It seems as if lately there has been a huge call from the church in the area of Social Justice. Many people get confused as to where Jesus would stand on this issue and how he would/did approach it. Social Justice has a wide array of definitions. Some simply understand it as another term for helping the poor, to others it is a code word for rescuing people from modern slavery, while others use it as a misleading way of promoting the idea of government socialism. This creates a dilemma for the presenter and the audience alike, one definition may be understood by the speaker and another by the listener. Jesus did not promote any particular governmental style/system. Many verses in scripture indicate that a nation governed by Christians would be free, open, and tolerant, but he did not reveal which economic system he best fancied. He came to establish his own kingdom/nation/community. So what should “social justice” look like as practiced by a community of believers?
There are many leaders professing Christianity in the public eye with polarized political persuasions who manipulate theology to match their political ideology. They misuse scripture as if it exists to fit their mentality, not to guide into God’s truth. Truthfully, the liberal theology that is regurgitating itself again in Christian circles is just as inaccurate and manipulative as the standard conservative theology that has become accepted.
Jesus’ teachings always addressed a problem on multiple levels and this one is no exception. He did tell the “rich young ruler” to sell everything he owned and give it to the poor (Mark 10), but we are also directed to serve/work with enthusiasm, energy, and perfection as if we are working directly for God (Ephesians 6:7, Colossians 3:23), and another place in scripture states there should be no poor among believers when they have been so richly blessed (Deuteronomy 15:4)… then Jesus says there will always be poor people around (John 8:12).
Let me be clear on one issue, the modern “Social Justice” (which Al Sharpton will tell us means “Everyone has the same stuff”) is nowhere found in scripture. There is no place where Jesus admonished his followers to make sure everyone had the same “stuff.” Acts 2 does state that within the community of believers everyone shared their possessions… but nowhere does it say that they held everything in common with people outside their communities. Also, Jesus always taught a voluntary lifestyle of sacrifice in service and love toward others… not a convenient, government-mandated redistribution program in order to ease our conscience.
Now that we’ve cleared this up… let’s take a look at how Jesus taught to approach the poor.
First, a basic concept must be understood: When scripture refers to taking care of the poor, it generally adds “among you” or “within your gates.” It’s similar to saying, “No one in your community of believers should be struggling to eat, while another is buying a mansion.”
Because the story of the “Rich Young Ruler” is so often misquoted and taken to a nearly unrecognizable state, let’s read the ENTIRE story of what was said… instead of only the politically expedient portion.
” As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.”
Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Today’s church in America is suffering and wasting away to a nearly unrecognizable state, due to a lack of healthy discipleship. So, when a leader endorses or condemns an issue such as “Social Justice,” it rings hollow. When Jesus teachings are followed, applied, and appropriately taught there can be no Social Justice without discipleship. Jesus held the standards of lifestyle as high as selling possessions and giving to the poor. Life is a little more complex than “Selling everything you own and giving it to the poor.” When Jesus directed the rich guy to do this, the poor they were surrounded by were starving… they were the forgotten and least in communities that annoyed folks with their begging. Today’s “Social Justice” poor are seen as having televisions, cars, iPads, video game consoles, and cell phones. This is why discipleship should play a crucial role to developing a healthy community of followers of Jesus. Following Jesus means we follow his example: Discipleship. He discipled, then his disciples also made disciples of others. Christianity was not a “one-time decision, then go off on your own with a once-a-week teaching” movement. It was referred to as “The Way” by contemporaries of Jesus’ disciples, even outsiders referred to it as such. It was an alternate way of life.
Yes… Jesus directed his followers to care for the poor among them, but he also taught those poor to work with excellence. This is an example of discipleship. You meet a need, then help direct the person in a way that he/she does not end up in the same situation again.
In other words… he commanded us to develop a relationship, not just toss money at the problem and call it a day.