When my wife Michelle was running Imagine Goods, she made about 30 trips to Cambodia, primarily to work with women who were survivors of trafficking, helping them have employment as seamstresses, thus lifting them out of the precarious economic and cultural situation that initially made them vulnerable to being trafficked. Every now and then when she would return home and tell the stories of the work in Cambodia, people would ask, “But when did you share the Gospel?”
Over the last few years I’ve heard Christians make bold comments about the intersection of the church and social action. Some have said that if your pastor preaches about social justice, leave the church immediately. Some have said that if your pastor doesn’t preach about social justice, leave the church immediately. Those who think that a pastor should not preach about social justice believe that the focus should be the Gospel. A pastor should preach the Gospel, they say. Those who think the pastor should preach about social justice believe that the way we live our lives is the best preaching, very similar to the classic phrase, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”
Is it one or the other? And what am I talking about when I use these words, “social justice” and “Gospel”?
Each and every Christian should be able to tell the story of the Gospel and how it matters to your life and to the lives of every human. Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, and read it.
There the Apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, which is a word that means “Good News!” In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there is good news for all that believe and become his disciples. The message is such good news because it not only gives us the hope of eternal life, but also, as Jesus himself promised in John 10:10, we can experience eternal life now. He called it abundant life. Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” And that is what leads us to think about the next word, “social justice.”
Social justice is what happens when the Kingdom of God comes on earth now. Social justice is when people experience abundant life now. It is the overturning of injustice so that God’s justice and righteousness reigns in places and lives where God did not previously reign. That is also good news. Christian preaching, then, is both the message of good news for salvation to eternal life, and also the message of good news for justice now. The way I have described this over the years is that we preach good news in word and deed. Biblical preaching includes both the Gospel and social justice. We see this very clearly in the ministry of Jesus who not only proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in his preaching, but also lived out the good news by changing lives in his miracles and in his discipleship.
But don’t take my word for it. Instead allow God’s word to guide us as we evaluate these important questions. In other words, what does the Bible say? As we continue our study through Ezekiel, we are studying a section that I think will help us answer that question.
Last week in the previous 44 verses of chapter 20, David preached about the unique history of Israel presented in that chapter.
This week we finish chapter 20, and we find that the Prophetic Stare is back. God has asked Ezekiel once again to set his face against something. You can imagine Ezekiel walking out of his house, and his neighbors turning to look at him, thinking, what would this strange man do now? Ezekiel turns to the south and stares. The neighbors roll their eyes and say, “Oh, there goes Ezekiel staring again.” I wonder how long Ezekiel held the stare? I wonder if people came up to him and said, “What is this time, Ezekiel? What are you staring at now?”
In the next post, we’ll find out.