What comes to your mind when you think of the word “justice”? It is certainly a word that gets thrown around a ton in our day. it is pretty common to see groups of people marching in the streets of some city with signs that cry out for justice. But it is just as obvious that different people have very different things in mind when they talk about justice. The word itself does carry some different meanings. It can mean to be fair. It is often used in the Bible interchangeably with the word, “Righteous”. So the idea of being just may mean to do what is right and what we know is right or it may mean to treat others fairly. God called on the nation of Israel in their treatment of foreigners who lived among them to treat them with justice, remembering that they too had been strangers in another land. Think of Isaiah 1:16-18 as a good example of justice. “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do good; see justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. ‘Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord; though your sins are like scales, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”
Did you notice in God’s plea to the people to seek justice he tied it to correcting oppression, bringing justice to the fatherless, and pleading the cause of the widow? It sounds in many ways like James 1:27 when we are told that pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” So, justice, before God involves compassion, caring, and serving those who are oppressed or hurting in the world.
Compare this with another picture of justice from the lips of Jesus. In Matthew 23:23-24, he was talking to the religious leaders of that day. He had pronounced on them several “Woe’s” for their lifestyle. As one of the woes, He said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice, mercy, and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” I suspect that these religious leaders felt it was a matter of justice for them to be so dedicated about their giving to God and the temple that they paid a tenth of even the herbs they grew in their garden. In their mind, such giving was of supreme importance and made the people of God able to care for those in need. But what was really going on with them is that their religious duties such as tithing had taken the place of godly living among the people. Their putting money in the treasury had become the substitute for them getting their own hands dirty by helping the fatherless, the widows.
Notice the things tied with justice here in Matthew 23 along with Micah 6:6-8. “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?” Notice many other translations have to “Love mercy.” Justice will lead to fair, right behavior. It leads to compassion and mercy for those who are oppressed or struggling in life. it is tied to faithfulness to God. Think of the fact, “The just shall live by faith.”
God is certainly our standard in matters of justice as well as everything else. He does what is right all the time. God’s justice leads to the punishment of evil and evil-doers. It will result in people going to eternal hell who reject the way of God and faith in Him. But God’s justice never contradicts or even fails to go along with His grace, mercy, and love. God is just, but he is ready to forgive and give us a fresh start in life no matter how much we fail him. Remember the story in John 8 of the religious leaders in Jerusalem coming to Jesus early one morning, dragging a woman they had caught in the act of adultery. They threw this woman before the Lord demanding what they felt was justice. They declared that Moses in his law required that one caught in adultery be stoned to death. So, their question to Jesus was, “What do you say?” The question is in present tense meaning they asked it over and over again. Jesus certainly could have stood and asked them where the man was, who had been caught in adultery with her, but he didn’t. Instead, he stooped to write on the ground. Imagine as they kept shouting, “What do you say?” Finally, he stands tall and looks directly at them, and said, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw his stone.” Suddenly the conscience of the leaders hit home. From the oldest to the youngest they began dropping their rocks and walking away until it was just Jesus and the woman. He looked at her and said, “Where are your accusers? Did no one condemn you?” She said, “No one Lord.” Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Did Jesus give justice to the woman? Did he offer justice to the crowd shouting for her death? Were they wanting justice when they brought her to the Lord? Our thoughts of justice tend to run straight down the road of doing what is right and fair, usually softened by our own prejudices. But, God’s sense of justice always runs alongside mercy and faith. In Luke 10:23 it was also tied to love. We need to be people who stand for justice, but let’s be careful that our viewpoint isn’t from the standpoint of being judge and jury but from the standpoint of being a fellow traveler in life who struggles with sin the same as the other person does. When I remember how awesome God’s grace is to forgive my sins, it should lead me to be ready to offer such mercy and forgiveness to others quickly.
In Matthew 18 Jesus taught us to confront a believer who sinned and try to bring them back to salvation. He pointed out that we should be ready to forgive over and over again. When Peter sought a limit he asked if we were to forgive up to seven times and Jesus responded, not seven times but seventy times seven. He told a story to illustrate his point. A ruler had a man who owed him a huge amount of money, way up in the multi-millions of dollars. When the loan became due the man couldn’t pay it but pleaded for more time. The ruler forgave the whole debt and gave the man a fresh start. But he went out and found a man who owed him a very small amount compared to what he owed his master. He grabbed the man and demanded he pay him back. The man pleaded for mercy and time but he was unwilling to give more time and had the man and his family thrown into jail. The fellow servants of the man who had acted this way came to tell the ruler what had happened. They pointed out how the ruler forgave him the huge debt but he refused to forgive a small debt to a fellow servant. The ruler was angry and called the man in and delivered him to the tormenters because he had failed to offer the same mercy to a fellow servant the master gave him. The point is that God forgives us the massive debt we can never repay. How dare we refuse to forgive other people who have done so little against us compared with our sin against God?
Walk in justice, but make certain it is justice like God gives to us.