We live in an imperfect world with a huge imbalance of wealth and power. Sometimes when we hear about social justice in Christian circles, we think of liberal theology, left-wing radicals and some denominations that seem to be more concerned with helping their fellow man than following a conservative doctrinal creed. But God is a God of justice and wants his people to make a difference in the world, standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and sharing what we have with those who have nothing. Caring for the oppressed, the poor, the disadvantaged, and the socially unacceptable classes or people around us is a Christian mandate, and is woven through the fabric of the Old Testament law and the New Testament principles taught by Jesus.
These concepts are throughout the Mosaic law, not in just one or two verses. “If in any of the towns in the land that the Lord your God is giving you there is a fellow-Israelite in need, then do not be selfish and refuse to help him. Instead, be generous and lend him as much as he needs” (Deuteronomy 15:7-8).
Old Testament examples
The prophets were continually rebuking the Israelites, the chosen nation called out by God, for their treatment of the aliens and the nations with which they intermarried, resulting in the classes of people like the Samaritans, considered second class citizens. As we read in Jeremiah 22:3, “I, the Lord, command you to do what is just and right. Protect the person who is being cheated from the one who is cheating him. Do not ill-treat or oppress foreigners, orphans, or widows; and do not kill innocent people in this holy place.”
Again in Micah, “The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God” (Micah 6:8).
Isaiah and Amos had much to say about social justice. “Learn to do right. See that justice is done — help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows” (Isaiah 1:17).
Amos was even more direct with his condemnation of false worship without justice in human relations: “Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:23-24 NASB).
Jesus and His disciples
These principles are fundamental to the teachings in the New Testament as well, in the Gospels and in the epistles of Paul and the other writers. As Jesus said in Luke, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind; to set free the oppressed and announce that the time has come when the Lord will save his people” (Luke 4:18-19).
We see in John’s letter, “Rich people who see a brother or sister in need, yet close their hearts against them, cannot claim that they love God” (1 John 3:17).
James was a writer who emphasized that we should show our faith by our good works: “Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, ‘God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!’ – if you don’t give them the necessities of life?” (James 2:15-16).
The Apostle Paul, who we look to as the foundation of our doctrine of salvation by faith alone, had this to say about the theme of social justice: “None of you should be looking out for your own interests, but for the interests of others.” (1 Corinthians 10:24) “Share your belongings with your needy fellow Christians, and open your homes to strangers.” (Romans 12:13)
Concern for the whole person
Back to the Old Testament and the Proverbs that we sometimes put on like a comfortable pair of shoes: “Don’t take advantage of the poor just because you can; don’t take advantage of those who stand helpless in court. The Lord will argue their case for them and threaten the life of anyone who threatens theirs.” (Proverbs 22:22-23)
The bottom line is that we as relatively rich Christians in a lost and dying world, need to be concerned not only for the souls of those that are lost, but to seek and to save the whole person, as Jesus did throughout the Gospels. He fed the multitudes, turned water into wine, healed the sick, and raised the dead, as well as speaking the words of eternal life to all who would receive him.
More information is available at the following sources:
The Holy Bible
Robert Woods has worked as an engineer at AECOM Technical Services and HBC Engineering, and is a published Christian author. He can be reached at [email protected].