This is the two-hundred-fifth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
“But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” Amos 5:24
It was a time of tremendous optimism. Eight centuries before Christ, people were flourishing in the Promised Land. The prophets Elisha and Jonah had prophesied a time of resurgence and strength.
But there was a quiet infection going on within God’s people. While they had wealth, peace with their neighbors, and places of worship marked with spiritual vitality (or so they thought), there was something wrong in the heart of the people. Things looked good on the outside, but they were rotting on the inside.
People had gotten indulgent in luxury. They blinked at immorality. They let the institutions of justice slide. The world had seen this before, but no one thought it would happen in the middle of Yahweh’s territory.
God gave a man named Amos, a shepherd from the small town of Tekoa near Bethlehem, an abrupt and stunning message: “God hates your religious activities, your feasts and assemblies. He has no regard for your offerings. The music of your worship is like noise to him.” Why? The functions of worship aren’t wrong, but no one can worship rightly and claim fidelity to God as long as everything in his or her life contradicts it. You can’t be righteous without loving the right. You can’t expect justice if you don’t stand for it.
Since Amos’ time, everyone has found this statement the pivot of his whole message: “Let justice roll on like a river…” It doesn’t matter how much sacrificial service we pour out of our lives, how many songs we sing in worship, how many checks we put in the offering plate. If we use people to our advantage, if we are indifferent toward the malaise of the masses, if we manipulate the courts, then we are living out a lie.
Justice is not confined to law books and the courts. It’s a living thing, and it gives life as surely as the steady stream of fresh water makes the trees and the fields flourish. When we see true justice, we feel more confident about life, and we have more certainty that there’s a moral structure to the universe.
And justice does this, too—it solidifies our faith in the one Just God.
MAKE IT REAL
On a world map randomly select a country. Spend time in prayer today for this country. Pray for its people to see political justice and for it to be a place of peace.
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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.