Updated: Mar 9, 2022
WHY THE CHURCH IS LOST ON SOCIAL JUSTICE
Review: Part #1 Justice: The word “justice” in Hebrew actually means judgement, or right/equal judgement based on a predetermined set of rules or guidelines. Justice cannot be conjured up within ourselves, it must be learned, understood, and taught according to YHVH's righteous instructions found only in the Bible. The Bible is very clear on justice. 1. We learn God’s commands and we obey them because He is the only source of true unbiased judgement. 2. Justice acts on behalf of the widow, the orphan, the poor, or the physically weak or sick. 3. Justice also includes being fair or making judgements equitably. Part #2 Injustice: Injustice in Hebrew literally reads “no make/create judgement” really boils down to two simple things: 1. Rejecting God’s commands 2. Attempting to create correct judgement based on our own guidelines and rules instead of God’s. When properly understood, the commands and instructions of YHVH rightly guide us along the path of justice like it did for Abraham, David, and Yeshua. Without it we are left to make up the rules as we go, and those rules we make up and enforce will only lead to our destruction because they cannot bear the good fruit from the Good vine because it is detached from the Good vine. It is then we can properly discern injustice and justly act upon it.
Having explored Biblical justice and sought to understand Biblical injustice, we need to understand how to properly respond when we witness injustice. This is the greatest challenge our society faces, but also the greatest evidence to our faith in God if and when we respond the way YHVH instructs us. In part #3 we will explore how YHVH gives us specific action points and guidance to determine how we should respond, and how to evaluate how others respond.
Three clear actions are given to guide our response: 1. Do not join in with the unjust
2. We primarily act toward the oppressed, not the oppressor
3. Vengeance is not ours to seek
DO NOT JOIN IN WITH THE UNJUST
When we see injustice we have to be very deliberate about not joining in. That means we have to truly understand God’s justice to avoid mistakenly participating in an unjust act because we are deceived into thinking it is justice. Justice apart from God’s truth does not exist.
Exodus 23:1-3; 6-8 net “You shall not bear a false report; do not join your hand with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. 2 You shall not follow the masses in doing evil, nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after a multitude in order to pervert justice; 3 nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his dispute....6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your needy brother in his dispute. 7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty. 8 “You shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just.
If your spidey senses aren't tingling when you read that verse, then you aren't really "reading" your Bible. This is the exact command the Sanhedrin and the high priest transgressed when they falsely accused Yeshua, stirred up the crowd against Him before Pilot, and eventually worked to get Him killed by the Roman authorities. Matthew 26:59-60 esv "Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward..." Mark 15:9-14 esv "9 And he answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” 10 For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. 12 And Pilate again said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” 13 And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” 14 And Pilate said to them, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” The Bible is full of others just like it. It should strike us all that it is the religious leaders, the ones who taught and supposedly followed YHVH's commands that led the people into transgressing YHVH through their unjust actions against Yeshua. Our world is not exempt of such manipulation from pulpits, pens, and podcasts across the world. We must test every teacher against the Word of YHVH to avoid the same pitfalls we see the masses falling slothfully in to. When we stand before YHVH on the day of judgement we will not be able to blame our sins on ignorance. Surveying the landscape of Yeshua's trial, it is hard to ignore the attitudes and actions that eventually led to His death. We don't know who was in the crowd those days, yet through the stirring of men they trusted, leaders of their communities, they were whipped into a frenzy demanding Yeshua's blood. What a terrifying thought. How easy is it for well-meaning people to loose their way when amongst the crowd. Some in the crowd likely already hated Yeshua. Others likely were there just to see what was going on. While others might have attended with the hopes to speak on His behalf. However, when it was all said and done, the crowd, openly, willingly, and blatantly called for the slaughter of an innocent man. The echoes of their fury find their way into the streets of American cities and across the world even today. Where the masses (no matter what side you are on) have been whipped into a frenzy in support of some cause, absent of facts, reason, love, and true justice. We too have allowed leaders to influence our thinking too easily, and we rarely stop to truly consider the things we say and do, nor do we evaluate the fruit it produces rotting in our hearts. We believe the false witness or become them ourselves without a second thought simply because that witness supports the side we agree most with. The people crucified Yeshua because they were either too lazy or too ignorant to think for themselves and test what they were told. They chose to believe the word of men and walked the wide path to sin and destruction as so many before them had, and as so many after repeated. the Bible speaks loudly and clearly about the righteousness of the masses, and it rarely leads to true justice. The road to justice and righteousness is narrow and hard to find. Matthew 7:13-14 esv "13 Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." Isaiah 35:8-9 esv "8 And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray. 9 No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there."
Within the confines of the crowd we rarely discover dissenting voices, they are quickly silenced and trampled on to support the voices of those who wish to accomplish their own way. This is why true holiness calls us out of the crowd, calls us to be a righteous few who choose to follow and obey the Word and instructions of YHVH. It is in being truly set apart that we can see beyond the crowd, hear beyond the noise, and discern the truth through the eyes of the Father. When you find yourself as part of the "crowd" then it is a pretty clear signal you're in the wrong place. Move, and move quickly. David, in the Psalms reveals the greatest tool we have to avoid the pitfall of following in The transgressions of the mob. Psalm 119:160 esv "The sum of your word is truth, and every one of your righteous rules endures forever." Psalm 25:4-5 esv "4 Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. 5 Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long."
There is only one “truth” that matters in this world and in our lives it is the Word of YHVH. We must not settle for anything else, no matter how noble the cause appears to be. When we turn from the Word as our source of truth, and listen to the voices in the crowd we will always be led astray into wickedness, and destruction which will bring us to join in with the injustice the crowd offers even if it is masked in what appears to be justice. The challenge we face is how do we understand the truth provided in Scripture the far too often if seems so far above our heads. Yeshua makes a promise to those who truly trust in Him and seek Him. John 16:13-15 esv "13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14 He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15 All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you."
The truth is, those who truly believe and trust in Yeshua and in the Father, YHVH, are given the gift that blessed the kings, prophets, and priests of old...The Holy Spirit. It is that Holy Spirit, the Spirit of YHVH, the Spirit of Truth that is given the task of helping us walk out our faith in spirit and in truth by leading us in all truth based on the Word of God alone. We are not helpless or hopeless to avoid the allure of the masses, however, it is only through the daily "renewing" of our mind in the Word, being purposeful and deliberate about seeking and studying YHVH's Word that we can avoid conforming to every whim and cause of the world.
Romans 12:2 esv "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." We cannot create justice on our own, nor can we overcome the powers of the crowd on our own without personal investment in the Word of Truth, being led by the Spirit of Truth, to discern what YHVH says is good, acceptable, and perfect.
WE ACT PRIMARILY TOWARD THE OPPRESSED
In our society it’s generally accepted that when we perceive an injustice has been committed we run to attack the accused oppressor. We do so in a misguided attempt to benefit the oppressed. Consider though, that the oppressed person has actual physical needs that need to be met, along with their families, friends, and often their community as a whole. However, in a rush to tar and feather the abuser we regularly go blind to the fact that the oppressed person is being completely overlooked. The Bible talks about this to the Israelite people several times in the books of the prophets, but Isaiah 58 really nails the point well.
Isaiah 58:6-10 net "6 No, this is the kind of fast I want: I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. 7 I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe them! Don’t turn your back on your own flesh and blood. 8 Then your light will shine like the sunrise; your restoration will quickly arrive; your godly behavior will go before you, and YHVH's splendor will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call out, and YHVH will respond; you will cry out, and he will reply, ‘Here I am.’ You must remove the burdensome yoke from among you and stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully. 10 You must actively help the hungry and feed the oppressed. Then your light will dispel the darkness, and your darkness will be transformed into noonday."
Isaiah lists several things that the people of Israel should always be doing for those who are oppressed. Again, this list does not stand alone, this is not the product of Isaiah creating a sermon called "Six easy steps to overcome oppression." These are all behaviors given by YHVH to His people to follow and obey in His instructions given in the Torah. Isaiah just like so many before him, and like Yeshua did after him, called people to repentance and to return to the righteous instructions YHVH has mercifully provided for our good.
1. Remove "sinful" chains, and remove the burdensome yoke 2. Set free the oppressed 3. Feed the hungry 4. Shelter the homeless 5. Clothe the naked 6. Do not turn your back on your flesh and blood
It is important to note Isaiah not only reminds them of what godly behavior is expected of faithful followers of YHVH, but to exhort them in the promise made for those who choose to obey. In verses 8-10 Isaiah describes the blessings that result from following these essential instructions.
1. Your light will shine
2. Restoration will come quickly
3. Godly behavior will go before you, YHVH's glory will be your rear guard
4. Then YHVH will respond when you call
5. Light will dispel the darkness Isn't it curious how we have been having these social justice arguments for generations,
and we rarely see these promises being realized. It should strike us that even within the church we rarely see this fruit bearing out of our vine. It is not hard to see why. It is because we have set aside YHVH's righteous guidelines for justice and we have turned to seeking our own form of justice, burdened people to follow our own rules, and sought our own vengeance with verbal and physical violence. The question is why. Why can't we just figure this thing out even within the church? I think Isaiah makes a pretty important statement at the end of verse 9. Isaiah urges them to "stop pointing fingers and speaking sinfully." If we could a hold of this truth not only about social justice, but about every area of divisiveness within our churches, families, and communities, our world would look much different. From CNN to Fox News, to American church pulpits, to social media, we have lost sound judgement because we have abandoned the truth of YHVH. The wisdom of YHVH is eternal, and these writings from Isaiah, inspired by the Spirit of Truth, recorded thousands of years ago, still ring true today. It rung true for Yeshua and His cousin, John the Baptist, too.
Luke 3:10-14 net 10 So the crowds were asking him, “What then should we do?” 11 John answered them, “The person who has two tunics must share with the person who has none, and the person who has food must do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and they said to him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13 He told them, “Collect no more than you are required to.” 14 Then some soldiers also asked him, “And as for us—what should we do?” He told them, “Take money from no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your pay.”
Look closely at John's statements, he isn't speaking to the oppressed, he is addressing the oppressors. The crowds, the tax collectors, the soldiers. These are groups that had the power to oppress and burden others, and John cautions them and instructs them echoing Isaiah's words and the instructions of Torah. Clothe the naked, feed the poor, do not steal, or commit violence, or slander. John echoed the words of Isaiah and affirmed the righteous instructions of YHVH. Yeshua did the same. Matthew 25:31-40 net "31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be assembled before him, and he will separate people one from another like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’"
The problem is, whether Christian, secular, or undecided, we have all largely failed at this step of the process. We have attacked the oppressor and ignored the real needs of the oppressed. In marching toward the accused oppressor we trample the person who actually needs our immediate attention. Yeshua says that it is the "righteous" who respond with this behavior, and by this standard most of us would fall woefully short. It is in resisting our natural urge to seek vengeance against the oppressor that we can seek true justice by the standard YHVH has provided for us. As we first work to meet the needs of the oppressed, the light of YHVH's glory can be seen to the world around us, so desperate to find that light. Reading through this, many of you may be wondering how YHVH can be "just" and expect us to ignore the oppressor. Well, He doesn't tell us to ignore the oppressor.
VENGEANCE IS NOT OURS TO SEEK
This might be the most challenging part of our response, but the Bible is very clear about this. Every cell in our bodies wants to see those who act unjustly "get what's coming to them." It doesn't matter who you are, we all fall into this trap over and over again. It is especially difficult to wait on YHVH in this manner when we or someone we love has been oppressed or abused. The Bible is full of lessons we must internalize if we are to trust YHVH enough to allow Him the time and the opportunity to work His justice out, instead of running to point the finger and seek vengeance by our own standard. Romans 12:16-21 net
"16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil; consider what is good before all people. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people. 19 Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Paul makes some hard statements here, but it all hinges on one truth, "live in harmony with one another...if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceable with ALL people." He doesn't say "with the people who are nice to you," or "the people who agree with you politically," or "the people who haven't wronged you". He said with ALL people. Even the good, bad, and ugly. When faced with those who do evil, Paul exhorts faithful followers of YHVH to no repay their evil with more evil, do not avenge yourselves." However, so many of us are ill-equipped to handle injustice righteously because we buy into the lie that we have to defend ourselves or not let people push us around. Those nuggets are an appeal to our flesh, yet none of them bear fruit in keeping with the evidence of the Holy Spirit of YHVH working through and informing our lives. The reality is, when we seek our own vengeance we put ourselves into the position of being god in our own eyes, as if we are just and righteous enough to decide what is proper justice. It is this fleshly action that will always lead us into sin and away from righteousness. James reminds us of this truth. James 1:19-27 net "19 Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters! Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger. 20 For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. 21 So put away all filth and evil excess and humbly welcome the message implanted within you, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves. 23 For if someone merely listens to the message and does not live it out, he is like someone who gazes at his own face in a mirror. 24 For he gazes at himself and then goes out and immediately forgets what sort of person he was. 25 But the one who peers into the perfect law of liberty and fixes his attention there, and does not become a forgetful listener but one who lives it out—he will be blessed in what he does. 26 If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile. 27 Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their adversity and to keep oneself unstained by the world." James highlights some key behaviors which help us resist the urge for vengeance.
1. Quick to listen
2. Slow to speak
3. Put away filth and evil 4. Humbly accept Biblical truth 5. Live by that Biblical Truth 6. Fix our attention upon Biblical truth
7. Care for the orphans and widows
8. Remain unstained by the world.
James' letter becomes a critical cog in our understanding of how YHVH desires us to respond to injustice, which he sums up perfectly when he says, "human anger does not accomplish YHVH's righteousness." Wow! But we are all so angry. Why? Because we believed someone else when they told us we should be. Or because an injustice was committed against us and we have chosen not to forgive. When we can finally see why personal vengeance is so destructive both spiritually and physically in our lives then the burden of seeking our own vengeance no longer looks so appealing. Paul and James both write beautifully on the topic of vengeance, but it is not just a New Testament topic, we see this concept repeated all throughout the Bible.
"8 Finally, all of you be harmonious, sympathetic, affectionate, compassionate, and humble. 9 Do not return evil for evil or insult for insult, but instead bless others because you were called to inherit a blessing. 10 For The one who wants to love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from uttering deceit. 11 And he must turn away from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. 12. For the eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. But the Lord’s face is against those who do evil."
How does statements like "no justice, no peace" achieve this goal? There is enough finger pointing to go around on all sides of the social justice topic. When we seek our own vengeance we remove ourselves from the promise that YHVH will hear our cries, and we incur the punishment of our sin which Peter says that "YHVH's face is against those who do evil." Our anger and seeking vengeance (returning evil for evil) only leads us into sin, that is not a price we should be willing to pay to have our pound of flesh. Yet, far too often, that is exactly what we see play out time and time again.
Proverbs 20:22 net "22 Do not say, “I will pay back evil!” Wait for YHVH, so that he may vindicate you." When we insist on our own form of justice by seeking vengeance upon those who have acted unjustly, we demonstrate we have no real faith in YHVH, because we are unwilling to wait on Him to act righteously on behalf of those who are oppressed. Instead, we ignore the weightier matters like peace, justice, and mercy to have it our way and in our time. In many ways, this behavior only reinforce the reality that when we seek vengeance we elevate ourselves to the status of gods, and insist that our cause is righteous enough and we are just enough to execute our judgement on others. YHVH also instructs our response in the Torah. Leviticus 19:17-18 net
"17 You must not hate your brother in your heart. You must surely reprove your fellow citizen so that you do not incur sin on account of him. 18 You must not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you must love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord."
If we enact justice our own way, by our own terms all we show people is ourselves, but we make the same error as the deceiver and presume to put ourselves in the position of God, assuming our own righteousness, and then inflicting that “righteous” judgement on others. The fruit is the same as satan, destruction. When we respond appropriately, in obedience to the commands God has consistently given throughout the Bible, regarding injustice, then people will see His righteousness through our response. Evil cannot produce Good, it only produces more evil. If we respond to injustice with more injustice, then it will only result in further injustice. This is where the educated and alert Christians need to step in and actually obey and lead as God intended for us to. Finally, we must recognize that we are told exactly how to respond to those who may be viewed as our enemies. Whether those people are the ones who disagree with us ideologically, religiously, politically, or if they are the ones who have inflicted harm upon us or the ones we love YHVH is gracious enough to instruct us on how to respond. Luke 6:27-30, 35,36 net "27 “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 To the person who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other as well, and from the person who takes away your coat, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and do not ask for your possessions back from the person who takes them away...35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to ungrateful and evil people. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful." Romans 12:20-21 net "20 Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Even in the Torah YHVH instructs His people to treat their enemies with love and respect. In fact, Exodus 23:1-9 deals with YHVH's instructions on justice. Even how we treat our enemies must be done justly and in holiness before YHVH and others. Exodus 23:4-5 net 4 “If you encounter your enemy’s ox or donkey wandering off, you must by all means return it to him. 5 If you see the donkey of someone who hates you fallen under its load, you must not ignore him, but be sure to help him with it." In every way our actions, especially those toward the oppressed and our response to those who are unjust is what sets true faithful followers of God apart from everyone else. We will never see peace and never help those in darkness see the light by responding with an equal measure of hate, slander, or injustice. Our human anger cannot accomplish the righteousness of YHVH, so we must learn to humbly submit to Him. That requires laying down our pitchforks and torches and seeking each others well being and good for the glory of God.