Episode 25: Is Social Justice Biblical? Should Christians Feed the Hungry and Take Care of the Least of These? ( + Why You Should NOT Tell People Your Wife is Your Sister!)
Hello everybody! We now have a FACEBOOK PAGE! Please ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ it, so that I can make millions of dollars podcasting, and become a dark Jedi quadrillionaire, or something like that. Today’s reading is in Genesis 26 (Isaac and Rebekah), Esther 2 (Esther becomes the Persian Queen), Acts 25 (Paul, still on trial, appeals to Caesar), and Matthew 25 – Jesus’ call to the least of these.
I believe one of the most important parts of being a father is to help your kids avoid your biggest mistakes. For instance, when I was 8, I picked up an electric cable lying across the road (in the rain) and it nearly electrocuted me. Shout out to my friend Beau Armistead, who actually saved my life that day – by kicking me until I let go of the wire. My kids know that story backwards and forwards. Why? A. Because I repeat my stories too much and B. Because I DON’T want them to grab a live electric cable! The hospital said I should have died. I don’t want to judge Abraham too much on this podcast, but I can’t help it today. I feel like he should have sat Isaac down a few dozen times and told him: NEVER TELL PEOPLE YOUR WIFE IS YOUR SISTER!!
I guess things were different back in Abraham’s day. My family moved from Alabama to California in 2018 to pastor Valley Baptist Church in Salinas. I feel like God has blessed me with a beautiful wife, and I love her very much. That said, I never once thought that I’d better tell the men of Salinas that she was my sister in order to avoid their killing of me. Maybe I’m just naive and somebody will come along pretty soon and kill me and take my wife, or maybe there is a better way to handle things when you think your wife is super-hot. Maybe learn martial arts or something, I don’t know.
Since the last two podcasts ran long, and since our goal is to keep each podcast in the 30 minute range (give or take a few minutes), today’s episode is not going to represent a deep dive into what is a critically important question. Instead, we are going to (mostly) let the Word of God do the talking, and instead just dip our feet in the water of this discussion, knowing that throughout the year, we will keep returning to this important question. Is Social justice biblical? That is our big question today, and the answer is…yes and no. I suspect roughly zero of you are satisfied with such an answer, but before we unpack it too much, let’s go ahead and read Matthew 25
So, I hope the impact of Jesus’ words there has shaken you. It should. Here He is saying, quite clearly and unmistakably, that those who DO NOT TAKE CARE OF THE LEAST OF THESE WILL BE BANISHED TO HELL. And those who DO take care of the least of these will inherit the eternal Kingdom of God. “What about the gospel?” I hear you saying?! “We aren’t saved by works,” I hear you shouting! And you are absolutely right. Those who hear the gospel and follow Jesus in wholehearted faith will be saved, and that salvation will be by grace, and not by works. Remember Ephesians 2:8-9:
For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9
So – how can Matthew 25 AND Ephesians 2:8-9 BOTH be true? And the answer is that if you are truly saved by grace through wholehearted faith in Jesus, you WILL minister to Him by taking care of the least of these, because God will give you a new heart. This ministry is INDISPENSABLE to a Christian. Taking the Words of Jesus here seriously and literally (as we should), all Christians must be engaged in the ministry of seeing to the needs of the least. No exceptions. So, that probably means that I believe that social justice is biblical, right? And the answer is, of course, that it depends on what you mean by ‘social justice.’ If you mean by that phrase that Christians and the church should take care of the needs of the least of these, then you and I are in wholehearted agreement. We take care of them by feeding them, clothing them, showing hospitality to them and serving them with the same love and respect that we would show to Jesus the King of Kings Himself, because, according to Him, when we are ministering to the least of these, we are ministering to Him.
It should be noted, however, that the term ‘social justice,’ is quite loaded, and means different things to different people. It is NOT a term found in the Bible. It is a fairly new term in the English language, and has become quite the buzz word in the past few decades. I can find one use of the term dating back to the 1700s, and a smattering of usage in the 1800s, but the concept of social justice didn’t really begin to take shape until the 1900s. If by ‘social justice,’ it is meant that the church and Christians should accept and celebrate behavior that is clearly unbiblical, then the answer is then that social justice is NOT biblical.
The Bible is absolutely opposed to any form of racism, and especially racism against races in a particular society that might be considered among the ‘least of these.’ Absolutely, all lives matter, but in a majority white society, I am comfortable with the message that black lives matter, especially considering that this country (and many churches) proclaimed the opposite of that for centuries. All lives matter in Canada, but French-Canadians and first nations people matter in particular – not because they are better or superior to other Canadians, but because they are closer to being the least of these that Jesus has called his people to minister to and reach out to. All lives matter in my city and your city, but we are called by Jesus to a particular ministry and focus on the lives who are hungry, in prison, strangers/foreigners and those without basic possessions like clothing. (And let me be clear – ‘least’ is not a statement of value, or worth, or dignity, or beauty, or anything like that, but a statement of privilege. Privilege is not merely about skin color, but is also about wealth, and ability vs. disability, and many other complex things.)
I was reading through a Twitter thread earlier in which many people who have various physical disabilities were broken-hearted because they weren’t being understood well in their longing to have equal access to Uber rides and that sort of thing. We in the church should be at the forefront in terms of compassion for these kind of issues and more – serving those who are differently-abled sacrificially and joyfully. We would do well to remember passages like this one:
Kindness to the poor is a loan to the Lord, and he will give a reward to the lender.Proverbs 19:17
While also remembering that God does not call us to favor the poor over the rich or the rich over the poor:
“Do not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly.Leviticus 19:15
So – is social justice biblical? When it lines up with the commands of the Word of God – it is! When it deviates from the commands of the Word of God, it is not. Social justice is not the gospel, and feeding the hungry – though commanded by God in Scripture – will not save anybody’s eternal soul. We must be people of the Word of God, that takes the Good News of Jesus to the World. As we go, we must be people who take care of the least of these, because this we are commanded to do, and those who are in real need are close in a special way, to Jesus.
I need to tell you that two of the most important Bible-related events in my life were concerned with the theme of taking care of the least of these, identified by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46 as those who are hungry, those who are thirsty, those who are without clothing, those who are sick, those who are in prison, and those who are foreigners and strangers. My first sermon ever delivered in ‘big church,’ came in 1995 – 25 years ago – and was out of this passage. I still remember ‘finding it’ as a young minister, certain that I’d heard it before, but having never felt the full brunt of Jesus’ call to the least of these, and I was so bursting with conviction over this passage, that I just had to teach on it! The second instance was a New Years Eve in the early 2000s. My wife and I, unusually, found ourselves home early, and she got in bed to go to sleep, and crashed at about 11:45. I was in bed with her, but reading the Bible. As the clock struck the New Year, I was reading Isaiah 58, and the words were washing over me like a torrent of truth:
Isn’t this the fast I choose:Isaiah 58:6-11
To break the chains of wickedness,
to untie the ropes of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free,
and to tear off every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
to bring the poor and homeless into your house,
to clothe the naked when you see him,
and not to ignore your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will appear like the dawn,
and your recovery will come quickly.
Your righteousness will go before you,
and the Lord’s glory will be your rear guard. 9 At that time, when you call, the Lord will answer;
when you cry out, he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you get rid of the yoke among you,
the finger-pointing and malicious speaking,
10 and if you offer yourself to the hungry,
and satisfy the afflicted one,
then your light will shine in the darkness,
and your night will be like noonday.
11 The Lord will always lead you,
satisfy you in a parched land,
and strengthen your bones.
You will be like a watered garden
and like a spring whose water never runs dry.
When you combine both of those passages, and dozens and dozens of others, you see God’s heart for the poor and the least of these emerge from the Scripture. This is only the beginning of our discussion on God’s call to the least of these – to the oppressed, poor, homeless, and afflicted. We will go deeper, Lord willing.