Theology of Work - Lesson 9


By studying this lesson on justice, you will gain a deeper understanding of the biblical concept of justice, which transcends the simple notions of legal punishment and adherence to rules. You will explore the profound teachings of Jesus and the Old Testament, discovering that true justice involves active righteousness, such as giving to the needy and defending the oppressed. This lesson challenges you to reexamine traditional views on justice and righteousness, emphasizing the importance of selflessness and community well-being in accordance with God's character.

Gerry Breshears
Theology of Work
Lesson 9
Watching Now

I. Introduction

A. Personal Reflection on Justice

B. Contemporary Example: Tucson Shooting

II. Understanding Justice and Righteousness

A. Traditional Views of Justice

1. Punishment of Wrongdoers

2. Legal and Moral Compliance

B. Biblical Perspective on Justice

1. Jesus’ Teaching in Matthew 5

2. Acts of Righteousness in Matthew 6

III. Righteousness and Charity

A. Redefining Acts of Charity

1. Giving to the Needy

2. Beyond Traditional Charity

B. Jesus’ Call for Greater Righteousness

1. Exceeding the Righteousness of the Pharisees

2. Sacrificial Giving

IV. Old Testament Insights on Justice

A. Deuteronomy 10:17-18

1. God’s Justice and Mercy

2. Defense of the Vulnerable

B. Psalm 146:7

1. God’s Actions as Justice

2. Support for the Oppressed

C. Ezekiel 18

1. Characteristics of a Righteous Person

2. Social Responsibilities

V. Practical Applications of Justice

A. Sharing and Generosity

1. Robbery Defined as Withholding Aid

2. Biblical Mandate for Sharing

B. Covenantal Loyalty

1. Faithfulness to God

2. Impact on Justice Actions

VI. The Example of Jesus

A. Jesus’ Life and Sacrifice

1. Leaving Heaven for Earth

2. Enduring Rejection and Oppression

B. The Call to Follow Jesus

1. Emulating Jesus’ Sacrificial Actions

2. The Challenge of True Discipleship

VII. Theological Reflections on Justice

A. Defining Image of God

1. Reflecting God’s Character

2. Responsibility and Worship

B. Formal Definitions of Righteousness

1. Well-Ordered Relationships

2. Contributing to Community Flourishing

VIII. Conclusion

A. Justice as Community Flourishing

B. Injustice as Selfishness

C. The Challenge of Retirement

D. Living Justly in Everyday Life

  • The theology of work involves every Christian’s vocation as a ministry, focusing on God’s creative energy expressed in service to others to create shalom, with insights into gifts, priesthood, justice, and the universal priesthood concept from the Reformation.
  • Understand God is a relational, self-giving being within the Trinity, inviting humans into a covenant partnership, unlike other religious views that see God as remote or pantheistic, and explore His intimate involvement in creation and loving nature through scripture.
  • Humans, created in God's image, make Him visible through physical embodiment, relational partnerships, and functional work, maintaining dignity and moral responsibility, even post-fall, while progressively transforming into Christ's likeness.
  • Learn how the spiritual, intellectual, emotional, physical, volitional, vocational, familial, and social dimensions of personhood contribute to human flourishing and how integrating these aspects can help address personal issues and enhance work life.
  • Learn that spiritual gifts, both traditional and practical, are divinely assigned and essential for ministry, emphasizing that any ability can become a spiritual gift when empowered by the Holy Spirit and used for God's mission.
  • Calling encompasses more than church ministry. The lesson highlights that every believer has a vocation to reflect God's presence in all aspects of life, using examples from Romans and Corinthians and insights from historical figures like Martin Luther and Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.
  • Salvation involves immediate transformation through Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, requiring conviction, repentance, faith, and baptism, and grants forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, a new community, a mission in God's work, and the hope of eternal life.
  • Learn that work is a divine partnership with God, starting from Genesis, emphasizing relational collaboration to cultivate the earth and create shalom, contrasting with modern views of work as a means to earn money, and highlighting business as a platform for meaningful work aimed at human flourishing.
  • Biblical justice involves active righteousness through selfless acts like giving to the needy and defending the oppressed, challenging traditional views and emphasizing community well-being in alignment with God's character.
  • Explore the concept of Sabbath rest, understanding it as a spiritual practice rooted in trust, satisfaction, and relationship with God, and learn its implications for balancing work and rest in alignment with biblical teachings.

We are created in God's image and God invites us to be co-workers with him. By developing and using the spiritual gifts God has given us, the tasks we perform when we work have eternal significance in themselves. We also have opportunities to interact with our co-workers, promote justice and enjoy times of rest.

So what is God calling you to do? Is his calling only for pastors and “professional ministers” or is it something that applies to all of his people? Dr. Gerry Breshears, professor of systematic theology at Western Seminary, explores key questions such as who God is, what he has created people to be, how being the image of God affects the way we approach work, and what is the role of spiritual gifts in our job. This course will expand your vision of what work is all about, as you come to see yourself as God’s co-worker and representative.

Theology of Work
Dr. Gerry Breshears
Lesson Transcript


You know, one of the questions that has just absolutely intrigued me and about half the Christian world is this whole concept of doing justice. It so it's a it's one of those concepts that kind of everyone knows what justice and doing justice means. At least I thought I did and well, doing justice. As I'm recording this, we just had I heard the shooting down in Tucson, Arizona. Crazy guy walks up and just start shooting people, six people dead, others critically wounded. Oh, really? So what does doing justice mean in that situation means finding the guy, capturing him, trying him, sending him to prison. So he is a part of the justice system. The justice system is to find the wrongdoer and like fix them. It's Romans 13. The doing justice is to stop the criminal and to bring him to justice, send him to prison. Do whatever. Do some sort of reparative work. Get him. So he is I don't know. Maybe it would be better yet if he did something constructive instead of just going to prison, but is basically a funny wrongdoer and stopping him punishing, punishing the wrongdoer. What we find enrollments 13, you know, and then you think, what is a righteous guy again, I always knew what it meant. Righteous guy is somebody who keeps the rules on their rules. In the Bible, there are rules. And life rules is I'm supposed to, you know, be nice to my wife and pet my cat and I, you know, pay my taxes and I all those kinds of stuff. And a righteous guy is a guy who keeps the rules. I mean, it's really pretty simple. I mean, I kind of made a mistake. I started like reading the Bible. And what I found is I started reading the Bible, specially the life of Jesus.


I found that really challenging challenge. I, for example, one of the passages that just makes me go, Oh is Matthew chapter five. In fact, we're preaching that this Sunday in my church, Matthew 517 and following. He says, I don't misunderstand what was said. I didn't come to abolish the law. Moses The law and the prophets have not come to abolish them, but of a felon. I tell the truth until heaven on earth passed away. They're not a small So to the small stroke of the pen or by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished. Okay, so he's affirming law. There's the rules, there's the commandments. And then here's what he says. Anyone who breaks one of these beliefs and in the commandments and teach to the do so, we'll be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the Kingdom of heaven. Okay, I get that. Keep it. Then he says this for I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. Oh, well, that's weird, because the Pharisees, I mean, they're the pure wants. They're the guys who obey every single command meticulously. The guy comes up to Jesus and says, So what must I do to be saved? He said, You have you have Moses. He said, I've kept these for my youth and the automatic response as well. But he didn't. He did. He did just a challenge him on that. This guy has kept every single one of the commandments to Moses for his whole lifetime. And Jesus says, Take it to the next level so old you have to give to the poor.


Now, wait a minute. Unless your righteousness exceed that of the scribes in verse is unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees, they keep everything moral. They're the most righteous guys in the community. So what righteousness I, when I read in the public literature of righteousness, is about human rights. People have our rights like the freedom of speech. So we need to if we're if you're righteous and doing justice, it means you make sure people have the freedom to express themselves. And that's what doing justice is about. Now that one, you know that one, I have more a lot more trouble with because the Bible doesn't say anything like that. In fact, it says moderate your speech and make your speech godly. So freedom of speech. No, no. There's a lot of different things that. But that's human rights. Yeah, there are human rights, but I don't know any. Anyway, that puts. What does it mean when Jesus says unless your righteousness exceeds that of Pharisees, you were not in the kingdom? What does he mean when he says to a guy who has done every single thing right for his entire life? So all that you have and give to the poor. Troubling stuff. I mean, this is what happens when you start reading the Bible and taking it seriously. When you look at the life of Jesus and really think, I want to be a follower of Jesus. So let's look. Let's look. I let's look at the Old Testament. I mean, Jesus wasn't. Well, actually, it's not. Let's start right here with Jesus, Matthew chapter six, because he's talking about righteous here in the Sermon on the Mount. And at the beginning of chapter six, he's actually talking about righteousness, doing justice. And here's what he said.


Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness. That's doing justice. In other words, said, Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before people to be seen by them. If you do, you'll have no reward for your father in heaven. So we're talking about doing acts of righteousness or doing justice. What does that mean? He defines it in the next phrase. So this is an act of righteousness. This is doing justice. Chapter six, Verse two When you give to the needy. That's an act of righteousness. And then it goes on to do it with trumpets and, Oh, look at me, I'm so cool. But when you give to the needy, you said that's an act of righteousness giving to the needy. You know what I think of giving to the needy? I don't think of justice or righteousness. I think of charity when I think of sharing with poor or giving to your charitable took charitable cause. I mean, right there is the name, I think that is charity. Jesus calls it an act of righteousness. He calls it doing justice. See, when I think of charity, I think of something that I do as kind of an optional expression of mercy or something like that. This is the righteousness that Jesus is talking about when he says, Unless your righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees, and then he defines that as giving to the needy. And the guy who kept all the mosaic commandments from his youth, he said, So all that you have and give to the poor. Hmm. So righteousness, justice isn't just stopping the criminal and bringing him to justice. It isn't just keeping the rules and doing that sort of thing. It's going beyond that. What is it in in the.


What is in the case of God? Because if we are image of God creatures and we are, then what does God do? Well, let's look at another passage in Deuteronomy chapter ten. Deuteronomy, chapter ten is Moses, the the guy that the Mosaic Commandments came through. Here's what he's describing in Jeremy Chapter ten verses 17 and 18, Deuteronomy 1017 and 18. He says, As for the Lord, your God is a God of Gods and Lord of Lords. I mean, we know that He is the He is the God. Oh, mighty and awesome who shows no partiality. Okay, I get that. That's not justice and accepts no bribes. Okay, so he's not corrupt. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the aid and giving him food and clothing. Verse 18, He you know, this is I've been reading an IV here and it says he defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loads the land, giving him food and clothing. But actually, what it says there, if you look in one of the more literal translations, like New American Standard verse 18 reads like this He executes justice or does justice. And to be correctly, trends the concept. Because when we think of executing justice, we think of something different than what's here. Here's what God does. Here's what God does. The God of Gods and Lord of Lords, Almighty and holy and awesome. He shows no partiality, exceptional bribes. So he's not corrupt. He's a man. He's a God of integrity. He does justice. For whom? For the fatherless. And the widow loves even giving him food and clothing. God does justice. And it's actually the word I. Michod, which is one of the great words of the Old Testament.


Tarek and Sadek because we translate righteousness and what would be justice. He mish pots. He executes justice. He does justice. And what it means is not only that he has integrity and doesn't accept bribes and doesn't have partiality, but that he defends the fatherless and the widow loves the alien and gives food and clothing that's doing justice is not bringing somebody to justice. What is that, in fact? Well, let me just look a little bit further. Some Psalm 146, another description of of the Lord Yahweh, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, someone 46, very similar kind of thing. It's a song of praise to the Lord. Psalm 146 In those last five Psalms or the great praise songs that conclude the book of songs. It's talking about the God, There's the Maker of Heaven and Earth and all that sort of stuff remains faithful forever. And here it is of someone 46, verse seven I he, you know, it's the same thing, you know, says he upholds the cause of the oppressed. And when you look at one of the more literal translations, like the King James, it says, who executes judgment. Same thing upholds the cause of is a good translation into American of does justice. He does justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoner free. God does justice. Yahweh does justice. And it means that He goes to the oppressed and and the hungry and. And the political prisoner to set them free. That's what doing justice. He is. Hmm. Because there's so many. Ezekiel 18. Ezekiel 18. The prophets have a lot to say about doing justice and being righteous. The tonic and the pot tonic is the righteous character. Our mission is doing justice. But here is equally teen and is equally teen is one of those just incredibly powerful passages.


I love to preach that, but kind of different thing here. But it does. It's describing the righteous man. This is Ezekiel 18, verse five. Suppose there is a righteous man, a psychotic man inside a car who does what is just and right. So it's a righteous man who does right side a can, but he does not eat at the mountain shrines or or look at the idols in the house of Israel. So he does he's loyal to Yahweh. He's loyal to God. He committed to and faithful to Yahweh. That's an important part of justice. Doing justice is being loyal to Yarwood. You could do good things, but if it's not in loyalty, really, you wouldn't be justice. You know that this is something is really important in these justice discussions is for a lot of people. They look at it's only what you do that counts. But in the Bible it's who you are connected with. And in Scripture, this is physical 18. It's a big theme in Ezekiel, He the righteous man, the one who does justice, is not going to other shrines. He is not going to idols. He is faithful to the way doing justice has a faithfulness component, a connectedness. So a loyalty I. As opposed to just doing things. It's who you are in relation to your covenant relationship is example of this would be say well, something I deal with a lot and on the pastoral side of my life is I deal with people all the time who kind of gal want to move in together. And the the word they give me when I ask, well, what about getting married? Well, we're married in a heart. So we're married in a heart. I say, Well, why don't you, like, do the biblical thing and make a public commitment to each other before family, friends and God? I mean, we don't I don't want that.


You know, we're married to heart. We just want to, you know, we would be nice to each other, would take care of each other. Well, we love each other. It's good. And I say, No, no, no, no. That's not that's we call that shacking up. You're not loyal in your heart. You're loyal. A little lower down than that. Oh, a covenant commitment means something. And it does to your way to just because somebody is doing good things does not mean they're doing justice in the sense that Jesus talks about doing justice. He does not need them out. Trying to or 18 six does not do fill his name, does not defile his neighbor's wife or lay with a woman during her period. He does not the righteous man does not oppress anyone, but turns what he took in pledge for alone does not oppress anyone. And then in the parallel this is Matthew or sorry, Ezekiel 18 seven does not oppress anyone. The parallel in the next phrase is does not commit robbery, but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. Now think about this from it. Robbery. This is equally teen robbery means. Not giving food to the hungry. Robbery means not giving my food to the hungry if I see a hungry person and don't give him food. This is saying that's robbery. The just person shares. I mean, that's what James says. If you Jesus does too. John the Baptist. If you have two to give one to the guy who has none. That's the picture of of justice, doing justice, righteousness. It's robbery. First, John, Chapter four says the same kind of thing. If you do not love your brother, how can you say that you love God? It's robbery, according to Zeke.


18 to not give your food to the hungry, provide clothing for the naked, as well as a lending excessive interest. First aid. Robbery. Robbery? Not to share my stuff. This picture of what just to see is is such a huge topic. And the more I read about a biblically, the more it challenges me. It's not punishing the wrongdoer, only it is that it's not being a person who keeps the rules. It is that. But it's got to exceed. That is what Jesus says in Matthew chapter five. Your righteousness must exceed that. The guy who's kept all the commandments his entire life must give away, sell his stuff and give to the poor white, because that's what he does. That's what he does. That's what Jesus does. In. Well, let me think just a little bit further. Oh, we're image of God creatures. We're creating his image for relationship with him, to be with him, covenant partners with him, to make his character visible in the world. So as I define image of God, it's the amazing ability and awesome responsibility to make visible the invisible characteristics of our Creator and redeemer that's worship to him. So we should be with and be like Yahweh. And what does he do? Well, the law, God's the second person in the Trinity who exists in perfect comfort, perfect situation in heaven, looks at the world, comes from the perfect point of heaven, lays it aside, gives it up, steps into this world, leaves heaven, comes into this world. His very first experience is being born in rejection. When it says in in Luke's gospel, there was no room for them in the eon. That doesn't mean that the Motel six was all the rooms are all checked out.


It doesn't mean there's no vacancy in the hotel. It means that in the family house there was no room. And there's always room for a family, always room for family. When it says there was no room found in the in it, that's a sleeping room in the house. It means you're not welcome here. He was born in rejection. He was born in incredible political oppression. I, Mike Rich, did his nativity story, fabulous film. He's a fine Christian believer. He's done six films. They've all done extremely well on Hollywood. He's a member at South was Bible Partner Church with us here in Portland. I'm in his Nativity story gives such a great picture of what political oppression looked when the Roman soldiers would just come in and demand money. And if you didn't have it, they would kill you, kill your animal, take your daughter, whatever brutality. That's what Jesus came into. I'm lived in the midst of political oppression, religious oppression, injustice, abuse. What the soldiers did to him in that incredibly unjust trial he went through. I even Mel Gibson and The Passion of the Christ didn't have courage enough to show what those soldiers did to Jesus. Horrible what they would have done to him in that back room. And then he goes to the cross and the the father and the son partner together to do the proprietary sacrifice, to pay the penalty of my sin. The father sacrifices his son. What a horror to think of doing that. The son volunteers to be sacrificed, and together they perform the purpose of Tory sacrifice to appease the wrath, the Trinitarian wrath against our sin. Incredible. And you know what he describes that is doing righteousness. When he describes what's happening, John the Baptist is about to be baptized.


He said for the sake of righteousness. What is he doing? Leaving the comfort of heaven? Coming to the horrible place that we're in to make relationships right? That's the picture of Jesus. And that's why he calls us to do justice and what he means by that. Well, we've got formal definitions of what he means by that. Righteousness means life with all its relationships. That is to God, humans and the land and ourselves, well-ordered and harmonious, so that life is full of shalom or well-being. Oh, doing justice is doing what it takes to reestablish those kinds of relationships. Righteousness is life with all its relationships in John, toward God, toward other people, toward the land, toward myself, doing justice. Like Jesus is to do what it takes to make that happen, to contribute to the flourishing of the community. In fact, Bruce Waukee, a great Old Testament scholar in his commentary in Proverbs, talks about injustice, and he describes it in a very, very good way. He says, Doing justice is inconveniencing myself for the sake of the flourishing of the community, particularly the quote unquote, worthless person in the community, the widow, the orphan, the poor, the alien oppressed, the prisoner. Doing justice is disadvantaging myself for the sake of the flourishing of community and not just human community, but divine community as well. That's what Jesus does. And so if that's true, then injustice. Injustice would be keeping my stuff to myself for my own comfort. You'll be Jesus staying in heaven instead of coming to earth. Injustice would be to keep my stuff to myself for my own comfort. Now, if you want a challenging thought, I'm 64 years old as I speak. This and retirement is one of those words that come around when you're 64.


Actually, everybody laughs when the retirement comes because they know I love what I do so much I'm never going to retire. And there's a lot of truth to that. Retirement for a lot of people means, you know, moving to San Diego and going on cruises, buying a condo in Bend and living in comfort for the rest of your life. And, you know, if if Bible is right, that's the definition of injustice. Keeping my stuff to myself for my own comfort. And I will stand here and say I'm hostile to the normal American view of retirement. But I think the Bible is to I think the Bible is, too, because it calls us to be the sword who will disadvantage our souls for the sake of the flourishing the community, particularly the worthless in the community. Now, that didn't mean to give a dollar to every beggar on the street corner. That's not wise. But what it does mean is you contribute to human flourishing. Micah Chapter six is everybody's favorite passage, I guess. Certainly one of mine. So what do you show your man? What is good, and what does the Lord require of you? But to act justly, Love mercian or can't be with her? God means a great Micah. Six eight. Put it back in context. Good thing to do in Scripture is read it in context. And as you look in chapter six of Micah, he's making his case against Israel, Judah actually, and he's saying he's making his case before the mountains here of mountains. The Lord's accusation, this new everlasting fellowship for the Lord has a clause against his people, is lodging a charge against Israel. His people. His people. He's making a charge, my people, he says, What have I done for you? What about.


What about burned you? Answer me. He says, Here's what I did. I brought you out of Egypt. I redeemed you for the land of slavery. I sent Moses to lead you. And also Aram and Miriam. My people remember, like the king of Moab. Councilman. What Bassam, the son of Bear, answered. Remember your journey from Cateme to go Goal that you may know. Here's the phrase that you may know the justice of God. I don't think any contemporary translation translated that way, but that's what it says in Hebrew. Here's a way to translate that. You may know the righteous acts of God. What's he doing? He's going to Egypt. To bring the oppressed people out of Egypt through the desert to their own land. He is inconveniencing himself, disadvantaged himself for the sake of the needy people. That is the righteousness that the justice of the Lord. Then he says, Shall I come before the Lord and show exalted? I come with him burnt offering and calves a year old. Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of realms and thousand at all? No, it's not about religious ritual. Oh yeah. Do the religiously right things, but it's about doing justice like Yahweh. What does he do? He goes and redeems the oppressed people out of Egypt. What do we do? We disadvantage ourselves for the sake of the quote unquote, worthless person for the sake of flourishing the community. That's what he means when he says to act justly in Micah six eight and to love Mercy, which is actually a hassid word, it's the loyal love. It's the faithfulness to God in others, and to walk humbly with your God. What I mean to do justice means to live like Jesus and make the character of Yahweh very visible.


Well, I'm thinking. I hope you are, too. God bless you.


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