This exhortation is not addressed to the world of sinners, but to Christians, as are all of the Apostolic writings. If we were to translate the text a little differently, it might better give the Apostle’s thought. For instance, “Awake to a proper appreciation of justice. Do not sin against justice in your lives; for some have not a knowledge of God respecting justice, the principles of righteousness. And this is to your shame.”
We who are in the School of Christ recognize that the Lord is teaching us and is preparing us for a great work in the future. The work of the Church during the incoming Age is, according to the Bible, to be kings, priests and judges, to be God’s representatives in the Messianic Kingdom. As kings, they will be sharers with our Lord Jesus in the ruling of the world. As priests, they share in the work of healing, instructing and sympathizing with the world. As judges, they will administer justice, will give stripes or rewards to mankind, during the thousand years of Messiah’s Reign. Manifestly, therefore, it is proper that whoever hopes to be of these kings, priests and judges should now attain the qualifications of heart and mind which will make him competent for the work; for we may be very sure that God will not appoint any who are not properly qualified.
It is for this reason that God has been calling His Church out from the world during the last nineteen hundred years, and has been giving us the glorious instructions of our Lord Jesus and the Apostles and of the Law and the Prophets. All these things have been for our upbuilding in those qualities of heart and mind which will fit us for the great service to which God has called us.
But God is not testing His children according to their imperfect bodies; for He knows that we cannot do the things we would. He is dealing with our spirits, our minds. Through the transforming influences of His Word, He is giving us a new mind; and it is this new mind which He receives into His family. This becomes the New Creature. (Rom. 12:1, 2; 2 Cor. 5:17) We accept a new will, the will of God, instead of our own wills, and the Divine arrangements instead of our own plans and purposes. Thus God is dealing with us as His children, according to this new relationship into which we have come by faith and obedience; and through Christ our Lord we are reckoned perfect in God’s sight.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD’S WILL
But how can we be perfect in will when our bodies are imperfect? We answer, as did the Apostle, “To will is present with me, but how to perform I find not.” (Rom. 7:18) He did not always succeed in carrying out his will for righteousness. So it is with every one who seeks to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. We all know how to WILL right, but how to DO right is the problem! Gradually we learn that God will not judge us according to the imperfections of our flesh; for so long as we remain faithful, these blemishes are covered with the robe of Christ’s imputed righteousness. Therefore we do our best to show our Heavenly Father that we are trying hard to do right in every act, word and thought. And since He expects every member of His family to have a perfect will, it becomes a personal question as to what is the will of God for us. So we seek to prove “what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”
To prove what is God’s will means to come to a knowledge of His will, to demonstrate it for ourselves. If we are faithful, we are progressing in this more and more as the days go by. At first we had a little knowledge, and this we put into practice. As we grew in grace and in knowledge, we became better acquainted with the will of God; and it was for us to put this increased knowledge into practice also. This knowledge of the will of God we obtained, not in any supernatural way, but through the study of the Bible.
Whoever has come into the family of God has given up his own will and accepted instead God’s will. Whoever has not given up his own will to the Lord is not His child. As the Apostle declares, “If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His.” (Rom. 8:9.) The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of full surrender to the Father’s will; and as we come to this same condition, we give up our own wills and take instead the Divine will. This we do because it is the proper course for all who desire to follow in our Redeemer’s steps, and because our own wills have proved to be unsatisfactory to ourselves. Our minds and our bodies are so imperfect that we have frequently gotten into difficulty through doing our own will. Therefore we are glad to know and to do the will of God, especially since we see that it is so gracious a will.
During the present time it is the will of God that His children shall have trials, difficulties and polishings, in order that these experiences may develop in us a God-likeness of character, a crystalization of character, that will render us fit to be used of
God in the great work which He has appointed to the Lord Jesus, that we might thus become joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord in that Heavenly Kingdom which is designed of the Father for the blessing of all the families of the earth.
JUSTICE FIRST, THEN LOVE
Sometimes Christian people see the doctrine of love in the Bible, and forget that there is a lesson which precedes love. This primary lesson is the one to which we draw your attention today. It is the lesson of justice righteousness. Our text really signifies, “Awake to justice!” We must all learn to distinguish right from wrong and to practice what is just, right. Justice is righteousness.
The Law of God was given to the Israelites at Mount Sinai to show what justice means. They were not asked to do anything more than justice. “Thou shalt not kill,” said the Law; for to take another’s life is wrong, except when God’s own Law demands it. “Thou shalt not steal.” To do so is wrong, unjust. “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” To do so would be an injustice.
Thus we see that the Law of God given to the children of Israel amounted to this: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind and strength; and thy neighbor as thyself.” To do justice to your neighbor as you wish that neighbor to do justice to you is the essence of the Law of God given to the Jews for their treatment of others.
Did God give this same Law to the Church? Yes, so far as the spirit of the Law is concerned. God’s Law is over all of His creatures. But during the Law Dispensation there was a special Law Covenant which God had made with Natural Israel. No others have ever been under that Law Covenant. The Jew who could keep that Law perfectly could live forever; and, having everlasting life at his command, he might have the opportunity of becoming a part of that great antitypical Spiritual Israel which was to bless all the families of the earth. This our Lord Jesus did. Moreover, in His statement of the Divine Law of Spiritual Israel, He “has magnified the Law and made it honorable,” by showing how far-reaching and comprehensive are its requirements.
No intelligent person will question the propriety of dealing justly with every one in the world. This subject has many ramifications in all the affairs of our daily life. The principle of justice enters into every transaction, even the most trivial. It applies not only to our dealings with the world at large, but with every member of our own family. The principle of justice must be recognized with our own as well as with others. If all might get this thought of the Golden Rule firmly fixed in the mind, if each one could awake to righteousness, to justice, the whole world would be revolutionized.
PRACTICAL APPLICATION OF JUSTICE
If this principle of justice were recognized and followed, men would not be shooting one another today over in Europe. On the contrary, they would be doing something better, something good one toward another, just as they would wish others to do toward them. But men are not living up to this standard of righteousness, of justice. It is entirely ignored by governments and by individuals. The general excuse for violating the Golden Rule is, “It would never do for us to grant to others what we would expect for ourselves; for others would take advantage of us; they would not do their part; they would not reciprocate.” Say the British, “It would not do for us to practice the Golden Rule toward the Germans; for we do not know what they would do to us.” The Germans advance the same kind of argument.
This course of conduct is not the fear of God, but the fear of man; it ignores the fear of God. God says that if Christians are afraid of men and of nations and of what these may do, we are carnal, are living according to the flesh, are like the unbelieving world. How shall we who have come into relationship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ, we who have given our lives to Him, do under such circumstances? Shall we say that we fear to trust this principle of justice in our lives, that we do not dare to carry it out in every word, thought and act? Are we afraid to trust God and to obey Him?
God did not say that we were to observe the Golden Rule whenever others observed it toward us, and to ignore it whenever others failed to observe it toward us. On the contrary we are to practice it on every occasion, regardless of what others do. Then we shall know that all things shall work together for good toward us, because we shall be in line with God and His arrangements. He has power to overrule in all of life’s affairs. The very least that we must do is to give justice to one another; and to do so will upbuild our own characters.
Whoever is violating the principle of Justice, the Golden Rule, in his home or in the Church of Christ or in business or social relations should, if he is a Christian, examine the matter earnestly and prayerfully, and “awake to righteousness (justice), and sin not.” Thus to do violence to justice is sin; and so far as our knowledge goes, it is a sin that prevails everywhere. Many have not a proper appreciation of this fact. They do not see that justice is the very foundation of all character, of all right living. It is the foundation of the Throne of God. (Psa. 89:14) In vain does any one practice love to his fellow creatures or even toward God while he is at the same time violating the principle of justice
toward that one. Only after we have rendered justice are we at liberty to practice love toward another. Then we may do as much as we are able along the line of love. Justice first, love afterwards.
RESPONSIBILITY OF GOD’S PEOPLE
Those who are children of God are expecting shortly to be made the judges of the world. As the Apostle says, “Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1 Cor. 6:2, 3) Moreover, God is seeking now to develop in our hearts and lives, in our characters, those principles which He desires. Therefore, unless we are just in our very hearts, unless we appreciate this principle of justice and rejoice to practice it, we shall not be fit for the Kingdom. We should not be unjust even to an animal. Every creature has its rights; and we should give each creature the rights which belong to it. The results are with God. Thus doing, shall we not be preparing our minds, our hearts, for the glorious condition which the Lord has in store for His faithful children?
We are not to think that the Kingdom of God is to be given on the basis of mercy or favor. There will be neither mercy nor favor in connection with the bestowal of the Heavenly reward. God shows mercy in connection with our sins and the weaknesses against which we are striving; but He will not allow in that Kingdom one individual whose character is not suitable. Those whom He approves for joint-heirs and rulers with our Lord Jesus must represent the principles of righteousness and must know how to apply those principles now. Whoever is not disposed to justice to such an extent as to be willing to suffer loss rather than do an injustice will not have a share in the Kingdom.