A Biblical View of Social Justice

According to DESA, a department of the UN, Social Justice “may be broadly understood as the fair and compassionate distribution of the fruits of economic growth.”[1] Basically, this means that they believe systems should be put in place to “distribute” the money wealthy people earn to those who did not earn it. While this seems like a noble goal, it is inconsistent with the Christian worldview.

The Bible does not instruct Christians to “take from the rich and give to the poor.” Rather, it teaches individual believers to live by faith, work hard, pay their obligations, and give to the needy. This statement may sound similar to the one outlined by the DESA, but the nuances are vital. Let’s see how these four principles are supposed to play out in the life of a Christian.

Principle 1: Live by Faith

First, Jesus taught his followers to live by faith. This, in part, means learning to be content with what He provides. In the “Sermon on the Mount,” he said, “Therefore I tell you: Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink: or about your body, what you will wear: Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? … But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matthew 6:25, 33). Jesus claimed that if his followers lived by faith- putting the interest of God’s kingdom before their own, God would take care of their needs. People like C.T. Studd, George Müller, and Amy Carmichael took this to heart and showed it to be true. All believers, regardless of any social distinction, is to seek God’s kingdom before their own and learning to be content with having their essential, daily needs met. Those who feel in need of “social justice” should consider whether they are seeking His kingdom or trying to refurbish their own.

Principle 2: Work Hard

Second, Paul taught the Thessalonians that they should work hard and provide for themselves. Instead of urging dependence upon social programs, Paul taught them, “…seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands, as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly in the presence of outsiders and not be dependent on anyone” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). Paul followed this sentiment up in his second letter, saying, “Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister who is idle and does not live according to the tradition received from us… In fact, when we were with you, this is what we commanded you: “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat.” For we hear that there are some among you who are idle. They are not busy but busybodies. Now we command and exhort such people by the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and provide for themselves” (2 Thessalonians 3:6, 10-12). It may sound like Paul is urging people to “get a job” instead of “living by faith” but there is, often, no distinction. While “work” may look different from one person to the next, the principle stands: “if anyone isn’t willing work, he should not eat.” In this passage, Paul is addressing people who had shirked their responsibilities. They were no longer actively seeking God’s kingdom (engaging in His work- or any work, for that matter) but had become idle and were draining the resources of their productive brothers and sisters. Paul did not try to manipulate the wealthy into giving to the idle. Rather, He rebuked the idle people and exhorted them to start working so they could provide for themselves. If you need money and have the ability to work, God would have you work- regardless of how menial the job is. Conversely, if you have money and you see someone who is unwilling to work, you should not support them financially.

Principle 3: Pay Your Obligations

Third, Christians are to pay their debts. Paul instructed the Roman Christians, “Pay your obligations to everyone: taxes to those you owe taxes, tolls to those you owe tolls, respect to those you owe respect, and honor to those you owe honor” (Romans 13:1). It is important for everyone to refrain from stealing- by paying their obligations. The Bible, further, teaches that wealthy people, particularly those who hire employees, are to pay their workers. James said, “Come now, you rich people, weep and wail over the miseries that are coming on you. Your wealth has rotted and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have stored up treasure in the last days. Look! The pay that you withheld from the workers who mowed your fields cries out, and the outcry of the harvesters has reached the ears of the Lord of Armies. You have lived luxuriously on the earth and have indulged yourselves. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have murdered the righteous, who does not resist you” (James 5:1-6). God expects wealthy people to fairly compensate their workers. Those who claim to be Christians yet, like Laban, come up with tricks to withhold payment, are “condemned” by God. This principle also extends to people who are wealthy and who do not have employees under them for, “one’s life is not in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The Bible does not teach that money should be taken from the rich and given to the poor, but it does teach that rich people should willingly give their money to their employees who have earned and to those in need and to those to whom it is owed.

Principle 4: Give Generously

Fourth, the Bible teaches Christians to support those in need. It is important to illustrate what Scripture considers “need.”

James taught that needy people lack daily food and clothing. He says, “If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16). Christians are to support other believers (“a brother or sister”) who have pressing needs. Thus, we beautifully see that one of the primary ways God provides for the daily needs of his faithful follower (see Matthew 6) is through the generosity of other Christians.

James taught that orphans and widows were especially prone to being in need. Giving a test for genuine faith, he said, “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before God the Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:26-27). Thus, James encouraged true Christians to demonstrate their faith by caring for widows and orphans. Widows and orphans, particularly in the time when the NT was written, were justifiable needy because they often did not have access to work that would provide for their needs. Needy widows are further addressed in Paul’s first letter to Timothy. Here, Paul clarified that if a widow can work, she should, so as to not burden the church. If, however, she can prove her real need and show that she maintains an honorable lifestyle, her local church should take care of her (see 1 Timothy 5:9-16). Thus, it is important for Christians to partner with a solid local church that believes the Bible and obeys it- particularly in this area.

Luke the Physician, in Acts, allowed local churches to determine the “neediness” of its members. In Acts 2:43, the believers in Jerusalem, “were together and held all things in common. They sold their possessions and property and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need.” As the believers lived by faith- devoting themselves to “the apostles teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer” (v. 42)- they gave generously to those in need around them. (A quick look at Acts 6:1-7 will show that many of the needy people were, in fact, widows.)

Jesus taught that the poor were needy. One day, Jesus was approached by a ruler who wanted to know how he could inherit eternal life. In addition to telling him to keep the commandments, Jesus said, “you still lack one thing: Sell all you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:23). In Jesus’ day, many people became poor when they were unable to work- because they were widowed, blind, crippled, or had various diseases. They were not “idle” as described in 1 and 2 Thessalonians because they would have been willing to work, but couldn’t. Thus, their livelihood depended upon the generosity of their friends, family, and fellow citizens. In summary, the Bible encourages Christians to be generous towards people who are both in true need unable to provide for themselves. A worldview that wants gives handouts to healthy, able-bodied people is not in line with Scripture.

One final category of people who need aid, which seems to break the mold (but doesn’t) is found in Galatians 6. Here, Paul said, “Let us not get tired of doing good, for we will reap at the proper time if we don’t give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us work for the good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith” (Galatians 6:9-10). Paul opens the door wide- encouraging believers to work for the “good of all, especially for those who belong to the household of faith.” The “household of faith” refers to the church. If you see someone within the body of Christ in need, and have the ability to help, it is your Christian duty to help them. William MacDonald comments, “Our kindness is not to be limited to believers, but is to be shown to them in a special way.”[2] This means that there are people outside the “household of faith” who may need your help. Believers are commanded to “work for the good of all.” So, how should we do that? To begin, it is very important to properly define “good.” This takes wisdom and you will have to decide for yourself, using your Bible as your guide, what this looks like in your life. Here is a brief passage that will help you consider whether your plans are “good” or not. Paul, earlier in Galatians, wrote, “I say, then, walk by the Spirit and you will certainly not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is against the Spirit, and the Spirit desires what is against the flesh; these are opposed to each other, so that you don’t do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:16-26). If the works you do promotes sexual immorality, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, or any of the other “works of the flesh,” then you are not doing good- you are promoting evil. However, if the work you do bears the fruit of the Spirit: love, peace, patience, etc. then you may rest assured that this work is for the good of all!

In conclusion, Christians should not advocate for social justice, as defined by DESA, because their goals are not biblical. The best way for a Christian to meet the practical needs of the people around them (and to have their own needs met) is to walk by faith, work to provide for themselves, pay their obligations, partner with a local church that takes care of their needy members, and give generously from their own resources.

[1] https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/ifsd/SocialJustice.pdf

[2] MacDonald, William. Believer’s Bible Commentary (Introduction to James). Thomas Nelson. E-Sword Edition.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s