Justice and Only Justice

Justice and Only Justice

Robert Wurtz II




You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the LORD your God is giving you. (Deuteronomy 16:19-20 ESV)


I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers! Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (1 Cor. 6:5-9). 


The Sin of Defrauding


It would surprise most Christians to know that the commandment “Thou shalt not steal” also means “Do not defraud.” In Classical Greek, ἀποστερεῖν, translated as defraud, is used for “the refusal to return property or money deposited with another for safe-keeping.” So if you didn’t buy it, find it, or if it wasn’t given to you, it probably doesn’t belong to you. You are guilty of stealing if you took it by fraud or force. When you refuse to return it, you are defrauding. If you obtain the property or money through “deceit,” it is defrauding. If by “devouring,” it is condemned in all three synoptic Gospels. 



J. A. Fitzmyer (Luke, 2:1318) identifies six different explanations of what is meant by devouring the houses of widows: (a) Scribes accepted payment for legal assistance, though such payment was forbidden. (b) Acting in the capacity of lawyers, perhaps appointed to such office in the wills of the deceased husbands, the scribes cheated widows out of their estates. (c) Scribes freeloaded on the hospitality of widows. (d) Scribes mismanaged the estates entrusted to them. (e) Scribes took money from credulous women in return for the supposed benefit of intercessory prayer (as perhaps implied by the next clause in v 40). (f) Scribes took houses as pledges for debts that could not realistically be expected to be repaid. It is difficult to choose among these options, for Jesus’ brief complaint supplies insufficient details. Fitzmyer appears to lean toward the second option. (WBC-NT Luke 2:13)


The Rich Young Ruler


Jesus told the rich young ruler, “You know the commandments,” and then used our Greek word for “defraud” in place of “steal” (klepto) when quoting some of the Ten Commandments. Of course, the young man was rich and probably never viewed himself as a thief, but it’s possible that he defrauded people of wages or property to get rich. He would have said, “it’s just business,” but in God’s view, he may have been a thief. Either way, when Jesus told Him to sell it all and give the money to the poor, he refused. 


The Sin of Covetousness


Paul was particularly aware of what greed will do to a person. Of all the commandments, he was tripped up by “thou shalt not covet.” In Greek, covet and lust is the same word, epithumea. Sadly, the KJV obscures what Paul said in Romans 7:6-7, but he was talking about how covetousness was his sin prior to regeneration. The ESV corrects it, “But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.” 


Some have wondered if Paul may have been the rich young ruler Jesus encountered. We cannot tell, but we can say that Paul identified defrauding at Corinth and rebuked it in the strongest terms. Why did certain members of the Corinthian church think they could defraud their fellow believers of money or property and get by with it? Spouses even defrauded each other of marital relations (1 Cor. 7:5). Certainly, covetousness was at the root. We might call this greed and lust. Both were there. Some were greedy for possessions, and others were lustful and fornicating. It’s all epithumia. 


No matter if a business owner defrauds employees of fair wages (James 5:4) or a man cheats another man by sleeping with his wife ( 1 Thess. 4:3-8), God is the avenger of all such defrauding. Unfortunately, at Corinth, defrauding was rampant on all these levels, and they refused to deal justly with any of it. Hence, the fornicators, adulters, and coveters lived unchecked. 


Fair and Equitable


Corinth experienced injustice and embarrassment before unbelievers because the church lacked leaders who couldn’t be influenced or bought. It’s a shame that church members felt compelled to take the matter to a secular court where no one knew anybody, and they could get justice. Understand that leaders can’t hear the cause of the righteous if their judgment is corrupted by relationships or money. If they are influenced by something other than the facts in the case, they are disqualified.  




I’m reminded of a famous secular singer who always spoke evil of another singer because his record producer hated the man. In his heart, the famous singer admired the other singer, but publicly he was forced to treat him hatefully for the record producer’s sake. It’s an injustice and a disgrace, but it goes on all the time. I’ve experienced it, and I’m sure most people have. 


Fair and Equitable


One of the things that should characterize a child of God is that they are just, fair, and equitable in their treatment of people. Being fair and square, or “righteous “and “just,” means treating people fairly and reasonably, regardless of whether they are friends, rivals, or enemies. You should not treat your friends with favoritism and should not treat enemies unjustly. To do so is unjust and unrighteous. Paul asked, do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom? To put it plainly, “Do you not know that the unrighteous are going to hell?”


The Kingdom of God is both now and coming as a reality. This is the message of the Gospel. Therefore, our prayer is, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” In God’s present and future Kingdom, righteousness and justice are the rule, not the exception. We have no place in the Kingdom if we can’t abide by that rule. That Kingdom is here in the hearts of God’s people but is coming as a literal reality at the end of days. The unrighteous, such as those who defraud their brother, are labeled with the same judgment as idolaters, the sexually immoral, adulterers, and homosexuals. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God. 


Other Articles:

The Spirit of Jehoiakim (Taking Advantage of People)

Salvation in the New Testament


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