48. Unjust Employment

Meditations in James: 48 : Unjust Employment

Jas 5:4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.

One of the things we have sought to draw out again and again in these meditations is the truth that spirituality, if it is real, will have practical outworkings. In other words, faith is expressed in a godly and righteous lifestyle, and more often than not this is about how we respond to or deal with other people. Now rich people get rich because they have the ability to get poorer people to work for little (by comparison) and to get other people to pay larger sums of money so that profit is made. That is a simple economic assessment. Profit is made because the entrepreneur sells his products for more than it costs him to make them. None of us would argue with this, because without a profit no producer is going to make the goods we use in modern life. God isn’t against modern goods, but if their manufacture involves keeping the poor, poor then He has, we believe, an issue with those manufacturers who exploit the poor.

God’s intentions in these issues are clear in that they are revealed in the Law that He gave Moses. We find, Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight.” (Lev 19:13). In other words, when you hire a man on a daily basis to work for you, don’t delay paying him at the end of the day. Such a man hiring himself out for daily work is not likely to be well off and so he needs the money straight away to buy provisions for his family. To withhold his money is to deprive his family unfairly. Similarly, Do not take advantage of a hired man who is poor and needy, whether he is a brother Israelite or an alien living in one of your towns. Pay him his wages each day before sunset, because he is poor and is counting on it. Otherwise he may cry to the LORD against you, and you will be guilty of sin.” (Deut 24:14,15).

There the Law was quite specific. Whether it was an Israelite or a foreigner, ensure you pay the man working for you promptly. Failure to do that is sin, and you have an issue with the Lord. Perhaps a modern equivalent to this is modern large companies holding back money owed to smaller companies or individuals, a fairly regular and unrighteous practice. Not only did the Law speak against this sort of thing, but the prophets also denounced it: Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness, his upper rooms by injustice, making his countrymen work for nothing, not paying them for their labor.” (Jer 22:13) and So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty.” (Mal 3:5). The practice of holding back wages that have been earned is clearly injustice and is unacceptable in God’s sight.

Now James picks on this subject because, as we’ve said several times previously, he either has heard about this injustice, or he knows that this is how the rich employer so often works, so that he denounces it and is saying by implication that this must not happen when Christians are involved. The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you is a prophetic way of saying simply that this injustice is crying out to be deal with. There he says it is the wages that are still in the coffers of the rich that should have been paid out to the poor worker that is crying out to God. But then he goes further: The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. Those who are being exploited cry out in their anguish and frustration, and God hears their cries. When there is injustice, it is like that thing cries out to God and draws God’s attention to it. It needs dealing with.

God is concerned for the poor. God is concerned for justice and it is no excuse to say, “Well, everyone does it.”  That is no excuse; it is still wrong! If the employer is a Christian that is doubly bad for they should know better. How can you say you love your neighbour (Lev 19:18,  Mt 22:39) is you are exploiting him. If you are a Christian and you are involved in these practices in any way, you are involved in something that the Lord speaks strongly against.

We conclude as we started, with a reminder that spirituality always has practical outworkings if it is really spiritual, because God is concerned about the very way we live. We may appear very spiritual, reading the Bible, praying publicly, and worshipping on a Sunday, but if the weekday life involves doing something that the Lord is against, all that apparent spirituality is meaningless. Check out your working days!

50. The Wicked

Meditations in Job : 50.  The Wicked Live On

Job 21:7 Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?

Job has listened to this outpouring of only partial truth and now asks for another opportunity to speak: “Bear with me while I speak, and after I have spoken, mock on.” (v.3) He then indirectly suggests his complaint is with God: “Is my complaint directed to man? Why should I not be impatient?” (v.4) and goes on, “Look at me and be astonished; clap your hand over your mouth.” (v.5) i.e. be amazed at what has happened to me – and then keep quiet!

Then he expresses something of his righteous attitude to the world and in v.7 asks the question we have above, but before it he declares, “When I think about this, I am terrified; trembling seizes my body.” (v.6). That’s what he feels about what he sees in the world. It is a similar cry to that of Habakkuk: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds.” (Hab 1:3)

This seems a mystery in the world, that God tolerates and allows the wicked to prevail and even, sometimes, to live long and prosperous lives! This is exactly what Job says in v.8-13, yet, he says, “they say to God, `Leave us alone! We have no desire to know your ways. Who is the Almighty, that we should serve him? What would we gain by praying to him?” (v.14,15)  They are utterly godless these unrighteous people. But, he goes on, “their prosperity is not in their own hands, so I stand aloof from the counsel of the wicked.” (v.16) i.e. they are only prosperous because God allows them to be so, but they are foolish and don’t realise this (implied) so I’m not going to have anything to do with their foolish thinking.

Because of what follows, it seems that verses 17 & 18 really suggest that so often the wicked seem to get away with their wickedness, because in verse 19 he points out a saying, that God brings the punishment, or effects of a man’s sins, upon his family who follow: Yet how often is the lamp of the wicked snuffed out? How often does calamity come upon them.” (v.17a) and “It is said, `God stores up a man’s punishment for his sons.” (v.19a)

Job isn’t happy with that; he wants the man to carry his own sin: Let him repay the man himself, so that he will know it! Let his own eyes see his destruction; let him drink of the wrath of the Almighty. (v.19b,20). Otherwise, he thinks that wicked man will not bother about what he does or what will happen to his family who follows him: For what does he care about the family he leaves behind when his allotted months come to an end?” (v.21). Job is left with questions and the final one is, “Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since he judges even the highest?” (v.22) i.e. no, God is above being taught because He is above everyone else!

Look at life, is what Job then implies: “One man dies in full vigour, completely secure and at ease, his body well nourished, his bones rich with marrow. Another man dies in bitterness of soul, never having enjoyed anything good. Side by side they lie in the dust, and worms cover them both.” (v.23-26) i.e. there appears no rhyme or reason why one man dies happy and rich and another doesn’t. It is a mystery of life.

Then he turns back to himself: “I know full well what you are thinking, the schemes by which you would wrong me. You say, `Where now is the great man’s house, the tents where wicked men lived?” (v.27,28)  i.e. I know that you’re looking at me and what has happened to me and are assuming I’ve done wrong.  Talk around, he goes on, and ask those who have travelled and who have a wider knowledge of the world: “Have you never questioned those who travel? Have you paid no regard to their accounts– that the evil man is spared from the day of calamity, that he is delivered from the day of wrath?” (v.29,30) i.e. they would tell you that they know of plenty of wicked people who appear to get away with it!  Oh, no, they get away with it all right: “Who denounces his conduct to his face? Who repays him for what he has done? He is carried to the grave, and watch is kept over his tomb. The soil in the valley is sweet to him; all men follow after him, and a countless throng goes before him.” (v.31-33).  i.e. who tells them off and rebukes them for their lives?  No one! He is buried with honour and crowds accept what he has done!

So, look at the folly of what you have been arguing: So how can you console me with your nonsense? Nothing is left of your answers but falsehood!” (v.34)  No, this whole business of trying to attach sin to a person who is suffering falls down in the face of the evidence in life.  It just doesn’t happen like that!!!  We saw in the previous meditation the wider teaching as to why God works like this, so will simply refer you back to that at this point.  Never try to lump the whole world together to justify your arguments or doctrine or philosophy of life.  It’s normally not that simple!

God who Judges

God in the Psalms No.12 

Psa 7:6-8 Awake, my God; decree justice. Let the assembled peoples gather around you. Rule over them from on high; let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD

These verses introduce us quite clearly to a new description of the Lord: the Lord who is a Judge. What does a Judge do? He (or she) assesses a case in the light of the Law and pronounces a verdict based on that Law. For the Lord this is a circular thing for the Lord designed the world in accordance with His character (perfection) and decreed the Law to ensure people lived in accordance with that design.  Now He judges according to that Law, according to that design, according to His character.  Justice is weighing actions in the light of that Law and bringing appropriate action to bear on the miscreant to make right the situation.

Now with the Lord, nothing can be hidden.  The writer to the Hebrews was able to write: Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account (Heb 4:13).  So, when the Lord assesses the situation He does so with full and complete knowledge. But there is more. Paul described the Lord as, the only wise God (Rom 16:27).  The Lord is the only one who not only knows all things but knows that is right to do in every situation.  (Wisdom is knowing what to do). Therefore the Lord looks, the Lord knows, and the Lord knows how to respond.  The one thing we will never be able to do when we get to heaven, if the Lord should allow us full vision of all that has happened, is criticize anything the Lord has said or done.  His ways are perfect (Deut 32:4).  Thus in heaven they cry, Just and true are your ways” (Rev 15:3).

So it is, that when we come before the Lord we may never fear injustice. But do we want justice?  Do we want to be judged by the One who sees all things, every wrong thought, every wrong word, every wrong deed? If every such thing throughout our lives were brought out for accounting, it would truly be a terrible thing.  There would be no doubt; we are guilty!   Piled up before, us all these things condemn us.  It’s all right for David in this one situation to say, Judge me according to my righteousness. Oh, yes on specific occasions we can say, well, yes, I was righteous then, I did respond well then. But what about all the other times when we were not so careful, the times when we do not quite come up to the mark, or even fell well short of it?

Yes, this is why we need an advocate, one who will step in and speak up for us. But what could he plead?  Extenuating circumstances?   No, there were none.  We were guilty, it was our fault!   No, there is only one ground on which he can plead – that he himself has already stood in for us and taken our punishment and the penalty for every sin has been paid.  That’s what John had in mind when he wrote: if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 Jn 2:1,2)

Here is the advocate speaking for our defence and here is the one who has paid for our sins – and they are one and the same person, Jesus Christ. Thus when God stands as Judge before the whole of Creation, He CAN bring justice, He can decree rightly in respect of our sins. There is no ‘letting us off’, there is no turning a blind eye. The judgment is given, justice is done, the sins are paid for.  It has been done!  The Judge does give a right judgment – and we are released!   How wonderful!

Sinful Ignorance

    So, here we are in Holy Week and we take the ‘seven words’ in the order they are usually considered, starting with Jesus initial prayer. By the nature of some of these words, the meditations will be longer than those in Lent if we are to really take hold of some of the wonder that is here.  
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34
Jesus is hanging from the cross in agony and he utters a prayer that would have been appropriate to go with yesterday’s meditation.  The first thing to consider is that if Jesus asks for forgiveness for them, there IS something wrong that needs forgiving.
In the immediate past there were the soldiers, instruments of the state, simply fulfilling their brutal duty without much understanding of the rights and wrongs of the situation.  Before them, going back, had been Pilate, the representative of the Gentile world, who had looked for the easy way out, had bowed to the pressure of the forces within Jerusalem, and had cast justice to the winds.   Then there had been the common crowd who allowed the religious authorities to manipulate them (Mk 15:11) and who cried out for Jesus’ death.   Before them had been Herod, representative of the secular rulers of Israel, another weak man who had wanted to see Jesus, wanted to see a miracle, wanted to be convinced on his terms, but yet when Jesus refused, he simply cast him back to Pilate (Lk 23:8-12).  Before him there had been the religious authorities who had been behind the arrest and trial of Jesus, whose blindness to the truth had produced a zeal that worked against (and with) the will of God.   Before them had been the disciples, most of whom fled at the time of the arrest to leave their Lord at the hands of injustice.   Every person, every group and been implicated in some way.
The second thing to consider is that Jesus is asking his Father to have mercy on these weak, foolish and corrupt people who deserved to die.   Jesus knew that he only had to say a word and over seventy thousand angels (Mt 26:53) would come and devastate this planet – but that was not the way. How could the Father possibly forgive them all?  Perhaps a clue is found in the Law of Moses (Lev 4:1) that speaks about “When anyone sins unintentionally” with the implication that sin cannot be dealt with until it is recognised.   There will come a time when it was recognised (Acts 2:36,37) and then there will be repentance and there will be forgiveness, but for the moment they act in ignorance of who it is they are putting to death.
Those who do not repent will still remain answerable for their general sin, but for the moment the Son cannot give even a hint of wrong response to this terrible injustice. It is sometimes said that it is not the sin against us that we have to worry about, but the way we respond to it.   Jesus taught, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt 5:44) and here he is the perfect example of the one who does do what he preaches.   To the very end Jesus remained sinless (Heb 4:15).  He had to, to remain the Lamb without blemish.    To the very end he remained the spotless Lamb, a perfect sacrifice.   Everything at this point reveals the glory and greatness of the Son, standing out in stark contrast against the sinfulness of mankind.   This is a terrible time, but it reveals even more the glory of the Lamb of God.
Oh Father, it seems incredible that Jesus, in the midst of his agony could have prayed for us, thinking of us in the best way possible, yet your word clearly teaches that, and we marvel.    We marvel and wonder that your Son who experienced every aspect of humanity, including the very worst as he hung on that cross, could yet retain the wonder of love.   Thank you Lord, that you retained and exhibited that love up to the last breath of that body.