Social Justice 101: 12 Scriptures, 7 Proposals, and 3 Appreciations from *What is the Mission of the Church?*

nathan-lemon-FBiKcUw_sQw-unsplashIn What is the Mission of the Church?Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert provide two chapters on social justice. The first examines twelve passages often used to support social justice with biblical texts. The second chapter synthesizes their exegetical findings. Under seven “proposals” they offer a helpful introduction to the topic of justice, so often labeled “social justice.”

In what follows, I will share their twelve Scriptures and seven points. Then I will offer three words of appreciation and application from What is the Mission of the Church?

Twelve Scriptures Related to Social Justice

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How Justification by Faith Impels Justice: The Biographical Testimony of William Wilberforce

wilberforceAt 4:00am on February 24, 1807, the British Parliament voted to end the British slave trade. With a count of 267 to 16, the House of Commons voted with loud cheers for the abolition of this abominable institution.

Though it would take another 26 years for slavery to be ended in Britain and its colonies,  this decision by the House of Commons, which followed the majority decision of the House of Lords, proved that in the span of 50 years what was unthinkable—namely, the end of the slavery—could be put to an end through a radical change in public and political opinion.

This change raises the question: What led to that remarkable act of liberation? What changed the hearts of the British governors? Was it a war? No, not unless you count the war of words in parliament. Was it a pragmatic argument based upon economics. No, it actually cost Britain a fortune to end slavery. What was it then?

The answer can be given in three words—a man, a mission, and an unusual motivation. Continue reading

Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?

[This meditation summarizes a number of principles from Matt Perman’s excellent book, What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.]

Does God Require (Increased) Productivity?

Made in the image of a Creator, God designed humanity to bear good fruit. In Genesis 1:28, he told Adam and Eve to “be fruitful and multiply.” When he put the man in the Garden, he called him to cultivate and keep Eden so that in time the beauty, order, and presence of God’s garden would cover the earth.

Although sin marred mankind’s ability to produce good fruit, there remains a human desire to create, to organize, and to produce. In contrast to the cynicism of Dilbert, work is not a curse; it was and is part of God’s good creation. The trouble is that God’s curse makes work tedious and subject to futility.

Ecclesiastes is a case in point. In that book Solomon teaches us not to put our hope in work. He says that work is a “striving after the wind,” because all laborers will eventually relinquish the produce of their hands. Therefore, the wise man fears the Lord and puts their ultimate hope in God (Eccl 12:13–14).

(Some of) What Scripture Says about Productivity

Still, is that all Scripture says about work? Is it all negative? No, there’s more. Continue reading

Service That Pleases the Lord

Repeatedly in Scripture, God calls his people to fear, worship, and serve Him.  In Exodus, Moses records that Israel is redeemed in order to serve the Lord.  So does Titus 2:14, which says that Christ redeemed a people who are zealous for good works.  Likewise, Paul says that those who were once slaves of sin are now slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:17-19).

These verses give us a starting place for understanding how we should serve.  But we need to dig a little deeper to understand how God intends for us to serve him.

True Service Is Radically Dependent on God

First, we must serve God as those who abide in Christ.  Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches; if a man abide in me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit.  Apart from me he can do nothing” (John 15:5). We cannot serve unless we are getting are united to him.  God does not commission us to go and do great things for him.  He calls us to join him in his work; he gives us his Word and his Spirit; and he expects that we would daily feed on his grace and truth.

Second, we must come to get before we give.  We are leaky buckets and we need to be filled with the Spirit of God daily.  Too many churches have a history of putting people in places of service prematurely, and sadly these young believers never grow up (cf. Heb 5:11-6:3).  They burn out, fade out, or just eek it out.  Instead, churches need to do a better job shepherding the hearts of their servants so they serve out of overflow.

Third, service is as an extension of worship.  Church work should never detach itself from or replace worship.  Worship must always be the fountainhead of good works.  In fact, when Christians lose an appetite for worshiping God and put in its place works of service, their soul will soon shrink.  And what’s worse—they may not even be aware of their deadly condition.  By contrast, those who enjoy the Lord most are ready to serve—just as Psalm 100 indicates.

Psalm 100: A Hymn of God-Pleasing Service

In this hymn of praise, the Psalmist calls believers to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD!”  Thus, service falls under the banner of praise and worship.  Verse 2 extols: “Serve the LORD with gladness!” which presumes that joy is not self-generated but is a result of feasting on the grace of God (Ps 16:9-11; 32:11).

Verse 3 continues, “Know that the Lord, he is God!  It is he who made us, and we are his sheep; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”  In this verse, there are a number of things that inform our service before to God.

First, you and I must “know” the Lord.  This is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian.  We do not know God like we know long division; we know God as a lover knows his beloved.  This personal knowledge requires conversation and the sweet exchange of personal knowledge.  Thus, if we are to serve God rightly, it must flow from love to him.

Second, God is our maker and we are his sheep (v. 3b).  We cannot serve unless he empowers and leads us.  In John 10, Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep, describes how his sheep “go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9).  Applied to the question of service, this bucolic scene pictures God’s people feeding from the Lord and then going out to serve him.  Extremes fail in both directions.  Sheep who only feed grow lethargic and fat, while sheep who busy with empty-hearted service grow anemic and irritable.  Service needs sustenance, and true servants learn how to live on and for God.

Third, the location of service is in the presence of God.  In Israel, this was the temple courts (v. 4), but today, with God present wherever his saints gather, the location is the gathered church.  Many good Christians give their attention to ministries outside the church, but rarely should these Bible studies, missions, and para-church ministries overshadow service to the local body.  God has given Spiritual gifts for the upbuilding of his church (1 Cor 12:7), not other invented forms of ministry.

Last, thanksgiving is the fuel that drives God-pleasing service.  Psalm 100 describes thanksgiving as both a condition and a command (v. 4).  It is not an optional aspect of service; it is a requirement.  When Christians do service with ungrateful hearts, they do a disservice to God and those whom they serve (cf. Deut 28:47).  God’s people are a thankful people—thankful for the forgiveness and love found in Christ.  Those who please God with their service are effusive in their thanksgiving.

Overall, there is no greater gift than knowing God.  And by divine design, that knowledge leads to effervescent service.  Sometimes suh service is hard, even painful and deadly, but on the whole, the promise of serving with God brings the greater reward of resting with Him when the age closes.

This is our calling.  As you come to church this Sunday may you come thirsty for Christ, but may you also come with towel and basin ready to meet the needs of others.  In embracing such service, you are not only becoming like Christ, you are pleasing your heavenly father, who has redeemed you, given good works to do, and supplied you with his Spirit to accomplish those good works.  Rejoice in the Lord and perspire in his work—this is how we please God with our service.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

William Wilberforce: A Factory of Good Works

I love the way politician William Wilberforce united his faith to his legislative action.  For those who don’t know Wilberforce, he was the single driving force in England to end the slave trade.  He was a peer of John Newton, pastor and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace.”  He was a bold advocate for public justice, but one who spent countless hours in personal meditation on the truth of God’s word.  In other words, his appeals for justice were fruit the Spirit at work in his life.

Consider John Piper’s description of Wilberforce in his biographical sermon, “Peculiar Doctrines, Public Morals, and the Political Welfare.”  He shows how good works overflowed from this man who was filling his mind with Christian truth and walking in the power of the Spirit.

What made Wilberforce tick was a profound Biblical allegiance to what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. These, he said, give rise, in turn, to true affections – what we might call “passion” or “emotions” – for spiritual things, which, in turn, break the power of pride and greed and fear, and then lead to transformed morals which, in turn, lead to the political welfare of the nation. He said, “If . . . a principle of true Religion [i.e., true Christianity] should . . . gain ground, there is no estimating the effects on public morals, and the consequent influence on our political welfare.” [1]

But he was no ordinary pragmatist or political utilitarian, even though he was one of the most practical men of his day. He was a doer. One of his biographers said, “He lacked time for half the good works in his mind.” [2] James Stephen, who knew him well, remarked, “Factories did not spring up more rapidly in Leeds and Manchester than schemes of benevolence beneath his roof.” [3] “No man,” Wilberforce wrote, “has a right to be idle.” “Where is it,” he asked, “that in such a world as this, [that] health, and leisure, and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate?” [4] In other words, he lived to do good – or as Jesus said, to let his light shine before men that they might see his good deeds and give glory to his Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

But he was practical with a difference. He believed with all his heart that new affections for God were the key to new morals (or manners, as they were sometimes called) and lasting political reformation. And these new affections and this reformation did not come from mere ethical systems. They came from what he called the “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity. For Wilberforce, practical deeds were born in “peculiar doctrines.” By that term he simply meant the central distinguishing doctrines of human depravity, divine judgment, the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross, justification by faith alone, regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and the practical necessity of fruit in a life devoted to good deeds. [5]

Wilberforce’s public service is not only a model for Christian politicians, but a model for all Christians.  He was a factory of God works, as his friends attested, and in this way he shows the kind of worldly good the gospel can effect when a man is gripped by the “peculiar doctrines” of Jesus Christ.

May we consider his life and imitate his faith.  (Piper’s biography is available online and in print.  I would encourage you to read or listen to it).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss