In an earlier post we suggested that Christians cannot avoid reflecting on justice because justice is a constitutive part of “the good life.” Indeed, when we argue about justice we are in some sense arguing about the good. But in that earlier post we didn’t define what is meant by “the good life.” So let me now attempt a man on the street definition:
The good life is a pattern of values and behavior that pleases God (Prov. 8:35-36; 9:10-12; 15:9), produces peace within and with others (Prov. 2:20-22; 11:3-8 and 18-23), and promotes human flourishing (Prov. 12:28; 21:15 and 21).
In the wisdom literature God gives us a vision for how to live and thrive despite the fallenness all around us. The wisdom literature exists to teach us how to recognize, choose and live ‘the good life.’ Consequentially, the wisdom literature teaches us a lot about justice.
How Is Justice Related to Wisdom?
The Proverbs present justice as an outgrowth of biblical wisdom. Those who find wisdom will find themselves loving and doing justice in practical, applied acts of righteousness. Indeed, the writer of Proverbs states directly that the goal of these collected sayings is that God’s people would learn how to do justice:
1The proverbs of Solomon, son of David, king of Israel: 2To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, 3 to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity….Prov. 21:1-3
Justice flows from wisdom like water flows from a faucet. Turn on wisdom and out comes righteousness. See the connection in Proverbs 2:6-15:
6 For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; 7 he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 guarding the paths of justice and watching over the way of his saints. 9 Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, every good path;10 for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; 11 discretion will watch over you, understanding will guard you, 12 delivering you from the way of evil, from men of perverted speech,13 who forsake the paths of uprightness to walk in the ways of darkness,14 who rejoice in doing evil and delight in the perverseness of evil, 15 men whose paths are crooked, and who are devious in their ways.
When Proverbs 8 personifies wisdom as a lady, she speaks to draw a tight connection between herself and justice: “I walk in the way of righteousness, in the paths of justice” (Prov. 8:20).
We are not to think we are biblically wise if, in fact, we do not walk in the paths of justice. The connection is as iron clad as:
5 Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely.Prov. 28:5
Proverbs 28:5 provides a challenge to the preacher and the Christian. Have we preached the word and sought the Lord in such a way that we understand justice completely? If our people hear about “justice” from the world with greater frequency and intensity than they hear it from the word, the very best that can result is a partial and distorted worldly life in this area. We cannot let that happen and expect to be salt and light in this perverse and wicked generation. Wisdom requires we teach our people to live righteously, justly, and equitably.
What Does the Good Life Demand We Do Regarding Justice?
To the western mind, wisdom is something we store in our minds, in the intellect. It’s a heady thing. But in the thought world of the Bible, wisdom is something you also do or carry out. It’s a handy thing rather than merely a heady thing. You show wisdom, in part, by doing justice.
To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.Prov. 21:3
How, then, must we do righteousness and justice? We find seven requirements in seeking justice as God’s people.
- Fear God’s Wrath on Behalf of the Mistreated and Neglected
When it comes to justice, righteousness and equity, God has chosen a side in our disputes. God stands with the mistreated and the neglected. We read:
22 Do not rob the poor, because he is poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, 23 for the Lord will plead their cause and rob of life those who rob them.Prov. 22:22-23
The Lord is “ride or die” with the afflicted.
Do not move an ancient landmark or enter the fields of the fatherless, 11 for their Redeemer is strong; he will plead their cause against you.Prov. 23:10-11
“Against you.” That’s the language of choosing sides. If we find ourselves involved in anything that defrauds the fatherless or our neighbor, we can be sure our holy God will come against us. That’s basic knowledge in the good life.
2. We Must Oppose Oppression
To do justice we must take our stand against injustice, oppression, unrighteousness and evil.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.Prov. 14:31
Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.Prov. 22:16
Whoever says to the wicked, “You are in the right,” will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations, 25 but those who rebuke the wicked will have delight, and a good blessing will come upon them.Prov. 24:24-25
There can be no doubt in our minds and in the minds of our people that we must stand on the side of the righteous defending the cause of the marginalized. We cannot allow ourselves to think that the good life includes by-standing. We must oppose oppression in all its forms.
3. We Must Practically Respond to the Poor and Needy
Justice cannot be reduced to lip service. We must actually get in the game to attempt to relieve the suffering of the oppressed.
23 The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.Prov. 13:23
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.Prov. 21:13
7 A righteous man knows the rights of the poor; a wicked man does not understand such knowledge.Prov. 29:7
We see another example in the life of the virtuous woman of Prov. 31.
She opens her hand to the poor and reaches out her hands to the needy.Prov. 31:20
4. We Must Speak and Act to Protect Life
The good life that comes from fearing God and loving wisdom means we do not make excuses for why we are inactive in the cause of justice and righteousness. We repent of by-standing and indifference and we take up the cross of following God in the pursuit of righteousness.
Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.Prov. 24:11-12
Then the Bible tells us:
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
We serve a God who knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we know and that we know it. He stands ready to hold us to account. If we know what is right then the Lord expects us to do what is right.
8 Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. 9 Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.Prov. 31:8-9
The just person is always in some sense an advocate. The just shall speak up. They do not opt for silence when sound is necessary. They are not selective in who they protect. They defend the rights of all who are destitute.
5. Avoid Partiality
And in the pursuit of justice, the wise saint does not play favorites or sin in partiality.
It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the righteous of justice.Prov. 18:5
To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.Prov. 28:21
See also James 2.
6. Settle for Poverty with Justice Rather Than Riches with Injustice
We live in a world that idolizes riches and even rewards the acquisition of wealth through unjust means. But the wisdom of God requires a very different valuation.
Better is a little with righteousness than great revenues with injustice.Prov. 16:8
16 Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.Prov. 22:16
To put this another way: the truly just saint does not sell out for riches. They would prefer poverty to injustice.
7. Depend on God for justice:
Our justice pursuits must end where they began. It began with the fear of the Lord and it must end with trust in the Lord. Only the Lord is able to untangle the knots of human sin and produce righteousness and justice that’s pleasing to all.
Many seek the face of a ruler, but it is from the Lord that a man gets justice.Proverbs 29:6
If we do not preach justice as a vital part of the good life, then our people will not hear the scripture and will listen to counterfeits. I pray the Lord will enable His preachers to reunite faith and practice in pursuit of justice. What the Lord has joined together, let no preacher separate.
Other Posts in This Series:
- Prolegomenon: On Authority and Sufficiency
- What Do We Mean When We Talk about “Justice”?
- Justice in All It’s Parts (part 1 and part 2)
- The Gospel Combines All Aspects of Justice
- Genuine Social Injustice
- Secular Approaches to Justice
- Justice Begins with God
- Justice as Worship in the Prophets