When to Seek Justice or Bear Injustice

When to Seek Justice or Bear Injustice

There are times when it is appropriate to seek justice and times when it is best to bear injustice. The grounds for when to do what seem to always be centred around the gospel. Will this matter serve the cause of the gospel as I seek justice or will this matter bring the gospel into disrepute? Will I be able to serve the cause of the gospel better by seeking justice in this case or will I serve the cause of the gospel better by bearing this injustice patiently and leaving it with the Lord to judge one day? So rarely in our quest for justice do we ask these sorts of questions.

Injustice, without question, exists. In our broken world, it exists all around us. It exists in society, it exists in our denominations and gospel partnerships, it exists in the church and it exists in our own hearts. Sinful people will cause injustice. Injustice, simply, is opposed to whatever is right. It is the inverse of righteousness, which is concerned with rightness. Injustice is the absence of what is just and right; it is unfairness and wrongness made manifest.

But what do we do about injustice? Options range from setting up campaigns and waging unrelenting war against it right the way through to actively encouraging it ourselves. But what should be our response as believers? I think there is a time to pus back against injustice and there is a time to wear it. The big question is, how do we know when to do either?

Helpfully, I think Paul offers us some pointers both in how he responded to injustice on a personal level and how he directed the church to address injustice. Let me land on four examples which, I think, give us some helpful guidance.

First, there is Paul’s imprisonment and beating in Philippi. You can read the full story in Acts 16, but the two pertinent sections are Acts 16:16-24 and Acts 16:35-40. The short story is that Paul and Silas are followed around by a girl with an evil spirit whom some men are exploiting for profit. She begins disrupting their efforts to share the gospel so Paul exorcises the demon in the name of Jesus and the girl is restored to her right mind. Her “owners” are miffed at the loss of profit so make up stories about Paul and Silas which led to them being beaten by the magistrates and chucked in prison. The next day, they are released without charge and Paul tells the magistrates they are Roman citizens who have been beaten and detained unlawfully and they expect a fulsome, public apology with an escort out of prison, which they duly did to stop word getting to their higher ups.

The second example comes later on in Acts 21-26. It kind of goes on longer than that, but you can get the main points in those chapters. This time, Paul is arrested unjustly in Jerusalem. Some Jews from Asia wrongly incite the crowd against Paul leading to a riot. A Roman Commander came down to sort matters out and again Paul cites his Roman citizenship. Only, this time, he doesn’t cite it to get out of prison, but in order to stay in! From chapter 22 to the end of Acts, Paul keeps appealing up the chain of command. He doesn’t demand release but speaks to the Roman commander, then to the Jewish Sanhedrin, then to the governor Felix, then because he as been left in prison so long, to his successor Festus. After that, Paul appeals to Caesar – to whom he goes next – but before he gets there he speaks to King Agrippa. At the end of Chapter 26, they are all agreed that had Paul not kept appealing up the chain of command he would have been released.

It seems prudent to ask why, in one case, does Paul take a beating and claim his rights as a Roman citizen after the fact while in another almost identical case he claims his rights beforehand to avoid a beating? Why, in one case, does he demand his release from unjust imprisonment and in the other keeps doing things that he knows full well will prolong his time in prison? In each case, Paul is unjustly imprisoned. In each case, his rights are being trampled all over. But he responds differently in both cases. Why?

As far as I can see, the answer seems to be for the sake of the gospel. In one case, the gospel was being maligned because of his false imprisonment. He wanted it to be made known that Christianity is not opposed to civil obedience.

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