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Thou Shalt Not Be a Bystander

June 16, 2018

“He upholds the cause of the oppressed.” Psalm 146:7

In 1955, an African-American Christian woman in her 40s refused to surrender her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. As a result, many now view Rosa Parks as the mother of the civil rights movement and consider her act one of courage. But Rosa called her decision an act of faith. She said, “I felt the Lord would give me strength to endure whatever I had to face. It was time for someone to stand up—or in my case, to sit down. I refused to move.”

As followers of Jesus, we must be willing to stand, or sit, for what is right and just. Sadly, when life is good inside the “believer’s bubble,” very few voices cry out in protest against injustice.

Take a glance back through history with me for just a moment. Remember the Christians who lived in ancient Rome? They were tortured and killed for entertainment in the coliseums of Rome. Centuries later, generations of Africans were forced into slavery in America and kept in bondage until they were legally set free in 1865. But it didn’t end there. Sadly, our world has witnessed countless other atrocities, resulting in the tragic loss of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.

Something should go “tilt” deep down inside us when we think about these detestable actions against the dignity of fellow humans. And if it doesn’t, we need to check our spiritual pulse! God hates injustice and has a special place in His heart for the oppressed. In Psalm 146:7, the text tells us, “He upholds the cause of the oppressed.” It moves me to think about how His heart must break when He sees people who are precious to Him victimized by corrupt thinking and twisted morality.

God hates injustice so much that He gave us a living model for raising the standard of justice against oppression. That model is Jesus Christ!

Take, for instance, the time when He “cleaned house” in the temple where the merchants and moneychangers were in cahoots. They were requiring poor pilgrims who had come to worship to change their money for temple currency at exorbitantly unjust rates and, on top of that, they were forced to pay several times the market value for the cow, lamb, or dove that was to be used as an atonement for their sin!

Obviously, Jesus despised this unjust practice so much that He used a whip to drive the money changers from the temple, overthrowing their money tables and calling them thieves! He reacted so strongly because the merchants were taking advantage of people’s desire to serve and obey God. Injustice in the name of a just God is a serious offense to our God, who is perfectly just. In fact, throughout the Gospels Jesus took it upon Himself, at great risk, to be an advocate for the maligned and the oppressed.

One of history’s most tragic offenses to justice was the Holocaust. In Washington D.C., at the Holocaust Museum, there is a plaque with these words, “Thou shalt not be a victim. Thou shalt not be a perpetrator. Above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

Although the silence from the Christian community is often deafening when it comes to helping the oppressed, it is never too late to start. You and I need to link arms with the people who are taking justice to our unjust world by rescuing those who are victims of injustice.

The Old Testament prophet Micah said that when it comes to pleasing God, we must “act justly and love mercy” (Micah 6:8). Maybe, that’s why I would like to see the eleventh commandment be: “Thou shalt not be a bystander.”


  • Read the story of Christ in the temple in Matthew 21:12-13; Mark 11:15-17; Luke 19:45-46; and John 2:12-22. Make a list of observations about these passages. What stands out to you about the way Jesus reacted to injustice?
  • Jesus demonstrated righteous anger in the face of injustice. When is the last time you experienced anger in seeing someone mistreated? What did you do about it?
  • Have you ever showed injustice to someone? Pray and ask the Lord how He might lead you to make that situation right in His eyes.
  • Reach out and help the victims of injustice. Consider supporting a ministry like the Hands of Hope, which helps women and children in Africa (www.handsofhopeonline.org); or International Justice Mission, which provides legal intervention and advocacy on behalf of victims of injustice internationally (www.ijm.org).