“To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
As you will recall from earlier studies, the Hebrew word for “righteousness” is tzedek, and it means “rightness.” It refers to something or someone that operates rightly and in alignment with the standards for which it is designed. It is acting in alignment with what is “right.”
God is the great Designer, and he has established the standards of tzedek. There is a way that God has designed people and nations to operate. “Justice” is the Hebrew word mishpat, and it refers to the wise and consistent application of standards.
“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne,” we are told in Psalm 89.14.
Jeremiah tells us that God actually delights in righteousness and justice: “Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9.23-24)
Let’s put those two principles together and apply them to the big picture of a nation. For a nation to prosper, it must be built on the foundation of: 1) right standards, and 2) the wise and consistent application of the standards. Righteousness and justice are the responsibility of the citizens and the leaders of a country.
In Proverbs 14.34, Solomon warns of violating God’s standards: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” Sin refers to any deviation from what is right, or the failure to exercise justice. If a nation rejects objective standards, and/or it fails fails to consistently apply the standards, that nation becomes a society at risk.
The point is that righteousness and justice must be applied in the private, public, and political spheres. This reality presents a strategic challenge for the western church, because we are the covenant people of God, and we are called to be agents of righteousness and justice. However, we cannot -- we must not -- get pulled into the world’s definition of “justice.”
As agents of salt and light in today’s extraordinary world, the Christian contribution to righteousness and justice is indispensable. The Christian community is not commissioned to simply conserve the best of the past, we are also called to be pioneers of the future. Our task is to stand against the distortions of the world in order to protect the very future of the world. This is the high calling at stake as we deal with the circumstances of our time.
We live in serious times, and we face significant challenges. Contemporary society has normalized belief systems and behavior patterns that range from the disruptive to the terribly destructive. But as difficult as the issues of the present might be, they are merely harbingers of even greater challenges that lie ahead. Our responses today are a trial run for the even graver tests that are surely to come.
In most instances, the modern church has failed to respond effectively to the challenges of modernity in America. When I look at what the church is doing (and not doing) in the face of the issues of our day, I think of what the Lord said to the prophet Jeremiah when he was fainthearted, “If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses?” (Jer 12:5).
It seems for the most part that contemporary Christianity is inwardly focused. It is privately engaging, but publicly irrelevant. It invites people to be saved and offers the comfort, convenience, and safety of the local church, but it fails to equip people to be agents of the kingdom in the midst of a fallen world that is becoming increasingly complex. Christians seems to lack both the will and the skill to engage the hard realities of the world around them.
Os Guinness makes this sobering observation: “It is surely undeniable that only rarely in Christian history has the lordship of Jesus in the West been treated as more pliable or has Christian revisionism been more brazen, Christian interpretations of the Bible more self-serving, Christian preaching more soft, Christian behavior more lax, Christian compromise more common, Christian defections from the faith more casual, and Christian rationales for such slippage more spurious and shameless.”
This is not a time for complacency or compromise in the church. It is a time for wisdom and courage. We need a return to righteousness and justice. We need timeless truth in political life, professional life, and private life … and the people of God must set the example and lead the way.
More tomorrow ...