Justice Toward Our Neighbors

When William Ames (d. 1633) explained the second part of the 10 commandments, he constantly talked about “justice.”  That is, the law of God tells Christians to “perform our duty to our neighbor” (p. 300).  Justice is a Christian virtue which directs us to help our neighbor rather than hurt him.  The term “justice” in this context means being fair, true, and good to someone – to act rightly according to God’s law.

I’ve been thinking about this topic recently as I’ve read through some church planting material and discussions about discipleship.  The question is, “How should Christians interact with those around them?”  Ames gives some great comments on the second part of the law and how we relate to our neighbors.  Here are a few of them.

“The truth of religion cannot stand with the neglect of justice and love toward our neighbor” (James 1:27) (p. 301-302).

“The two acts of love toward our neighbor are praying for his good and working for his good” (p. 304).

“Acts of justice have in themselves the sense of obligation and the feeling of equity towards others” (p. 306).

“The solitary life which some hermits have chosen as angelic and others embrace for different reasons is so far from perfection that it is wholly contrary to the law and will of God, unless dictated by some extraordinary reason (which can avail only for a time)” (p. 308).

“Human society provides the foundation to all the offices of justice and love commanded in the second table of the law” (p. 308).

“Justice which concerns the outward benefit of our neighbor is called, with a certain appropriateness, commutative justice, because it relates chiefly to commutations or exchanges of goods” (p. 321).

“It is not enough that one should simply work: he must work for what is good (Eph. 4:28).  Quietly and diligently let him follow an occupation which agrees with the will of God and the profit of men (1 Thes. 4:11; 2 Thes. 3:12)” (p. 322).

This is helpful because it tells me that part of serving Christ is serving others and making their life better in some way.  I’m obligated to love other people, seek their good, and “do justice” (Micah 6:8).   Of course I’m not God; I can’t usher in his kingdom, I can’t change the course of history, and I know that a new creation awaits God’s people.  At the same time, I can volunteer at my town library, help at the nursing home, coach a town soccer team, and generally be a blessing to people in my town out of love for them.

I don’t have the space to tie this in with church planting, disciple making, and outreach, but if you’re interested, read this part of William Ames’ Marrow (p.300-332).  He gives us some good answers to the important question: “How should we interact with those around us?”

The above quotes were taken from William Ames, The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1997).

shane lems