God’s View of Social injustice
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God’s View of Social Injustice
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
I said before the New Testament lesson that one of the difficulties with the “Sermon on the Mount” is that even though some of it is very real and plain to us, “You heard how it was said of old, ‘You shall not kill and whoever so shall kill is guilty of the judgment but I say unto you if you’re angry with your brother, you’re guilty of the judgment.’ Even though that part is very plain the emphasis is on the inward sin rather than outward. Yet there are what seem to be idealistic injunctions like, if somebody wants your cloak give them your cloak. Or, if somebody asks you to go one mile, go with them two. Also all about your enemy that really makes you wonder, ‘Well what on earth would become of society if we all lived like that?’
I mean, you might say it would be heavenly but if you start to behave that way towards people, it will just eat you up. So there are many injunctions there that bring up the old questions that we have such as, how do you reconcile the laws of Christ to the laws of our present society? For instance, if you face apartheid which is a social injustice and is inconsistent with all of Jesus commands to treat everybody as children of God and everybody with respect preferring the other before yourselves, if you face apartheid what should your attitude be towards it? You know apartheid is the idea that black and whites ought to be kept separate, they ought to use separate buses, separate restaurants, they ought to live in their own lands; they ought not to share the same privileges. If you faced apartheid what do you do in the light of what you know is Jesus’ attitude to people?
One man who has contacted us and asked us if we’ll sell him some of our jewelry operates a farm in what seemed to be some of the tribal lands in South Africa. You know South Africa has given some lands to the black and said, “Those are your lands, you live there separate from us.” Well, I believe it is in one of those tribal lands that he has set up a farm and he has black people and white people living together on the farm and they operate a business something like our own. They sell cards, Christmas cards, birthday cards, greeting cards, and they sell other things like that and of course, they grow things on the farm.
Now obviously, that’s one answer you could take to apartheid. So, where you can do that, where you can set that up legally without abrogating or breaking the laws of the land which forbid you to do that, I think that’s one answer? But where you can’t do that what is to be your attitude to apartheid? Or, if you come nearer to home some of us have customers and we are pretty – we’re pretty sure what their morals or their immorals are like, what do you do? Do you do business with such a person? Do you – you remember, Jesus in one place said, “What part has righteousness with unrighteousness? The two should not be joined together.” Or, you go into a store, you I am sure, have often been in this situation where you go into the store and you see that the owner is utterly unjust towards the employees and not like Christ at all. Now, what are you to do in those situations?
So, that’s really what the subject of this study is about because Paul here in this next part of Exodus that we’re studying, brings up the whole question of slavery. The background to his answer is in John 18:36 because even though you’re studying Exodus in the Old Testament, yet you find even in the old laws of the Old Testament the Spirit of God and of Christ come through. So you’ll see
that in John 18:36, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world.’” And I believe that means it does not derive its authority from the world.
So verse John 18:36, “Jesus answered, ‘My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight.” That seems to be a basic principle that you’ll find is worked out in these laws that we’re studying in the Old Testament. Jesus seems to say, “First of all as you approach apartheid; as you approach unjust owners with which you have to do business, first, remember, my kingdom is not of this world. This world is passing and my kingdom is within this world in some ways but it is not of this world. My kingdom is within your hearts but it’s not the kingdom of this world. This society that you see is not the one that I’m trying to save.”
It’s maybe good to get a hold of that clearly in our own minds. God has not called us to save society. I remember, in seminary, we were all enthusiastic because we thought through socialism maybe, or a combination of socialism and faith, you could save society. But, God never called us to save society. He called us to evangelize the world not to save the world. It’s good to remember this basic principle that Jesus stated, “My kingship is not of this world.” Therefore you find it worked out a little further in the laws.
Maybe we should just turn to them because we’ve reached the end of Exodus 20 and we’re beginning Exodus 21. God is speaking here to the Hebrews and directing them how they should deal with their present society. In Exodus 21:1 he says, “Now these are the ordinances which you shall set before them.” The ordinances by the way are “dikaiomata’ in Greek and it means the rights. These are the rights that people have in my system of government. These are the rights.
“When you buy a Hebrew slave,” and suddenly you know, it just hits you clonk to the eyes, “When you buy a Hebrew slave.” I mean, God is saying, “When you buy a Hebrew slave,” God is approving slavery. Now, it’s important to see the principle that God operates from, it is that that is stated by Jesus. Wait a minute, “My kingship is not of this world. I’m not in the business of wasting my time and wasting the few years you have on earth in trying to correct this world. This world is a fallen world, the prince of the world is king over it. This will go from bad to worse as the years go by. Get that through your mind, my kingdom is not of this world. What I think of slavery you may deduce from my nature but I’m not in the business of trying to abolish every evil in the world that I meet when I meet it.”
So God says, “When you buy a Hebrew slave,” and then he goes on to state something. But you know, if you have trouble with that it’s good maybe to look at the expansion of Jesus’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:21. Jesus said, in John 18, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Then through Paul he continues to speak through his Spirit. 1 Corinthians 7:21-24, “were you a slave when called? Never mind. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed man of the Lord.” So even if you’re a slave in society when you’re called into Jesus you’re a free man in him. “Likewise he was free when called is a slave of Christ.” In a sense, even if you were free you’ve become now a slave of Christ. “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.” So he says, “Yeah, I don’t want you to be slaves, slavery isn’t my well,” but in Verse 24, “So, brethren, in whatever state each was called, there let him remain with God.”
Nevertheless, I’m not in the business of abolishing slavery. I want you to see very clearly, in me there are no slaves, there are no free men, in me everyone is alike but do you see my kingship is
not of this world. I’m not in the business of trying to correct slavery here. It’s a temporary thing. If you abolish it, there is 1,000 other things that you’ve to abolish too but meanwhile you’re wasting the time that I’ve given you to do the important thing of becoming free inside of me.
Paul elaborates the same thing in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In other words, God’s word is very clear, he does not believe in slavery, he does not believe in apartheid, he does not believe in employers who are unjust to their employees, but he makes it very plain that our job is not primarily to change that. Now, what is it to do?
Well, let’s look back at Exodus and you’ll catch some of it. Really the answer is apply the Spirit of Christ to it as much as you’re able. “When you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free, for nothing.” That’s what he says. He comes into a situation like slavery, he doesn’t upset the whole society and get everybody’s mind on how their property is being stolen from them by this new system of philosophy. He doesn’t do that. He doesn’t distract them from the main task of dealing with him by trying to reform the whole situation with slaves, but he tries to bring in his Spirit into it. He says, “When you buy a Hebrew slave, six years, and then the seventh year, the sabbatical year, let them go free.”
And I don’t know if you know, but a Hebrew was able to become a slave either – well, there were two ways in which he would become a slave, you can see it in the next chapter. Exodus 22:1, if he stole something, “If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall pay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep. He shall make restitution; if he has nothing, then he shall be sold for this theft.” So he could sell himself for his theft.
And the other one is Leviticus 25:39. So, for a theft he could become a slave. Then Leviticus 25:39, “And if your brother becomes poor beside you, and sells himself to you,” so he could sell himself just because of his poverty, “You shall not make him serve as a slave: he shall be with you as a hired servant and as a sojourner. He shall serve with you until the year of jubilee.” That was the 50th year.
So you could sell yourself because you are poor or you could be sold because you stole something. So God says, “When you buy a Hebrew slave he shall serve six years and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” So I’d just ask you to keep that in mind as you begin to come up against some social injustices even in your own business. What do you do with it?
Now, let’s go further and you’ll see more of the working out of it because there are other problems. That’s a single man, “If he comes in single, he shall go out single.” That’s in consistency with the spirit of the New Testament in whatsoever state you are, remain. “If he comes in married, then his wife shall go out with him.” But here’s an interesting one you see, “If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the wife and her children shall be her master’s and he shall go out alone.” You see again, it’s God refusing to disturb the whole fabric of society by apparently threatening people’s property because if that was allowed you can see the abuses of it. You can see how a slave could marry another slave just to get her free and so the master would in fact lose not only the male slave but would lose the female slave and would lose the children as well.
So the whole of society would be thrown into chaos by, “They’re stealing our property. They’re
stealing our property.” So again, God appears to work on the principle of maintaining order in the society and yet giving respect to a higher principle. In Verse 5, “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master,’” and it’s so funny almost to see the word love in what seems to be such an uncivilized subject, “But if the slave plainly says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I will not go out free,’ then his master shall bring him to God,’” this is interesting, ‘Shall bring him to God, and he shall bring him to the door or the doorpost; and his master shall bore his ear through with an awl; and he shall serve him for life.”
God brings in the Spirit of Christ into the situation and gives respect to the truth that for this reason a man shall leave his father, and mother, and cleave to his wife. And so he brings in that higher principle of love. 1 Corinthians 13:13, “The greatest of these is love.” He brings the principle of love into the slavery situation and yet respects the right, the legal right of property that existed at that time.
So when you think of your own situations and you come into the stores and see injustices. Or, you see immorality, it seems to me in some way we have to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us how God wants us to deal with that situation. It seems from scripture especially in the light of the fact that Paul maintained that attitude to slavery even in New Testament time. You might want to look at it in Philemon 1:16, because there was a situation of a runaway slave on Onesimus. He had run away and Paul was then writing to his master Philemon to direct him what his attitude should be. Philemon 1:15, “Perhaps this is why he was parted from you for a while,” he says to Philemon about the slave on Onesimus, “That you might have him back for ever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, as a beloved brother, especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”
So, Paul even respects slavery and tells Onesimus that he must go back to his master but then encourages his master to treat him in the Spirit of Christ. As you go into your stores, you need to ask the Holy Spirit, “Holy Spirit, how do you want me to bring your spirit into this situation?” Rather than determining, “I’m going to change this or I’m going to have nothing to do with it.” It seems to me there is something that God is saying to us here.
It’s the same about the next part which is just as offensive to us it seems, Exodus 21:7, “When a man sells his daughter as a slave,” would you believe it? They obviously did, they sold their daughters as slave. Now, not just as slaves you see, but they would sell them as a housekeeper, or in this case as a concubine. “When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do.” So, she won’t be set free in the seventh year because there’s something deeper, she was actually sold to be the wife of this man. And again, if you throw all that out then it destroys whatever order they had in their society.
So he says, “No, she doesn’t go out,” but then he brings the Spirit of Christ into it, “If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed; he shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people, since he has dealt faithlessly with her.” In other words, if the master who buys her does not keep her as his wife and does not give her position as his wife, then she must be freed. Or, the second case, “If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter.” So if he says, “Alright, I’ve bought you and now you’re to be my son’s wife, then he must treat her as a daughter no longer as a slave.” So again, he brings the Spirit of Christ into it.
“If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital
rights.” If he decides, “No, I don’t want you yet he has to give her the rights that she had as a wife.” “And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money.” So again it seems God is refusing to throw the society into chaos with the little order that is in it and yet he is bringing the Spirit of Christ into it.
Of course, it’s obvious to all of us if we do end up in Eastern Europe, we’re going to face a lot of this kind of thing. But even so, those of you who have sold in California and some of the more free swinging places in our own country, know the kinds of immorality you have met in owners. We all who deal in business know the kind of people we have to deal with. It seems important to see that right from the very beginning when God was directing the Hebrews how to operate in the world, he provided for these social injustices that existed and he didn’t concentrate first on abolishing those. He concentrated first on bringing the Spirit of his own heart into them.
Now, does anybody have any thoughts or questions? Or, do you have any practical situations like that that occur? They are not easy and I don’t say that we could even settle them in a discussion here. I’m more concerned with what God is saying to us about looking for the Spirit of Christ to guide you individually in it. But I remember Colleen brought one up yesterday about a customer who talked about her daughter and her boyfriend going on and around the world trip. And as Colleen says, what do you do, you know? Do you just smile and say, “Oh, that’s interesting what a nice thing to happen.” Or, and we can almost answer this one immediately without any problem, or do you engage there and then on a knock down drag out argument with her about encouraging immorality and fornication in her children?
To quote her Jesus word’s, “If you put a stumbling block in the way of one of these little ones, it would be a judgment.” Well, we all know that’s the finish of Colleen’s relationship with that owner for one thing. But, I think it’s more than that. I think it’s more than that. I think if you do that I think the owner has no clue where you’re coming from. Doesn’t have a notion what you’re at and just writes you off as a nut and can’t understand any of that stuff. On top of that it feels that you’re putting her down and that you’re criticizing the way that she’s dealing with her daughter and probably, who knows, feels a vague guilt. It’s a guilt about her action, it’s not a guilt that she hasn’t received Christ which is really the guilt that counts and that is saving, it’s just a general feeling that, “Here’s a person that she liked, Colleen, this was a nice company and now it’s all spoiled. I also feel that she doesn’t think that I’m a good mother and it’s just chaos.”
Now that seems to be what God is speaking to here. What good does it do to rev them up, what good does it do to lay waste whatever order there is in this society. It seems no, what we have to do is sink into Christ more and more, allow him to have his way in our own private life so that in his good wisdom words might sometime come from our lips that will begin to give life to that customer and then would begin to feed Jesus into her, and then when she comes to her daughter – after all what good does it do if you get her daughter to stop going around the world with the boyfriend? That won’t save her.
So it seems to me we’re always coming up against situations like that and I think we all feel, “Look, I’m ready to stand up for right and I’m not ashamed to own my Lord and to fight his cause.” You know, we’re ready to speak and to witness and we don’t want to be thought fearful and yet we hesitate. Sometimes we’re not sure, are we hesitating because we don’t want to lose the business? Are we hesitating because we want Christian Corps to prosper and this will hurt Christian Corps? Or, are we hesitating because somehow this is right to do this? I frankly think it is right to take
this attitude. I think it’s here in scripture. I think you have to be constantly listening to Jesus’ Spirit to know where the limits are.
But does anybody have any other situations like that, or any ones that you’re doubtful about, you know.
Answer: An interesting situation and I don’t know if I had a couple instances like it in my first ventures. It’s hard. You have to let Jesus do what he has for you to do and know what to do at the time. I don’t know what to say and let me rely on Jesus to say what he wants to say to the person. But it seems like what happened over a period of time now and I didn’t – I’ll just tell you what I did. I ended up showing him the line the first time. He ended up buying it and I realized all these thoughts come into your head, “I wonder should we do business? Alright, is this our customer? Should we do business with this person in this kind of situation?” But I thought we should. I mean, I felt like he wanted, I thought it would do well there. But it was interesting, just as I got set to leave, there was a situation there where I could shake his hand or not and I didn’t know what to do there, but I shook his hand. I came and I shook his hand and I said, “Thanks John for the order and I’ll see you next time. I’ll see you at such and such a time.”
Well, the next time I called him back, and you know, he didn’t have to see me that week, he said, “Why don’t you just do the order yourself?” And so I talked to him a little bit on the phone just in general and the next time I called him it seemed like he actually wanted me to just come down and have a coffee and just talk. And it was, I think, I’m not sure because some of the times that I would call him he wasn’t in, so I thought was he sick or something? I have never talked to him, I mean I haven’t got back together with him, I will now sometime before the end of our time in New York but it’s an interesting situation. You know, it’s something we don’t know – you want to express Jesus to them and show them reality and show them the true love, what real sound love is and I don’t know, God will have to take that next step.
I think Dan is a good example of what God gradually and painstakingly levered us out of. In many ways we all benefitted in some way from what is known as evangelisms, or charismatic movement, or attempted spiritual Christianity, we all benefited from it. But always it seemed to me to have too much of the idea of proselytizing in it. Proselytizing as opposed to new birth. We talked about new birth and we talked about being filled with the Spirit, but it seemed to me to be very preoccupied with proselytizing, that is getting people to believe the way we believed.
It seemed to lead to another error, the error that you could change people just through a few casual encounters. Which seemed to me always ridiculous because I thought no human being is going to change because somebody comes to their door and explains something to them however intellectually true it may be. I thought a person has become what they are over years, and years, and years and even if they wanted to change they couldn’t change like that. I always believed in what I stood in theology in that certainly Paul appeared to change in a moment. But, go a little further back and you find that it was Saul who looked after the clothes of the man who stoned Stephen so obviously he was facing something of the reality of Christianity back then.
Then if you think of his years in these schools of the Pharisees he obviously was being exposed to the truth of the Jehovah God and so it seems to me that proselytizing presupposes that in a few quick conversations you can change people and make them Christian. Whereas I think, people are impressed by day, after day, after day, year, after year, after year, I think people constantly see,
“My Father was the same all the time.” Or, they’ll talk about somebody else and they’ll say, “This person was the same day in and day out.” And it’s that that they respect.
And I think it’s the same in England. I think it’s been year after year and I think that’ll be the same with us. I think you have to be prepared to put the same years in, a few of them, a few of the same years in that God has put in with all of us. I agree so much with you that I think it’s the consistent living before the people day after day. Also, the prayer — the prayer that the Holy Spirit would move them. I think anything else comes over to them as superficial. Such as, “Here’s another evangelical,” or, “Another goody goodie,” or, “Somebody else who doesn’t really understand my sexual preference,” you know.
What really, in fact, the more desperate people are the more they want to see reality. I mean, the worse their situation is in life the more they want to see something real, and something stable, and something that brings stability. And in New York I think, more than any other place that I’ve been, I think it’s a place that needs to see people who are just plain – I mean, just normal. They need to just see normal Christians because they see so much average. You know it’s sort of a fearful place and all that kind of stuff so if they just have some – they want it, they want stability and they want to see.
The fashion world is desolated. There were several articles in the newspaper this past week, the fashion world has been desolated by aids. I mean, absolutely devastated. There are – the problem is companies are now going bankrupt because the heads are dying of aids and it’s now difficult to get anybody to take over the design so actually they are in trouble. You could put me right, love, but it seems to me the whole status of design is in difficulty, there are so few designs coming out because of these.
So people who had the creativity are gone. They are gone. And I think – I don’t think we’re facing the extreme of that in our business but we are Crown Fashion Jewelry and we are involved in fashion. And I think the glorious thing is that we have contacts, certainly we have contacts with many ordinary people around gift stores, but we do have contacts also with people who are not in the center of society’s ethics and morals. And I think we have a great opportunity.
It’s more thought – it’s not – really, it has to be Jesus’ Spirit in you speaking to a person. It’s like the woman at the well. Jesus did not condemn her. He didn’t say, “Oh, you were caught in adultery.” He didn’t go on and with what everyone else was accusing her of. He just said – he spoke to her the thing that he said and in a way that’s what we have to do with people in the different situations that they’re in, you have to let Jesus speak to their situation. And wait for that and pray for them, but wait for the opportunity. I’m thinking of even that hard lady. She may be a very bitter woman but by your faith, by your not responding to her in a harsh manner if she’s responding to you in a harsh manner. You know, over a period of time there may come a time just like other situations that they’ll want to talk to you or want to have coffee or something.
What I’m saying, Dan, more and more and I have to say it’s coming home to me in my own life is that Jesus speaks through me as I myself am walking in obedience to him in the things that he is showing me now day by day. And I’m seeing – I’m seeing that my integrity is spoiled by any unfaithfulness there is in my own life almost where they don’t see me. Where they don’t see me and I’m seeing that Christ speaking through us is directly connected with our own faithful obedience to the light that he is giving us in our own lives. I can see that you know.
I think we all are good at different things. One person is good at making croissants at breakfast, or good at keeping the surgery neat, and another person is good at something else, but I see that it’s important for me to walk into the light that God is giving me about the shortcomings in my own life. If Christ is going to speak through me to others. Maybe I feel it more and more now with the radio thing because I know fine well, “What do they know about the source of the information?”
Presumably something can come through the tone of voice, but primarily I think Jesus’ Spirit is able to speak to some little Chinese lady in the light of my obedience to Jesus in the way I operate on my desk, or the way that we operate with my finances, or that sort of thing. I see that. In other words, the ministry of Jesus’ life to me seems less and less connected with the gift of wisdom, and the gift of this, and the gift of that and more connected with my letting him live his life in me privately where no Chinese person can see me at all. And in the light of that he is able to get through to them.
So, I agree with you but all I’m saying is it seems to me it’s a more whole thing. It’s the whole life. Then it’s whatever you say actually is – you trust that it is the right thing. It’s not like you have to sense it. You know it. It is the right response.
I’ve seen it in things. We all – every partnership has it’s little specialties. I’m sure Irene you would say some of the things she does aren’t the greatest and I have more – I’m more in line on those things but I’m concerned not about those, I’m concerned about the things where she is right and I am wrong, I’m out of line. It seems to me those are the things, those are the places that I have to deal with Jesus honestly on. That’s why actually for your sales, I tend to go for that not because I hate you, not because I want to destroy you, but because in my own life those have been the growing ages of Jesus in me.
I’ve always – if you said to me, “Well, you couldn’t this and you couldn’t that.” I’ve thought, “Well, big deal that is God’s grace he has done that. What else can I do about that? I can’t stand up and swell out my breast and say, ‘Yeah I’m great.’” That’s not the interesting place. The interesting place for me is where I should decrease and Jesus should increase. And it seems to me that’s it. Don’t you think that ties up with death as it were in me and Christ in you? That it’s as we’re dying to the things that where Christ is not ruling in us, it’s where we’re dying to those that Christ is coming out to others at the moment when we least think he is.
Don’t you think that’s part of it? It’s a very unconscious ministry then, it’s not a conscious ministry, “I’m imparting brother to you Christ this moment.” Or, “Here’s a word of wisdom for you.” But it’s when you least think that there’s anything coming out you at all because you’re frustrated before Christ in your own inadequacies, it’s then Christ lives.
It’s an interesting place that we’re in. I mean, it’s much better – I mean, in terms of the ability to touch people’s lives, it’s much more real than a church situation. I mean in the sense that – I have been to churches up in Toronto just recently over the weekend and stuff. Even the good ones, and even the ones where they’re solid and well, good spirit and all that but it’s like it’s still sort of, “Well now, let’s dress for Sunday service.” Let’s put on our best. We’re on show and we’re on performance, yeah.
Yeah, it’s just that this is so much more conducive to ministry life to the world than asking somebody to go to church with you.
But it takes everything you’ve got. And I don’t know about you all but I can see increasingly why – I’m very reluctant to say this, but there are great benefits in community. Unless, I think we are such dishonest creatures that we need everything to help us to even see our own inconsistency, it seems to me.