He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NKJV)
How do you define a successful life? Fortune? Leisure? Fame? Power? I watched a couple of TV shows today about former NFL players who set many records and won many championships? Their walls are lined with trophies and awards that recognize their athletic accomplishments. Yet, when they talked about what being successful was to them, it was not about statistics, championships, and awards. It was about being a good husband, a good father, a good friend, and a good citizen in the community. That is impressive. All these things are good, and yet, something was missing. They did not measure their success in spiritual terms. Jesus said, “What profit it is to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul” (Matt. 16:26)? When you wake up and consider how you intend to succeed that day (and in life), assess your success the way God does. God’s measure of success requires us to choose to practice justice and love mercy (to love our neighbor as ourselves, Matt. 22:39), and to choose to walk humbly with our God (to love God with all our being, Matt. 22:37). Define success as a life of justice, mercy, and faithful service to God. These things are good. God says these things make life successful.
17 Lord, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will prepare their heart; You will cause Your ear to hear, 18 To do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may oppress no more. (Psalm 10:17–18, NKJV)
Psalms 10 wrestles with the apparent immunity of the wicked from accountability and justice from the judgment seat of God (cf. Hab. 1:1-4). “Why do you stand afar off, O Lord? Why do You hide in times of trouble?” (Psa. 10:1) The proud boast in their greed and renounce the Lord; They could care less about God (10:3-4). The oppressors always appear to prosper as they arrogantly devise evil against the poor (10:5-10). They do not believe God sees their transgressions, nor will He “require an account” (10:11, 13). In weariness of heart, the oppressed cry out for God to see their evil and lift His hand of judgment against them (10:12). God does see the sins of the godless. He is the helper of the fatherless, and the helpless commit themselves to Him and the justice He will bring upon the wicked (10:14-15). His sovereignty secures our confidence that God will right every wrong; He is “King forever and ever” (10:16; 2 Thess. 1:6-10). What began as the psalmist’s perplexity when the wicked appear to escape justice ends in a flourish of praise and adoration of the Lord. Nothing escapes His notice. In His time, God executes justice for the righteous cause of the humble, the powerless, and the oppressed, who prepare their hearts to accept His righteous judgments (Psa. 19:9; 2 Pet. 3:7-10).
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43–45, NKJV)
God never said to hate others. Indeed, the Law and the prophets commanded Israel to love their enemies (Exo. 23:4-5; Lev. 19:18; Prov. 25:21-22). At this moment of crisis in our country, hate-filled acts of violence are destroying property and lives. What began as peaceful protests over the killing of an unarmed, defenseless man has devolved into hateful displays of violent, criminal mayhem. Christians must rise above bias and bigotry, prejudice and pride, to conduct ourselves like our heavenly Father. With malice for none, He shines His sun on the evil and the good, showering the just and the unjust with blessings. Even so, God does not condone evil. Neither do we. The crimes of others are not our excuse to return evil upon them. Justice demands the punishment of criminals (Rom. 13:1-6). And, the love of God demands that we love our enemies, compelling righteous acts even when we are treated unrighteously.
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.” (Matthew 5:38–42, NKJV)
The rule of law provides justice while reining in unrestrained wrath against others. For example, the Law of Moses decreed judgment against wrongdoers in accord with the crime they committed, hence, “an eye for an eye…” (Exo. 21:22-25). But, the scribes and Pharisees had turned the Law into a tool of personal revenge (Matt. 5:20). Jesus resists such lawlessness, teaching citizens of the kingdom of heaven not to retaliate against the evil person. His apostle would explain, “Repay no man evil for evil…If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; at it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-19). To respond with personal wrath and revenge against evil is arrogant, for by doing so, we displace God as Judge and trust ourselves rather than Him to correct evil and punish the evildoer. Going the second mile gives us the chance to calm our souls and trust the Lord.
1 You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. 2 You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. (Exodus 23:1–2, NKJV)
Israel was strictly charged not to 1) Spread falsehoods, 2) Support unrighteous witnesses, 3) Join others in committing evil, and 4) Affirm what is false and influence others to pervert justice. Honest people continue to earnestly avoid speaking and promoting falsehoods against others. So, shouldn’t we be just as concerned with not advancing falsehoods about God? Yet, untold millions of otherwise honest people see no problem with accepting and spreading false teachings as if they belong to God. By affirming doctrinal error as truth, they influence many others to twist the truth. False teaching in the name of God is a sin of injustice against God. We are sure this does not go unnoticed by the Almighty (Matt. 7:21-23). Before you assign a doctrine and a practice to “the will of God” you must be sure His word supports it (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Examine the Scriptures to see if what you or others are saying about God and His will is true (Acts 17:11; 1 John 4:1, 6). Accept no counterfeit gospels. They are false reports that bring souls under divine condemnation (Gal. 1:6-10).
23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! (Matthew 23:23-24, NKJV)
Jesus did not pronounce this stinging condemnation of the scribes and Pharisees because they were careful to tithe herbs (this was commanded in God’s law to Israel, Leviticus 27:30). He pronounced woe upon them for abandoning the principles and motives that characterize acceptable obedience to God. They strained out a gnat and swallowed a camel with their minute correctness while failing to obey God out of justice, mercy and faith. They “passed by justice and the love of God” in their zeal to keep the law (Luke 11:42). Unfortunately, this passage is frequently used as an “either, or” proposition to justify disobedience in the name of justice, mercy, faith and the love of God. Jesus did not say that. He taught that careful obedience is useless unless it genuinely expresses faith, mercy and justice. Obeying God does not contradict justice, mercy, and faith. While being faithful to obey God, be just and merciful to others. Do not “pass by the love of God” lest you fall into condemnation (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3).
22 Do not rob the poor because he is poor, nor oppress the afflicted at the gate; 23 For the Lord will plead their cause, and plunder the soul of those who plunder them. (Proverbs 22:22–23, NKJV)
Perverting justice is a form of robbery. The upright of heart will not steal from anyone at any time (Ephesian 4:28). Yet, some take advantage of the poor because their hearts are given to wicked selfishness and the arrogance of power. “Might makes right” to far too many, and as a result, the poor and disadvantaged suffer at the hands of oppressors. Justice is blind – a truth God spoke long before the blindfolded Lady Justice was ever sculpted. Moses told Israel, “You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small as well as the great; you shall not be afraid in any man’s presence, for the judgment is God’s” (Deuteronomy 1:17). God’s law to Israel warned against perverting the just of the poor: “You shall not pervert the judgment of your poor in his dispute” (Exodus 23:6). It also warned against showing partiality to the poor: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). Poverty is not the rich man’s reason to plunder, nor is poverty a just reason to pervert justice. Divine justice is impartial, and ours must be, too. God will punish injustice and oppression.
2 The works of the Lord are great, studied by all who have pleasure in them. 3 His work is honorable and glorious, and His righteousness endures forever. (Psalm 111:2–3, NKJV)
The ways of the Lord are past finding out by our finite minds (Isaiah 55:8-9). “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33) Only by the aid of divine revelation are we able and permitted to gaze into the righteous purposes of God’s mind (1 Corinthians 2:9-11). We are moved to study the works of the Lord when we grasp that we are the benefactors of His fathomless wisdom and mighty deeds. We ought to seek after and explore the honor, glory and righteousness of His works. God’s work of creation, when studied, shows His power and divinity (Romans 1:20; Psalm 8; 19:1-6). God’s work of redemption delivers sinners from sin’s bondage and gives us the promise of an eternal inheritance (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:15). God works in the Christian’s life through faith, to accomplish His purposes in us (Philippians 2:12-13; 1 Peter 1:5; Ephesians 3:20-21). Study the works of God and praise Him with your whole heart (Psalm 111:1). Without a doubt, “The works of His hands are verity and justice; All His precepts are sure” (Psalm 111:7).
“My brethren, do not hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with partiality.” (James 2:1, NKJV)
Impartiality is a trait of God Himself; “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:11). We must resist and reject the temptation to show favoritism in our judgments and our treatment of others. We cannot hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ and do otherwise. Partiality is motivated by appearance, which exposes its unjust nature (John 7:23-24). Partiality grants an undue advantage to one, while unjustly withholding that same advantage from another (see James 2:2-4). Impartiality is a mark of justice, while partiality is unjust. God was quite clear in His law to Israel to be impartial in their treatment of others: “You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15). Did you catch that? Neither poverty, riches, power or nobility were to inform and influence their judgments. Righteousness was to direct their judgments and their treatment of others. Judges were charged not to show partiality in judgment (Deuteronomy 1:17). Showing favoritism and bestowing benefits based on appearance rather than truth is not love for one’s neighbor. When we show partiality in judgment we “become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:4). Let us be just in all our dealings, without partiality.
50 Nicodemus (he who came to Jesus by night, being one of them) said to them, 51 “Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing?” (John 7:50–51, NKJV)
Appearances can be deceiving. One part of judging righteous judgment is getting all the facts before rendering said judgment (John 7:24). This includes hearing testimony from the one being judged. The Jewish leaders in John 7 had already made up their minds about Jesus. When Nicodemus challenged them to hear from Jesus and verify His actions before condemning him, they reacted with calloused mockery: “Are you also from Galilee?” (John 7:52). Righteous judgment is anchored in truth, no appearances. It rests upon verifiable evidence, not assumptions. When we are called upon to render judgment, may we do so with justice, not self-justification; and with love, not malice.