How do you handle the situation when you want the exact same thing that several others want and there is not enough to go around? As you're thinking about the question, let me say that I am writing this to a basically Christian audience. Most of you reading are likely Christians, but a few of you may not be. I want you non-Christian friends to read on anyway, and I hope these thoughts will affect you positively. Now, back to the question: How do you handle the situation when you want the exact same thing that several others want and there is not enough to go around? Mature Christians should respond in a way that is in keeping with Bible passages like, "To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?" (1 Cor 6:7 ESV). While we're not discussing lawsuits here, the principle of the passage applies. Rather than having dissention and strife between brethren, mature Christians are willing to do without, to sacrifice; to go that extra mile (Matt 5:41). Think also of the admonition in Philippians 2: "Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (vv. 3-4 ESV). Loving self-sacrifice is central and essential to being Jesus' disciples. His self-sacrifice on the cross on our behalf is the focal point of our entire worldview (Heb 12:2). Paul urged us to "present [our] bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God…" (Rom 12:1). As Christians, we must love others, putting their needs before our own. So, where do you stand in regard to our question? In your imagination, place yourself in such a situation, and decide the righteous course of action based in sacrificial love.
Two factors contributed to my thoughts that led to this post. First, not long ago a fellow Christian spoke of just such a situation in a church that is dear to me, and I've been waxing philosophical about it ever since. Second, I've been reading Simply Christian, by N. T. Wright, and while considering his writings about justice, a dilemma in which sacrificial love and justice seem to collide arose in my mind. Christians must be deeply concerned with both love and justice, for the two virtues are among those "weightier matters" (Matt 23:23). However, many encounter trouble with sacrificing their own wants for the sake of others when they realize that it seems unjust to do so on some occasions. Why should the un-sacrificial (i.e. spiritually immature at best; selfish, worldly and evil at worst) always get what they want? Is that just? If the righteous are always willing to step back and let another go first, aren't the unrighteous going to always be first? Think about that for a few moments. Now, consider our question again, and this time, imagine that if you step back and allow someone else to be first that a negative, selfish, sinful person is going to get what you, the spiritually mature saint want. How does that sit with you? Are you tempted to change your imagined course of action? Remember that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are full of words of wisdom concerning such seemingly unjust situations.
Allow me to draw your attention to the light of a few more passages as we attempt to solve this dilemma. Note first 1 Pet 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust…" (NASB). We could lengthen the quote from Peter and take notes about the distinctions between the flesh and the spirit, but space will not allow it here—it would be applicable to this train of thought if we did, though. Think on that yourself when you have time. Here, let's focus on two words in the passage, "just" and "unjust." Was it justice when Jesus was betrayed and murdered for you and me? Of course not! Jesus didn't deserve to die. However, God used it as a means to accomplish a much greater justice—the justification of all those who have faith in Jesus. Note what Paul was led by the Spirit to write in Romans 3, "[For] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:23-26 NASB). So, we see that being willing to suffer injustices in the flesh can lead to greater justice in the Spirit. Think of the awesome plan and power of God in all of this and keep that in mind as we move on to our conclusion.
The reason love and justice seem to collide in situations like the one we've imagined is largely due to our temptation to overstep our boundaries and take on work that is rightly God's alone. The word says, "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord" (Rom 12:19 NASB). Punishing the wicked is God's sphere of responsibility, not yours or mine. While there are worldly agents of divine justice (as Romans 13 goes on to explain) the church, and thus, the Christian, is not such. The Christian obligation is to model the sacrifice of Jesus in all we think, say and do. Passages like 1 Cor 15:31, Gal 2:20 and a number of others bear this out. Jesus did not fear that a sinner would get something he didn't deserve and so refuse to sacrifice himself. Quite the contrary! He knew that the world is judged already (John 3:17-18) and died, yes and arose so that many might be redeemed from worldly motives to enjoy the favor of God that he made just with his own blood. When you face a scenario like the one we've been imagining, do not refuse to make a loving sacrifice in order to bring what you perceive to be justice upon another. Count that other one as more important than yourself and leave space for the wrath of God if it is warranted—he'll make it eternally right! How much influence does Jesus have on you, because he was willing to sacrifice himself—the just, for you, the unjust? How much has that preeminent act of divine justice AND sacrificial love molded and shaped you into the person you are today—and are growing into being? In truth, because of what God has done, is still doing in his providence, and yet will do, there is no actual adversarial collision between love and justice.
Until next time…