Wineskins Archive

January 6, 2014

Because God Is (Nov – Dec 1993)

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by Billie Silvey
November – December, 1993

16“No Justice, No Peace” was the sermon topic announced by the young minister. It was a common slogan in Los Angeles – both before and after the riots – and I was eager to see what he’d say about it. He explained that the church dealt only with spiritual matters and isn’t concerned about social justice. His definition of justice was begin right with God’s laws. If we are, he said, we’ll have no peace with those who aren’t.

I couldn’t help thinking that the concept of justice is broader than that. The word is not used in Scripture merely to mean righteousness in relation with God. As Christians we have another dimension to our relationships. If we aren’t righteous in the way we treat each other, we can’t have a good relationship with God either.

The Old Testament Records God’s Concern for JusticeAs Rick Atchley points out, there’s a simple reason why the church should be concerned about social justice – because God is. Throughout Scripture God shows a special concern for the poor, the weak, the disenfranchised.

It begins in the beginning, with the creation of the world. God placed the rest of his creation in the care of his prime creation, human beings. Still there was no question whom the earth actually belonged to. God placed limitations on the use of his creation, and punishment was swift and certain when his restrictions were ignored (See Genesis 2:16-17; 3:17).

All belongs to God to be used according to hs purposes (Psalms 24:1 and 50:10-11).

Later, in the law of Moses, God placed further restrictions on the use of the land. It could be cultivated for six years, but on the seventh it would lie fallow, not just because that’s good soil management, but “that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild beasts may eat” (Exodus 23:10-11).

Even during the years of cultivation, owners were not to harvest to the borders of their fields or gather what remained after the first pass through. They weren’ to strip their vineyards or pick up fallen grapes. That was for the poor and sojourner (Leviticus 19:9-10).

Then, on the fiftieth, or Jubilee year, all property reverted to its original owners, and slaves were freed (Leviticus 25:10).

This sharing was not an act of unusual kindness or generosity. It was what God expected of his people. God’s earth was to be used for the good of all.

Later, through the prophets, God condemned Israel for failing to carry out his demands. “Seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow,” God said. If you don’t, you’re wasting your time worshiping me (Isaiah 1:11-17, 58:6-7. See also Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).

When God asks, “What do you mean by crushing my people, by grinding the face of the poor?” he’s not accusing them of remarkable acts of cruelty against specific poor people. He’s saying that they failed to follow his commandments and leave part of the produce of their vineyards for those who needed it. They took it all for themselves. That was their sin (Isaiah 3:14-15; see also Amos 2:7-7a; 5:10-15; 8:4-6).

The prophets’ denouncements of the cries of the poor often are juxtaposed with warnings against the self-indulgence of the rich (Isaiah 5:7; Amos 4:1; 6:1-7). God calls this lack of justice robbery and wrong (Isaiah 61:8).

God’s Concern for Justice in the New Testament

The coming of Jesus didn’t change God’s views on justice. Jesus teaches his followers to give to those who beg from us (Matthew 5:42; Luke 6:30-31). He instructs us on our motivation as we give alms (Matthew 6:2-4). He warns against laying up treasures for ourselves (6:19), and trying to serve both God and money (6:24).

The rich young ruler was told to sell all. Jesus’ followers were told to leave all. And the parable of the rich man and Lazarus warns us that, if we don’t, we might lose all (Matthew 19:16-30; Mark 10:17-31; Luke 18:18-30; Matthew 16:24-26; Luke 16:19-31).

Jesus saw himself as the ultimate year of Jubilee, bringing good news to the poor and release to the captives (Luke 4:18-21).

When his church began, the believers sold all they had and distributed it among the poor (Acts 2:44-45).

Paul spent much of his ministry collecting funds from Gentile churches to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem. As he explained it, “As a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15).

The Biblical View of Justice and Its Implications for Us

Often in discussing the biblical view of justice, we consider only the negatives – that God will give us our just desserts if we do wrong. We’ve failed to emphasize the positive aspects of justice.

The whole world belongs to God for the use and benefit of people. If we seek equity and fairness in our use of God’s resources, we will be blessed, but if we’re selfish and hold onto what we have, we’ll lose it.

Another way to look at the biblical view of justice, according to Harold Shank, is to consider the difference between justice and benevolence.

Benevolence is being kind to someone who needs help. However, like giving castoff clothing to someone who needs it, it allows us to help without real sacrifice on our part. And its effects are generally temporary.

Justice, on the other hand, seeks equity by empowering a person to have the same advantages we have. It may call for a real sacrifice of time, effort and money – for instance, helping someone learn skills so they can get a job and buy their own clothes. But its effects often are long-lasting.

Four Considerations about Our Possessions and God’s Justice

What is the message of God’s justice for us as Christians in a land of great material resources? We have an income, food and homes, but the number of those without these basic necessities is growing at an alarming rate. What can we do with our jobs and mortgages, our children needing orthodontia and savings for college?

  • Consider how we feel about our possessions. Are they really ours to use in whatever way we wish?
  • Consider how we live. Do we live in luxury while others are suffering?
  • Consider how we use our resources. Do we share generously with those who need our help?
  • Consider the results of our sharing. Is there some way we can make our gifts produce greater equity and have longer-lasting results?

I hope my young preaching friend comes to realize that the church must be concerned, not just about being right with God, but being just toward those around us. Because – thumbing through the Bible – we soon realize that God is.Wineskins Magazine

Billie Silvey

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