Tag Archives: deuteronomy 16:18-20

Christians, justice and leadership in the Church [God’s heart for good government, part 5]

16 Nov

In this series of posts, we have been studying God’s heart for good government in Deuteronomy 16 and 17.  In those chapters, God created levels of governance for Israel: local, national, and over all, the king.

What have we seen in all these levels of government that God had for his people? Many things:  Justice is the foundation of governance.  All people are equal and to be treated fairly.  While there will be leaders, local and national, and they are to be people of high character and wisdom, it is God who is truly king, and we must follow his law.

So how might this passage matter to Christians?

First, these are principles that can apply to any nation, and Christians can work, and I would say should work, towards having national governments that are based in justice for all.  Where there is injustice in society, we Christians should work to correct it.

I’ve been so impressed with our sister church in Chicago, Kimball Avenue, (and even though they changed denominations recently, in Faith Church’s heart and mind, they are still our sister church!) and their Justice Watch group, and how they have for years worked on bringing God’s justice to their community.  It was in Chicago that I learned about babies in the water, which is a thought-provoking story to help us learn about justice.

We should be passionate, therefore, about justice inour community.  Are there any ways we seeinjustice around us? What can we do to address it?

Second, not only justice for the community, but also justice and godly leadership should be our goal in the church.  We can read in the New Testament numerous passages that talk about selecting leaders in the church, and here at Faith Church we have summarized them with the phrase: the spiritually mature should lead the church

But the leaders don’t do all the work.  Just as God wanted Israel to have lower courts and higher courts, we divide up into groups.  The top leader is not to handle it all.  In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul wrote that the church leaders were to “prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the church may be built up.” Leaders, then, have a job, to raise up others, train them up, help them grow in their faith in Christ, so that more and more people can serve.

We seek to do this at Faith Church.  We have our Leadership Team and ServeTeams.  The Leadership team is focused onleading the church spiritually, while the Serve Teams direct the various areasof ministry.

Leaders in the church must follow theprinciples of leading with justice and fairness.  Leaders in the church must make God theirking.  It is not our church, it is hischurch, he is the one true leader. Pastors, staff and leaders are not to be put on a pedestal, worshiped,because that is a place reserved for God alone!

So let us be a people that pursue God’s heart for justice and worship him alone.

Justice [God’s heart for good government, part 2]

13 Nov

Imagine you were creating a new nation, and you were responsible for writing a document that would become the guiding principles for this whole new society.  What would you include?  If you could narrow it down to just a few key ideas, what is necessary?  What is the basis of good governance?

As we saw yesterday in the first post of this series on Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20, God’s heart for Israel was to have good governance, starting with the people choosing wise local judges.  But how were these judges to handle their position? Look at chapter 16, verses 19-20, and we see that justice is to be primary.  The New International Version, and many other versions of the Bible translate the first phrase as, “do not pervert justice.”  I prefer the New American Standard, which translates the phrase, “do not distort justice.”  The Hebrew word here can be translated, “to stretch out” or “twist”. It is an image of changing something into what it was not meant to be. 

God wants governance where justice is clear and unchanged.  But what does that look like?  Thankfully he gives the people some examples.

First in verse 19, he says, “Do not show partiality.”  Who normally receives partiality?  Think about our day and age.  White people. Rich people.  The principle is clear.  No matter who you are, you should be treated the same. Justice is impartial

Next he says, “Do not accept bribes.”  Who do bribes favor?  Those with the ability to pay them.  The rich. Bribes also favor those in positions of power who can receive the bribes, usually government officials.  Justice should not be for sale.

He further explains this in verse 19 saying, “bribes blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous.”  That’s an accurate image.  One scholar I read said that this could also be translated, “bribes subvert the cause of those who are in the right.”  Bribes do that.  They take a situation that is supposed to be based on justice and righteousness and twist it, and subvert it, making it unjust. 

Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had the opportunity to give a bribe?  I have, in places like Jamaica and Guyana.  Bribes were/are a part of their culture.  Go to the DMV, for example, and unless you wanted to wait in line forever, you would give a bribe.  Or what if you get stopped by the police, but you weren’t doing anything wrong?  You knew what they were looking for.  Give them a bribe and you have an easy day.  Don’t offer a bribe, and you get a ticket for a false violation.

The Lord repeats, therefore, his heart for just governance in verse 20, “Follow justice and justice alone.” So what is justice?  He has already illustrated it two ways: it is not showing partiality, and it is not taking bribes.  But what about the word itself? In these verses, there are actually two words for “justice.”  Let’s look at both.

In verse 19, he uses a word which refers to a just decision in an individual case.But in verse 20, he uses a word which is the abstract quality of justice – what is right, often translated “righteousness.”

There is a famous verse, Amos 5:24, that  includes both words: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

I know the USA is not perfect, but we do believe in justice as the foundation of society.  It is in the last line of our pledge of allegiance. “With liberty and justice for all.” Think about that.  It really matches up nicely with what we just read.

When is the last time you read the Declaration of Independence?  What you’ll find is that justice is all over the place in the text.  A major concern of our founding fathers was that the Colonies were being treated unjustly by the British King and government.  After winning independence, those same founding fathers crafted our Constitution, and the opening sentence, the preamble, says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The United States was created on a foundation of justice. 

But remember that what we are reading in Deuteronomy is not God’s covenant with America. It is God’s covenant with the ancient people of Israel.  God doesn’t have a covenant with America.  But we can learn his heart, his desires for how his people should live. God is saying that justice is the best foundation for society, and so it is best for any nation to make justice the foundation of their land. 

Here in America, ours has been a roller coaster history of trying to live up to the idea of justice for all.  How just was it for Europeans to sail to Native American lands and take possession of the land by force or by unfair purchases?  How just was it for Americans to enslave millions of people from Africa, people who had been ripped from their homeland and shipped perilously to ours?  While we can proud of our American ideal of justice for all, we must also confess there are many ways we have allowed massive injustice to reign. 

That is why God had Israel to set up law courts in all their towns.  Because he knows there will be injustice. There will need to be wise, godly judges who have the authority to bring justice to any situation where there is injustice. 

So in Israel’s local law courts, and in their whole nation, justice rules. Check back in for the remaining posts in this series, as we will look at God’s heart for justice in our world.

Choose wise local leaders [God’s heart for good government, part 1]

12 Nov

The midterm elections were this week, the results are in, and now the politicians can get back to the business of governing.  That is good news for us, not least of which because the political road signs are coming down.  Postcards from candidates probably stopped arriving daily in the mail.  The TV ads are finally done. In this day and age, that means the ads on YouTube, Hulu, and other online sources, are also done.  I even got text messages from campaigns.  How did they get my number???  But those, too, have ceased.

How many of you get sick of all the money and attention given to our government elections?  Yeah, me too.  It’s pretty common to complain about elections, politicians and government.  In fact, I heard someone say this week that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain, so they voted, because they still wanted to be able to complain!

I suppose people will complain no matter if they voted or not. Why do we complain?  We complain because we’re not just sick of the election, we’re sick of government in general.  We point to all the ways government is messed up.   Have you heard the quote, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others”?  It reminds us that there is so much bad government, even in systems, like democracy, which intend to be good.  It leaves us wondering if there is such a thing as good government. 

As we continue studying Deuteronomy, we arrive at a section in chapters 16 and 17 describing God’s government structure for Israel.  In this series of posts, we’re going to try to learn God’s heart for government.  Is there anything we Christians can learn from this?  Let’s find out.  Turn to Deuteronomy 16:18-20 and 17:8-20.

First, God mentions local judges in Deuteronomy 16:18-20.

For the last 40 years Israel had been together in close proximity as they traveled through the wilderness.  But now, entering the Promised Land of Canaan, they were going to spread out and occupy towns across the whole land.  Israel is the size of the state of New Jersey.  The people were not going to be close together anymore, so their governance had to change a bit.

As we see in verse 18, God is first giving them instructions about the local level of government.  He tells them to appoint judges and officials in each of the twelves tribes and in their towns.  That word “towns” is actually the Hebrew word “gates” referring the town gates, and it was customary in that culture for the elders of the towns to hold court at its city gates.

But how would they know who to appoint as judges?  Israel already had some experience with picking local leaders.  40 years earlier when Moses’ father-in-law, Jethro, came to visit, he watched Moses, the top leader of the entire nation, spending all day, every day deciding all the law cases for everyone (Exodus 18).  Jethro said to Moses, “This is insane. Before you burn yourself out, appoint judges to help you.”  He further advised that these local judges were to be “capable, from all the people,” meaning that not just one tribe, but all tribes should be represented.  Additionally, the judges were to be, “men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain.”  This came up also in Deuteronomy 1:13 when we learn the judges were to be “wise, understanding and respected men.”

What we see in all these passages is that God shows a heart for his people to have wise, godly local government, and for the common person to have representation.  There were also national-level government leaders in Israel, as we will see in future posts in this series. But here in Deut. 16:18-20 we see the importance of having good local government.

This principle is very much mirrored in our American federal, state and local governance structure.  We have a governor for the whole state, but we also have local senators.  Same way for the federal government.  We have two senators for the whole state, and the House of Representatives for much smaller groups of population, and of course we have the president leading the whole country. Finally we elect leaders in our counties and towns, such as mayors, commissioners and judges. 

When you elect those those leaders, how do you choose to vote?  On the eve of the conflict 2016 general election, I preached and blogged about choosing leaders.  You can read that here.  What we see in Deuteronomy 16:18-20 (and Exodus 18 and Deuteronomy 1:9-18) is clear: God’s desires local leaders who are known for their wisdom, trustworthiness and character, people who will represent all people.  Do you use those traits when you consider who to vote for?  If you are a leader, elected or otherwise, how will you demonstrate and grow in these traits?

God has a heart that all would represented, and that they would be represented fairly.  In our next post, we’ll dig deeper into what that fair representation should look like.