A Biblical Response: Social Justice & the Christian

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Yesterday afternoon I read a thought-provoking article entitled, “Is the Gospel No Longer Enough for Black Christians?” by Darrell B. Harrison. I then reposted it with this comment…

“Just finished reading this. Good, biblical thoughts about a very sensitive and explosive topic. We must always remember in our efforts as Christians for justice/change to be had/heard in social areas that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. The aim and means of our efforts must always be guided by this end. On the other hand, when our efforts as Christians are for justice/change in social areas to be had amidst the Church, the end is then that our actions and views are worthy of the gospel that saved us (Eph 4:1-3, Phil 1:27).

“It is that message which, I fear, is being lost as increasing numbers of black Christians become convinced that their primary loyalty is to an ecclesiastical legacy rooted in a socio-ethno missiology that emphasizes societal reformation apart from spiritual transformation.” #greatword”

A fellow brother, whom I once pastored, asked if I could “provide a biblical example(s) where the apostles/disciples stood up and spoke out against social injustices.” Below is my response. I wrote this with, any believer who may also want to know this, in my mind. May we hear God’s heart and all be edified.

A Biblical Response

When we hear/read “social justice” don’t always equate it to politics or social movements. It is always wise to first ask (or investigate) what context is this “social justice” referring to before assuming what you think the person meant. In my post I explained what I meant without ever using the term “social justice”. I said “justice/change to be had/heard in social areas” and “justice/change in social areas to be had amidst the Church”.

Social means “relating to human society, or the interaction of the individual and the group, or the welfare of human beings as members of society” (Merriam-Webster.com).

So my use of “social areas” would be “areas relating to the welfare of human beings as members of society”.

Justice means “the maintenance or administration of what is ‘just’ especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments”“the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action” (Merriam-Webster.com).

So my use of “justice” would be “the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action”.

Thus, my use of “justice/change in social areas” would then mean “the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action in areas relating to the welfare of human beings as members of society and/or the Church”. This is what I mean whenever I communicate something regarding “social justice”. (I also believe this is what it should mean for every Christian).

Here are several biblical imperatives that would be in agreement with my use of “social justice”:

Rom. 12:17 (ESV)—“Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.”

1Thess. 5:15 (NASB)—“See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.”

Heb. 13:16 (NLT)—“And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.”

Tit. 3:14 (NASB)—“Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.”

Jam. 1:27 (NIV/NLT)—“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”

In addition, James the elder in 2:1-17 of his epistle checks the Church about favoritism toward those of an upper socio-economic status and the prejudices toward those of a lower socio-economic status. He’s calling for “justice/change in social areas to be had amidst the Church”. It’s in this context that he declares this truth, “Mercy triumphs over judgment”.

Furthermore, we see a call for social justice in Acts 16:16-40. Apostle Paul delivers a girl from an evil spirit. Her owners get mad and go after Paul. Paul and his companions were unjustly beaten and imprisoned by the local authorities. Miraculously set free by God, Paul saves the jailer from suicide and he and his family eventually come to believe in Jesus. The authorities who unjustly imprisoned Paul and his companions decide to let them go. Paul refuses to leave and calls out the injustice and calls for justice.

Acts 16:37-40 (NIV), “But Paul said to the officers: “They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city.”

How these biblical imperatives are carried out will look different from believer to believer and context to context. Yet, they are to always be in accordance with Scripture and never distracting from the gospel. This simple handful of verses is a crystal clear example as to “the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action in areas relating to the welfare of human beings as members of society and/or the Church”. Therefore, so long as these biblical imperatives are being obeyed in a manner in accordance with Scripture and not distracting from the gospel, we should not be criticizing or dismissing fellow believers standing up for justice in social areas or speaking out against social injustices. If anything we should be supporting them because it is biblical to do so, even if it may look different than how we/others may do so.

To make sure it’s obvious as to what I’m not saying, I’m not arguing for political agendas or social movements. I am exhorting the Church that being gospel-centric is not contrary to standing/speaking for or reasonably pursuing justice/change to be had/heard in social areas, and even more so to be had within the Church. True biblical social justice is nothing more than the demonstration of the gospel in social areas.

Apostle Peter sums it up well, “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king” (1Pet. 2:17, NKJV). Peter hits social justice in every area: in general relations, in Christian relations, and in civil relations.

Christ exemplified all of these.

As did the first century Church.

And so we are too.