Justice, as a concept, is all the rage these days and whenever someone wants to stick another word in front of that word, Christians should be a little sceptical, to say the least.
There’s social justice, racial justice, gender justice, environmental justice and economical justice, just to name a few.
But tagging, “justice” on the end of every other vice, doesn’t true justice make. More often than not, these are just a cloak for our envy.
Moreover, these are a far cry from the basic biblical categories of justice upon which the western worlds’ legal system was formed. There you have procedural justice (a fair trial), restorative justice (paying back what you owe), and retributive justice (punishment).
But, even if we confine our interests to pure justice, the scriptures teach us that justice, by itself, is not the end game. Love is. And that love is expressed in honour for the name of Christ, our neighbour.
Listen, my beloved brothers: Has not God chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you and drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the noble Name by which you have been called? (James 2:5-7)
Here, there are some in the church who are getting in good with the rich. They’re eyeballing the front row seats where all the rich kids are, even though it’s those same rich people who are oppressing the poorer brothers and sisters in Christ.
James’ concern here is not grounded in justice. The court room is simply the scene. What James has a problem with is the absence of love and the partiality being shown, which is bringing dishonour to the name of Jesus.
His correction here is reminiscent of something Paul said in 2 Corinthians about settling disputes between brothers.
There, the apostle tells us not to bring our grievances between one another before unbelievers, that is, a court system or individual that is not in submission to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 6:4).
The issue for Paul was our testimony before unbelievers, not strict justice.
Paul teaches that even if you could get strict justice from a pagan judge in a lawsuit against a fellow Christian, you should refuse to do it. This is because the name of Christ is involved, and the name of Christ is worth more than $10, or $10 million dollars.
Justice is attractive because justice can be a great cash cow, not to mention an ideal cloak for our greed. Just ask the ample gentleman who’s now sipping margaritas and water skiing in the Bahamas because he once slipped over in the bakery of a Christian brother.
Better to be defrauded, better to lose some cash or even your house, says Paul, and remain faithful to the name of Christ, than to get temporary justice.
The absence of love for neighbour, or a misplaced love of money in small issues, prepares the way for loveless and faithless conduct in the big ones – which is why the seating arrangements at church mattered to James.
Small dishonour and oppression here in the pew will lead to greater oppression and dishonour everywhere else.
We are to give honour to whom honour is due and be impartial in dealing with all, rich or poor. We are not to rob the poor because they are defenceless, nor are we to rob the rich because we are envious.
Why? Because we love true justice. Which is to say, we love the justice of God shown to us in the law of liberty – the Gospel.
We are to value mercy above mammon. We value men above money.
This is a high standard. Not a perfectionist one, but not an impossible one either.
It is the standard already met in the death of Jesus, to whom we owe all honour and allegiance. If we are to be dishonoured, let it not be because we dishonoured Him. Let it not be because we dishonoured those made in His image.
If we are to be defrauded, so be it. We are heirs of the world, knowing that what we have entrusted to Him is in good hands until that final day.