One of the most life-changing verses in Scripture is Micah 6:8. It is also the best summary of how you and I should live in light of God’s justice. Micah asks, “With what shall I come before the LORD and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” No, verse 8 answers: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Let’s consider this joyful lifestyle one trait at a time.
We will do justly. Because God is impartial and just in all that He does, we won’t show prejudice or favoritism toward anyone. It won’t matter how a person dresses, how long he’s gone to our church, how much money she puts in the offering plate, or what the color of his skin is. We will treat everyone with the same degree of courtesy and respect, “guarding each man’s dignity and saving each man’s pride.” For the Bible says that every person who walks through the door of our church is a person made in the image of God. Therefore, that is how we’ll treat them—with the love and respect due someone of eternal value.
James chapter 2 warns us, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism, for it a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives?” We do that, don’t we? We make distinctions among ourselves and give special honor to those who look good and speak well, thinking they can benefit us in some way. But that isn’t justice! The truly just person doesn’t make distinctions like that, because he realizes the ground is all level at the foot of the cross and that, in the light of God’s glory, no one is any better than anyone else.
A hotel owner in Baltimore learned this lesson to his embarrassment. A farmer appeared at his desk wanting a room for the night. But he looked so dirty that the owner was afraid he’d bring dishonor to his establishment. So he sent him on his way. Only later in the evening did he learn who he was—Thomas Jefferson! Quickly the innkeeper sent the great patriot a note apologizing for his behavior and begging him to return and be his guest for the night. Jefferson sent him this message in reply: “Tell him I’ve already engaged a room and I value his good intentions highly. But if he has no place for a dirty American farmer, he has no room for the Vice President of the United States.” Jesus the Judge of all the earth said something similar. He said if we can’t treat the least impressive person among us with respect, we have no room for Him. For “inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of one of these My brethren, you have done it unto Me.”
We will love mercy. Some time ago, I attended a pastors luncheon where the topic of wedding policies came up. The question was asked: Should a young lady who is no longer a virgin be allowed to wear white at her wedding? After all, a few of them argued, “White is supposed to be a symbol of purity, and with all the immorality going on these days, shouldn’t we pastors have the courage to take a stand?” To my amazement and anger, no one disagreed…until I spoke up and said, “Yes, and whose daughter is going to go first? I’m glad to talk about preserving our Christian traditions, but at whose expense?”
As we debated this issue, a Bible verse kept coming to my mind. Matthew 1:19, a Christmas passage. Remember what it says? “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows. After his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away privately.” Joseph thought the reason Mary was pregnant was because she’d sinned. As it turned out, he was wrong. But that’s what he thought, and as a result, what did he do? Because he was a just man, he tried to keep her sin from becoming known to others. And if we’re just men and women, that’ll be our same motivation! We won’t bring up in public sins that have been committed in private, no matter how hurtful they’ve been. Nor will we be quick to criticize or condemn. For contained within the heart of every just man and woman is a love of mercy. Realizing how merciful God has been to us, our natural impulse will be to cover each other’s sins with the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
We will walk humbly with our God. I witnessed an example of this several years ago while attending the advance meeting for a Billy Graham Crusade. I was sitting in the audience with 200 pastors and church leaders as the special guests were being introduced, when I suddenly learned that I was sitting next to one of them. Only rather than sitting up front with the other celebrities, this man chose to sit in the audience with the rest of us. So that’s where he was introduced. They made him stand up right next to me and said, “This is Mr. Weyerhauser.” I’m sure you’ve heard of him. But when I shook hands with him a moment before, he didn’t mention his name. Nor did he seem impressed with himself. In fact, when I compared his attitude to some of the pastors around me, who were so eager to be recognized, I thought to myself, “Now that’s what it means to be humble! That’s what it means to walk humbly with your God!”
Once we realize how great God’s justice is and how far short we fall of His standards, there’s no room for arrogance and pride. Instead, we’ll be humble before our God, merciful toward those who sin, and quick to treat one another with dignity and honor. Or as Micah puts it, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Let me close this study of God’s justice by sharing a story from Chuck Swindoll’s book, Grace Awakening. He writes—
“I will never forget what happened to me several years ago that illustrated how wrong we can be in judging others. I was speaking at a Bible conference for a week. Attending the same conference was a couple I had not seen before. Both were friendly and seemed glad to be there, but I began to notice as the week wore on that the man fell asleep in every one of our meetings. Normally, that doesn’t bother me. But this time, for some strange reason, it began to bug me. By the last meeting on Friday night, I was convinced that it was she who wanted to be there, not her husband. I sized him up as a fellow who talked one way but lived another, ‘probably a carnal Christian,’ I mused.”
“She stayed after the crowd and her husband left. She asked if she could speak with me for a few minutes. I figured she wanted to talk about how unhappy she was living with a man who didn’t have the same spiritual interest as she. How wrong I was! She said their being there was his idea. It had been his ‘final wish.’ I didn’t understand. She informed me that he had terminal cancer and had only weeks to live. At his request they attended the conference where I was speaking even though the medication he was taking for pain made him sleepy, something that greatly embarrassed him. ‘He loves the Lord,’ she said, ‘and you are his favorite Bible teacher. He wanted to be here to meet you and hear you, no matter what.’ I was sincerely stunned. She thanked me for the week and left. I stood there, all alone, as deeply rebuked as I have ever been. I had judged my brother, and I was as wrong as I could have possibly been.”
There is a Judgment Day coming when each of us will give an account for all we have done in our bodies. But aren’t you glad that the One who will judge us is the Judge of all the earth? He is impartial, He is omniscient, and He is never cruel. So how should we live in preparation for that day? Not proudly or judgmentally, but humbly, justly, and with mercy, thanking Him that He has chosen to deal with us, not according to our sins, but according to His grace.