t care about our neighbors, we don’t really care about justice.
And “Where Is Justice?” I hope it has a home in your heart and ministry.
Nebraska Christian College