A Christian View of Social Justice

Social Justice is a word we hear often. From discussions with our neighbors at our local coffee house, to the nightly news, to the political arena, social justice seems to be a common topic of discussion and debate. But what is meant by the term social justice? Is it biblical? Should Christians participate in acts of social justice?

Two Predominate Views of Social Justice

(1) Unconstrained view – This view is based on everyone getting their fair share. As we are all aware, every society has a finite amount of resources to go around. This view holds that everyone should have their fair share of those resources. It is unjust to allow some to hold onto a greater portion of those resources. We should, then, do all we can to see that those resources are shared equally.

(2) Constrained view – This view is based on the fair treatment of all peoples, and it is not concerned with everyone having their fair share of the total resources in a given society. In this view, it’s not unjust for people to hold onto wealth. People are entitled to what they have earned. Instead of putting energy into the redistribution of wealth, we should put our energy into seeing that everyone is treated fairly.

Which View is Biblical?

Let’s look at a few verses on social justice from the Bible:

  • Exodus 21:1-11 provides laws regarding the fair treatment of slaves.
  • In Deuteronomy 15:1-18, especially 7-11 and 13-15, rules are given concerning meeting the needs of the poor.
  • Psalms 72:12-15 and Psalm 103:6-7 tells of God redeeming the oppressed and persecuted from their oppressors, working righteousness and justice for them.
  • Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to judge righteously and to defend the rights of the poor and needy.

By far these are not all the verses in the Bible on social justice, but they give us an idea of which view the Bible is upholding. I believe that is the second view, the Constrained View.

God’s Word does not command us to redistribute our wealth to neighbors, so that we all have equal access to the total resources of the society in which they live. Differing classes and a distribution of wealth does not constitute injustice [1].

A biblical view of Social Justice holds that we are not to show partiality, not to steal, not to swindle others, not to take advantage of the weak because they are uninformed or unable to stop us. 

Rather than saying we need to redistribute our resources, so that we are all on equal footing, the Bible tells us that we are to care for the oppressed and seek to stop others from oppressing them. We are to speak up for those who are being persecuted. We are to work for laws that stand for the fair treatment of all peoples regardless of race or nationality.

Christians are to Work for Social Justice

If we believe part of God’s mission is to redeem the oppressed and persecuted, to make sure the poor are cared for and the helpless are not taken advantage, and if we believe we are a part of that mission, then we are to do the same. Christians are to work for social justice in their cities.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you agree that the constrained view represents the biblical view of social justice?
  2. How does your church care for the needy, oppressed, and persecuted?

Resources

Gilbert and DeYoung, What is the Mission of the Church?, 176, 180-183.

[1] I do not believe the churches actions in Acts are meant to be prescriptive. Rather, I see their actions as being descriptive of what took place in that city.

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How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

Christianity is unique in that it brings people together from all walks of life to live in community with one another. While our hearts have been changed, we are still sinners, which means we are bound to experience conflict with one another. How we handle that conflict is important because it often means the difference between ongoing fights that throw us off mission or increased unity that brings us together on mission for Christ.

How Should Christians Handle Conflict?

(1) We have to address conflict quickly.

In Genesis 13 a conflict arises between Abraham and Lot’s shepherds over the land allotted for their livestock.

“And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram’s livestock and the herdsmen of Lot’s livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land. Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:5–8)

After realizing there was a conflict between his shepherds and Lot’s, Abraham goes to Lot right away. He doesn’t let it stew. He doesn’t start a family feud by telling his men to fight back. He doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he addressed the conflict soon after he found out it was happening.

We are to do the same. In fact, the urgency with which we handle conflict should be of top priority. Jesus makes this clear in Matthew 5:23-24 when He says,

“So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23–24)

Jesus’ words tell us that God takes unresolved conflict seriously, so seriously that if you are at the altar about to sacrifice and you remember that your brother has something against you, you are to leave the altar, presumably your sacrifice as well, to go reconcile with him. Only once you have sought reconciliation, should you come back and move forward with your worship.

Conflict should not only be dealt with quickly because it hinders our worship, it should also be dealt with quickly because it hinders our witness to the community.  In verse 7 of Genesis 13, there is what seems like an unremarkable statement about the Canaanites and Perizzites living in the land. That statement, however, is important. Its inclusion reminds us that the world is watching. They see how we interact with one another. What they see may help or hurt our witness. Think about it, if all the world sees in our churches is conflict and disunity, our witness to them about the power of the gospel to change lives will fall on deaf ears. On the other hand, if the world sees people who are loving and forgiving one another in ways that they would never think of doing, if they see people dealing with conflict well and are, for the most part, unified, they may begin to think there is actually something about the message we are proclaiming.

So for the sake of the gospel and for the glory of God, we need to deal with conflict when it arises. We can’t wait until sometime in the distant future or just hope it will disappear. We must deal with it quickly if we want our worship and witness to be God honoring.

(2) We have to approach the other person in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Notice how Abraham approaches Lot in verse 8. He says,

“Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen.” (Ge 13:8)

I quoted verse 8 out of the ESV, but if you read it in the NASB or NKJV verse 8 begins with the word “Please”, so that Abraham says, “Please let there be…”. I believe the translators chose to include “please” to emphasize the manner in which Abraham approached Lot. He didn’t go at him in a harsh, domineering, or aggressive way. Instead, he appeals to him in a tender, gracious, and loving manner.

Like Abraham, we have to approach others in a tender, gracious, and loving manner if we want to de-escalate the situation and work towards a resolution.

So while we should handle conflict quickly, we must also choose our approach and words carefully. If we don’t, things can quickly escalate or get worse, even if that wasn’t our intention.

(3) We have to be willing to stand down, even taking a loss for the sake of our relationship.

After Abraham approaches Lot, he says in verse 9,

“Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.”” (Ge 13:9)

Of course, this means that Abraham is giving Lot the opportunity to pick the best land for himself. Certainly, Abraham knew this could result in a loss. A loss that he didn’t have to take. God had given him the land, not Lot. He could have told his nephew where to go, but he didn’t. Instead, he was willing to stand down, even willing to take a loss for the sake of their relationship.

Taking a loss for the sake of our relationship might seem radical, but in doing so, we are modeling the gospel. Starting in Philippians 2:4 we read,

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Php 2:4–8)

You see, Jesus took a loss for us. He died a death He didn’t have to die. He did so to pay the penalty for our sins so that we might have a restored relationship with the Father and everlasting life.

We must, as Paul tells us, have the mind of Christ. We must not only look out for our own interests but for the interests of others as well. So following in the footsteps of Jesus, we should be willing to stand down, even to take a loss for the sake of another and our relationship with them.

Of course, doing so goes against all that is natural to us. As one commentator says,

“The world’s way of getting ahead is to look out for number one, but God’s way is to look up to number one and to be a blessing to others.” [1]

As Christians, we not only have the example but the power to be a blessing to others by taking a loss because we have been changed by the gospel. As well as we have God’s promise to provide for all our needs. The latter half of Matthew 6 comes to minds. In verse 31, Jesus says,

“Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Mt 6:31–33)

When we believe God’s promise to care for our needs, we are freed to be generous even to take a loss because we know that God is in control and He will provide for us.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How do you handle conflict?
  2. Are you willing to take a loss for the sake of resolving conflict?
  3. Are God’s glory and your witness foremost when you consider dealing with conflict in your relationships?

Resources

Post adapted from my sermon: Do Our Choices Matter?

[1] https://bible.org/seriespage/17-tale-two-men-genesis-135-18 

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“Of Whom I am the Worst”, John Newton and Amazing Grace

John Newton’s hymn “Amazing Grace” was written from personal experience, for Newton himself was among the worst of sinners. At the age of eleven, he took to the sea, where he had many adventures: he was press-ganged into the navy; he was captured and flogged for desertion; he despaired almost to the point of suicide. Eventually, Newton became a slave-trader, a hard and wretched man. But he was shown mercy. As he feared for his life in stormy seas, he threw himself on the grace of God, which he found in abundance. Later he testified, “How wonderful is the love of God in giving his Son to die for such wretches!”

Even after he was saved, Newton continued to confess his need of God’s amazing grace. He wrote in one of his letters, “In defiance of my best judgment and best wishes, I find something within me which cherishes and cleaves to those evils, from which I ought to start and flee, as I should if a toad or a serpent was put in my food or in my bed. Ah! how vile must the heart (at least my heart) be.” Newton did not despair, however. Before closing the letter, he quoted Paul’s words to Timothy: “I embrace it as a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

Every Christian knows how to complete Newton’s quotation in the quietness of a believing heart: “of whom I am the worst.”

Question for Reflection

  1. Do you see yourself as the worst of sinners?

Resources

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This post is an extended quote by Philip Graham Ryken, 1 Timothy, ed. Richard D. Phillips, Daniel M. Doriani, and Philip Graham Ryken, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007), 29.