In his excellent book Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City, Tim Keller quotes Old Testament scholar Bruce Waltke’s very shocking, but absolutely correct, definition of justice:
The righteous are willing to disadvantage themselves to advantage the community; the wicked are willing to disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.
Most people think of “wickedness” as disobeying the Ten Commandments, as actively breaking the law by lying or committing adultery. And those things are, of course, wicked! But lying and adultery are best understood as the visible tip of the iceberg of wickedness.
Below the surface, less visible but no less wicked, are things like not feeding the poor when we have the power to do so, or taking so much income out of the business we own that our employees are paid poorly, or shoveling snow from our own driveway without even thinking to do the same for our elderly neighbors. In all these ways we disadvantage others by advantaging ourselves.
That is incredibly counter-cultural, and totally biblical.
Do we only do good and help others when it doesn’t cost us anything? That, of itself, is not the biblical ethic of justice. A person is only truly just when he is willing to do good for others even when it disadvantages himself. That’s the true test of whether you are a just person.
A high standard, I know. It is devastating. But by God’s grace, we can grow in this every day.