Dig deeper into the message during the sermon, in your personal Bible study, or with your family or Community Group in application-driven discussion.
Whether it’s a minor squabble between your children, or a major tragedy such as a fatal shooting, there’s a need to bring justice to our world—but how? Christians care deeply about issues of injustice and oppression, but get confused about how to be involved. Jesus said, “You’ll know a tree by its fruit”—so we have a means for knowing if an approach to justice isn’t good (see James 3:13-18)—but positively, what should we do? Thankfully, the Bible gives us guidance for that, too (see Micah 6:8). We see Jesus getting angry at injustice in the Temple (John 2:14-17). The prophet Jeremiah warns us to “start treating each other with true justice”—which means that there’s such a thing as “false” justice (see Jeremiah 7:5). So, how do we figure out if we’re getting angry at the right things?
I. True justice aligns with God’s character. God himself is the moral plumb line which determines what is just for all peoples, in all eras (Proverbs 8:20; Psalm 97:1-2 & 103:6). And an action is “unjust” if it is out of alignment with God’s character and word.
II. True justice is giving others what is due them (Romans 12:17 & 13:7). What does that slow sales clerk deserve? What does your tired, fussy toddler deserve? Ahmaud Arbery, the jogger who was killed because someone deemed that he was jogging in the “wrong neighborhood”—what did he deserve? What about the unborn? What’s their due? A chance at life? And don’t leave God out—what is he due?
If our discussions of justice don’t even consider what God is due, that’s a problem. God deserves love from the totality of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If we’re not giving God what he’s due, then whatever we’re doing, it ain’t “just”—no matter what we call it. If we’re robbing God of what he is due, we have zero chance of getting “justice” right for people made in his image. Take racism, for example. Racism is not merely horizontally unjust, depriving fellow creatures of what they are due. Racism also is vertically unjust—making one’s own race more important than God.
III. True justice gets angry at what God gets angry at. Is our anger aimed at real injustice? The Bible tells us what to get angry at—things like slavery, environmental degradation, and deciding that a baby is too damaged to deserve life. On the other hand, we shouldn’t get angry when a baker declines to make a cake which celebrates something he opposes. We shouldn’t get mad simply because someone makes more money than we do. When Jonah was angry because God had compassion on the wicked Ninevites, God asked Jonah: “Do you have a right to be angry?” He didn’t; his anger was unbiblical. It was evil. The “what makes you angry?” test can help us evaluate whether we’re getting angry at the right things, the things that anger God. Or, our anger may flow from the bitter jealousy and selfish ambition we talked about last week.
IV. True justice falls into two jurisdictions. Although true justice gives a person what he is due, it’s not quite that simple. There’s another question: “Am I the authorized person to bring justice to this certain situation?” The Bible divides “justice” into two “jurisdictions”, two domains, two levels of authority—and we’ve got to know which level of authority is within our personal pay grade:  Governmental justice is established by God to distribute to every person what is rightfully his. And when someone claims that they’ve been denied what is rightfully his, the government has jurisdiction to settle controversies.  Interpersonal justice consists of fair, honest interaction between individuals. It’s “above the pay grade” of individuals to meddle in things God has given government the authority to decide. When individuals try to settle disputes, we call it vigilantism.
So, what does justice at the individual level mean, how do individuals “do justice”? We “give them what they’re due”. People made in the image of God deserve love, so we love our neighbor. We tell them the truth—because that’s what people deserve. We consider others more important than ourselves, because that’s what the Bible commands. We serve each other. All of the virtues of the Christian life make up the obligations that we have toward each other. All of the Christian virtues delimit and define the obligations we have to each other. That’s how individuals “do justice”. Justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing or swindling, not taking bribes, keeping your promises, and not taking advantage of the weak. It is treating others as you wish to be treated. It is just living out the Ten Commandments in our everyday relationships.
What level of authority and responsibility do individuals have in “doing justice”? Unless you’re a government official, it’s limited to refraining from evil ourselves and positively doing good toward others. It’s within the government’s jurisdiction to judge and to correct wrongs that others may have done. (And there’s a jurisdiction that belongs only to God: He says “Vengeance is mine— I will repay. Revenge is above every human’s pay grade.) Fallen human governments can’t deliver perfect justice, but they must do the best they can do in this fallen world. One day, perfect justice will come (Isaiah 42:1-4; 51:4; 61:8). Partial, imperfect justice can be rendered now via relatively just court systems, but perfect justice has to wait for King Jesus. King Jesus will bring justice to the nations—he’ll do it perfectly and completely, and he’ll do it gently and kindly.
Let’s review what we’ve learned today: First, we’ve seen that true justice aligns with God’s character. We can’t just come up with our own ideas of right and wrong. God’s Word tells us what true justice is. True justice gets angry at what God gets angry at. Anger is the proper response we feel in the face of injustice, but we have to be careful that we’re getting angry at the things God gets angry at. Mere differences between people are not necessarily the result of injustice. Sometimes advantages are a simple issue of opportunity, circumstance, or personal effort. Finally, true justice means giving others what is due them, but there’s also the question of jurisdictions. God has reserved the correcting of societal wrongs for governmental authorities, not private citizens. And, of course, the ultimate jurisdiction is God’s: he, and he alone, will bring about perfect, complete justice. We individuals, however, give each other what they are due when we treat one another fairly, when we treat others as we want to be treated. “Doing justice” is both simpler and more difficult than we might first have imagined. Simpler since it is not our jobs to bring about perfect justice in this fallen world. Simpler because not all injustices lie within our jurisdiction. Yet justice also is more difficult because we are to aim for as much justice as we can in this fallen world. That’s the best we fallen humans can do.
APPLICATION / CHALLENGE
1. This week, take note of what you get angry at. It shows what you think is unjust.
- Do you get angry at people and things that deny you what you want? That’s selfish.
- Do you get angry when others are denied their due, as God’s image-bearers?
Are you getting angry at the right things?
2. Of the acts of true injustice you encounter, which ones are within your jurisdiction to rectify? Which ones do you have responsibility and authority to try to put right?
- Involve yourself in those ones. Try to give each person what he is due.
- When an injustice is not within your jurisdiction, pray for God to move the appropriate people to intervene. Speak to that person if you can.
3. Put your hope in Jesus, not in this world, for the perfect justice for which we all long. Long for that day. Fix your hope on that day. And, until Jesus returns, to the best of your ability, “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”
TAKE ONE STEP
Each week, write down one doable concrete step of obedience, small or large, that you will put into practice this week. (James 1:22: “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”)