Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
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 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.