In our current series, the Four Corners of Mission, we’ve been looking at the different “corners” where God sends us in our workplaces. We can think of the different aspects of our mission as destinations: places where God is already at work, and where we can join him in the work he is doing. Today we come to the “corner” of justice. What’s the right way for us to be people of justice in our workplaces?
[This post is part of our series The Four Corners of Mission. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources.]
God of Justice
The Bible teaches that justice is near to God’s heart. Psalm 50:6 says, “And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice” (NIV).
In a cultural moment where justice and injustice are constantly debated—both inside and outside the church—we need a trustworthy intellectual foothold for our concept of justice. As disciples of Jesus, we can start with this biblical image of justice as an expression of God’s heart and character. A Christian practice of justice in the workplace starts with our vision of God. Without the conviction that God is good and just in the way he deals with human beings, and in his purposes for our world, our efforts for justice will veer off track.
God’s Character and Ours
Justice is a character issue not just for God, but for us, too. Discussions of justice necessarily include systems that go beyond individual people. But the character of individual people will always influence other people around them, and those larger social systems, for good or ill. A whole picture of justice encompasses more than individual character, but not less.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (5:1-2 NRSVue). Paul is saying that what is true of God’s character, as supremely revealed in Christ’s offering of himself on the cross, can also become true of us. Here, Paul emphasizes that the character of God revealed in Christ is love. We can love because Christ loved us.
Justice at Work: Imitating God
This pattern of imitation applies to the various aspects of God’s character, including justice. We can be just because God is just to us. It’s our conviction and experience that God has done right by us that allows us to do right by others. So it comes as no surprise that Scriptures call God’s people to be just. Isaiah the prophet proclaims:
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
bring justice to the fatherless,
plead the widow’s cause.
Isaiah marks a pattern here: good is something that we learn to do. It’s a matter of character, the embodied habits of our lives. That character expresses itself in action: pursuing justice for those most vulnerable in society.
In Isaiah’s time, as in ours, “the fatherless” and “the widow” might be neighbors just down the road. But the reference also includes bigger social forces such as “oppression” that can function at a societal level.
So, we could sum up the pattern of justice we see in Scripture like this: Because God is just to us, we can learn to be just, too. That just character is made manifest in both interpersonal relationships and in how we address larger social systems. Here’s how I would map that pattern if I had a flip chart:
This pattern can guide us as we seek to practice justice in the workplace.
Justice at Work: Interpersonal Relationships
It’s easy to see how character plays out in interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Consider someone who unfairly takes credit for his coworkers’ efforts, and has the panache to get away with it. This is a character issue, in that he’s willing to deceive others. But it also reveals a deeper conviction: He believes he needs to deceive in order to get ahead. He does not believe that God will take care of him, that he will be well, if he does the right thing. It’s because he lacks a vision of God as a just and generous provider that he has developed a deceitful character that hurts his coworkers.
In contrast, consider someone who lifts up and applauds her teammates’ efforts, even when she doesn’t have to. This behavior also reveals a conviction: That celebrating others does not endanger her well-being. People of various backgrounds may hold this conviction; as a Christian, she has the best reason to hold it: God will take care of her, and she will be well. She does not need to deceive, so she does not develop a deceitful character. Her vision of God’s character establishes her own just character, expressed in how she celebrates her coworkers rightly.
At an interpersonal level, justice means doing right by the people right in front of us. The Psalms describe a person with just relationships as one who “who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind” (15:4 NIV). Our confidence in God’s good character frees us to act justly, even when it comes at a cost. We can work hard instead of cutting corners. We can give credit where credit is due—even to coworkers who aren’t our favorite people. We can tell the truth about our own efforts, and our own limitations. We can level with our clients instead of exaggerating to land a deal.
If we’re in a position of leadership, we can refuse to play favorites and work to help every team member thrive. We can pay employees decently and commensurately with the value of their work, instead of taking advantage of our position to disproportionately line our own pockets. We can keep our word.
Justice at Work: Social Systems
Beyond acting justly in our own interpersonal relationships, we can also attend to the social systems that intersect our workplaces. Every field of work is affected by patterns of justice and injustice that are part of our social structures.
For example, in the field of legal justice itself, one systemic form of injustice in the United States is the lack of affordable legal counsel. Bruce Strom, a Christian attorney and founder of the ministry Administer Justice, has argued that legal counsel has become commoditized in the United States—and overpriced. Many of the most vulnerable have no one to “plead their cause” as Isaiah demanded (1:17). Administer Justice addresses this form of injustice by catalyzing churches to fill the gap through Gospel Justice Centers, where low-income neighbors can get sound legal counsel for only a $30 copay.
You can see again how this approach to helping rectify an injustice is ultimately rooted in character. Church members who step up to run or volunteer at a Gospel Justice Center are motivated by God’s heart of justice for the vulnerable. Their own character moves them to act—and their action meets specific needs in response to a systemic issue.
But you don’t have to have a special ministry organization to follow this pattern in your own work context. Educate yourself about the justice issues that permeate your field, and then consider how you can work to counteract them. For example, one justice issue that cuts across several fields is the employability of workers with a criminal record. If you have influence on your organization’s hiring practices, consider looking into whether there is a policy that automatically excludes certain applicants based on a felony conviction. As Christians, we of all people know that God’s justice includes room for second chances—and not just for ex-con superheroes like Scott Lang.
Justice at Work as Mission
When we become more just in our own character, we fulfill part of God’s mission in the world. He sends us into our workplaces as his ambassadors and representatives. The small, faltering steps we take toward Christlike character reflect the goodness of God himself. As we live out that character in our relationships and in response to systemic cases of injustice, we are “let[ting] our light shine” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).
Justice is a work of mission all by itself, since it’s part of what God has sent us to do in the world. But it also connects to other aspects of mission, like sharing our faith. As opportunity arises, we can tell others about the God whose love and justice motivates us. When people see real justice in action, it may lead them to suspect that there’s a good, just God behind it after all.
Reflect and Practice
- What difference does it make that justice is part of God’s character?
- What do you make of the idea of “imitating God” and taking on his character?
- Have you ever acted unjustly in your work relationships? What was that like?
- What issues of justice or injustice are there in your specific field?
- What’s one step you can take to live out justice in your workplace this week?
Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash.
Subscribe to get our next post in your inbox.
Support Mission Central.