Overcoming the Past – Lesson 9: Social Justice

Key Scriptures: Exodus 2:11-25, multiple verses listed below

Guiding Question: How does God want us to help solve the problems people face in this world, often known as social justice issues?

Introductory Activity: Bring in several newspapers, magazines, etc. Have students identify the various problems people are facing. Point out that certain problems that a large number of people experience, like poverty or homelessness are considered social justice issues. The definition of social justice is justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunity and privileges. The term is not used in the Bible, but there are numerous commands that overlap some of the goals of social justice. (We hasten to add this lesson is not meant to be political in any way. Rather, we want young people to examine what God has to say about loving and caring for all of the people in the world. We respectfully, request you avoid allowing this to become a political discussion and keep it focused on God.)

Lesson: (Questions for students are in bold italics.) The Bible does not use the term social justice, as that is a modern phrase – often with political implications. The Bible does, however, give us a clear view of God’s commands and expectations of how we are to treat those around us and help those who are dealing with problems. Read Exodus 2:11-25. What problems were the Israelites facing at the hands of the Egyptians? What did Moses do that he thought would help? Why didn’t it help? What happened to Moses after he killed the Egyptian? How did God later use Moses to solve the problems the Israelites were facing?

Moses attempted to give out a revengeful justice by his own hands. We know from previous lessons, however, that God reserves vengeance for himself. The Bible tells us other ways we are to work to help others who are struggling because of circumstances or at the hands of others. 

It is important to understand that the Old Law was actually a form of government as well as a covenant between God and the Israelites. That is why it has such specific commands and penalties. By the time of the New Testament, the Jewish people were operating under the government of the Romans. The New Testament or new covenant was between God and Christians and was meant to work under any form of government – even ungodly ones like the Roman Empire. It was perhaps more general, but if you look carefully, it is actually more demanding than the old Law. The Old Law is helpful because it can illuminate some specific things God wants included in the more general commands of the New Testament. 

Read the following scriptures to find out why God wants us to serve others and help solve these problems, what our attitude is to be while helping them and the various types of problems God specifically mentions He wants us to help people with. It is important to notice that while the Bible does not forbid Christians from being involved in politics, it focuses on what individuals and churches can do directly to help others. There is no indication in the Bible or early church histories that Christians ever tried to change the Roman government by anything other than prayer. It does, however, record a lot of things Christians did to try to help those hurt by unfair regulations or unfortunate circumstances, including those jailed for their Christian beliefs and those suffering from famine.

WHY (do we serve)?

• Matthew 5:14-16, I Peter 2:12 – may see your good deeds and praise God
• Philippians 2:1-4 – appreciation for being united with Christ
• Acts 20:35 – because Jesus said “It is more blessed to give than receive”
• Galatians 5:13-14, James 2:8 – the entire law is “Love your neighbor as yourself” • Mark 10:44-45, Luke 22:26-27 – Jesus set the example

• I John 3: 17-18 – because the love of God is in us
• James 1:27 – because it is pure, undefiled religion
• Romans 12:20 – to overcome evil with good
• Deuteronomy 15:7-11 – God will bless you in all your work
• Luke 14:13 – because will be repaid at the resurrection of righteousness • I Peter 4:10-11 – God may be praised through Jesus Christ

• Matthew 19:21, Colossians 3:23-24, 2 Corinthians 5:10, I Timothy 6:18-19 – treasure in heaven • Hebrews 6:10, Proverbs 14:21,31 – you will be blessed and to honor God
• Proverbs 19:17 – lending to the poor is the same as lending to the Lord
• Ephesians 2:10 – God prepared these works for us to do in advance

• James 2:26, 14-18 – because we have faith that is alive
• 2 Timothy 3:17 – because we were equipped by God for every good work • James 4:17 – because it is a sin if you know the good to do and don’t do it • I Corinthians 12:4-7 – for the common good
• Ephesians 4:12-13 – to build up the Body (the Church)

HOW (our attitude while serving)

  • Matthew 5:14-16 – let your light shine
  • Matthew 23:11 – greatest should be servant
  • Philippians 2:1-4 – not out of selfish ambition or conceit, with humility, consider others betterthan yourself, look to the interests of others
  • Acts 20:35 – work hard
  • Galatians 5:13-14 – in love
  • I John 3:17-18 – love in action and truth–not just words, have compassion
  • Galatians 6:10 – as we have opportunity (when we see a need), openhanded (generous),without a grudging heart

• Esther 9:22 – in joy and celebration of blessings and deliverance • Luke 14:13 – not expecting to be repaid
• I Peter 4:10-11 – with the strength God supplies
• Luke 12:33 – willing to sell our possessions to help others

• Ephesians 6:7-8 – wholeheartedly, as if serving God not man
• Proverbs 14: 21,31 – kind
• Proverbs 22:9, I Timothy 6:18-19 – generous, sharing what we have • Colossians 3:23-24 – work with all your heart
• Hebrews 10:24 – spur (encourage) each other to do good deeds
• I Peter 3:10-14 – without fear
• I Thessalonians 5:12-15 – patient, kind, at peace

WHOM (do we serve)?

  • Matthew 5:14-16 – “man” (implied unchurched)
  • Acts 20:35 – the weak
  • Galatians 5:13-14 – “one another”, your neighbor
  • I John 3:17-18 – brother (in Christ), those in need of material possessions
  • James 1:27 – orphans, widows
  • I Timothy 5:3 – widows who are really in need
  • Romans 12:20 – enemies, hungry, thirsty
  • Galatians 6:10 – all people, especially believers
  • Exodus 23:11 – poor, wild animals (second to people)
  • Acts 9:36-39 – widows and poor (clothing)
  • Deuteronomy 15: 7-11 – poor brother/those in need of money
  • Esther 9:22 – food to one another, gifts to poor
  • Psalms 82:3-4, Proverbs 31:9 – weak and needy (from the wicked), fatherless, rights of poorand oppressed
  • Luke 14:13, Proverbs 22:9 – poor, crippled, lame, blind
  • Matthew 19:21 – poor
  • Matthew 25:35 – hungry, thirsty, homeless (or needing a place to stay – think a traveler, like avisiting missionary), need clothes, sick, prisoners
  • Luke 12:33 – poor
  • Jeremiah 22:3 – foreigners in your land, fatherless, widow, crime victims
  • Proverbs 14:21,31 – needy, poor
  • Isaiah 1:17 – encourage the oppressed, justice (think martyrs, wrongly accused, etc.) fatherless,widows
  • Isaiah 58:6-7 – loose chains of injustice, untie cords of the yoke (slavery?)
  • James 2:14-18 – hungry, those in need of temporary shelter, naked (need clothes), relatives
  • Proverbs 31:10-31 – husband, children, needy, poor
  • I Thessalonians 5:12-15 – encourage the timid, warn the idle, Christians and everyone else
  • Ephesians 4:12-13 – the Body (the Church)

Skills Activity: (Note: This activity will take additional sessions or time outside of class to complete.) Review the main points of the lesson. Explain that it is obvious the world has a lot of problems and one person cannot solve all of them. One person can, however, help solve one or even a few of these problems – at least for someone. It is important to be wise in the ways we minister to others. We have examples in the New Testament of Christians deciding the best way to help Christians in another location who were struggling from a famine or who sent help to individuals like Paul when he was sick or in prison.

One of the ways to make wise choices is to learn from the wisdom of people who have been helping solve those problems for a long time. Perhaps some of what they are doing could be done better, but often they have learned what doesn’t work by making mistakes that wasted time, money and other resources. Learning from them before starting something new can help you avoid making those same mistakes and wasting resources.

You may want to do this activity as a class or allow students to work in small groups or individually. Have them pick an issue mentioned in the lesson that they would like to help serve people with that issue or problem. Help them find an expert in that field and learn what they can from them. Then have them design and execute a small service project in which they also share their faith serving one or more people.

After the projects are completed, have a time of reflection. What did students learn from their experts? What mistakes might they have made that either wasted resources or actually made the situation worse had they not listened to the advice? What did they learn from planning and executing their project? How did they share their faith with the people they served? What was their reaction?
Application Challenge: Review the scriptures from the lesson. Is there an issue or a group of people to whom you are passionate about serving? That may be part of God’s plan for the good works He has planned for you to do during your life. Start preparing now by reading everything you can by experts who have helped others in that area. What skill sets will you need to be effective? How can you learn and practice those skills? One good way to start is by volunteering to help someone in their ministry serving those people. Talk with your parents to see if it would be possible for you to volunteer.

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