What does the Bible say about social justice?
Concepts of social justice are not new. There have been and are various definitions of social justice. The concept can be traced back to as early as the times of Aristotle. Michael Novak states,
Social justice is typically associated with some notion of the common good. “Common good” is a wonderful term that goes back to Aristotle, but in practice, it often hinges on a key question: namely, who decides what is the common good?
Recently secular “progressives” have dramatically redefined social justice to include three components:
1) equal rights,
2) equal opportunity, and
3) equal outcomes for all.
That is, they claim that anything that results in less than equal outsomes for all is unjust.
So, the question we are concerned with is what is God’s definition of social justice? What does the Bible say about social justice? What does the Bible say about today’s progressive definition of social justice?
God of Justice
The starting point for determining what the Bible says about social justice is to know that God is just. This is important since He wrote the Bible (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16). First, Deuteronomy 32:3-4 states that God is just in everything that He does.
Ascribe greatness to our God!
The Rock! His work is perfect,
For all His ways are just;
Righteous and upright is He.”
Deuteronomy 32:3-4 (NASB)
Hebrews 6:10 echoes the same truth, but states it negatively. It says that God is not unjust. That is, God is always just.
For God is not unjust . . . Hebrews 6:10 (NASB)
Psalm 97:2 adds that God’s very throne is righteousness and justice.
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
Pslam 97:2 (NASB)
Righteousness refers to behavior that is always holy. It is without sin. Finally, Isaiah 30:18 plainly states that God is a God of justice.
For the LORD is a God of justice.
Isaiah 30:18 (NASB)
In summary, God is just. God is a God of justice. In fact, “all His ways are justice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Consequently, God never acts unjustly. All of His decisions and actions are just.
God is Impartial
Since God is just, He is impartial in every decision. That is the testimony of Scripture. Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11 clearly state that God is not partial.
Opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality . . .” Acts 10:34 (NASB)
For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 (NASB)
The Greek word that is translated as “partiality” means a “respecter of persons.” That is, God does not treat one person or a group of people differently. These two verses reveal that God does not treat people differently because of their social background, skin color, wealth, gender, or some other factor. He has established divine principles that everyone must satisfy if they desire His blessing and want to enter heaven. He does not wink at sin. He does not allow those who reject Christ to enter heaven unless they repent of their sins and trust in Christ. That is the message of John 3:16-18 which reveals that God loves everyone; yet, He has a standard that everyone must satisfy if they want to enter heaven. The passage says,
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. John 3:16-18 (NASB)
This principle is repeated in John 3:36.
“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36 (NASB)
Consequently, those who refuse to meet His standard for entrance to heaven are sent to hell. That is, the requirements for entering heaven are equally applied to each individual. Because God is just, He does not treat groups of people differently. Because God is just His divine standards are applied impartially to each individual person. God is impartial.
God Determines the Wealthy and Poor
God is also just in the distribution of wealth. 1 Samuel 2:7a says that God makes the poor and the rich. Since God is just and holy (Psalm 77:13; Isaiah 6:3), His decision about who receives wealth is just.
The LORD makes poor and rich.
1 Samuel 2:7a
This verse reveals that it is not unjust for some to be wealthy and others poor. There is no inherit injustice in being poor or wealthy. Those who might claim that God is unjust have revealed that they do not understand real justice. They ignorantly attack their Creator and falsely accuse Him who is just.
The progressives concept of social justice assumes that the wealthy are inherently evil and exploit the poor. While it is true that some individuals do exploit the poor (James 5:1-6), it is not true that if someone has wealth it is always the result of evil behavior. Job 42:10-12 reveals that our just God gave Job great wealth.
Haggai 2:8 tells us that God owns all the wealth.
‘The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine,’ declares the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:8 (NASB)
Thus He can give it to whomever He desires. Once again this means that wealth in and of itself is not evil. God has a purpose and a reason for His righteous and just distribution of wealth. The message is that money is not inherently evil.
God’s View of Equal Outcomes
While there was an Old Testament system designed to help the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29), and the early church helped other poor Christians (Acts 4:32-37), it is clear from 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15 that God condemns giving money to people who are lazy and do not work to earn their own money. In this passage, the apostle Paul by the Holy Spirit said,
If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. 2 Thessalonians 3:10 (NASB)
We could summarize the verse as “No work, no eat.” This reveals that God is opposed to treating the lazy individual and the faithful worker equally. 1 Timothy 5:18 also teaches that each individual is to be rewarded according to their own efforts. The verse says,
For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.” 1 Timothy 5:18
This verse quotes two other Bible verses (Deuteronomy 25:4; Luke 10:7). The message is that the worker is worthy of his wages. If someone does not work, then they should not be paid. If someone does work, then they should be paid according to his or her efforts. The principle is simple. Individuals are to be rewarded for their work. Those individuals who are more productive should be paid accordingly, and those who do not work should not to be paid.
Sadly, the concept of work is viewed negatively by some. But the biblical principle is that work is good. It was established in Genesis 2:15 when God told Adam to work. That occurred before sin entered the world. The principle of Adam working by caring for the garden was a noble activity – not a result of sin. It is greed, laziness, and selfishness to want what you do not earn.
But this does not mean that God does not care for the poor, the orphans, and widows who need financial assistance. For example, in Isaiah 1:17 God urges us to,
Learn to do good;
Reprove the ruthless,
Defend the orphan,
Plead for the widow.
Isaiah 1:17 (NASB)
Notice that we are told to reprove the ruthless or evil person. Where wealth has been gained through criminal activity, it is the role of governments and law enforcement to punish the evildoer. God does not have a soft heart for evil people. In this verse, we are also told to care for the orphans and widows. This shows a balance. We are to punish the evildoer and defend orphans and widows. God’s justice is not lopsided. He does not wink at evil and violence just because someone is poor, an orphan, or a widow. God treats everyone equally according to His just and impartial standards.
In James 1:27, every individual is called to care for the orphans and widows again, and to avoid evil.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. James 1:27 (NASB)
This shows God’s heart for those individuals who truly need help.
Thus today’s progressive view of social justice where everyone is entitled to an equal outcome is unjust. It is contrary to God’s character and standards. It penalizes the productive worker by taking from his wages and giving it to the lazy worker or the individual who does not work. The progressive concept is contrary to God’s standards. The Scriptures repeatedly teach that each man is to be rewarded for his own behavior.
What Does the Bible Say About Social Justice?
Romans 13:1-2 states that every government has been established by God. He owns every government. Daniel 4:17, 34-35 teach us that God raises up leaders and removes leaders. Romans 13:3-4 says that governments are the ministers of God for good. That is, they were not established to violate His laws and principles but to reinforce His laws and principles. God established governments to suppress evil and not for the purpose of permitting evil and encouraging the lazy.
Romans 13:4 states this about government,
For it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:4 (NASB)
God designed and established government for the primary purpose of suppressing evil. The care for the poor, orphans, and widows in the Bible has always been left to the family, friends, and the church (1 Timothy 5:1-16). God never gave governments the responsibility of ensuring equal outcomes.
Consequently, the progressive concept of social justice fails to meet biblical standards. It encourages the violation of divine principles. It advocates equal outcome of wealth for everyone and tolerance of evil. Some are motivated by greed and selfishness. They want income for no or little work. They would have God bend His standards to conform to their own flawed sense of justice.
But our just and holy God does not do that. He does not rescue everyone from hell (Proverbs 10:16, 28; Matthew 25:46). He condemns and punishes evil doers and blesses the righteous (Proverbs 3:33; 10:3). He gives wealth to one and not another (1 Samuel 2:7). In summary, the current definition of social justice is not justice. It is perverted justice. It promotes greed and the explosion of evil. Proverbs 28:4-5 reveals the root problem. They do not understand justice.
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
But those who keep the law strive with them.
Evil men do not understand justice,
But those who seek the LORD understand all things. Proverbs 28:4-5 (NASB)
The current definition of social justice is in opposition to those standards established by our just and holy God. 2 John 8 reminds us that God will give to people various degrees of rewards in the afterlife. God will give rewards according to our deeds. God’s paramount and prevailing standard is not wealth or race. It is not equal outcomes. His rules for who will go to hell and who will go to heaven have been established since the foundation of the world. They are applied individually. That is also true of the rewards He will give. The rewards for the righteous will be positive and for the wicked they will be negative.
Every person who desires to go to heaven must understand they are sinners. They must repentant over their sins, and trust in Christ to forgive their sins. The proof they are Christians is a transformed life which conforms to God’s standards. Those who reject Christ will go to hell. Revelation 20:11-15 teaches that God will not condemn the rich, the famous, and the poor—the great and small. He is just and impartial and He loves everyone. He is not willing that anyone perish (2 Peter 3:9). Romans 10:9-13 gives us the ultimate standard for going to heaven,
If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is bLord of call, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” Romans 10:9-13 (NASB)
Money and popularity will not help! God does not, figuratively speaking, left the blindfold from one eye to see who He is judging. God does not promise equal outcomes for all. God will not create equal outcomes for everyone! Who decides what is just? The answer is our just God. His standard of justice is absolute. It will be applied to everyone in life after death. There is no sin in our holy God.
In summary, the progressive definition of social justice violates biblical principles. It violates the standards established by our just and holy God. God Himself rewards those who are righteous and punishes the wicked. God knows the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The study “The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked” explains whom God rewards.
1. Michael Novak. “Social Justice: Not What You Think It Is.” The Heritage Foundation. December 29, 2009.
2. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), 767.
Suggested Links:The Statement on Social Justice & the Gospel
Financial Assistance – Should We Help The Poor?
What the Bible Says About Work and Laziness
What is a denarius, a shekel, a stater and a widow’s mite?
Searching for God — In Search of God — Go To Heaven
How To Go To Heaven
The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked
Financial Assistance – Should We Help The Poor?