Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant.
Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.’
For six years you are to sow your fields and harvest the crops, but during the seventh year let the land lie unploughed and unused. Then the poor among your people may get food from it, and the wild animals may eat what is left. Do the same with your vineyard and your olive grove.
Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner living among you may be refreshed.
You don’t publicly confront Billy Graham lightly. Yet that’s exactly what John Stott did in the mid-1970s. What was important enough to risk a rift between two global figures in the evangelical church?
The church’s call to social justice.
Our modern world is full of cries for justice. Everyone wants to see ‘justice done’, even if we all have a slightly different idea of what that would look like. But what does godly justice involve, and how might we live it out in our everyday situations?
Biblically, justice is firstly a characteristic of God himself, and closely tied to the idea of righteousness. Much like God, it’s intrinsically relational. Though we often reduce justice down to individualistic terms – getting what I deserve – it instead looks like broken relationships being restored.
Let’s start with the Exodus. God hears the cries of his people as they’re enslaved, and he delivers them. Into this context, he gives them the law: they know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of injustice, and they’re to live in a different way – a holy people following a holy God. And this new way of living revolves around right relationships: loving God (Deuteronomy 6:5), loving their neighbour as themselves (Leviticus 19:18), and also loving the rest of creation.
For instance, even the animals are given a day off to rest. Even the land is given a sabbath year off to lie unploughed. God’s people aren’t to dominate creation, but to care for it. Their righteousness is lived out through their relationships: with God, other people, themselves, and with the natural world.
In the light of this biblical picture of righteousness, how might we live more justly? What sort of practices might lead to right relationships? There are plenty of options, but I suggest we focus on simplicity.
If everyone in the world lived like we do in the UK, we’d need 2.7 earths to sustain us. Instead, simple living restrains our desire to consume, and applies the same idea as the sabbath year. Rather than ruthlessly exploiting our world, we choose to be content with less, allowing creation, and our poorest neighbours – worst hit by ecological disasters – to flourish.
How might we live more simply on our frontlines? How might this affect our travel, our diet, or our habits? As everyday changes multiply into a wider effect, may all our relationships look more just as a result.
Editor, Word for the Week
What changes could you make to live righteously? Join the conversation in the comments below.