Doing Justice, Loving Mercy, and Walking Humbly with God

The prophet Micah builds a case against Israel: “Hear, O mountains the LORD’S accusation; listen, you everlasting foundations of the earth. For the LORD has a case against His people, He is lodging a charge against Israel.” (Micah 6:2). He speaks of the ruin they are about to bring upon themselves by their sin. Micah prophesied judgment against the people of Israel because of their idolatry (Micah 1), and against the rulers in Judah because of their injustice (Micah 2,3). Micah described the ultimate triumph of God’s mercy and compassion when Israel is purged of idolatry, peace and justice are restored, and the promises to Abraham are fulfilled (Micah 4,5; 6:18-20).

Micah asks and answers a simple and straightforward question:  “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God expects those who walk with Him to do justice and love mercy.

How do we integrate justice and mercy with our faith and ministry in our world today? What role does the church play in bringing about justice for the oppressed and compassion for the sick and hungry? What specific actions can we take that will have the greatest impact? What can I do personally? As Christ followers, we want to explore these ideas in depth and search out practical ways to make justice and compassion an integral part of our walk and witness.

The Great Commandment and the Great Commission

Jesus came preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom. He proclaimed forgiveness of sins and eternal life through faith in His name. He also brought good news to the poor, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for prisoners, and release for the oppressed. Followers of Jesus cannot separate evangelism from social action, righteousness from justice, faith from repentance, or concern for the salvation of souls from concern for those who suffer.

Jesus commanded us to love God and our neighbor. This is the great commandment. He illustrated love for neighbor with the story of a man who overcame his fear and prejudice to save the life of a stranger who had been beaten and left for dead.  Jesus also commanded his followers to proclaim the good news of salvation through faith in Christ, and to make disciples of all nations. This is the great commission. Our responsibility is not to choose which of Jesus’ commands is most important, but to commit to obey everything Jesus commanded. 

If the tendency of the last generation of evangelicals was to neglect the great commandment to give priority to evangelism, this next generation might be tempted to neglect the great commission while giving priority to the great commandment. In today’s postmodern culture, it is perfectly acceptable to serve the community but religious views are, and must remain, a private and relative matter.

As the pendulum swings one way and then the other, our challenge is to hold to the middle, and make it our aim to be faithful to everything Jesus commanded.

A Thanksgiving Blessing for those who Hurt

I was reading of Jesus walking on the water in the Gospel of John this morning, and my eye caught a phrase I hadn’t noticed before. John says “Then some boats for Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks.” (John 6:23). The people’s recollection of the feeding of the five thousand was not that Jesus asked the Father to multiply the loaves and fishes, but that He gave thanks for the little bread they had before they ate. The people remembered the thanksgiving as the time of provision.  

Thanksgiving is an expression of trust. It not only looks backward to what God has done, but forward to what he will do. Gratitude recognizes God as the giver of every good gift, and rests with joy and peace knowing that his past gifts are proof of his present love as well as His future provision. When the good things in our life seem small and the problems look big, that is the time more than any other that we need to give thanks.

There are many who experience the Thanksgiving holiday with a great sense of loss,  grieving separation from loved ones through death or alienation or lacking the abundance that the day symbolizes.

Here’s the point: Jesus was experiencing life that way when He gave thanks and broke bread. Angry Jewish leaders in Jerusalem were plotting to kill him (John 5:16-18); his half brothers wished harm on him and were about to encourage him to go to Jerusalem where they knew the Jewish leaders laid wait (John 7:1-5); He did not have enough food to feed the crowd gathered at his table.

Still He gave thanks.

Jesus connects the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand to a promise when He says “I am the bread of life”. Jesus is our one essential for life and well-being. We will still struggle against the torrents of the storm that threatens to consume us, but we know that He can calm the storm and take us safely to shore.

The Lord’s supper is often called the Eucharist, a time for thanksgiving. It is a memorial to what Jesus, the bread of life, has done for us. It is a symbol of his presence with us, and a promise that we will eat with him at a table he is preparing for us in the new earth.

 Perhaps you find yourself where Jesus was today: rejected by those you love, lacking abundance of food, isolated, or hurting. This day is an opportunity for you to be like Jesus and give thanks for the little that you have. God will honor that trust, give you His presence, and walk with you into the future.

Evangelism in the Context of Love and Good Works

Many evangelicals view evangelism as a rational process. Believers make truth claims. Hearers consider those truth claims and make a decision to believe or reject them.  Working from that assumption, the command to make disciples is a command to teach and preach the truth.

Jonah Lehrer in his book “How We Decide” argues from neuroscience that the decisions we make are a blend of both feeling and reason. In an interview, Lehrer says, “For the first time in human history, we can look inside our mind and see how we actually think. It turns out that we weren’t designed to be rational or logical or even particularly deliberate. Instead, our mind holds a messy network of different areas, many of which are involved with the production of emotion. Whenever we make a decision, the brain is awash in feeling, driven by its inexplicable passions. Even when we try to be reasonable and restrained, these emotional impulses secretly influence our judgment”.

Researcher John Pijanowski at the University of Arkansas developed eight stages of decision making Pijanowski (2009, p.7). He describes the first stage as “establishing community: creating and nurturing relationships, norms, and procedures that will influence how problems are understood and communicated. This stage takes place prior to and during a moral dilemma”. In other words, the first stage of the decision making process is not intellectual, but relational. In establishing community, we choose who we will trust and what assumptions we will bring to the table.

My intention here is not to delve into psychology or neuroscience, but to raise the question: “Is evangelism an entirely rational process of making truth claims, or is there more to it than that?” What more could there be?

Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35). Could it be that our most convincing argument is the quality of our relationships more than the logic of our propositions?

Jesus also said, “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:18. Could it be that our actions speak louder than words, and that the most convincing argument for faith in Christ might be our charity?

Putting the Last First

Near the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus described his mission to people in his hometown of Nazareth. He went to the synagogue in the community where he grew up, opened a scroll, and read from the book of Isaiah:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18,19)

After reading this, Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. With every eye in the synagogue fastened on him, he declared, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” On that day, Jesus declared himself to be the anointed one of whom the prophet spoke, and appropriated the words of Isaiah as his own personal mission statement. He used these words to explain to people in his hometown who he was and why he came.

The passage that Jesus chose to describe his mission makes it clear that the hurting, the poor, and the oppressed would be the focal point of his ministry. Jesus would take those who had been pushed to the periphery – the suffering, the alienated, and the marginalized – and move them to the center.  The last would be first.

Near the end of his public ministry, Jesus describes a day when he will sit on his throne as judge and separate the righteous from the unrighteous based on how they responded to the needs of the poor. He says to the righteous: “I was hungry and you fed me”, and to the unrighteous “I was hungry and you did not feed me.” (Matthew 25:31-46) Acts of service to the poor are not only characteristic of righteousness, but are received by the king himself. They are not only good deeds, but they are acts of worship.

At the beginning of Jesus ministry, he stated that his mission was to preach good news to the poor, heal the sick, and release the oppressed. At the end of the age, he separates the righteous from the unrighteous based on how they responded to the needs of the poor, the sick, and the imprisoned. Jesus defined ministry to the poor as ministry to Himself. As his followers, we want our lives and ministries to reflect these values.

Victims of Circumstances or Stewards of Resources

The economically poor often see themselves as victims of circumstance rather than stewards of resources. The clear teaching of the Bible is just the opposite. Human beings were created to have dominion over creation, not to be dominated by it. Human beings are above creation, not one with it. They are commissioned by their Creator to manage and cultivate the garden in which He placed them.

This truth is empowering. It gives hope for change and vision of a better life. It inspires innovation, creativity, and ingenuity. It frees the human mind from fatalistic notions and passive acceptance of life in an impoverished state. Any belief that contradicts this truth is disempowering. Many of the world’s economic poor are captive to disempowering beliefs that ultimately hinder progress and stunt human development.

The Values of the Kingdom of Heaven

I’ve been reflecting on the values of the Kingdom of Heaven. On a number of occasions Jesus spoke directly about why he came and what he came to do. He said he came to do the will of the Father (John 6:38), to bring light into the darkness (John 12:46), to seek and to save what was lost (Luke 19:10), and to give his life a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He came preaching repentance, offering the Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15,38; John 18:37), and life to the full (John 10:10).

Jesus preached the good news of the kingdom of God. It was a message of forgiveness of sins and eternal life. It was also a message of compassion, justice, reconciliation and freedom in the present life. It was salvation for the sinner and good news to the poor and the oppressed (Luke 4:18-22). The gospel of the kingdom has implications for the present and the future.

I do not believe that we will bring the kingdom of God in its fullness by our ministries. Jesus will do that when He comes again. I do believe, however, that our ministries should reflect the priorities and values of the kingdom. We proclaim the forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ and call people to love and repentance in all areas of life.