Justice without Love is not Justice

Justice without Love is not Justice January 5, 2021

Two weeks ago, in my post “What is Justice?” I examined the meaning of “righteousness” and “justice” and noted the prevalence of these terms throughout the OT. From Genesis to Malachi (or Genesis to 2nd Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible), the people of God are called to pursue righteousness and justice.

Last week, in my last post “Jesus and the call to Justice: what does Justice look like in a NT world? I noted that Jesus not only continues the ethical call of the OT, but He intensifies it. Thus, in the kingdom of God, Jesus calls us to not only to not murder but to not even have hatred in our hearts (Matt 5:21-22).

It is critical to observe that Jesus and the NT continue the call to pursue righteousness and justice, but they do so under the guise of the law of love.

One of the problems here is that the meaning of love has often been tamed so that it means something along the lines of feeling good about others and being nice to them. This is one of the reasons why people have trouble with God being angry in the Bible (the subject of a future post). Anger is not considered a corollary of love, but something antithetical to love.

This is not biblical love. As I noted in my last post, biblical love looks like Jesus on the cross! Love is sacrificial. It is willing to regard others as more important than oneself (Phil 2:3).

This is why Jesus says that His disciples will be known by others because of their “love for one another” (John 13:35). Yet, at the same time, Jesus defines a disciple as one who denies himself, takes up his cross, and follows Jesus (Mark 8:34).

What kind of difference in the world would the church be making if those who profess Christ, by the power of Spirit, were striving to love like this?

How many of our churches (I realize that many have not attended for some time due to Covid restrictions) look like this? How many of us can say, come to my church and you will see people who are diligently striving to love the other as Jesus loves?

Now, before we get all frustrated with the state of the contemporary church, let’s ask: “how are you doing?”

Righteousness and justice in light of Jesus’ command to love

What I intend to do in the rest of this post is to cement the connection between Jesus’ call to love and the OT exhortation to do righteousness and justice.

In Luke 6, which is Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (corresponding to Matt 5-7), Jesus lays forth His law of love. Jesus continues to expound on the law of love by noting that we should love even our enemies (Luke 6:27, 35). He, then, adds, “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).

This expression, which is mostly foreign to our modern, western culture, seems out of place. What does a “good measure” have to do with love?

The notion of a “measure—pressed down, shaken together” refers to the practice of generosity in a marketplace. When purchasing a measure of grain, if it were shaken, the grain would settle in the container, thus, allowing more grain to be added. This would be of benefit to the buyer—ensuring them that they obtained a “good [i.e., fair or just] measure.”

The fact that Jesus provides this illustration demonstrates that the love He advocates has application to the marketplace. It is a love that does right within a society: i.e., it is “just.”

For Jesus, love is of the kind that cares for the other in a business dealing to such an extent that one is willing to disadvantage oneself for the sake of the other. It is not about making a profit. It is about doing the “right” thing.

Interestingly, Jesus’ words correspond to the Holiness Code in Lev 19 and the call to righteousness: “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin” (Lev 19:35).

Jesus, in other words, takes the OT principles of righteousness and justice and absorbs them into His radical call to love Jesus’ love, however, is not about some feel-good niceties. Jesus’ love weeps at injustice. Jesus’ love angrily denounces injustice. Jesus’ love sacrifices self for the sake of justice.

This corresponds with what Bruce Waltke noted with regard to the “righteous” in the book of Proverbs; namely, that the righteous are those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the sake of the community![1]

Jesus’ understanding of love filters through the rest of the NT. Paul, in his advice to the church in Corinth with regard to lawsuits among believers (cf 1 Cor 6:1-8), reminds them that the people of God must be willing to be disadvantaged for the sake of the Gospel and our witness to the world.

Imitate this!

It is the kind of love that sacrifices for the other—even our enemies—that the Bible calls us to imitate! “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21).

 

Though this series is on justice, one might begin to see why I have spent so much space addressing the foundation for biblical justice. I dare say, unfortunately so, that most discussions of justice do not derive from the starting point in which the other is more important than oneself.

For Jesus:

justice without love is not justice.

And love without justice is not love.

 

 

[1] Waltke, Bruce K. The Book of Proverbs, Chapters 1-15 (p. 97). Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.


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