Imitate Jehovah—Exercise Justice and Righteousness
“I am Jehovah, the One exercising loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I do take delight.”—JEREMIAH 9:24.
1. What marvelous prospect did Jehovah hold out?
JEHOVAH promised that the day would come when everyone would know him. Through his prophet Isaiah, he stated: “They will not do any harm or cause any ruin in all my holy mountain; because the earth will certainly be filled with the knowledge of Jehovah as the waters are covering the very sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) What a marvelous prospect that is!
2. What does knowing Jehovah include? Why?
2 What, though, does it mean to know Jehovah? To Jeremiah, Jehovah revealed what counted most: “The having of insight and the having of knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah, the One exercising loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I do take delight.” (Jeremiah 9:24) Thus, to know Jehovah includes knowing the way he exercises justice and righteousness. If we then exercise those qualities, he will find delight in us. How can we do so? In his Word, the Bible, Jehovah has preserved a record of his dealings with imperfect humans through the ages. By studying it, we can come to know Jehovah’s way of justice and righteousness and thus imitate him.—Romans 15:4.
Just yet Compassionate
3, 4. Why was Jehovah justified in destroying Sodom and Gomorrah?
3 The divine judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah is a classic example that illustrates several aspects of Jehovah’s justice. Not only did Jehovah mete out necessary punishment but he also provided salvation for the deserving ones. Was the destruction of those cities really justified? Abraham, who apparently had limited knowledge of the extent of Sodom’s wickedness, did not think so at first. Jehovah assured Abraham that if just ten righteous people could be found, he would spare that city. Clearly, Jehovah’s justice is never hasty or unmerciful.—Genesis 18:20-32.
4 The inspection by the two angels provided a graphic testimony of Sodom’s moral degradation. When the men of the city, “from boy to old man,” learned that two men had come to stay at Lot’s home, they assaulted his house with the intention of committing homosexual gang rape. Their depravity had truly sunk to a low level! Without a doubt, Jehovah’s judgment on the city was a righteous one.—Genesis 19:1-5, 24, 25.
5. How did God deliver Lot and his family from Sodom?
5 After citing the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as a warning example, the apostle Peter wrote: “Jehovah knows how to deliver people of godly devotion out of trial.” (2 Peter 2:6-9) Justice would not have been satisfied if righteous Lot and his family had been swept away along with the ungodly people of Sodom. Thus, Jehovah’s angels warned Lot about the impending destruction. When Lot lingered, the angels “in the compassion of Jehovah” took hold of him, his wife, and his daughters by the hand and led them out of the city. (Genesis 19:12-16) We can be sure that Jehovah will show similar concern for righteous ones in the forthcoming destruction of this wicked system.
6. Why should we not be unduly concerned about the forthcoming destruction of the wicked system of things?
6 Although the end of this system will be a time “for meting out justice,” there is no reason for us to be unduly concerned. (Luke 21:22) The judgment that God will execute at Armageddon will prove “altogether righteous.” (Psalm 19:9) As Abraham learned, we humans can have implicit trust in Jehovah’s justice, which is on a much higher plane than ours. Abraham asked: “Is the Judge of all the earth not going to do what is right?” (Genesis 18:25; compare Job 34:10.) Or as Isaiah aptly put it, “who teaches [Jehovah] in the path of justice?”—Isaiah 40:14.
A Righteous Act to Save Mankind
7. What connection is there between God’s justice and his mercy?
7 God’s justice is not manifested only in the way he punishes wrongdoers. Jehovah describes himself as “a righteous God and a Savior.” (Isaiah 45:21) Manifestly, there is a close connection between God’s righteousness, or justice, and his desire to save mankind from the effects of sin. Commenting on this text, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982 Edition, points out that “God’s justice seeks concretely to express His mercy and to accomplish His salvation.” It is not that God’s justice needs to be tempered with mercy but, rather, that mercy is an expression of God’s justice. God’s provision of a ransom for mankind’s salvation is the most striking example of this aspect of divine justice.
8, 9. (a) What was included in the description, “one righteous act”? Why? (b) What does Jehovah ask back from us?
8 The ransom price itself—the precious life of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ—was a high one because Jehovah’s standards are universal, and he himself abides by them. (Matthew 20:28) A perfect life, that of Adam, had been lost, so a perfect life was needed to redeem life for Adam’s descendants. (Romans 5:19-21) The apostle Paul describes Jesus’ course of integrity, including the paying of the ransom, as “one righteous act.” (Romans 5:18, footnote) Why is that? Because from Jehovah’s standpoint, to ransom mankind was the right and the just thing to do, even though it had to be done at great cost to himself. Adam’s offspring were like a “bruised reed,” which God did not wish to crush, or like a “smoldering flaxen wick,” which he did not want to extinguish. (Matthew 12:20) God had confidence that many faithful men and women would arise from among Adam’s descendants.—Compare Matthew 25:34.
9 How should we respond to this supreme act of love and justice? One of the things Jehovah asks back from us is that we “exercise justice.” (Micah 6:8) How can we do this?
Search for Justice, Pursue Righteousness
10. (a) What is one way in which we exercise justice? (b) How can we seek first God’s righteousness?
10 First of all, we must conform to God’s moral standards. Because God’s standards are just and righteous, we are exercising justice when we live in harmony with them. That is what Jehovah expects of his people. “Learn to do good; search for justice,” Jehovah told the Israelites. (Isaiah 1:17) Jesus gave similar counsel to his hearers in the Sermon on the Mount, when he instructed them to ‘seek first the kingdom and God’s righteousness.’ (Matthew 6:33) Paul encouraged Timothy to “pursue righteousness.” (1 Timothy 6:11) When we live in harmony with God’s standards of behavior and put on the new personality, we are pursuing true justice and righteousness. (Ephesians 4:23, 24) In other words, we search for justice by doing things God’s way.
11. Why and how should we fight against the mastery of sin?
11 As we are well aware, it is not always easy for imperfect humans to do what is just and right. (Romans 7:14-20) Paul encouraged the Roman Christians to fight against the mastery of sin, so that they could present their dedicated bodies to God as “weapons of righteousness,” which would be useful to God in accomplishing his purpose. (Romans 6:12-14) Likewise, by regularly studying and applying God’s Word, we can absorb the “mental-regulating of Jehovah” and be ‘disciplined in righteousness.’—Ephesians 6:4; 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
12. What should we avoid if we are to treat others the way we want Jehovah to treat us?
12 Second, we exercise justice when we treat others the way we want Jehovah to treat us. It is easy to have a double standard—an indulgent one for ourselves but a strict one for others. We readily make excuses for our own shortcomings, yet we are quick to criticize the failings of others, which may well be insignificant compared to our own. Jesus pointedly asks: “Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the rafter in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3) We should never forget that none of us could stand if Jehovah were to scrutinize our errors. (Psalm 130:3, 4) If Jehovah’s justice allows him to overlook our brothers’ weaknesses, who are we to judge them adversely?—Romans 14:4, 10.
13. Why does a righteous man feel obliged to preach the good news of the Kingdom?
13 Third, we display godly justice when we diligently engage in the preaching activity. “Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be in the power of your hand to do it,” Jehovah counsels us. (Proverbs 3:27) It would not be right to keep to ourselves the life-giving knowledge that God has so generously granted us. True, many people may reject our message, but as long as God continues to extend mercy to them, we should be willing to keep giving them the opportunity “to attain to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) And like Jesus, we feel delighted when we are able to help someone turn to justice and righteousness. (Luke 15:7) Now is the favorable time for us to ‘sow seed in righteousness.’—Hosea 10:12.
“Princes for Justice Itself”
14. What role do elders play with regard to justice?
14 All of us must walk in the path of righteousness, but elders in the Christian congregation have a special responsibility in this regard. Jesus’ princely rule is ‘sustained by means of justice and righteousness.’ Accordingly, the standard for elders is divine justice. (Isaiah 9:7) They bear in mind what is described prophetically at Isaiah 32:1: “Look! A king will reign for righteousness itself; and as respects princes, they will rule as princes for justice itself.” As spirit-appointed overseers, or ‘God’s stewards,’ elders should do things God’s way.—Titus 1:7.
15, 16. (a) How do elders imitate the faithful shepherd in Jesus’ illustration? (b) How do the elders feel about those who are spiritually lost?
15 Jesus showed that Jehovah’s justice was compassionate, merciful, and reasonable. Above all, he tried to help those who had problems and “to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:10) Like the shepherd in Jesus’ illustration who searched untiringly until he found a lost sheep, elders seek out those who have strayed spiritually and endeavor to guide them back into the fold.—Matthew 18:12, 13.
16 Rather than condemn those who may have committed serious sins, elders seek to heal and to lead to repentance if that is possible. They rejoice when they can help someone who has gone astray. It saddens them, however, when a wrongdoer fails to repent. Then God’s righteous standards require them to disfellowship the unrepentant one. Even then, like the father of the prodigal son, they hope that some day the erring one will ‘come to his senses.’ (Luke 15:17, 18) Thus, elders take the initiative to visit certain disfellowshipped ones to remind them how they can return to Jehovah’s organization.*
17. What goal do elders have when handling a case of wrongdoing, and what quality will help them achieve that goal?
17 Elders especially need to imitate Jehovah’s justice when handling cases of wrongdoing. Sinners “kept drawing near” to Jesus because they felt that he would understand and help them. (Luke 15:1; Matthew 9:12, 13) Of course, Jesus did not condone wrongdoing. One mealtime spent with Jesus moved Zacchaeus, a notorious extortioner, to repent and make amends for all the suffering he had brought upon others. (Luke 19:8-10) Elders today have the same goal at their judicial hearings—to lead the erring one to repentance. If they are approachable as Jesus was, many wrongdoers will find it easier to seek their help.
18. What will enable elders to be like “a hiding place from the wind”?
18 A sensitive heart will help elders administer divine justice, which is neither harsh nor unfeeling. Interestingly, Ezra prepared his heart, not just his mind, in order to teach the Israelites justice. (Ezra 7:10) An understanding heart will enable elders to apply the appropriate Scriptural principles and to take into account the circumstances of each individual. When Jesus healed the woman who had a flow of blood, he showed that Jehovah’s justice means understanding the spirit as well as the letter of the law. (Luke 8:43-48) Elders who administer justice with compassion may be likened to “a hiding place from the wind” for those who have been buffeted by their own weaknesses or by this wicked system in which we live.—Isaiah 32:2.
19. How did one sister respond to the application of divine justice?
19 One sister who had committed a serious sin came to appreciate divine justice firsthand. “Frankly, I was afraid to go to the elders,” she admits. “But they treated me with compassion and dignity. The elders were like fathers rather than stern judges. They helped me to understand that Jehovah would not reject me if I resolved to correct my ways. I learned firsthand how he disciplines us as a loving Father. I was able to open my heart to Jehovah, in the confidence that he would hear my supplication. Looking back, I can truthfully say that that meeting with the elders seven years ago was a blessing from Jehovah. Ever since, my relationship with him has been much stronger.”
Keep Justice and Do What Is Righteous
20. What are the benefits of understanding and exercising justice and righteousness?
20 Thankfully, divine justice means much more than giving every man what he deserves. Jehovah’s justice has moved him to grant everlasting life to those who exercise faith. (Psalm 103:10; Romans 5:15, 18) God deals with us in this way because his justice takes into account our circumstances, and it seeks to save rather than condemn. Truly, a better understanding of the breadth of Jehovah’s justice draws us closer to him. And as we strive to imitate this facet of his personality, our lives and those of others will be richly blessed. Our pursuit of justice will not go unnoticed by our heavenly Father. Jehovah promises us: “Keep justice, you people, and do what is righteous. For my salvation is at hand to come in, and my righteousness to be revealed. Happy is the mortal man that does this.”—Isaiah 56:1, 2.
Do You Recall?
□ What does the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah teach us about Jehovah’s justice?
□ Why is the ransom an outstanding expression of God’s justice and love?
□ What are three ways in which we can exercise justice?
□ In what special way can elders imitate divine justice?
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By our preaching activity, we display godly justice
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When elders manifest godly justice, those with problems find it easier to seek their help