5 Verses on Mercy & Justice

Values are the guardrails that keep a church on the path they are walking, however they define it. Values are also the gas in the tank that motivate a church’s forward motion on that path. 

Some values are a “ticket-to-ride". You have to have these values just to get on the train and go down the track. Biblically orthodox and faithful Christian churches all value the doctrine of the Apostles Creed, the ethics of the 10 commandments, and the life set out in the Lord’s Prayer. (Of course, across denominational and non-denominational lines they may articulate these values differently in many cases.)

Core values are unique. They give a church its particular fingerprint within the body of Christ, or within the church worldwide. Many churches have similar core values that align with their particular cultural expression of Christian faith. But values can also be unique expressions of a local body even when there is agreement on doctrine, ethics, and way of life. 

At Word & Table, we have three core values: 

Biblical Formation

Public Faith

Mercy & Justice

We get these values from the Bible even as they are a unique expression of who we are as a people.

MERCY AND JUSTICE

Many churches participate in acts of mercy and justice as a side program of their ministry. But what would it look like if mercy and justice was a core value of your church?

Here are 5 verses from the Bible about Mercy & Justice:

1. GENESIS 18:17-19, 25

The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19 For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring to Abraham what he has promised him….

Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?

These verses need the context of the whole story of Genesis 18, but modern people tend to get hung up on the story of Sodom and Gommorah and the concept of God executing any judgment at all, so it is easy to miss these two words: justice and righteousness. In the first two verses, God is talking about Abraham as one who is chosen. He is chosen to exhibit justice and righteousness - attributes of God’s character. This is one of those cases where two words are found together and used to express one concept (e.g., law and order, health and safety, room and board, etc.). Abraham will live out the character of God in doing right and pursuing justice where ever God leads him. The second verse is Abraham speaking to God. He is asking a rhetorical question, which is more like making a statement. God, you yourself will justice according to your character, won’t you? In this case two things happen. First justice does come against the wicked city because the outcry from surrounding cities about it is great. Secondly, God shows mercy to Lot and his family in spite of their reluctance to leave the city of Sodom. It’s a very complex story if you read it closely, but it’s one of the earliest places in the Bible that brings up significant philosophical questions regarding justice and the character of God. 

2. PSALM 33:5

He loves righteousness and justice;

the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

This is one of the many places where we find this pair of words again. Often Christians try to keep themselves from using jargon. Jargon that is specifically Christian makes the content of Christian faith cloudy to those outside of it. Yet, this can cause them to overlooking some words and concepts that need to be studied, applied, or even reclaimed in the church. Righteousness and justice are the foundation for God’s people to act in the world. These words need to be reclaimed. You cannot have grace and mercy that triumph over judgement if there is no standard of righteousness and justice that need to be upheld in the first place. Someone has said that the universe has an incredible “oughtness” to it, meaning that we all have a sense that some things are right and some are wrong. There is broad overlap among different religions, philosophies, and ideologies about rightness and wrongness. Rather than downplay the existence of such morality in the world, Christians ought to further define righteousness and justice by looking to examples in the Bible.

3. MICAH 6:8

He has told you, O man, what is good;

and what does the Lord require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

One place to go to define the “oughtness” described by the terms righteousness and justice is the prophet Micah. This passage is clear on what to do, what to love, and how to walk through life. But what motivates this doing of justice? In the Micah 6:7 there is a question asked: Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? Before one can apply Micah 6:8, they must answer the question of Micah 6:7. The answer to the question is that there is a firstborn who was given for the sin of your soul - the Lord Jesus Christ. His death on the cross gives us both the motivation and the power to live a life of justice and mercy. Without Jesus, Micah 6:8 and all our attempts to live it out becomes merely a method of moralistic striving.

4. MATTHEW 25:31-46

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

These verses are the most clear call to Christians to be involved in the work of mercy and justice especially to those less fortunate. Jesus tells us that when we care for those who are in need that we are indeed caring for him. What form does this kind of care take? Feed the hungry. Give water to the thirsty. Welcome the stranger. These are plain commands and yet they are not easy to do. As humans living in an imperfect world, we most naturally look to protect ourselves from those in need. We are possibly afraid of becoming like those in need. We are afraid to sacrifice on behalf of another. Yet these verses leave us with an incredible promise. There is no shortage of people who would buy a ticket to hear Jesus Christ speak if he were coming to your town. You can care for those in need without buying a ticket and have the same result.

5. JAMES 1:27

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

Many churches are concerned with the purity of their doctrine, the purity of their ceremony, or the purity of their people. James, the apostle and brother of Jesus, paints the picture of purity as being care for those on the margins of society who are in affliction. He doesn’t say that you should become afflicted. He assigns no special status to those who are afflicted. However, he does care deeply for them and commands Christians to do the same. I often think of this verse when Evangelical Christians use the saying, “Christianity isn’t a religion. It’s a relationship.” I understand what they mean in its proper context. Yet here we have James saying that there is a religion in which Christians should be engaged. When you take into account the previous verses from Matthew that promise that we are in relationship to Jesus when we care for those who the least in our society, then there should be a very real sense in which all Christians work out their relationship to Jesus through the religion of mercy and justice.

What would your relationship to Jesus look like if you grew in your value of doing mercy and justice?