Establish Justice in the Gate

By Nate Hartman

October 12, 2009

We've established, through reading Amos 1 and 2, that God is not happy when His people get their priorities out of order -- when they pursue their own purposes instead of prioritizing the goal of a relationship with Him.  (If you've not read the entry from earlier this week, you can do so here.)  Certainly we could draw some conclusions, at this point, about the importance of providing a Christian education for our children -- and later this week, we will do so.  However, I'd like to first explore a danger that exists for Christian schools.

During this difficult economic time, schools can be very tempted to turn inward.  We seek to protect our schools -- to guard against the threat of bankruptcy -- by limiting our spending to "only what is absolutely necessary" and curtailing our activities to match that definition of necessity.  Now, I am not criticizing schools that seek to fashion a wise budget, in order to eliminate waste and excess.  However, one of the potential dangers of this conservative outlook is the tendency to neglect service -- to overlook needs that exist outside the walls of our own schools.

Amos spoke to a people (Israel) who faced this same temptation -- who were more concerned with their own well-being than with caring for others.  This extended to their financial lives, in which they "tread down the poor and [took] grain taxes from them" (Amos 5:11).  They did this to be financially "well-off" or "safe" -- so that they could continue to maintain their "houses of hewn stone" and the "pleasant vineyards" (5:11) which they had planted.  These were a people who were doing "whatever was necessary" in order to maintain their own way of life.  In selfishness they "[turned] justice into wormwood, and [laid] righteousness to rest in the earth" (5:7).

And, this, my fellow servants, is not right.  Amos called these actions "manifold transgressions" and "mighty sins" (5:12).  He did not give the Israelities an excuse for meeting their own needs before those of others ("diverting the poor from justice at the gate" - v. 12).  Noting that many of the leaders of Israel refused to speak up against these wrongs ("the prudent keep silent at that time"), Amos called this "an evil time" (v. 13).  We need to ask ourselves, in the midst of our schools' financial struggles and conservative planning, whether we are falling to these same temptations.  Are we neglecting the command to care for the poor and needy?  Are we teaching our children to think first of themselves before considering the needs of others?

In the midst of Israel's scratching and clawing to care first for themselves, Amos gives them a very clear alternative -- "Seek good and not evil, that you may live; so the Lord God of hosts will be with you, as you have spoken.  Hate evil, love good; establish justice in the gate.  It may be that the Lord God of hosts will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph" (5:14-15).  Stop this foolishness, My people; stop trying to protect and provide for yourselves at the expense of the downtrodden.  The only way you're going to find what you need -- My blessing -- is to pursue goodness and justice.  That is the only way to gain My grace.

What is God's response to His people when they refuse to pursue goodness and justice?  To them God says, "I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies.  Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them, nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.  Take away from Me the noise of your songs, for I will not hear the melody of yoru stringed instruments...but let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream" (5:21-24).

So it is with us.  In this time of struggle for Christian schools, we cannot simply go about our business, as if "doing only what is necessary" is an excuse for neglecting the call to service.  God will not accept that form of Christian education; He will not bless it, and He will not sustain it.  If we think that we can push through these tough times by turning inward and willing our way through the lean years, we are sorely mistaken.  In order to attain God's grace and blessing, we must passionately pursue the purpose that He desires; we must look outside ourselves, identify the needs in the community surrounding us, and invest time and effort (and, yes, even finances) to meet those needs.

The implications of this truth do not demand that you take all of your school's assets and donate them to a local shelter, or that you indiscriminately spend on any worthy cause that presents itself.  What is important is that your school has an eye toward your community, that you are aware and sensitive to the needs of others, that you trust God to provide for your needs enough to be willing to give when you should give, and that you hold this example of justice and righteousness up before the kids and families who you are teaching and serving.

As NCSAA partners with Christian schools, we recognize our own responsibility to serve, as well -- and we'll be sharing some of our community and outreach plans with you in the near future.  We hope that many of you will be willing to join us in these efforts, and to challenge us and hold us accountable where necessary.  As we seek a renewal of Christian education in our culture, we recognize that will only come through our obedience to God's command -- that we establish justice in the gate.  And so we pray for your schools -- that your community will be your vision, and that righteousness will be your passion.

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