Tag Archives: social

Don’t Be Spiritually Shallow

Jesus criticized the religious leaders of Israel publicly and harshly. He denounced them for nit-picking away at minor issues and forgetting the “weightier matters” of the law. What are those weightier matters? Justice, mercy, and faith.

God has a special concern with justice. He is Judge of all the cosmos. He is personally holy and he loves righteousness.

After years of being a spectator to politics, I have noticed something about people’s notions of justice. In broad terms, people tend to see justice in a way that reflects their political viewpoint.

I freely admit to being politically conservative. We like to think of justice as something that operates mainly on the level of the individual. In other words, we believe strongly in personal responsibility.

People are responsible to make wise choices, to live according to the law. If they insist on living outside the law, they are sinning, and they deserve their punishment. Hopefully they will learn their lesson, ‘straighten up’ and ‘fly right.’

On the other hand, I have noticed that my liberal or progressive friends see justice from another perspective. They like to add the word “social” in front of justice. Social justice has a more collective focus.

The institutions and governments in our culture have a responsibility to treat people fairly, justly. When the powerful elites use these systems to oppress certain groups, it is sinful.

When the power structures of a society are unjust, then people have a responsibility to stand up and demand change. Unjust systems can and must be reformed to reflect God’s goodness.

Admittedly, these issues can be far more complex than the simple summary above. What about the separation of church and state? To what degree should God’s justice be reflected in a society’s laws?

Setting aside the related questions, my point is simple. In the Bible God clearly shows concern for both personal and social responsibility. As followers of Jesus, we must not ignore either half of God’s concern for justice.

Working to promote both individual and social justice would be enough to keep us busy, but Jesus adds in mercy. Mercy is a cousin to grace. Mercy and grace demand that people not get the justice they deserve, but instead receive the blessing they have not and cannot earn.

This is more than an empty academic philosophical dialogue. It is real life. For instance, how does a church decide who should get a baby shower?

If a young lady is pregnant out of wedlock shouldn’t we demonstrate grace, reach out to her, build a bridge into her life and the life of her child for the gospel?

But what message will that send to the young ladies who made better choices and waited until they were married to have children? Are we condoning sin and encouraging disobedience?

This is just the beginning. What about parents who learn that their children are gay or lesbian? What about the man who forced his girlfriend to have an abortion years ago? You get the idea.

These are not ‘lite’ concerns. These are the weighty matters that God has called us to address as his representatives in this age. How do we navigate the seemingly opposite poles of justice and mercy?

The third item in Jesus’ list is faith, faith in Christ Jesus. Christ is our one sure model of how to live according to God’s justice and mercy. By trusting in him as the Lord of our lives, we find insight, inspiration, and empowering to speak the truth in love.

Jesus held out one hand and grabbed hold of God’s justice and holiness. Then he held out the other hand and took hold of God grace and mercy. There at the cross on Calvary justice and mercy came together not in a formula or ideology but in a man, the Son of Man, the Son of God, in Christ Jesus.

Only as we follow the Crucified One, can we live successfully at the crossroads between God’s justice and his mercy. That’s why Jesus tells us to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him. With his power and presence we can indeed succeed at the weighty things.

May we always act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God,

Brother Richard Foster

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Are We Our Brother’s Keeper?

Cain killed his brother Abel because he was jealous. When God asked Cain about his brother’s whereabouts, he fired back at the Lord in anger, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9). Cain meant that he was not responsible for his brother, but God disagreed.

Cain’s question has become a symbol for issues far greater than the tragedy between two brothers from the ancient past. The question is now asked in relation to the Church’s responsibility to society. Is the Church called to eradicate all injustice in this world?

God’s command in the Old Testament to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:17) could be seen as an answer to Cain’s question. God’s people have a responsibility not just to their own family members, but also to neighbors. Does that include the society at large?

In the New Testament, a man asked Jesus about this command to love one’s neighbor. He wanted to know where to draw the line. How does God define “neighbor”?

Jesus answered the man’s question with a parable. A traveler was robbed and left for dead on a dangerous road. Two religious Jews passed by and denied the man any assistance. A Samaritan, however, went out of his way to help the dying man.

Jesus told his listeners, Jews, to be like the Samaritan, a people considered inferior by the Jews. Clearly Jesus expects his followers to help those who are in need, and not just those within one’s own socio-economic or ethnic group.

God’s people should reach across the multitude of lines that divide humanity in order to help anyone who is in need. But did Jesus expect his followers to establish a just and equitable society?

Jesus was a prophet like those in the Old Testament. They spoke truth to power. As bold messengers from the Lord, they stood against exploitation and oppression. They were advocates for the poor and disenfranchised in their culture.

Did not Jesus carry on the tradition of exposing and denouncing the sins of the ruling class? He did. Jesus excoriated the leaders in his day for using their places of privilege to enrich themselves at the expense of the marginalized.

The prophets’ fiery denunciations against abuses of power are a good model for the Church today, but only if their full message is understood and imitated. The prophets clearly saw that a just society depends upon a God-fearing and God-obeying people. Trying to remove injustice is not enough. The prophets’ ultimate goal was to turn the hearts of the people to the Lord.

Jesus condemned social injustice, but he left no mandate for redeeming cultures, societies, or governments in this age. He predicted that Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed, and it was. He also predicted that all kingdoms in this age will fall and they will. Why? Every new generation battles with sin and injustice because this world is broken by sin; and this broken world needs not just progressive social reform, but radical spiritual change.

Jesus expects his followers to denounce social injustice, but not as part of an attempt to establish heaven on earth because that would be an impossible task. Every generation starts over with a fresh crop of sinners whose hearts are drawn toward disobedience to God, leading to another harvest of injustice.

Despite the perpetual and inevitable failure of humanity to achieve a just and righteous society, God’s people are not allowed to be pessimistic. Instead, the Lord expects his followers to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. In fact, the Bible asserts that “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26). But good works without faith are futile.

The man who asked Jesus how to define “neighbor” had first asked Jesus’ opinion about God’s greatest command. Jesus answered by noting the command to love one’s neighbor, but he said that it was second in importance, not first. The primary command is to love God with all one’s heart, soul, mind and strength. Loving one another is not a substitute for loving God.

A rich man asked Jesus how to inherit eternal life. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give all the money to the poor, but not so that first-century Palestine would be a more just and equitable place. The young man needed to rid himself of all that would keep him from following Jesus. To be a follower of Jesus was the ultimate goal then as it is now.

Jesus attended to the sick and poor, but he did so in order to bring attention to his message. At the end of his time on earth he gave his followers instructions for carrying on his work. “You all will be my witnesses,” he told them, to everyone everywhere (Acts 1:8). The record shows that Early Christianity’s main focus was placed on announcing the truth about God’s salvation.

Moments before Jesus surrendered his life on a Roman cross, he said, “It is finished.” What was finished? Surely he was not referring to the work of social justice, because as he uttered those words the world was filled with war, poverty, sickness, violence, and despair.

Jesus’ finished work was to give his life as a sacrifice for sin so that all who trust in him will be right with God and spend eternity with the Lord in a place without social injustice and without sin. Help those in need, but put your faith not in social reform, but in the Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord.

Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church

Published by the Camden News in Religious Reflections April 12, 2013

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