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.
You have wearied the Lord with your words; “Yet you say, “In what way have we wearied Him?” In that you say, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, And He delights in them,” Or, “Where is the God of justice?” (Malachi 2:17, NKJV)
As when Israel wearied Jehovah in the fifth century BC, God must surely be weary today when He hears Christians denying His just standard of evil and good. Wearing the name of Christ never gives one the right to call good, that which God calls evil. In effect, this would be like saying, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and He delights in Him.” For example, increasingly, Christians deny the sin of immodest clothing offends the Lord, although He has revealed standards of moral purity that forbid the display of one’s own nakedness (1 Timothy 2:9-10; 1 Peter 3:2-4; cf. Isaiah 47:2-3). One cannot “put on Christ” and still “put on” the worldly attire of indecency. Christians who refuse to respect and follow what God’s word declares to be just, cannot expect Him to delight in them, and bless their disrespectful treatment of Him. The God of justice is where He has always been, and He is “ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5). May we never “call evil good, and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
“Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem; See now and know; And seek in her open places if you can find a man, if there is anyone who executes judgment, who seeks the truth, and I will pardon her.” (Jeremiah 5:1, NKJV)
The Lord God sent Jeremiah into the streets of Jerusalem to look for a righteous man; a man of justice (“judgment”), and one who seeks the truth. Such a discovery would prevent God’s punishment upon the rebellious, obstinate, sinful city (Jeremiah 5:3, 7-9). But, what Jeremiah found were lies instead of the truth (Jeremiah 5:2). None were found among the poor; they did not know the way of the Lord (Jeremiah 5:4). None were found among her “great men;” they had burst the bonds of divine rule in favor of destructive, sinful pleasures (Jeremiah 5:5-9). Does God find you to be a person who is just toward others? Do you seek truth, and pursue it? Or, have sin’s allurements enticed you away from Him, hardening your heart toward His will? Jerusalem reached a point of no return, and she was destroyed for her sins (Jeremiah 52:3-30). But, it is not too late for you to return to the Lord. His longsuffering continues to this moment, longing for sinners to repent (2 Peter 3:9). If you will heed His call and repent, He will pardon your sins, and you will escape His wrath (Romans 2:1-11).