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Justice, Benevolence and The Spirit Behind Them

  • Question: Do Christians have a responsibility toward justice? – Yes
  • Question: Is benevolence the same as justice? – No
  • Question: Is justice an imperative for a Christian? – Yes
  • Question: What is the spirit one should have when it comes to matters of justice? – With winsomeness

Private Morality

For many followers of Jesus, the matter of first importance is to be moral within our own private lives – to be a good person. We may be kind, prayerful, faithfully participate in a church and giving in our finances, but this is only one component of our faith.


Charity, or benevolence, is turning outside of ourselves to those in need. It includes acts of giving financially to the poor, serving in a soup kitchen, teaching English as a second language and a host of other activities that relieve the burdens of individuals in their daily lives. This is another component of our faith.


Justice is a third component. It is distinct from acts of kindness or personal morality. Justice has to do with the root of poverty, war, racism, sexism, abortion, inequality and damage to the environment. (Yes, Christians should care about the environment, but that is for another blog post).

To help us understand these distinctions let me retell a story about justice and charity:

Once upon a time there was a town that was built on a river. One day some children playing along the river noticed three bodies floating in the water from upstream. The town rushed in to save them. One body was dead, so they buried it. One was alive, so they put it in a hospital. The third was a young child, so they placed the child into a loving and caring family.

From that day forward a number of bodies came floating downstream on a regular basis. Each time, the good people of that town would tend to the bodies and save them, help them or bury them. They did this for many years.

The town eventually worked out a very elaborate system for taking care of the bodies that floated their way. They gave generously to all the needs, and worked hard at being helpful.

But during all the years of kindness, generosity and sacrifice, no one ever raised the question, “Why are there bodies floating down the river on a regular basis?”

The ‘Why’ is what justice is about. The ‘Why’ addresses what is called systemic justice. Charity is about giving bread to the hungry. Justice is about trying to change a system.

Most of what we get exposed to about social justice is in the political and economic realm. But justice, and how the Bible defines justice, is not first of all a question of politics or economics. Biblical justice is about being engaged in seeing the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

It is more than an ideology. It is as much about the spirit by which we act. It goes beyond liberal or conservative, activist or pacifist or being justified in our opposition through anger or scorn.


  • Justice that is shaped by the Gospel is an appeal to the heart that is so deep, so universal, and so moral that no person of good conscience can walk away from it.
  • It is a spirit that is not rooted in guilt or anger or righteous indignation.
  • Its struggle is not ultimately about winning or losing but about winsomeness and faithfulness.
  • What we are striving toward is to win the hearts of others with a different kind of spirit – a spirit of compassion, of forgiveness, of humility.
  • There is no demand in the Gospel that we must win at all costs. On the contrary, we win by laying down our lives for the very ones opposed to us.



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