Who Understands Justice Completely?

Maybe it is simply because justice is such a buzz word lately, but this verse leapt out at me in my reading of Proverbs 28.

Proverbs 28:5

Evil men do not understand justice,
but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.

Here we have an antithetical parallelism. That is a poetic technique often employed in Hebrew poetry, especially in wisdom literature, in which a clear contrast is made. We often will see two opposite kinds of people or attitudes compared and two opposite results obtained.

In this verse we are dealing with who understands justice. One group lacks the capacity to understand justice at all. Another group will have complete understanding of justice. If the Bible is going to be this clear on who gets and who does not get justice, we probably should pay attention.

The comparison is simple too. We see evil men on the one hand. That should lead us to expect a polar opposite on the other. And, in fact, we get that opposite, but not perhaps what people would expect. The opposite of evil men is not good men. No, the opposite is those who seek the Lord. Of course, this would open a nice can of worms regarding seeking God. WE know from other passages in Scripture that no one seeks after God without God first doing a work in their hearts, but that is a point for another post.

How do we seek the Lord? One might seek the Lord through prayer. One might seek the Lord through sincere participation in acts of worship. But I believe we know enough to recognize that, in a biblically sound church, we understand that seekers of God are those who look for the ways and will of the Lord in his holy and inspired word. (Note: My argument here hangs on an acceptance of the fact that the way to seek the Lord and to know the Lord is through his word. I’ll not take the time here to prove that this is the case.)

Thus, we see that we have a comparison between those who cannot grasp justice and those who understand it fully. The difference in those groups is a difference of either being evil or seeking God. And if we accept that seeking God is something we do through the word of God, then we must understand that having a grasp of justice, true justice, God-pleasing justice, non-evil justice, is only available to the one who seeks for justice in the seeking of God through his holy word.

In this understanding is a warning for many modern believers. Many today are seeking for justice in people’s expressions of their experiences. Others are seeking for justice in the embrace of critical theory with all of its rejections of biblical standards. Many are claiming that the only justice they can find is the justice being sought, not by the word of God, but indeed by those who reject the standards of God at every turn.

But God’s own word and his wisdom teach us that to understand justice requires, not first a seeking of an understanding of systemic oppression or secular theories of intersectionality, but first a seeking after the Lord in his word. God has shown us who he is and what he requires. God has shown us what he proclaims to be true about every human being, every nation, every people group. And if we want to understand justice, if we want to not be counted as evil, we must seek our understanding of justice in a biblically faithful seeking of the Lord. That means we never twist Scripture to make it fit a secular theory. Nor do we read Scripture through a filter of secular ideas. Instead, we go humbly to the word, let God’s law define justice for us, and then seek with all our hearts to please the Lord revealed in that law.

An Example of Mishandling Scripture to Preach Critical Theory and Social Justice

What happens when we preach on social justice without using the Scripture as the definition of what is just? We find ourselves tempted to take from Scripture, twist truth, and then draw applications that make our point look strong.

In this video, Dr. Moore declares that Israel’s temptation to worship Baal was similar to southern American Christians’ support of Jim Crow laws. How in the world does he do this? Dr. Moore suggest that the worship of Baal was an acceptance of the status quo, an embrace of the current system of power. Even worse, the Israelites called their service to Baal service to the Lord. And, similarly, American Christians who fought for Jim Crow laws accepted the present system, and even renamed it as faithfulness to the Lord.

Let’s be clear. Dr. Moore is not saying this, I do not believe, out of any evil intent to do harm to the church or to Scripture. He wants to help Christians see the evils and the lasting impact of racism. That is good. Dr., Moore understands that racism is an evil to be repented of. That is good and biblical. Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. He is right—more right than I think he would admit. (we’ll come back to that).

But, in order to make his point, Dr. Moore is mangling the truth. Baal worship was not simply an embrace of a present system of power politics. It was the bowing to a false god. It was The participation in perverse sexual rituals in order to bring the harvest. It was the indulging of human depravity as the people bowed to a demon rather than to the Lord who made the earth. It was pure evil, not merely a systemic failure. It was the rejection of the clear word of God.

The problem here is that Dr. Moore is so passionate about presenting critical theory, so passionate about making us see that we must oppose what he understands as systemic racism, that he is willing to read systemic racism and critical theory back three millennia into the Old Testament. There is simply not a hint from the Lord that Baal worship is a failure to recognize the insights of critical theory and oppose the presenting power structure. Baal worship was about, get this, Baal worship. The sin to repent of was Baal worship. The sin to repent of was not a power structure sin.

The ironic thing here is that critical theory is becoming so popular that to preach it is no longer to oppose the current power structure. To preach critical theory, to stand opposed to systemic racism—however you define it—is to virtue signal that you are on the side of the loudest voices of the day. Earlier I suggested that Dr. Moore understands that people are often willing to baptize the current form of immorality as biblical if they think it will profit their platform. Is it not then fascinating to watch believers baptize intersectionality and critical race theory, allying themselves with many who have no grasp of the gospel or respect for the word, and then read back into Scripture notions from said theory with no biblical warrant?

Sadly, in order to speak to the charges that are raised against anyone who speaks about this issue, I must say, with clarity, that racism is evil. To hate or hurt any person because of their color of skin is a violation of the word of God. To build a society in such a way that you intentionally disadvantage people because of their skin color is wrong. To side with anyone toward injustice—siding with the rich against the poor or the poor against the rich, siding with the seemingly advantaged against the seemingly disadvantaged or the seemingly disadvantaged against the seemingly advantaged—is a violation of the principle of biblical justice. Oh, and to pluck an some folks’ pet peeves, I do not see skin color. Seriously, get to know me—I can prove it.

The bottom line, Christians, is that we must not read into Scripture what God did not put there. When we attempt to help the Lord by adding to his word principles he did not prescribe, we behave as did the Scribes and Pharisees who hated and opposed Jesus. God’s word is sufficient. God’s word tells us that we must not do anybody injustice. And God’s word tells us what justice looks like. God’s word shows us that pre-judging any person, of any color, or of any social status, outside of their actions and the attitudes of the heart is wrong. God shows us that punishing children for the sins of their parents is wrong. And God’s word tells us that, when we come to faith in Christ, we become new creations in a new family where there is no distinction in our identities based on nation of origin, language, or color of skin.

God’s word, if we would follow it, is clear enough. WE need not baptize secular critical theory to make a biblical point. And we surely need not somehow pretend that Baal worship and Jim Crow are twin brothers. Yes, both are evil, but they are not the same thing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwfrzlAYUiw

What I Did not Steal Must I Now Restore?

Watch the words of David here, and see if you do not find something sadly familiar with modern hot-button talking points.

Psalm 69:4-6

4 More in number than the hairs of my head
are those who hate me without cause;
mighty are those who would destroy me,
those who attack me with lies.
What I did not steal
must I now restore?
5 O God, you know my folly;
the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you.
6 Let not those who hope in you be put to shame through me,
O Lord God of hosts;
let not those who seek you be brought to dishonor through me,
O God of Israel.

David is being attacked by harsh and evil men. Yet David has not wronged these men. David is no fool. He knows that he is not personally perfect. We see that in verse 5. David pleads with the Lord that his own failure not cause others to dishonor the Lord. Yet, even with his own admission of his own imperfection, David grasps that there is an injustice being done in his direction.

In verse 4, we see the question, “What I did not steal must I now restore?” That is the question that grabbed my attention today. David is clearly asking if he must pay back a thing that he, himself, did not steal. This is David clearly indicating that such a thing would be David being wronged. Biblically David should be forced to repay anything he stole, with interest. But David should not be forced to repay anything he did not steal.

Can you see the application for the modern day? Right now, as social justice is such a prominent issue among believers, there are those who would claim that many should be forced to pay for the sins of others in the past. There are many who would claim that those who have not acted wrongly should be shamed for the sins of their forefathers. There are those that believe that financial payments should be made, or that those in positions of leadership should be forced to vacate those offices to make room for others based on things that were done years ago and how those sins of the past shaped society in the present.

But the Bible does not promote such a supposed justice. David knew that he should not be forced to repay what he did not steal. Even when David knew that he was not perfect in all areas, even though David knew of failures in his life, he knew that it would not be just for men who opposed him to force him to pay for things he did not do. There would be no justice in making David a victim of injustice.

As we attempt to navigate the difficult waters of a society brimming full with social justice advocacy, formal shamings, intersectionality, and critical theory, let us not lose sight of the fact that it is not just to force one to repay what she has not stolen. It is not just to punish a child for the sins of his father. Like David, let us all be honest enough to admit our own sins and failures (verse 5). Let us ask the Lord to help us never shine a negative light on his glory (verse 6). Let us do all we can to be a just people, never repaying evil for good, never condemning people for crimes they did not commit, never judging any person based on ethnicity. Let us be careful to see to it that voices speaking truth are not silenced, regardless of the look of the faces behind those voices.

A Quick Thought on Biblical Justice

The word justice is being thrown around so much in recent days that I fear many have no idea of its meaning. So many sources present to us so many various standards for what is just, what is right, what is required. But how do we have the wisdom to speak of real justice, not a political ploy, but genuine justice?

Psalm 37:30-31

30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip.

In my daily reading, I ran across the above psalm which I believe tells us something that we absolutely must not forget. There seems to be a person who speaks wisdom and justice. There seems to be a way to have God-honoring, God-pleasing justice just roll off your tongue. And in a messed up world where all sorts are crying for very different ends and declaring them to be justice, we need to know how to have that wisdom.

Verse 32 shows us what we need to know to get justice right when it says, “The law of his God is in his heart.” How do we find justice? The law of God is where we find justice. The holy, perfect, law of God is full of all we need to grasp justice.

It is tragic when Christians do not love the word of God. That word of God, Old Testament and New Testament, with its commands and wisdom is our only solid source for actual justice. God has told us what pleases him. God has told us how to treat each other with rightness and fairness. God has even given us an example of one ancient nation’s system of justice in all sorts of civil cases. And that standard teaches us justice.

So, today, when you hear a person call for justice, compare what they are asking for to the word of God. Are they asking for what God calls just? Are they treating others with God’s standard? Are they trusting God as the final and eternal judge? Are they seeking to please the Lord in obedience to his revealed will in all things? Is Their handling of the word of God in keeping with the clear commands and obvious principles of justice that flow from Genesis through Revelation and over every book in between?

Friends, simply put, if you want wisdom, if you want justice, if you want righteousness, you must find it in the word of God.

God Shows no Partiality

At the present moment in American Christianity, much is being said about ethnic differences and backgrounds. And, for certain, there are many people who have personally been the victims of ill-treatment from others based solely on their nationality, skin color, or accent.

How should the church deal with people who come to Christ from differing backgrounds? How does the church deal with people who come from groups who are at odds, groups who have oppressed one another or who are still oppressing one another? What extra requirements does the Lord have for those who come to faith from a privileged group?

In Acts 10, we have a situation that could certainly speak to our modern moment. Peter is a Jew, an oppressed people under the government of Rome. Peter is a Christian, following a risen Savior who was executed by a corrupt Roman official. Peter had lived his entire life knowing that his people were hated or at least looked down upon by the Romans. And Peter knew that the Romans who had some knowledge of Christianity were certainly not apt to treat him with kindness.

But then God sent a message to Peter. It came in the form of an initial vision involving unclean animals. The Lord told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). Though Peter did not know how to handle that vision at first, it became plain that this was going to be the Lord moving Peter to take the gospel to gentiles.

Later, as you probably know, the Lord brought Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman. But Cornelius was not just any Roman, he was a centurion, a Roman military leader. This man was one of the men living under Roman privilege, empowered to have success and unfair advantages over people like Peter.

What then would Peter conclude about the Lord sending him to Cornelius’ home? What would be the outcome of the meeting?

Acts 10:34-35 — 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter is amazed by the working of God in this situation. He realizes that, as it comes to the gospel and the church, there is no such thing as allowable partiality. Neither the Romans nor the Jews have the right to treat the other group as somehow second-class. Peter speaks nothing of the Romans needing to take extra steps to make up to the Jewish Christians for their oppressive treatment. Instead, Peter simply points out that God shows no partiality.

Then, when Peter finishes talking about the gospel of the Lord Jesus, God does something glorious.

Acts 10:44-48 – 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Peter sees that God saved the Romans. And Peter immediately commands that the new believers in Christ be treated, not as Romans who have to make up for their Roman-ness, but as brothers and sisters in Christ who are saved by the grace of God and sealed by the Spirit of God.

Later, in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem counsel, the early church had to deal with the gentile problem. The determination among the leaders of the church was that no special obligation was to be placed upon the gentiles. They were simply to be treated as Christians. They were merely to act like all believers were to act. As James said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.”

Dear Christians, may we be a people who acknowledge that God shows no partiality regarding ethnicity. May we stand strongly opposed to all forms of racism. But that stand must include a stand against favoring oppressor or oppressed, strong or weak, formerly guilty or formerly innocent. In Christ, we are one body, one people, one holy race. God did not favor the Jew or the Roman in this story. God did not favor the put-upon or the one in power. God simply saved people and then showed that they are all one family. Let’s work hard to be that family.

A House of Prayer for All Nations-Not a Divided Body

How concerned should a Christian be with his or her particular people group? Is it required that we look deeply into who are our ancestors? Is the color of our skin or the sins of our long-dead forefathers important to who we are in the church today? Is there a call for the church to divide people based on past wrongs or perceived social advantages in the present?

I wish such questions were merely theoretical, but if you pay attention to the things being said in the church in America today, you will see that the move toward an embrace of social justice causes has begun to bring about division in the body. People are now beginning to put descriptor words in front of the word Christian to say what they are. There is a focus, on the part of some, on identifying as white Christians, black Christians, Hispanic Christians, etc. We would love to think that the church would remember that ethnic divisions and social stigmas have no place in the church, but such is not the case today.

Surprisingly, I thought of this issue in my read through Isaiah, a place I was not expecting to bring it to mind.

Isaiah 56:3-8

3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
4 For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
5 I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.
6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
7 these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
8 The Lord God,
who gathers the outcasts of Israel, declares,
“I will gather yet others to him
besides those already gathered.”

Do you recall when Jesus cleansed the temple by turning over the tables of the money-changers? The Savior quoted from this passage of Isaiah. He reminded the religious leadership that his Father’s house is to be a house of prayer for all nations. People from all people groups were to be able to come to that place and find a pure experience of the worship of God. And the religious leaders were causing divisions, erecting barricades. When the Jews charged exorbitant amounts for people to exchange their currency for temple currency, were they not discriminating against the foreigner even more than the Israelite? Jesus saw that the religious leaders were doing things, not to unite a people of God, but to heighten animosity between people groups.

Interestingly, in the context of the passage that Jesus quoted as he drove out the animal-sellers, the Lord says that the foreigner is not to say, “The Lord will surely separate me from his people.” Even during the days of national Israel, where there was a difference between Jew and gentile, God made it plain that there will not ultimately be a separation. The foreigner who comes to the Lord in faithful worship is not to feel separated. The foreigner is to stop identifying as foreign, outcast, different and simply identify as a worshipper of God. As we see in verses 7-8, “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

If the Lord tells the foreigner not to think of himself as foreign anymore, if the Lord says that his house is a house of prayer for all peoples, are we not undermining the very fabric of the grace of God when we strive to reintroduce to the people of God division based on ethnicity? Of course we want to be honest about our past and admit that true evil has been done in the sin of racism. However, to then move forward and call upon people to continually walk in shame based on their ancestors’ sins or to tell another group they should separate and seek out theology only from those whose skin color matches their own, that is exactly the opposite of what this passage is about. The word of God points to a people of God, a single people of God, a people who are not defined as foreigners and insiders. We are just one people.

And this is exactly what the New Testament is telling us. When we see that, in Christ, there is no longer Jew or Greek (cf. Gal. 3:28; , Col. 3:11), we see that God has no interest in our bringing about any sort of division in the church based on skin color, national history, birthplace, language, social class, advantage or disadvantage, or anything else. . One beauty of the gospel is that God brings together for himself a multitude from every nation. And when that multitude is together, we have no hint in Scripture that the church is to take time to ask people to apologize for their nation of origin. The New Testament does not include stories of Romans apologizing to Jews for the cruelty of the emperors. The New Testament does not include stories of men apologizing to women in the church for the way that the society at large has treated them. Instead, the New Testament is clear that, once we are gathered together into the body of Christ, our divisions are taken off and we look at one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Our identity is not national anymore. Our identity is not our past. Our identity is the name of Jesus, the blood of Jesus, the imputed righteousness of Jesus.

Dear church, may we fulfill the word of God. We are being built together—all people, all colors, all pasts, all languages—to be a temple of God. We are one house. And may we be a house of prayer for all nations. May we never try to tell people that they, because of their skin color, must take a lower or seek a higher place. May we never lift anybody up or put anybody down because of the history of their forefathers. May we only see the people of God as one church, one body, one family of God.