Justice and Judgment
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? (Micah 6:8)
Justice and judgment are closely related. In fact, in the New Testament, the word for judgment is often the same word for justice. The idea is also closely associated with righteousness. In the Old Testament, “justice and righteousness” are often seen together. True justice will always be integrally connected to righteousness (a term that calls on us to think of God’s character). If we divorce justice from righteousness, our judgment will be flawed and sinful (e.g., Matt 7:1-6).
I’m not here to do a word study or try to catalog all the uses, which are many. I just want to make a point: Doing justice requires discernment on our part. Judging between right and wrong and knowing how we ought to treat others is central to doing justice and righteousness. It’s also central to loving kindness and walking humbly with God, just as Micah put it. In their walk with God, believers are called upon to be holy (1 Pet 1:13-16), humble (1 Pet 5:5-6), and discerning (Heb 5:12-14).
This need for godly discernment is well illustrated in James 2, where believers are told to “show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (v. 1). As an example, James shows that how one is treated when coming into an assembly can be dishonorable: when you say, “you stand over there” or “sit at my feet” to a poor man, you have dishonored this man. Yet, “has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” The poor have every right to be respected; they have every right to the blessings of the gospel. No one has a right to deny them either their dignity or the blessings that come from serving God. In this case, the believer knows to discern between the way the world judges and the way God judges. Recall what the Lord told Samuel as he looked upon David’s brothers thinking one of them might be the anointed king: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
By mistreating others, we blaspheme the honorable name by which we are called (v. 7). Treating others properly, recognizing that they are made in God’s image, means that we are fulfilling “the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself…’” (v. 8). On the other hand, misjudging others is doing injustice. Showing partiality is clearly called out as sinful behavior (v. 9). James rounds out this thought with these words: “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (vv. 12-13). Then he shows that how we treat others is a true mark of faith, a faith that include giving others “the things needed for the body” (vv. 14-17). Give people the gospel message, yes, but don’t neglect their other needs. Otherwise, our faith is dead. John also wrote, in the context of loving others, “But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). This isn’t about politics; it’s about justice, righteousness, kindness, humility, and faith. It’s what God Himself stands for.
There is no excuse for demeaning treatment of others, whether it be based on economic differences, racial differences, language differences, or whatever other outward circumstances we may think make people different. Dishonorable, demeaning treatment is arrogant, shameful, and evil. God’s people are called to a higher purpose. We are called to honor the name of God, and this includes respecting people because they are all made in God’s image. If we dishonor people, no matter who they are, then we blaspheme God’s name.
God still expects His people to do justice. Judge properly. Discern with righteousness. This is part of the gospel message. We cannot urge people to draw near to God when we are blaspheming God’s name by unjust treatment of fellow human beings. Christians, of all people, ought to know and appreciate grace, mercy, and kindness. All of this may be summed up in these verses:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…” (Matt 7:12).
“‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (Rom 13:9-10).