This is the one-hundred-sixty-sixth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
“You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23
October, 1992. A man named Dennis Lee Curtis is arrested in Rapid City, South Dakota, for committing a string of robberies. He confesses. But this thief has some scruples. Police find in his wallet a curious written statement, a kind of robber’s code of ethics.
(1) I will not kill anyone unless I have to; (2) I will take cash and food stamps—no checks; (3) I will rob only at night; (4) I will not wear a mask; (5) I will not rob mini-marts or 7-ElevenTM stores; (6) If I get chased by cops on foot, I will get away. If chased by vehicle, I will not put the lives of innocent civilians on the line; (7) I will rob only seven months out of the year; (8) I will enjoy robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
The court, however, did not judge Dennis Lee Curtis according to his standard of justice, but by a higher social norm that Curtis did not get to choose. And, in this case, the law goes straight back to the Ten Commandments.
It is not enough for us to have any old standard of justice for our lives. Real justice comes from above. It derives from inexorable laws of God that define and protect the dignity of life. If the standard of justice is arbitrary to anybody, it is useless for everybody.
Social justice is God’s law applied to society. Wild animals are sometimes put in cages or restricted by leashes, but human beings have the choice to behave according to conscience trained by justice.
We’re fascinated by stories about law and order—in film, television, plays, and novels. We always want to see the bad guys get caught. But justice, from a biblical point of view, is not just about punishing the criminal, it’s about pursuing what is right in the first place. Jesus confronted the most religious people of his day, the Pharisees, about their petty standards: “You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
Justice means celebrating what is right—and living it.
Read the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) today. Identify one of them that needs further application in your life at this time.
[See previous – Proclaim Justice to the Nations]
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.