The Christian's Answer to Injustice
Injustice seems to be the hot topic of the news cycles these days. The entire world it seems is consumed with whether justice is being done, although the truth and law upon which justice is based is continually being eroded, discredited, and re-written. “Injustice” is the battle cry of every social justice warrior and self-anointed savior of mankind who perceives that one certain group is being mistreated in some form or fashion by another.
Solomon himself indicated that injustice was a common occurrence in his time: “Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.” (Ecclesiastes 4.1)
How shall the Christian deal with the problem of injustice? The actions of Paul and Silas in Acts 16 can perhaps shed some light on a difficult subject and give us a good starting place as to how to deal with injustice in our own lives and in the lives of those around us.
1. Injustice does not require nor excuse lawlessness in response.
Acts 16.16-24 describes how Paul and Silas were treated extremely unjustly by the Philippian government. The owners of the recently dis-possessed slave girl are angry at the loss of their source of great profit, and in response drag Paul and Silas before the magistrates. Their salacious accusations provoke the crowd to join them in their attacks on the two innocent men, and the magistrates respond by tearing “the garments off them and (giving) orders to beat them with rods.” (v.22). Following the unjust (and illegal) public beating and humiliation, they are thrown into the innermost depths of the Philippian prison with their feet fastened into stocks.
Despite this treatment, however, Paul and Silas did not use the injustice done against them to justify lawlessness in themselves or others. In Acts 16.26 the entire prison is freed simultaneously from their cells and chains by a great earthquake. When the jailer awakes to find all the prison doors opened, he draws his sword to kill himself (naturally supposing that all the prisoners have escaped) and stops when Paul cries out “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” (v.28). These two men jailed unjustly and unlawfully do not use this opportunity to “make it right” and get out of prison. Instead, they convince (either directly or indirectly) the rest of the prisoners to remain in their cells rather than escape, which would have resulted in the certain death of the Philippian jailer.
This refusal to allow injustice to justify lawless is exemplified further in v.33-35. The Philippian jailer brings Paul and Silas to his home, washes their wounds, is baptized alongside his family, sets food before them, rejoices with his household that they have believed in God, and then sends them on their way preaching the gospel, right? Not exactly. Note carefully v.35: “But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, ‘Let those men go.’”, and then v.39: “So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city.” This means only one thing: Paul and Silas went BACK TO THE PRISON! Despite the grave injustices done against themselves by the Philippian government, they return to the prison that very same night. The injustice done against Paul and Silas did not permit them to ignore their God-given responsibility towards the safety of the Philippian jailer and his family.
We can see in the examples of Paul and Silas in Acts 16 that being treated poorly or unjustly by the government (or anyone else, for that matter) does not permit lawlessness for the mistreated. Christians are bound first by the will of the Father and His word, then by the laws and law-makers of the governments that God has established (Romans 13.1-7). Rebellion against man-made law (and therefore, government) is required only when submission to law requires rebellion against God. For injustices to be done against us as Christians because of Christ is to be expected (2 Timothy 3.12), and even rejoiced over (Acts 5.41). A Christian cannot justify sinful behavior on any ground whatsoever, even if we are treated unjustly and sinfully by others.
2. Injustice does not prohibit using law advantageously.
Paul and Silas were treated unjustly, and when released by the Philippian government (which was likely done because of the “great earthquake”) they could have simply walked away and went on about their business of the Kingdom. However, this is not the course of action that Paul takes in this situation. The government’s unjust public beating and imprisonment of Paul and Silas was also unlawful according to Roman law, and Paul chooses here to exercise his rights under the law.
As a Roman citizen, Paul is well within his rights to not let this unjust treatment pass unchallenged. When the magistrates send their policemen to have Paul and Silas released the next morning and the jailer informs Paul of this, his response is striking: “But Paul said to them, ’They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.’” (Acts 16.37) This revelation of Roman citizenship to the authorities inspires great fear in them, for they know the consequence of such a gross violation of the Roman Empire’s law against the ill treatment of its citizens.
Yes, the Philippian government and those who led it treated Paul unjustly and does not seem to be concerned about following God’s will in their dealings. However, Paul did not sin by using his status as a Roman citizen to require a public, in-person release, as well as an apology, by the Philippian magistrates. The fact that the Philippian government did not operate by godly standards did not prevent Paul from using the benefits of his Roman citizenship to their fullest possible benefit on his behalf. This is not even the most famous example of Paul utilizing the government’s laws to his advantage found in Acts: the account in Acts 22 of Paul escaping flogging by way of his Roman citizenship is much more well known.
Christians live under government systems that often have treated us unjustly and unfairly in different ways. In some circles, there seems to be a perception that Christians must always give up their rights under the law under the banner of persecution or perhaps a misplaced sense of humility. In other words, the idea that being treated wrongly by the government must always be met without resistance or response. Paul’s example in Acts 16 and in other places would seem to show that a Christian can (and in some cases should) exercise whatever rights they have under the law to defend themselves or enable the work of the Kingdom to continue without hindrance, if possible. This must always be done, as is true of all things, “in the name of the Lord” (Col. 3.17), in accordance with godly wisdom and good judgment.
3. Injustice does not prevent faithful service to God, nor does it excuse a lack thereof.
The easy path after being treated unjustly is one of excuses. “I can’t serve and work because I was treated unjustly.” This is not the response we see Paul and Silas take when they are treated horribly by the two slaveowners, by the crowds, and by the magistrates. The response of Paul and Silas to their treatment is to serve despite the injustice.
After being beaten and publicly humiliated, Paul and Silas in Acts 16.16 are praying and singing hymns to God while being locked in stocks in the innermost part of the prison! Once the earthquake frees everyone, it is logical to assume they prevent a mass prison break. They preach the good news of Jesus to the very man who locked their feet in chains, then going home with him to do the same to his family! If this weren’t enough, upon being freed and apologized to by the Philippian magistrates, they go back into the city to visit Lydia and to encourage the brethren (Acts 16.40)! Instead of being stopped and hindered by the injustice that was shown to them, Paul and Silas simply allowed the injustice to steer their continuing service to God in a new direction.
In the same fashion that injustice does not permit lawlessness against God, injustice does not excuse one from carrying out their God-given responsibilities as servants of Him and His people. Jesus suffered the greatest injustice ever recorded in human history, and yet it was through these injustices that He carried out the plan of God and defeated sin and death on our behalf. For a Christian to allow personal injustice to prevent their service is simply a denial of the One for whom they are named. While injustice may force the soldier of Christ to fight in a different battle or perhaps on a different battlefield, the fight for the Kingdom must continue to be fought.
4. Powerlessness to stop injustice should not prevent care being shown to those unjustly treated.
The last point to be made is found in the actions of the jailer towards Paul and Silas. The jailer was powerless to stop what had been done to Paul and Silas. The only thing the jailer could do is what he was told: lock them away in prison. However, we see in his conversion account a telling reaction to the state of Paul and Silas: “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” (Acts 16.33-34).
What can a Christian do in the face of injustice? Perhaps you’re not able to change policy or law, but this is far from being powerless to care for those who suffer injustice. Start by showing real concern and not lip-service. Wash the wounds of the wounded. Bring that person into your home and feed them. Do as Jesus described in Matthew 25.35-36: welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. Share the gospel in all things and with all people. We live in a world that is filled with injustice. May we never be the cause of injustice, and may we always seek to help others, showing them the God of all justice. –Kyle Sanders