How to Sustain Jesus’ Justice Movement, Part 2

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How is a justice movement sustained? In my first post on this subject, I wrote that first and foremost, a justice movement is sustained by knowing that Jesus alone can and will sustain it. Apart from him, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Another key factor that we must realize is that when we serve others we are serving him. What difference might it make to you and me in caring for a sick person, an elderly widow, someone imprisoned, or an orphan in distress if we were to sense that in caring for them we are serving Jesus?

In the account of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25, Jesus is recorded as saying, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-36, 40) While it may very well be the case that the Lord is talking first and foremost about caring for his followers in need, I believe his words bear upon ministering to all people. When we serve them, we serve him.

So, how shall we serve? Will we use those we serve to benefit us or our ministries? All too often, we find our worth through serving people rather than serving them in view of the worth we have in being loved by God. By the way, it is worth noting in this regard that the sheep here in Matthew 25 don’t even realize that they are sheep. Whereas the goats seem to be surprised to find out that they haven’t been caring for Jesus, the sheep are not cognizant of having done so. I take this to mean that they are not self-conscious, but conscious of the other (See Matthew 25:37-39, 44). Jesus tells us this story because he definitely wants us to keep in mind that when we care for others in need we care for him and because of him we are to care for others in need.

The more we grow in the love of God the more we serve not so as to benefit ourselves, but to benefit the one who loves us. Our joy flows from loving the one who loves us and who loves those we serve. If I care for others because I want to assure myself that I am a sheep and not a goat, I am not really caring for them, but for myself through them. But as I know the love of God revealed in Jesus and that in serving them I am serving him who identifies himself with them I believe I will come to love them truly and freely with no strings attached.

A justice movement that uses people to build one’s ego or one’s ministry profile is no justice movement at all. Justice flows from the loving and compassionate heart of God and leads to the love of the other with whom Jesus identifies himself in prison, in hunger, in loneliness and abandonment, in sickness and in various other forms of need.


About Paul Louis Metzger

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor at Multnomah Biblical Seminary/Multnomah University. He is the author of numerous works, including "Connecting Christ: How to Discuss Jesus in a World of Diverse Paths" and "Consuming Jesus: Beyond Race and Class Divisions in a Consumer Church." These volumes and his others can be found wherever fine books are sold.

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  • Lucas Dawn

    Jesus’ “justice” did include caring for the needy, by giving them things they need, like food, drink, or clothing. In Acts, this led to using most of their church funds to feed widows (as in Acts 6), as well as others in need of such care (including the apostles). In contrast, today most church funds are locked up in budgets focused on buildings and salaries; only a small percentage goes to the poor. So if Jesus’ justice is to advance significantly simply in our churches, one way is to go back to meeting in homes and being led by various ones able to teach or organize “justice” (thus freeing up most of our church fund for such caring). Do we care about the needy that much?

  • Clark Blakeman

    Good reflection.
    Two questions come immediately to mind.
    1. What specific ways do Christians “use others to build one’s ego or one’s ministry profile”. I suspect that much of what passes as benign Facebook status updates, missionary newsletters, and blogs are more motivated by showing the watching world what a great Christian the author/blogger is, than they are to inspire others to support the ministry or be encouraged on to good works. In fact it often seems that even without internet, many of the activities of Christians serving the poor (or other ways of serving) are design to be “honored by men.” It’s sad to realize that people who perform their ministry out of that motive “have received their reward in full.” (Matt 6:5).
    Question 2 how can Christians come to a place where the love of Jesus so saturates our conscience that our identity, security, and significance is stable enough to abandon our quest for worth through serving others and instead causes us to become “not self-conscious, but conscious of the other”?

    • Lucas Dawn

      I agree that too many Christian leaders use “serving others” (and “serving God”) as a means of self-promotion. This does raise questions about how much our “marketing” our “service” (in churches or in mass media) is as much about “look at us” as it is about “support us as we serve others.” It seems Christian leaders also love to publicly recognize those who support them (“their ministry”), evidently so they will continue to do so.
      Thus, in Mt. 6:1-4 Jesus says not to “give alms” to the poor in a public fashion, but more privately, more secretly. As individuals, we should not “brag” to others about what we have given to the needy. James 1:27 talks about pure religion as visiting orphans and widows in their affliction (helping them out directly) and remaining unstained in the world (by “bridling” our tongues that want to brag about how religious, or good, we are, as in 1:26).
      Often our pride involves thinking our wealth is a blessing from God, and we’re sharing a little of this blessing when we given to the poor. Jesus, instead, was poor, and called would-be followers to not store up treasures on earth but give to the poor and have treasure in heaven. Thus it is poor disciples who are truly blessed, for they are in Jesus’ kingdom, while the rich prefer their own rewards in this life (Lk. 6:20,24). So rather than congratulate ourselves, or others who give, we should see that Jesus does not consider us generous unless we are giving enough to approach poverty ourselves.

    • Paul Louis Metzger

      @ Clark,

      Great questions. You help to answer the first question by mentioning some ways in which people promote themselves rather than God’s mission in Christ. Further to that, I believe it is important that we truly draw attention to others’ work and make sure we are transparent about our own work, not to draw attention to ourselves, but to be open about our weaknesses and failures and growth pains so that we point people to Christ and make sure that people realize that our weaknesses and growth pains are bound up with his grace and power being the basis for our lives, and that they drive and sustain us.

      The second question is perhaps even more difficult to answer. The excellent points you and others here make help us move forward in this regard. By being open and transparent and accountable to people who share Christ’s missional kingdom values and who lovingly challenge and exhort and encourage us in view of Jesus and Scripture to keep pressing into Christ and not ourselves will help us move down this path where we become increasingly immune to the glory of man and more desirous of the glory of God. We must pray that God continues to change our own hearts so that we can delight truly in pleasing God, not others. Otherwise, we have no real reward and we benefit only ourselves (and only for the short term) and no one else.

  • Matthew Farlow

    reminds me of what Luther wrote concerning our neighbor and how the Christian is to identify himself with his neighbor as Christ has identified Himself with man. As Luther explains:
    I will therefore give myself as Christ to my neighbor, just as Christ offered himself to me; I will do nothing in this life except what I see is necessary, profitable, and salutary to my neighbor…we ought freely to help our neighbor and each one should become as it were a Christ to the other that we may be Christ to one another and Christ may be the same in all. Thus we see that the Christian man lives not to himself but to Christ and his neighbor through love. By faith he rises above himself to God and from God goes below himself in love and remains always in God and in love

  • Gary Lynch

    Ultimately I believe that what has happened with the sheep in this passage is this; is that in the serving of others, that each other was being served, meaning that all were being served by each other(does that make sense?). The reason for the lack of consciousness is that their was nothing else to be conscious of., it was all they knew. Giving and receiving, living out the divine principle of reciprocity. Many instead of “when we serve others we serve him” se should say that it is in serving of each other that he is served.
    Instead of a separation of us and them, we simply have each other and Jesus. Not separation, but integration or a people living as one., so that the world might know and believe in him. That to me is what the justice of Jesus looks like…

  • Gary Lynch

    The “many” in the above post should read maybe., the “se” should be we. I guess I should have ran this my editor. Sorry.