What does God want most from us, now that we are Christ-followers? That’s a loaded question that has just about as many answers as there are people asking the question. Some would say total devotion, keeping the 10 commandments, voting a certain way, standing up against evil in the world, sharing your faith. Others would say, reading your Bible, praying, advocating for political change, or long for Jesus’ return.
One of the most popular verses among Christians is Micah 6:8. It reads,
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
This is arguably among the top five favorite verses in the Bible. We see it on bumper stickers, coffee mugs and it appears on my Facebook news feed at least once a month. Yet, is this what Christians are known for? Do we live this out? Why does Father require this?
What does it mean to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly?
Micah 6 is a conversation between God and Israel through a prophet. In verses 1-5 the Lord introduces His case against the people of Israel. Verses 6-7 record Israel’s response.
Israel focuses is on their religious rites. First, they suggest burnt offerings of year-old calves. Second, they ask if they should bring “thousands of rams, with ten thousand of rivers of oil”. This is the rhetoric of hyperbole; such an offering could only be made by someone extremely wealthy or offered sarcastically. Third, they ask whether they should offer their firstborn sons as a sacrifice for God. Would that be enough to cover their sin? Would God be pleased with them then?
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? How often do we do the same? Trying to buy God off or trying to get off the hook by offering stuff. We don’t offer rams and first borns but we do offer to give more to the church, give this or that, do this or that if God will bless us and forgive us.
Verse 8 follows with God’s answer: “He has told you, O man, what is good.” In other words, Israel [and us] should already have known the answer to their questions. God then says that He did not need or desire their religious rites, sacrifices, or offerings. Instead, the Lord sought Israel’s justice, mercy, and humility.
The subtle nuances of the Hebrew word here is fascinating. “Require” misses the heart of it. It makes us think of rules or grading, as in “the teacher requires you turn in a three-page paper by Friday.” But the word used here has undertones of affection, or the healthiest sort of dependency, as in “the child requires his mother’s love.” There is a mood of seeking; lovers seek each other out, and a shepherd seeks his lost sheep.
So, when the Lord “requires” justice, kindness and mercy, it isn’t that the Lord “insists on” or “demands” these things. God seeks them, yearns for them, and frankly needs them from us as intimate partners in God’s adventure down here.
“Do Justice” should be understood as living with a sense of right and wrong. In particular, the judicial courts had a responsibility to provide equity and protect the innocent. Injustice was a problem in Israel at that time and still is for us today in Canada.
The justice Father is seeking isn’t fairness or rewarding good and punishing evil. The justice spoken of here is insuring everyone has what they need; the just society is the one that lifts the neediest. So, the Lord isn’t insisting that the police and judges be fair; God is inviting US to be sharers, to build a deeper, richer kind of community.
Justice is more than, and better than, charity.
We have for a long time now thought if we give money away or collect old coats we’re good and justice is about rights and political positioning. But the justice God seeks from us is the more difficult building of a robust community where everyone matters and is engaged in building each other up, and together.
Tony Campolo, a Christian social advocate, says that we, as the church, are very good at responding to the ‘accidents’ in the world. We are good ambulances. While that’s important, he says, maybe it’s time to try to prevent the accidents than just respond to them [paraphrased]. That is at the heart of God’s call for us to ‘do justice’.
“Love kindness” contains the Hebrew word hesed, which means “loyal love” or “loving-kindness.” Along with justice, Israel was to provide mercy[kindness]. Both justice and mercy are foundational to God’s character. God expected His people to show love to their fellow man and to be loyal in their love toward Him, just as He had been loyal to them.
“Walk humbly” is the heart’s attitude toward God. We depend on Him rather than our own abilities. True humility is hard to come by. Maybe I feel I’m no good—but that isn’t divine humility. Then there is a self-indulgent, cultivated humility that isn’t much different from good manners—or even a smug, vain form of spiritual pride that struts about as humility.
The response of a humble godly heart is outward (do justice), inward (love kindness), and upward (walk humbly). Religious rites, can never compensate for a lack of love. External compliance to rules is not as valuable in God’s eyes as a humble heart that simply does what is right.
But Why Does God Require [Need] This from us?
As I have said so many times in these blog posts, it is Father’s heart to draw all people to Himself. I have also said the church and some Christians have seriously damaged God’s reputation in our culture through their behavior and attitudes towards others. Father needs His people to better reflect His nature in this world. His nature is reflected in these three ‘requirements’.
You see, again, it’s not about what we are required to do so much as it is about what Father needs from us to do what He wants to do in this world. When we give this to Him, His reputation will be restored and all people will be drawn to Him.
Dream with Me
Just think for a minute. What if Christ-followers were known for their kindness, seeking fairness for every member of our society and for loving Father and others with humility.
How would our families change? Our neighborhoods? Our cities? Our country? Father’s reputation?
It starts with us.