From our archives, John Mumford looks at our responsibility to seek justice for those around us.
Have you noticed how people’s hearts are softened when you talk about the work the church does amongst the poor, the broken, the needy? I’ve often found that people’s attitudes towards the church change when I talk about how the South West London Vineyard has been feeding the homeless under the bridge at the Embankment, or visiting the prisoners in Wandsworth prison. Their eyes fill with tears when they hear how God has multiplied the food and even the clothing as we give out food and clothing; hard hearts have been touched when they hear someone giving their testimony in prison. I’m sure this is because they see the church caring in a way that shows compassion and mercy towards the outcasts. That’s Jesus’ heart too.
They see the church caring in a way that shows compassion and mercy towards the outcasts.
My thinking on this whole subject of social justice has been hugely influenced by John Wimber’s convictions, many of which are contained in this article. He believed that social justice is at the very heart of the gospel. Jesus quoted a well-known section out of Isaiah 61 to begin his ministry and announce his mission: “to preach good news to the poor, 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 favour.” (Luke 4:18-19).
The focus of this type of justice is the kingdom that Jesus brought, a kingdom that reflects the character and deeds of God, the King. It is a kingdom ruled by a King who said, “let justice roll down like water and righteousness as an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24), and who “upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry” (Ps 146). Justice is the hallmark of this kingdom.
Jesus pronounced God’s blessing on those who hunger and thirst for justice.
Jesus saw the people he preached to as “harassed and helpless” (Matt 9:35-36), victims of injustice who were powerless to help themselves. He linked his healing ministry with ministry to the poor because he saw both as “bringing justice” (Matt 11:5; 12:15-21). In the Sermon on the Mount, he pronounced God’s blessing on those who hunger and thirst for justice (Matt 5:6-10, 6:3). Jesus also drew a connection between the kingdom and the command to love one’s neighbour as oneself, (Mark 12:2-34), describing our neighbour as anyone in need, even someone for whom we must cross hostile racial and ethnic barriers to reach (Luke 10:25-37).
Obedience requires private righteousness, as well as standing for righteousness in the world
Jesus also gave his disciples a clear mandate to do as he did and act for social justice: “l tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). Obedience requires private righteousness, as well as standing for righteousness in the world (Matt 25:31-46).
Seeking justice for those around us
If we are in relationship with God and if we are living under his kingdom, we will seek justice for all those around us. Social justice isn’t a new gospel; rather, it flows directly from the gospel of forgiveness and the new life of Christ. Seeking justice in society has gone hand in hand with past revivals; great leaders in the history of the church have understood the relationship between the gospel and justice. Seeking justice and true social concern aren’t options; they are marks of true discipleship. But how are we to work for social justice while living under political systems and within social institutions that are resistant to justice? Consider the following principles:
If we are living under his kingdom, we will seek justice for all those around us.
1. Our primary calling is to a spiritual – not a social or political – justice.
Before we can go out and fight injustice in the world, justice must personally and corporately live in our own hearts. Conquering greed, lust, pride, envy and fear begins in us. Peter writes, “Live such good lives among the pagans that though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
Jesus died on the cross to conquer all forms of injustice in the world. (John 3:16-12). He left specific instructions for living in a hostile environment: love your enemies (Matt 5:43-48); look after the welfare of others, even those who do evil to us (Matt 5:39-42); pray for God’s will to be done on earth (Matt 6:10); and wait for the final judgement in which God will separate believers from non-believers.
He did not, however, direct us to form a Christian State (Matt 13:24-30). We may fight to preserve justice and peace on the political order – such as in fighting against poverty or racism – to make the world a more tolerable place in which to live. But we should not confuse the correcting of social ills with the implementing of the kingdom of God.
2. When we fight for justice and peace in the world, evangelism remains our primary mission.
Jesus released the captives by preaching and demonstrating the Good News of the kingdom of God wherever he went (Luke 4:18,43). If our efforts to overcome injustice are detached from spiritual transformation, we leave ourselves open to being taken over by the world’s agenda, for only spiritual transformation addresses the root cause of oppression. The pulling down of evil structures is only a by-product of the presence of the kingdom of God. When people receive the gospel of righteousness, peace and joy, and turn from their injustice, greed and hate, then – and only then – have we fulfilled our call to free the captives.
3. Seeking social justice is spiritual warfare.
Evil powers, authorities and institutions are committed to spreading injustice, oppression, hatred, bigotry, cruelty, tyranny, brutality and anything else that stands against the kingdom of God (Eph 6:12). People seeking kingdom justice should expect supernatural opposition and conflict. We are waging a war that Jesus won on the cross. In sacrificing himself, he triumphed over evil. So the cross is the basis for fulfilling Christ’s call to justice. Jesus’ death on the cross introduced a different kind of warfare. He died for his people who love not only their neighbours but also their enemies (Rom 21-26; 5:6-11).
We are all called to have a conscience for the poor and to minister them.
As members of his army, the battle plan of this war is the preaching of the gospel, healing, nurturing the church, and caring for the lost, the widowed and the bereaved. We must not leave our post in order to fight an alternative war. We must remain steadfast to Jesus. We are all called to have a conscience for the poor and to minister them. We are all called to display love in action (1 Cor 13:1-3 and to demonstrate life characterised by self-denial (Isa 58:6) and service to others.
Every thing that we have been given by God, let’s give to them.
Our call to service receives its most striking expression in the book of James: a man is justified by his works (2:24), and faith without works is dead (2:14-18). As 1 John 4:20 so graphically states, “a man who professes devotion to God, and does not do good works is a liar without truth in him.” And as Paul says in Eph 2:10, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us do.”
So, wherever the poor are assembled, let’s be with them. Let’s minister to them. Let’s give them the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ in the spiritual, physical and social dimensions. Every thing that we have been given by God, let’s give to them.