The word “justice” can be a divisive word today. Put “social” or “racial” in front of the word and some people start fuming. However, the word “justice” is actually a biblical word. The Hebrew word, “tzedakah”, is translated as “righteousness,” “fairness,” or “justice.” It’s a word closely tied to philanthropy.
In the Hebrew language, the closest word to philanthropy is tzedakah. While the word is used interchangeably for charity, tzedakah is seen as a form of social justice provided by the donor as well as those who utilize the support to do their work and those who allow the support into their lives. As is the case with justice, this critical social responsibility cannot be done to someone – rather, it must be done with someone.
A well-known tzedakah verse inscripture is Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, justice you must pursue, that you might live and inherit the land the Lord God is giving you.”
Notice the repeated word for emphasis – justice. We must pursue justice. The pursuit of justice is directly connected with living and prospering in the land God gives. Here are a few other verses that describe the character of God and how He desires for us to live:
“He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.” – Deuteronomy 10:18
“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling.” – Psalm 68:5
As followers of God we are exhorted to:
“Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” – Proverbs 31:9
“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.” – 1 Timothy 5:3
“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” – 1 John 3:17-18
The library of verses that express the character of God could go on, but the message remains the same. God cares for the most vulnerable and downtrodden among us. He cares for all of us, but He has a special focus and preference for the “least of us.” As followers of God, we are not just invited but commanded to partner with God in the work of service, charity, justice, and reconciliation. As our Jewish friends would say, “We are called to help repair the world.” As we like to say in the Set Free Movement, we are called to be agents of hope and healing while helping to create new futures for the vulnerable, the broken, and the enslaved.
We often are caught up in the WHAT, whether it’s doing justice, serving, or working for reconciliation. We also need to be concerned with the HOW. How do we pursue justice? Are we driven by obligation alone.? Are we begrudging or cheerful? Is our posture one of humility? Additionally, are we doing justice to others or with others?
In 2021 the Free Methodist Church USA Bishops published an important document titled, “The Free Methodist Way.” It outlines five characteristics that make up the culture of the Free Methodist church. One of the five is the characteristic of Love Driven Justice:
LOVE IS THE WAY WE DEMONSTRATE GOD’S HEART FOR JUSTICE by valuing the image of God in all men, women, and children, acting with compassion toward the oppressed, resisting oppression, and stewarding Creation.
We devote ourselves to our founders’ deep convictions around matters of injustice as they took their stand against the evils of slavery, the oppression of the poor, the marginalization of women, and the abuse of power in the church. Our heart for justice continues and expands today, fueled by God’s holy love for the unborn, vulnerable, oppressed, marginalized, and people of all races and ethnicities.
The Free Methodist Way is not only to realize a better society but that all may be reconciled to God and one another in ways that reflect God’s just character.
So, HOW do we pursue justice? With Love. I find this helpful:
If pursuing justice begins with pursuing the God of justice.
And if God is love.
Then love will characterize all we do, including our works of righteousness.
And we cannot pursue justice alone.
Bethany Hoang writes, “Justice is the work of community. It cannot be pursued alone. Justice is a manifestation of Christ’s body working at its very best. Just as we need to intentionally open ourselves to God and God’s leading, we need to open ourselves to doing justice in community. All of the body of Christ is called to be the Spirit-filled community that surrounds, supports, inhabits, and propels the river of justice God is seeking to unleash. What we might understand to be “frontline” work is not actually more important than the work of the surrounding body of believers the world over. All our roles are necessarily inextricable and made to be so by our sovereign Lord who saw fit to make us his body. And because every single member and role in Christ’s body matters, it is critical that we learn to boldly discern what part of the body Christ has made each of us to inhabit. We cannot afford to misunderstand our call.”
We serve and have hard conversations with love for God and each other. We humble ourselves. We listen. We are willing to change, repent, and move in a new direction. We not only give of our money and time, but we put in the long, hard work of challenging and changing systems and cultures. This is hard work. It’s the calling of the church.
We are transformed, then we become agents of transformation. Centered on Jesus and led by the Spirit, we can make a tangible real impact, while being impacted ourselves. Love-driven justice is the heart of the Set Free Movement’s work.
To learn more about Set Free Movement’s initiatives and how you can be involved, please check out our website: https://www.setfreemovement.com/take-action/.