Last week our Senior Pastor Jeff Jones delivered a powerful message on justice and righteousness.  I asked Jeff for permission to post a portion of his message on our parenting blog as I believe it is a great lesson for parents to teach our kids.  Here is some of Jeff’s message:

Zion is not from the movie, The Matrix, but from the Bible. It is a mountain in Jerusalem, and is figurative in the Bible of the kingdom of God. Babylon is figurative of this world system. You and I have grown up in Babylon, and yet we are called to live for Zion, to help bring to this broken world what God originally intended, to bring to life his kingdom principles, to live a whole new way of life—a Zion way, not a Babylon way. And that means that we live very differently  because Jesus’ kingdom is all about justice and righteousness, and Babylon about self-interest.

All this may sound intimidating, but it needn’t be. What God requires of us who are wealthy enough to have extra, to have power, in a world of poverty, is not super hard to understand. One passage that gives a great summary is Micah 6:8, one of those passages in the Bible where God gives a bottom-line answer to what living for Zion means.  Micah 6:8, And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. This verse reminds me of parents of teenagers who say, “I don’t ask for much, but I do ask you to do these few things.” Here is what God asks of us, and I’ll go backwards in order.

First, to walk humbly with our God, which means to know him and live life in submission to his will. Second, we are to love mercy, meaning to be people of grace and compassion. And third, we are to act justly, or more literally, we are to “do justice.”

What does that mean? When we hear the word “justice,” we first of all think about this (CSI sound effect), criminal justice. And at times that is what the Bible refers to when it talks about justice, but most of the time it isn’t justice in that sense. The Hebrew word is mishpat, and it is a very important word in the Bible, because it is one of God’s attributes, he is a God of mishpat, and something he calls us to do as well. We are to do mishpat. Misphat refers to a right to be treated a certain way, which relates to crime, that violates mishpat, but most of the time in the Bible misphat refers to the poor and the vulnerable, whose mishpat gets trampled on or ignored by the rich and powerful. Most of the time, doing justice has to do with a triad in the Bible that is repeated over and over: the widow, the immigrant, and the orphan. These were the most vulnerable and the most mistreated and ignored in Bible days, and God is saying that we who are godly are to do justice, to make sure that these who are typically denied misphat, get misphat. Our job is to use our power not for us, but for them.

Making sure that the poor and vulnerable receive justice is a huge preoccupation of God, reflected in the Old and New Testament. Psalm 146:7-9, for example, says, “he upholds the cause (misphat) of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. Similarly in Deuteronomy 10:17-18, 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause (misphat) of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

Related to mishpat is another key Bible word, “righteous,” or tzaddiq in Hebrew. When we hear the word “righteous,” we might think of the more modern “awesome” meaning, such as, “That lasagna was righteous.” Or more commonly for Christ-followers, we think of righteousness in terms of personal piety. Someone who is righteous is someone who reads the Bible, prays, and lives a holy life. That is true, that is walking humbly before our God, but living righteously also has everything to do with doing justice. They are essentially connected. Righteous people do justice. They don’t ignore injustice.

One powerful illustration of this in the Bible is Job. In the book of Job, Satan approaches God and says, “Hey, I’ve been wandering around the earth, and I don’t think there is anyone who is really righteous. You’ve got nobody down there.” And God says, “Oh yeah, how about Job?” And in the book of Job, it is interesting what is the evidence of Job’s righteousness. The evidence is that Job is a guy who does justice, as we read in Job 29:12-17: 12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help,
and the fatherless who had none to assist him. 13 The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow’s heart sing. 14 I put on righteousness as my clothing; justice was my robe and my turban. 15 I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. 16 I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger. 17 I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.
Later in Job 31:13, he says,13 “If I have denied justice to my menservants and maidservants when they had a grievance against me,
14 what will I do when God confronts me? What will I answer when called to account?
15 Did not he who made me in the womb make them? Did not the same one form us both within our mothers?  16 “If I have denied the desires of the poor or let the eyes of the widow grow weary, 17 if I have kept my bread to myself, not sharing it with the fatherless— 18 but from my youth I reared him as would a father, and from my birth I guided the widow—19 if I have seen anyone perishing for lack of clothing, or a needy man without a garment, 20 and his heart did not bless me for warming him with the fleece from my sheep, 21 if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court, 22 then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint. 23 For I dreaded destruction from God, and for fear of his splendor I could not do such things.

Righteous people do justice. Job was not passive, but active. He took up the cause of the poor. He used his power to lift them up. He didn’t just feel pity, he took action. Here are the verbs he uses: Rescue. Assist. Be eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. Act as a father. Take up the case of the immigrant. Break the fangs of the wicked and rescue the poor. Guide. Warm/Clothe. Righteousness does justice. It is active. It doesn’t just feel bad about the situation of the poor, but takes action.

Similarly in Ezekiel 18:5, and 7-8, we read: 5 “Suppose there is a righteous (tzaddiq) man who does what is just (mispah) and right (tzaddiq). 7 He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. 8 He does not lend at usury or take excessive interest.He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between man and man.

Righteous people do justice. We’ve just finished a series on the NT book of James, and there James talks about true religion: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after the widows and orphans in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (1:22).ˆ

All this echoes back to Micah 6:8, where God says, “Let me be really clear. If you are with me, then walk humbly before your God, love mercy, and do justice.” Doing justice is making sure that with whatever power we have, the poor and disenfranchised have misphat. We use our power for the sake of the powerless.