He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
Micah 6:8 ESV
In the book of Micah, God’s people in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had turned away from Him as was evidenced by their sin and wickedness. God raises up His prophet, Micah, to warn them of His coming judgment. There would be grave consequences if they did not listen to His warnings, repent of their evil deeds, and turn back to Him.
The people of these two kingdoms were worshipping idols and actively oppressing the poor and vulnerable. False prophets and corrupt leaders were abusing those who trusted them and leading people astray. Additionally, the people were complaining against the character of God as if they were weary of Him and treating Him as if they could buy His favor with empty rituals. Dead rituals are enough for dead idols, but the Living God requires a living faith as we see in the way God responds.
He answers His people’s complaints with what has come to be one of the most well-known scriptures in the Bible. This scripture is where I find my thoughts returning again and again these days.
…to do justice
- What is justice?
- How do we do justice?
In order to answer these two questions, we need to look at the first part of God’s answer given through the prophet Micah: He has told you, O man, what is good.
God has told us what is good. It is important to get this part right. I am not the standard of what is good. My desires and your desires are not the standard of what is good. God is that standard. He is good, and He has told us what is good (Deut. 32:3-4; Psalm 119:68; Luke 18:19; Psalm 33:4-5).
Justice, therefore, can be defined as what God has told us to be good, and it is as we study His Word and come to know Who He is that we are equipped to do justice, or every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Another way to think about doing justice is to think of it as doing what is right. God has told us what is right, and we are to do what is right.
God’s people in Micah were disobeying Him in two ways:
- They were actively doing what God had forbid them to do
- They were failing to do what God had commanded they do
Doing what is right encompasses both ideas. We can think of them as two sides of the same coin.
In Micah 2, God spells out the ways the powerful had purposefully schemed to lie and cheat the vulnerable stealing whatever they wanted: land, houses, even family inheritances. These men were actively doing what God had forbid: lying, cheating, and stealing.
They were also failing to do what God had commanded. He had given them specific instructions on how they were to treat each other and care for the poor and vulnerable among them (Deuteronomy 10:18; 24:17-22; 26:12-13; Leviticus 19:33-34; Leviticus 19:35-36)
James 1:27 shows us this same idea: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
We are to be actively doing what is good: caring for orphans and widows, and actively avoiding sin: keeping ourselves unstained from the world.
And, in Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” Treating people the way you would want to be treated is the essence of all God commanded and forbid in the Old Testament. That naturally involves doing both the good you would have others do to you and not doing the wrong you wouldn’t want others to do to you.
The world has always tried to come up with its own definitions of justice. Often, the world’s definitions are opposed to God’s definitions. Let’s consider a modern example.
Today, the world tells us abortion, the purposeful killing of a pre-born child, is a woman’s right, and access to abortion is an integral part of justice (or what they term reproductive justice). For a person to adopt this definition of justice, they will be living according to God’s definition of injustice: killing the innocent (Genesis 9:5; Exodus 20:13).
God takes issue with those who are supposed to know right from wrong but are the very ones who hate good and love evil inevitably leading to acts of injustice such as oppression, violence, and murder (Micah 3:1-4). We know it is morally wrong to kill an innocent human being. We know scientifically, and even logically, it is an innocent human being growing and developing in a woman’s womb. We know better.
As Christians, we must reject the world’s definition of justice concerning the child in the womb and instead do justice according to God’s definition which involves a myriad of good works such as educating, supporting, and loving women who find themselves in unplanned or crisis pregnancies, providing for physical needs, working to change evil laws, upholding God’s design for sex, and helping those suffering mentally, emotionally, and physically from past abortions.
Many today claim it is enough if we simply avoid committing injustices ourselves. I’m sure you’ve heard such a statement, “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.” Yet, God is clear we are supposed to do justice. We are supposed to do what is good. That is a very different idea than to merely avoid doing what is wrong. Again, avoiding sin and doing good are two sides of the same coin: obeying what God has told us is good.
Abortion is just one example we can pull from our culture today but easily makes the point that to do justice we must first be able to accurately define justice, and we can only do that through what God has told us is good.
In Ephesians 2:10, God says we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which He prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Doing good, or doing justice, therefore, isn’t a choice for the Christian. It is an essential part of our new life in Christ.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus tells the story of a Jewish man who was beaten, robbed, and left half dead while traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. Both a priest and a temple assistant saw this man beaten and dying as they traveled along this same road and both passed him by.
Neither the priest nor the assistant were the ones who had committed the injustices, but both failed to live up to what God requires because they failed to do good.
It was a despised Samaritan who stopped and showed compassion tending to the man’s wounds, placing him on his own animal, caring for him through the night at an inn and then leaving him in the care of the innkeeper promising to provide whatever money was required to see the man fully recovered. The Samaritan is our example of doing what is right.
Before we will have hands and feet that do justice, we must first have a heart that loves what is right. What we do outwardly is motivated by what we love inwardly.
That leads us to the second part of what God requires of His people.
…to love kindness
If justice is what God requires we do, kindness is what God requires we love. A heart that doesn’t love kindness (or that which God has shown us is good) will not produce hands and feet that do justice.
Consider that for a moment.
Can the work of justice come from a wicked, hateful, bitter, dishonest, idolatrous, or apathetic heart? Of course not. Before we will ever be a people who do justice, we must first be a people who love kindness. The outward work of justice begins through an inward change in our hearts.
The word kindness encompasses many ideas: mercy, unfailing love, goodness, patience, and compassion to name a few. Indeed, various Bible translations use one of these other words for the original Hebrew in Micah 6:8, but the word kindness includes all the other ideas within its definition.
God is referred to in the bible over and over as a God who is kind. When we talk about a heart that loves kindness, we are talking about a heart that loves what God loves and as God loves.
The Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. The Lord is good to everyone. He showers compassion on all his creation.Psalm 145:8-9
But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken!Jeremiah 9:24
For his unfailing love for us is powerful; the Lord’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise the Lord!Psalm 117:2
It is because God is kind that He hates injustice and delights in justice. When we think about doing justice, we need to do so from a heart that loves kindness.
When the Samaritan stopped to help the abused man on the side of the road, his actions revealed his heart. He showed compassion and mercy being willing to sacrifice his own goods, safety, and money for a stranger. That’s a heart that loves kindness. The willingness to show mercy to the hurting is an important part of kindness.
But, I want to look at another story told by Jesus in Matthew 18:23-25. There was a king who wanted to settle his accounts with his servants. A man was brought before him who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay so the king ordered that this man, his wife, children, and all he owned be sold for the payment. The man fell on his knees and begged the king for mercy. The king reveals a heart of kindness when he is moved to pity for this man and decides to show mercy forgiving him this huge debt.
The man, having just been shown incredible kindness by the king, finds a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He falls upon the servant, choking him, and demanding payment. The servant pleads with him for mercy but this man refuses and has the servant thrown into prison until the debt can be paid.
The king finds out and is furious.
“‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt..”
Jesus goes on to say, “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Just as God requires we do justice because He is just, He requires we love kindness, and all that includes, because He loves kindness and has poured out His kindness on us in His Son, Christ Jesus.
In these two parables, we see Jesus connect a heart that loves kindness to hands that do justice in two ways:
- showing kindness to a victim
- showing kindness to a debtor
This is important for us to understand because we are all victims and debtors. We have all been sinned against, and we have all sinned. In Christ, God rescues us while we lie beaten and robbed by the sorrows, sufferings, and injustices of this life, and He rescues us as we fall before Him unable to pay our huge debt of sin. God rescues us in both ways.
We see the full culmination of this rescue in Revelation 21:4-8, where not only is death (the consequence of sin) no more but neither is the suffering natural to living in a fallen, broken world…sorrow, crying, and pain. All these things are gone forever.
God requires our lives reflect the totality of His kindness and justice towards us. This means doing justice not only includes how we treat the poor, vulnerable, and hurting but also how we handle offenses. We can only live this way from hearts full of the kindness of God.
Jesus follows the parable of the Unforgiving Debtor with a sober warning: God will treat us the way we treat others.
We see this same idea when Jesus shows us how to pray in Matthew 6:9-15. In the middle of this prayer, Jesus says, “And forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.”
After He ends His prayer, He again gives this warning: “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
Is Jesus teaching we earn the forgiveness of God by forgiving others? No, thank goodness. If we had to earn God’s forgiveness by perfectly keeping any of His commands, we would be doomed. Jesus is teaching us if we say in our hearts that it is good for us to hold an unforgiving spirit toward our neighbors when they wrong us in some way, how can we then come to God and say it is good for Him to show us kindness when we wrong Him?
In other words, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” does not meant that we are lost if the old unforgiving spirit raises its head just once. It means: No one who cherishes a grudge against someone dare approach God in search of mercy. God treats us in accordance with the beliefs of our heart: If we believe it is good and beautiful to harbor resentments and tabulate wrongs done against us, then God will recognize that our plea for forgiveness is sheer hypocrisy – for we will be asking him to do what we believe to be bad. It is a dreadful thing to try to make God your patsy by asking him to act in a way that you, as your action shows, esteem very lowly.John Piper, “Forgive Us Our Debts as We Forgive Our Debtors”
Piper is right, we will not have perfect hearts or lives this side of heaven, but the natural bend of our hearts should be toward loving kindness and doing justice.
In James 2:1-13, God tells us it is wrong to show partiality in the treatment of the rich as opposed to the treatment of the poor, and we are admonished from making light of this sin because any sin makes us a breaker of God’s Law.
He then goes on to say, “So whatever you say or whatever you do, remember that you will be judged by the law that sets you free. There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” James 2:12-13
Those in Christ are no longer slaves to sin. Christ has freed us from this bondage. We are now under the law that sets us free meaning we are free to obey God and do what is right. Again, a correlation is made between how we treat others and how we will be treated by God: If we have been merciful, God will be merciful to us. And this idea is followed by the statement that mercy triumphs over judgment.
When all our sins demanded the condemnation and judgment of God, the mercy of God in Christ’s death and resurrection triumphed over our judgment. In Jesus’ finished work on our behalf, mercy won. Having been gifted so great a mercy, how do we then turn around and demand judgment for our neighbors?
This is not to say we ignore evil. We are talking about our hearts. A heart that loves kindness will pursue earthly justice for evil in a way that honors God and points both the sinned against and the sinner to His redemption. God is both just and kind. He doesn’t neglect one aspect of His character to pursue the other aspect. Loving kindness and hating evil are not mutually exclusive. As a matter of fact, we can’t claim to love kindness if we don’t hate evil. Sincere love hates what is wrong and clings to what is good (Romans 12:9).
There is a way to pursue earthly justice, though, that is based in pride, anger, and revenge. This way does not honor God and will inevitably lead to its own injustices (James 1:20). When we pursue earthly justice from a heart that loves kindness, we will be a light in the world and a reflection of both the justice and kindness of God.
The kingdoms of Judah and Israel proved the little regard they had for God by the unjust way they treated each other. They no longer had hearts that loved kindness. They no longer loved above all else the God who is Kindness, who is Love, and therefore they no longer loved to show kindness to each other. And the reason they no longer loved kindness or did justice was ultimately because they had stopped walking humbly with God.
These three ideas are dependent on each other, and I noticed the way they are stacked in this verse. Walking humbly with God is the foundation from which a heart that loves kindness is born and shaped. Then, from this heart flows the work of justice.
This is so important for us to understand. When we are not living as we should, it points us back to our hearts and what we love. If we do not have the hearts we should, it points us back to our relationship with God. Our relationship with God is where it all begins.
…to walk humbly with God
You can draw a direct line from Micah 6:8 to Mark 12:29-31,
Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”
There is only one God and we are to love Him above all else. In a very real way, that is what it is to walk humbly with God…to recognize Him as the One True Lord and to love Him with our whole lives. And, also, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves…or to love kindness and do justice. The way we treat each other gives outward evidence of what is going on in our hearts and our relationship with God.
Right now, there is a great temptation among Christians in the West to look to the world and the world’s ideas for the answers to the questions plaguing our culture, yet, the words of Micah 6:8 are as relevant to our generation as they were when they were written. He has told us, friends, what is good and what He requires of us.
No earthly wisdom can take the place of walking humbly with God, and He has provided one way for us to have such a relationship with Him: by grace through faith in Christ. To have a heart that loves kindness as God loves kindness and hands and feet that do justice to His honor and glory, we must first come to Him through faith in His Son.
It is in Christ’s atoning death that the justice of God is satisfied and the kindness of God is magnified.
Because we are born sinners, we do not perfectly do what is right. We sin, we do what is wrong, and we fail to do all the good we should in the way we should.
For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23
God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in sinful man’s place and rise from the dead defeating sin and death for all those who place their faith in Him (John 3:16). He lived the perfect life of justice and kindness in our place, and at the moment of faith, our sins and failures are covered in His sacrifice, and we are clothed in His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). God gives us new spiritual hearts (Ezekiel 36:26) and the Holy Spirit who seals us until the day of redemption (2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Ephesians 4:30) and helps us in this life to live as new people doing what is right (Galatians 5:25; Romans 8:26; John 4:16-17).
At the moment of salvation, we are gloriously made alive (Ephesians 2:4-5), but this isn’t the end of our faith, the arrival point, it is the beginning of our faith. Just as a newborn baby will spend the rest of his life growing and developing into full physical maturity, a new Christian will spend the rest of his life growing and developing into full spiritual maturity.
This is why God says we are to walk humbly with Him. Our new life in Christ may begin in a moment, but it develops over time. It is as we draw near to Him, walking closely with Him through our days, seeking Him in His Word and communing with Him in prayer, that our hearts are shaped by His and our lives begin to reflect what He has told us is good.
Friends, we need each other on this journey, and I don’t just mean we need those who attend the same church services as us. We need the community of faith universal. My faith is strengthened as I hear of the faithfulness and testimony of Christians in China and Iraq. I am encouraged to hear that the name of Jesus is lifted high in Israel and that Jews and Arabs are worshipping Christ together. My resolve to forgive is quickened when I learn of Christians in Africa forgiving their enemies. When two local church bodies are genuinely loving each other and honoring each other, it moves me to work hard at the same.
As I walk humbly with God and you walk humbly with God, we encourage each other, admonish each other, sharpen each other, and lift each other up so that we continue in faithfulness to the end.
We long for justice, for the world to be made right, and we ache for kindness, for mercy, compassion, grace, and goodness, and God says, Here is my beloved Son. In Him, justice is satisfied, mercy is magnified, and all things are being made new (Revelation 21:5).
Come to God in Christ Jesus. Let’s walk humbly with Him. Let’s love Him with our whole lives and above all else. Only then will we love each other and our neighbors as we should. Only then will our hearts grow in loving kindness and our lives reflect what is right. It is as we humbly walk with God that we are able to live God’s way showing the world a better way and the One who is the Only way (John 14:6).