God’s Justice: Notes from Beisner’s Prosperity and Poverty, Part 1

I recently read E. Calvin Beisner’s book, Prosperity and Poverty: The Compassionate use of Resources in a World of Scarcity (1988). I found it the most thorough treatment I’ve read on the subject of the church’s role with the poor and needy (focused on the U.S.). He also snuck in some great insights on Biblical justice (versus other counterfeit versions of justice leaking into the church today). As such, I wanted to note some of the highlights.

This post will focus on justice. The next post will focus on compassion and giving to the poor.

God & Justice

  • Isaiah 30:18; 61:8 – God of justice
    • Jeremiah 21:12; 22:3; Psalm 106:3 – we are called to follow God in this

Justice

  • conforming to God’s righteous standard
  • rendering to each his due (Job 34:10b-12; Romans 13:7)
  • Lev. 19:35-36; Micah 6:11 – “just scales”
    • the same standard must be universally applied to all people

2 Just Standards

  1. Biblical law
  2. Natural law

2 Just Domains

  1. personal – righteous living
  2. social – everyone given their due, according to a righteous standard (not sameness – see 1 Cor. 12)
    • Prov. 30:21-23; Rom. 12:3-6 – different people are allotted different stations by the Lord; He does not call all people to the same life station

2 Special Goals of Justice

  1. remedial – “standard for reparation of violations of right” (p. 51): Jer. 22:3; Exod. 22:1-9; 23:4-9
  2. retributive – Rom. 13:1-7 (esp. v. 4); Ps. 58:10-11

Standards of Justice

  1. Impartiality is a standard of justice: Romans 2:11; Col. 3:25; Psalm 82:1-4; Deut. 1:17; Lev. 19:15
  2. Proportionality is a standard of justice: Romans 2:6; Galatians 6:10
  3. God’s Law is a standard of justice: Matt. 7:12
    1. 4th commandment: we have a right to work and receive wages (Lk. 10:7)
    2. we have a right to property; economic liberty (Acts 5:3-4; Matt. 20:13, 15)
    3. economic inequality (Prov. 22:2; 2 Thes. 3:10)

Other Justice Notes

  • Lev. 25:23 – God owned the land; don’t sell permanently
  • Matt. 20:13-15 – envy (and thanklessness), not sense of justice, prompted their complaints of injustice

Government

Rom. 13:1-7: Government should praise good and punish evil. Praise Good: Psalm 101; Prov. 29:2 – promotes good people in authority. Punish Evil: Includes corporal / capital punishment.

Love and Justice: Rom. 13:8-10

The government: praises good (think love) and punishes evil (think justice)

  • love and justice = 2 sides of 1 coin (10 commandments supplies standard for both)
  • justice = what is due (minimum requirement); doesn’t include stealing
  • love = what is just + what builds up (1 Cor. 8:1); includes giving (John 3:16; Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25)
  • justice = enforced by government
  • love = urged and praised only by government (e.g. the government should not force people to give to the poor)

Just Principles

  • Lev. 19:15; Ex. 20:15 – don’t steal (includes whole society)
  • Exod. 22:1-15: protects property except as punishment of crime
    • Rom. 13:7; Matt. 22:21: tax support for duties of government (i.e. praising good / punishing evil)
  • 1 Kings 21: king can’t force selling or taking property
  • Exod 23:3: mobs don’t decide justice
  • Deut. 1:9-18: representative democracy = good thing
  • Phil. 2:4: good stewards in society and privately
  • Gal. 6:10: sow good/just things, reap benefits
  • Justice = fairness/impartiality to all / according to God’s word (5th – 9th commandments)
  • Matt. 20:15: you can do what you want with what you own, just not at harm to others
  • Matt. 20:1-15: equal pay demands stem here from covetousness

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