But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!—Amos 5:24
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
I love words. I was an English major in college, and communication is a large part of what I do as a pastor. I love to write, and I love to read. Words are some of my favorite things.
But there’s something I don’t love about words, which is the fact that their meaning can change over time. Language evolves, whether we like it or not. If you try to read a King James Bible to a teenager today, they’ll struggle to understand it, because the English language has changed a lot in 400 years, and words have taken on a different meaning than they used to have, because words do that sometimes.
Take, for example, the word “gay.” That word meant something entirely different 100 years ago than it means today. If you try to use it now the way it was used back then, people will misunderstand you, because the new meaning has become the accepted one. You don’t have to like it, but you’re not going to change it. In the case of that word, it would seem that there’s no going back.
Right now in our country, something similar is happening with a really important word, and it’s creating some confusion. I’m talking about the word “justice.”
Less than 10 years ago, when some concerned individuals launched a ministry at Community Church dedicated to addressing issues of poverty, abuse, and human trafficking, they called it the Justice Task Force. They were using that word in the way the Bible uses it, and the way it’s been used in our culture for most of my life: justice is the pursuit of what is right. When someone is convicted of a crime and they receive an appropriate punishment, justice has been done. When the prophet Amos called upon God’s people Israel to make sure justice was done in their land, he meant that they should stop mistreating and abusing the poor, stop cheating one another, and begin to treat their fellow human beings with dignity. Micah said that living justly is one of the basic things God expects from His people.
Today, though, the word “justice” has become more complicated. It’s been adopted by some people to refer to a very specific political agenda, which has caused others to shy away from using it. I know pastors who won’t talk about “social justice” for fear of being labeled as some sort of liberal. How unfortunate! What follower of Jesus would ever be against the idea of having a just society? Of course God’s people want social justice, if we take those words to mean what they have always meant. Of course we want clear, God-honoring standards of right and wrong. Of course we want all people to be treated with dignity. Of course we care for people who are poor and mistreated, because we share the heart of Jesus, who always cares for those in need. Of course we are against every form of racism and prejudice. We stand against abuse and neglect and contempt and greed, because Jesus hates those things, and we stand with Him.
Proverbs 29:7 makes it clear:
The righteous care about justice for the poor,
but the wicked have no such concern.—Proverbs 29:7
If we are righteous, we care about justice. If we have no concern for people who are suffering, it reveals the wickedness in our heart. God’s people have more important things to do than get caught up in fruitless political debates. We should be busy showing the love of Christ in tangible ways to those who are suffering due to the sins of others.
Community Church of Susanville will continue to proudly devote itself to the cause of justice in this world. If people misunderstand what that means, hopefully it will become clear as they watch us advocate for children, for the poor and abused and neglected in our society.
This weekend, the Justice Task Force is putting on its annual Empower Banquet, where we’ll hear about practical ways we can fight against the evil of human trafficking. I’d encourage you to come Saturday night, and then again on Sunday morning, where we’ll continue the conversation about what it means to live out our faith by protecting victims of injustice. I know that some people think of this as a less “spiritual” Sunday, but I believe the opposite: we will never become close to Christ until we learn to care about the things He cares about. I hope you’ll be there, and I hope you’ll come with a heart that’s open to God. May He continue to show us how to please Him and represent Him well in this world.