Christians = God’s Admin [Part 1]
[Disclaimer: The following thoughts are personal, and don’t necessarily reflect those held by Care for Children or my colleagues.]
The word ‘administration’ tends to get a lot of bad press, or at least in the NGO/Charity world. At Care for Children we often use the tagline ‘action, not administration’ to assure donors that our work is project orientated in the countries we work with, and not office orientated in the UK, USA or HK (where we are registered as a charity). Potential donors with a critical eye are often quick to ask: ‘what percentage of your budget is spent on administration’? How much a charitable organisation should or shouldn’t be spending on administration is an argument for another day, but suffice to say, the connotations surrounding the word aren’t particularly positive, and many avoid it altogether…
…but I’m enjoying a new understanding of the word.
About two weeks before Rachel and I left the UK for Thailand to start Care for Children’s new family placement project for orphans, I believe God gave us a verse from the Bible to take with us. A friend suggested we read Zechariah chapter three, but as it’s a relatively small book in the Old Testament, I decided to read all 14 chapters.
For the sake of some context: Zechariah was a priest and prophet in Judah (one of two kingdoms that God chose as His people in the Old Testament – the other was Israel), from around 520BC (he is quite specific with his dates) who was given dreams and visions by God to instruct and inform His people, which he (obviously) recorded. The book of Zechariah is one of 17 ‘prophetic’ books – the most famous (and longest) being Isaiah. Right from the offset, and then throughout the book, we see Zechariah imploring God’s people to turn from their self righteous and destructive lifestyles, and to turn back to how God wants them to live (for their own good). The opening lines of the first chapter suggest as much:
2 The Lord was very angry with your forefathers. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me… and I will return to you’.
But it was a little further on in the book as I read Chapter 7 vs. 8-10 that I knew in my heart I was reading an important passage that pertained to our future work in Thailand. And since arriving here it’s been on my mind almost constantly.
So here it is:
8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’
Did you spot it? ‘Administer true justice’
I find this profoundly moving, especially as it is preceded with “This is what that the Lord Almighty said:”. The more I reflected on these verses, it became increasingly clear that administering true justice is the Christian’s call to action, and feels far removed from the negative connotations of dull office-based work. Rather, it’s the very will and heart of a loving God, actioned by passionate and willing men and women who choose to put their faith in Him, and live according to His ways. If that doesn’t at least begin to stir your spirit in some way, you may want to check your pulse.
But what is justice anyway? What’s important about it? Why would God give us that kind of responsibility? These are good questions that I will need longer to think through (and perhaps you can comment on). But to begin with, here’s a list of action points you can take from the verses:
1. Show mercy to one another
2. Show compassion to one another
3. Do not oppress the widow
4. Do not oppress the fatherless
5. Do not oppress the foreigner
6. Do not oppress the poor
7. Do not plot evil against each other
In a time when our popular understanding of justice is understood through the priority of personal rights, this list makes you realise how off-track we can be (at least according to God) – just as much now as back in Zechariah’s day.
My Mac dictionary defines justice as ‘the quality of being fair and reasonable’. But who defines what fair and reasonable is? Surely with ourselves at the centre of the equation, ‘fairness’ will always be hopelessly subjective.
No, because the good news is that as we read through the New Testament in the Bible, we are shown that Jesus is himself true justice administered – once and for all. Sin (the destructive, self-orientated, naturally rebellious default position towards God that we all find ourselves in) is the reason justice needs to be administered in the first place. Jesus dealt with it by defeating the outcome of sin – death – on the cross.
So we mustn’t deceive ourselves (as we often do) – Jesus is the true administrator of justice, not us, nor the church in general.
Nonetheless, Jesus calls us to live by following his example. The above seven-point list is immediately recognisable as teaching also found in the New Testament. The mandate of God’s people is made crystal clear in the beatitudes, for example, found in Matthew chapter 5:
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
And then of course in numerous other and well-known parts such as James chapter 1:
27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…
As Christians, we are called to be a new Nation. Our new citizenship belongs to God’s Kingdom, and with His authority, and empowered by His Spirit, we are required to go out and bless the world’s nations by administering true justice, and in so doing, point to Jesus – true justice personified.
The link to my work with Care for Children is obvious: ‘Do not oppress the fatherless’. And I have no doubt this is one of the reasons it spoke to my heart that morning. But I also see my work with Care for Children as part of the much bigger picture of administering true justice that God wants His children to participate in.
And that makes me enormously excited to be involved in ‘administration’!