Thursday, August 28, 2008

Justice, Mercy and Humility: All That God Expects

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 8B
Micah 6:8

Bob Rakestraw


How can we know what God expects of us? Since God is morally perfect, it may seem that his list of expectations is infinitely long and impossible to keep. But we need not despair. The Bible (see, e.g., 2 Cor. 5:14-21; Gal. 3:1-14) makes it clear that Jesus Christ, by giving his life for all people, set us free from any system of law-keeping based on human effort. All we need to do is come to the foot of Christ’s cross in repentance and faith, acknowledge our innumerable violations of God’s requirements, and receive Christ and his forgiveness along with freedom from guilt, shame and despair.

I came to Christ in this way at the age of 19, and have never turned back. If I should die today I know I would be welcomed into the presence of God forever, not because of my inherent goodness or obedience to God’s laws, but because of the saving work of Jesus at Calvary, who died in my place for my sins.


Living from Gratitude

Even with this glorious freedom and hope of eternal life, however (in fact, because of it), I still have a strong desire to obey God’s will fully. Because I am assured of everlasting glory with God, I desire more than ever, out of gratitude and for the sake of my own happiness, to live totally for my Savior. I can’t imagine any other life. This is why I am so excited about our scripture of the month: Micah 6:8.

In our last posting we introduced this verse and some of its background. Now I wish to develop the text a bit more.

He has showed you, O [mortal] what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (NIV)

In the first line the prophet speaks of the good life, which we discussed in our last posting as being tied closely to the happy life. Next, Micah raises the question of what the Lord requires of us as his people, and then presents the threefold way as the key to how we should live: the path of justice, mercy and humility. Instead of the 613 laws of the Jewish people in Jesus’ day, Micah sums up God’s expectations for us in these three virtues. Over the years, my life has become more and more simplified by keeping Micah 6:8 fresh in my mind and life.


Practicing Justice

Justice has been defined in many different ways, and it can be a difficult concept to understand. For our purposes, however, I want to stay as simple, clear, and biblical as possible.

“To act justly” in the Hebrew is literally “to act justice.” It could also be translated “to do, to practice, to make, to carry out justice.” The idea is that we are to do far more than simply think about justice, but live a life of justice. The concept of justice is at the very heart of God’s character. The psalmist writes, “The Lord is known by his justice” (Ps. 9:16; 11:7). The word justice [mishpat] is used 425 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. It means that which is right, lawful or fair. It has a legal sense to it.

God’s view of injustice is seen several places in Micah (e.g., 2:1-2; 3:1-2, 8-11; 6:8-12). In Micah’s day, as in ours, it is highly offensive to God and terribly hurtful to people, to practice such injustices as fraud, bribery, dishonest scales, lying and deceit.

Years ago one of my students told me that he had to quit his job as a photographer for a certain mail-order catalog company. He said that he had to place the product on a table or display, and then photograph it in such a way that it would look appealing. There is nothing wrong with this, as such, but my student said that the product was really a piece of junk that he had to photograph in a tricky way, deceiving the prospective buyer. It’s true that the camera does not lie, but the photographer and catalog designer could deceive the reader by the position of the product, the angle of the light, and other tricks of the trade. This is injustice in God’s eyes, and I’m glad my student quit working with that company.

If you work for a company where your employer is asking you to cut corners or somehow cheat the customers, go to your boss and explain to him or her why you cannot, as a Christian, do the things he requires. It is the Lord who requires you “to act justly.” This, God says, is “what is good” (Micah 5:8).


Justice as Love

When you begin to study the hundreds of times “justice” is referred to in the Bible you will see why it is one of the three main requirements of the Lord, and why it is an essential part of the good life. Justice is really a form of love. In fact, justice and love are inseparable in the true follower of the Lord. We are told to love our neighbor as ourselves, and one way that we do this, according to both Old and New Testaments, is to practice justice. Jesus rebuked the religious teachers and spiritual leaders of his day by calling them hypocrites. He pointed out that they tithed their possessions faithfully, but, he said, “you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former” (Matthew 23:23). May God give us the strength of character to be just, as he is just.