The Kingdom And Social Justice – A Balancing Act

Neil Hart is currently the Executive Head of the Mergon Foundation. Previously he was the Founder and CEO of Boomtown Strategic Brand Agency, and before that he led a multi-cultural team of volunteers working across 40 countries for All Nations, an international disciple-making organisation.

 

The kingdom

Scripture teaches us that the kingdom of God is all encompassing: there is nothing in all creation that is outside of God’s kingdom mandate. We also understand from scripture, inasmuch as Jesus alluded to a growing kingdom (and through the parables where Jesus gave examples like yeast working its way through dough) that there are certain things in creation not yet subject to his kingship. According to Matthew 24:14 (and a dominant amount of Jesus narratives and teachings) we know that the kingdom was front and centre for Jesus: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

I define the ‘kingdom’ loosely as the reign of God on earth where his Lordship prevails, where man is submitted to God in a loving relationship and doing the works of God. If we expound the nature of the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ in different terms, the basic framework of the biblical teaching is that the ‘gospel of the cross’ is central to the ‘gospel of the kingdom’. In other words, divorcing Jesus from the kingdom message loses its very essence and purpose.

It is right for us to hold this line. If the coming kingdom was the gospel that Jesus preached, this was given very practical application in Luke 4:18 when Jesus stated his mission: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free”. Here we see a richer picture of the coming kingdom. We therefore know that the kingdom is well-expressed through the restoration of hope, freedom, light and joy.

Do we have a role to play?

The overall theme of all scripture can be summarised in five main points: Creation. Rebellion. Sacrifice. Return/Commission. Restoration. We are drawn into God’s narrative in our role in tending Creation (original design) and again through his grace in the area of Commission towards the Restoration of all things.

Genesis 2:15 tells us that part of our God-given purpose is to tend to creation: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” The Hebrew words translated ‘work’ and ‘keep’ are etymologically related to the words meaning ‘worship’ and ‘obey’. It is reasonable to understand this duty to cultivate and care for the garden as an act of worship and obedience to God. Eden (meaning ‘delight’) is a picture of God’s kingdom where God and man live in close relationship within the shalom of all creation.

We are brought into the commission and faith family of Abraham, the father of our faith. “May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham” (Gen. 28:4) and “through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Gen. 22:18). This means that God’s blessing has a clear purpose through us: to carry the blessing to all nations. Centuries later, Acts 1:8 calls us into action by evoking the same purpose: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” As does Matthew 28:19: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Ephesians 2:10 says, “We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” This indicates an activity on our part and a sovereign leading on God’s part: a partnership of sorts.

Social justice

While Jesus’ purpose according to Luke 19:10 was to “seek and save that which was lost” he also fed the poor, healed the sick and touched the hurting along the way.

Even the apostle Paul made feeding the poor a high priority. Galatians reminds us: “And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching… They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do” (Gal. 2:6–10). Paul honours the church of the Thessalonians for how “the word of the Lord sounded forth” from them through their example in a “work of faith,” “labour of love,” and “steadfast hope,” and he says there is no reason for him to say anything in the places where their witness and faith had gone forth (1 Thess 1:3–8). Probably the deeds that Paul celebrates in the church were accompanied by verbal proclamation, but he is commending them for how their “works” served to glorify God to the surrounding people.

Peter instructs the church to watch their conduct so that others may “see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Pet. 2:12). Because good deeds may announce the gospel to unbelievers, they can serve as the first stage of the disciple-making process.

In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). This has been described as the ‘integral gospel’: meeting people’s physical and spiritual needs. I like this term, as it ties social justice to the gospel, rather than leaving it to chance. It is worth remembering that the gospel compels us to work for social justice, while keeping in mind that social justice is not the gospel.

The balancing act

Jesus told us that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

The most loving thing we can do for God and others is to share the gospel and co-labour in the kingdom. We show God that we love him by obeying his command to go and make disciples (great commission work). We show our love for our neighbours by serving them in good works and good news (including social justice). We can be focused on feeding the poor, but mustn’t forget to share the good news of the gospel in the process. And if we are called into evangelism we mustn’t forget the very thing we should be eager to do: feeding the poor.

God’s kingdom is not just about preaching the gospel, and it isn’t just about feeding the poor. We are here to do both. To co-labour with the Creator of all things in the redemption of all things.

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Neil Hart