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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Amos | Where Did We Go So Wrong?

For I know how many are your offenses
and how great your sins.

There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes
and deprive the poor of justice in the courts.
Therefore the prudent keep quiet in such times,
for the times are evil.

Seek good, not evil,
that you may live.
Then the LORD God Almighty will be with you,
just as you say he is.
Hate evil, love good;
maintain justice in the courts.
Perhaps the LORD God Almighty will have mercy
on the remnant of Joseph.


I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

Amos 5:12–15, 21–24

What do you think of when you think of ‘worship’?

If you’re trying to win LICC points (who isn’t?!), then I’ve no doubt your answer is ‘Our whole lives are worship!’. And you are not wrong. Our everyday, ordinary lives are placed before God as an offering because everything was made in and through and for Christ.

In this passage, however, Amos zooms in on a very particular instance of worship – or non-worship, depending on how you look at it.

The Israelites have seriously screwed up. Through perversion of justice, oppression of the poor, uncleanness, and idolatry. And God is righteously angry about it: his people were supposed to live differently! They have the law to show them how, and yet still they ‘oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts’.

Not only that, but whilst doing so, they host religious festivals and claim to be worshipping God! Think of it like this: the Israelites have been going to the toilet and then moving straight to making dinner without washing their hands. And God is disgusted.

God does not care for religious rituals – whether loud music, enthusiastic dancing, quiet contemplation, incense, or simple liturgy – if his people are disregarding those who are poor and vulnerable. If his people are cheating those his law has been designed to protect, he turns his face away and leaves them to their own destruction.

You cannot worship God and not also seek justice and righteousness. They are two sides of the same coin.

How might we live this out today, in our everyday, ordinary lives? There are myriad ways – personally, financially, and prayerfully. Consider reading Tim Keller’s Generous Justice or Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy. The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book this year is called Embracing Justice, and would be a great place to start.

Or maybe you are able to financially or prayerfully support organisations like Tearfund or International Justice Mission who are doing significant justice work globally. And perhaps think about your own actions. As you head into your everyday, ordinary life today, where can you be a mouthpiece for truth and justice? How can you promote fairness? What can you say, do, or buy differently?

Amos is clear: seeking justice is a whole-life endeavour, because justice and worship are inextricably linked. May our lives, too, be ones of both worship and justice.

Alianore Smith
Alianore is an Associate Speaker for LICC and Church Partnerships Manager at International Justice Mission

How will you seek justice and righteousness in your day-to-day life this week? Join the conversation in the comments below.


Amos | Pride Comes before... (5/6)


  1. I look forward to these thought provoking emails but this one has left me feeling decidedly uncomfortable, and for the wrong reasons. First, the language is not helpful, and no, sorry, I’m not interested in earning LICC points. My main concern though is with the statement ‘You cannot worship God and not also seek justice and righteousness’. Whereas I agree that true worship is whole life, and we are called to embody and promote justice and righteousness, our best endeavours are as filthy rags. Our worship is offering ourselves to enjoy and praise our loving Lord, knowing our unworthiness. It is in worship that we draw close to God and can change into the people we are meant to be. It is not about filling certain conditions before we can worship, but coming in need. So to me, the tenor of this piece is all wrong.

    By Colin Cox  -  24 Jan 2022
    • Hi Colin,

      Thanks so much for your comment, and I’m sorry to hear that the piece made you uncomfortable. I actually completely agree with most of what you’ve said – about how our worship is about offering ourselves to enjoy and praise God knowing our unworthiness.

      However, I do think that this passage, at least, is pretty clear that God seeking justice is a part of our worship – it is not something that we do to earn God’s favour (no thank you to a works-based gospel!), but instead something that we do as people who have come into relationship with a just and holy God, and who are seeking to become more like him. Justice & righteousness are also clearly written into God’s law, and are a part of his character.

      I think perhaps it’s a ‘both/and’ thing around worship & offering ourselves vs. justice & righteousness, rather than an ‘either/or’. I would have loved to be able to say more, and perhaps put a bit more nuance into this piece – after all, whole books have been written on the subject! – but 400 words is all that was available! Thank you for your questioning and pushing me on this, though.

      I hope that makes sense, and do please feel free to come back at me – I’d love to discuss further!


      By Alianore Smith  -  24 Jan 2022
    • Hi, I had to feel the tension of this issue and disagree that the tone of Alinore’s article was not right. Yesterday I led our Sunday morning service but within the congregation was a young man suffering from physical and financial abuse from flatmates who I have got to know quite well and he was scheduled to be in court the following day on another matter. These verses remind me of my responsiblity to assist him with justice and support him which is not easy as the right things to do are not always clear and takes one in to “grey areas” and can be costly in terms of time and indeed accusation that somehow this is “social gospel”. The issue is where do we as congregations and individual bump into injustice – sometimes I feel we, including me, can hide away not wanting to get involved feeling the job lies with other agencies. If our churches are active in our communities, and not necesarily just deprived communities, we will quickly come accross these tensions and see how worship and justice sit alongside each other – its not comfortable.

      By Jeremy Johnson  -  24 Jan 2022
  2. Hello Alianore/ Thank you for your challenging, “Where have we gone so wrong” piece. The statement, “justice and worship are inextricably linked”, we wholeheartedly endorse. We believe one of the classic texts on this subject is found in Isaiah 58. It certainly has acted as a reality check for us many times as per 2 Timothy 3:16-17.

    Eternal and prayerful Regards,
    Bill and Margaret Saunders

    By Bill Saunders  -  24 Jan 2022

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