Some words make us squeamish. Justice often gets a bad rap by some in the church, as if it were some code word for “liberal.” Righteousness seems more like the “right” word, but gets thrown around like an old familiar blanket, as if we already know all that stuff. So, what’s the big deal about justice and righteousness? Other than being very biblical terms which get used a lot in Scripture, being just and right is what the Messiah is all about (Jeremiah 33:14-16).
Justice and righteousness are most often paired together in the Old Testament. They are really two sides of the same coin. We often think of justice in punitive terms of giving lawbreakers what they deserve. But biblical justice has much more to do with giving someone what they need and deserve in order to live and thrive as human beings. To act justly means to provide things like clean drinking water, a safe environment, fair and equitable business practices, food to eat, a place to sleep, etc. Righteousness is the relational element to justice. To be righteous means to have right relationships, to connect with people, to move toward them and provide them with all the relational things that people need like respect, dignity, friendship, hospitality, fellowship, etc.
Justice and righteousness are always to go together. Justice without righteousness is at best, impersonal, and, at worst, condescending. Righteousness without justice is only a dead faith that wishes well but never delivers. But together, justice and righteousness brings love, peace, harmony, well-being, and human flourishing because all the basic necessities of life, physical and relational, are met in abundance. This is what is meant in the Old Testament when Israel is referred to as “a land of milk and honey.”
The time of abundance is here for us in the person of Jesus Christ. Yet, it is not here in its fullness. We anticipate, wait, and hope for the Second Coming of our Savior and King. While we exercise patience, we long for better days. A true Advent spirit is a deep longing for justice and righteousness because King Jesus is just and right!
What do you long for today? I long for things which are broken to be made right. I long for biblical justice. I long for the day when my grandson will have no more seizures. I long for the day when individuals and families will not have to fight cancer anymore. I long for the day when there will be no more depression, mental illness, or dementia. I long for the day when people will be completely free of addictions. I long for the day when there will be no more sex trafficking, death from malnutrition, grinding poverty, corrupt governments, whole families and communities torn by the ravages of HIV and AIDS, refugees with no place to call home, and devastating natural disasters.
I long for righteousness. I long for the day when women and girls all across the world will not be abused and become the victims of disordered power. I long for the day when Israelis and Palestinians, Iranians and Iraqis, Japanese and Koreans, Russians and everybody else will no more hate each other. I long for all believers everywhere to experience the exhilaration of new life in Christ. I long for my community to repent and believe the gospel. I long for men and women of God to embrace Jesus and forsake all other gods.
I long for the kingdom of God to come in all its fullness, in all its freedom, joy, prosperity, peace, and happiness. God’s kingdom will not be ushered in through continued worship of things and the constant practice of accumulating more and more. God’s kingdom will not come through worshiping a particular nation or country. God’s kingdom will not be ushered in because of self-effort, savvy marketing, and full schedules. God’s kingdom is not the same as our personal agendas for life.
The kingdom of God will come when God decides it is going to come because Jesus is Lord and no one or nothing else is king! I want to be doing justice and righteousness when he arrives. The church of Jesus is a gathering of people who are to be just and right in their thinking and practice. Holding those two important words together is vital to every congregation.