Canberra Baptist Church
9.00 & 10.30am services, 16 February 2020
Sharing God’s Love and Justice in Words and Actions
Rev. John Morrison
Reading Matthew 22:34-40; 23:13-15, 23-28. James 2:14-26. (NRSV)
Today we are looking at our 3rd Church goal – “sharing God’s love and justice in words and actions”.
There are 2 pairs of key concepts here — 1stly, love and justice; 2ndly, words and actions.
- Often love and justice have been presented as competing or contrasting concepts or values.
But I put to you today that they are complementary and must go together.
- Sometimes words and actions have been presented as alternative methodologies.
But similarly, I put to you today that they too are not mutually exclusively but complementary and belong together.
And I’ll be pointing out how our Bible passages support those proposals.
So that’s where we are headed this morning, just to give you some clarity upfront.
Love and Justice
“Sharing God’s love and justice” – That assumes that love and justice are aspects of God’s nature. And the Bible certainly affirms that.
1 John 4:16a “God is love…”
Jeremiah 3:22 “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”
Psalm 99:4 “Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity, you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.”
That’s what God is like. And God calls us to be like that. Because God is love, God calls us to love. Because God is just, God calls us to be just.
In fact, we are made in the image of God and although that image has been marred, it is being restored in and through Christ and the Spirit.
So God, who is a God of love, is about transforming us into people of love. God’ who is a God of justice, is about transforming us into people of justice.
Love has various meanings and there are different words for love in the Bible – romantic love (celebrated on Valentine’s Day), love of friends, love of family, self-sacrificial love (applied to God and required of us).
You’re no doubt familiar with that. Maybe you are not so familiar with the idea that justice has different meanings and we find different forms of justice in Scripture.
When we hear the word justice, we almost naturally think of what is termed retributive justice.
This is the idea that someone should get what they deserve; someone who does something wrong should be punished in a manner that is deserved, moral and proportional.
We see this principle in the OT e.g. “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24)
Distributive justice addresses the allocation (or misallocation) of resources such as wealth, power and reward
e.g OT laws about the Year of Jubilee and cancellation of debts.
Restorative justice emphasises reconciliation and rebuilding of relationships e.g. Mephibosheth (last Sunday).
Redemptive justice is similar but places more emphasis on the redemption of the aggressor. The transformation of Saul the persecutor into Paul the missionary has elements of that.
In general terms, injustice is the abuse of power and authority. Justice, in biblical terms, occurs when power and authority are exercised in line with God’s standards.
In Mt 22:34-39, a Pharisee, a lawyer, asked Jesus a question about the Law, Jewish Law. What commandment is greatest? Jesus’ reply was about love – love God, and love your neighbour as yourself.
What about justice?
Jesus in fact encompassed the whole Law (and the prophets as well) with that answer. To love as Jesus specified fulfills the Law rather than negating it.
James 2:8 (the same chapter as today’s reading in James, just a little earlier) You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
So my proposal is that love and justice are complements. They go together.
Love without justice develops into sloppy sentimentalism, which is not true love.
Justice without love runs the risk of being legalism without mercy and compassion, which is not true justice.
The two go together. They are both part a of God’s nature and dealings with us.
And they are both to be a part of our response and commitment.
Words and Actions
Let’s look now at the 2nd dichotomy – words and actions.
Is it preferable to share God’s love and justice in words or actions; by proclamation or performance; by speech or service? This question echoes a debate that ran hot throughout the 2nd half of last century and is still an issue in some quarters.
Sharing in words can be equated to evangelism. Evangelism is just that — verbal proclamation of the Gospel; announcing the Good News.
Evangelism is sometimes used in a broader sense to include the witness of the way we live our lives and what we do and given descriptions such as lifestyle evangelism or service evangelism.
But technically evangelism is verbal proclamation.
Sharing in actions can be equated to social action – the practice of taking action, usually as part of an organised group, to create positive change in some activity.
It’s helpful to distinguish between social works and social justice.
Social works are about helping individuals and meeting basic needs. Social justice is about removing root cauises of problems and improving structures.
It’s the difference between just helping people at the bottom of the cliff and going to the top of the cliff to find out why they are falling and preventing that.
The debate was not only polarising but generally counter-productive. Because sharing in words and actions are both needed.
Words only run the risk of being empty platitudes.
James 2:15-16 “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?”
The rest of the passage emphasises the necessity of people of faith not expressing their faith in actions.
Actions only run the risk of being misunderstood or misinterpreted or not providing a complete explanation.
Billy Graham, arguably the greatest evangelist of the 20thC, said this in his book “Approaching Hoofbeats” (1986), pp 144-145.
“My basic commitment as a Christian has not changed, nor my view of the Gospel, but I have come to see in deeper ways the implications of my faith and the message that I have been proclaiming. I can no longer proclaim the Cross and the Resurrection without proclaiming the whole message of the Kingdom, which is justice for all.”
On the inside of the bulletin, I’ve mentioned the Lausanne Covenant of 1974 and the Manilla Manifesto of 1989. Both are important documents that emphasise the necessity of both words and actions together
e.g. Manilla Manifesto – “As we proclaim the love of God, we must be involved in loving service, as we preach the kingdom of God we must be committed to its demands of justice and peace.”
“While we acknowledge the diversity of spiritual gifts, callings, and contexts, we also affirm that good news and good works are inseparable.”
Our reading from Matthew emphasises not only that words and actions go together, but that they must be consistent. Jesus is very critical of the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy. Their words and actions just didn’t match up. Jesus tells his disciples (v3) not to do what the Pharisees do, “for they do not practice what they preach.”
The passage gives some damning descriptions.
- They tithe religiously, but neglect justice, mercy and faith (v23)
- They are evangelistic, crossing oceans and land to make a convert – but they make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as they are (v15)
- They are like a cup – clean on the outside but full of greed and self-indulgence on the inside (v25)
- They are like tombs that are beautifully whitewashed on the outside but inside are full of deadness and decay (v 27)
There are lots of different contexts in which to authentically and naturally share God’s love and justice in words and actions. But before I finish this morning, I want to mention one as an example for your possible involvement – the Community Centre. This is a treat initiative of the Church. It offers countless opportunities to interact with people from the wider community, get to know them, and in so doing share with them.
There are groups you might like to join or you might be able to help as a volunteer. You can get more information from Tryphena, the Community Development Worker, who has been doing a great job in that role for years now.
Or talk with Cecelia, the Office Manager, or Jenny, the Chair of the Committee.
Conclusion to Series
That’s all I wanted to say about our 3rd goal, but as I wrap up this series I’d like to emphasise the inter-relatedness of all 3 goals. I’ve dealt with them separately over 3 weeks, but they are closely connected.
Led by the Spirit applies to all including the goal we’ve looked at today.
An important aspect of what it means to follow Jesus today is sharing God’s love and justice in words and actions because that’s what Jesus did.
And doing that will contribute in a major way to the building of an inclusive, caring community.
So together, let’s do it!