From The Poor of the Land and the Pride of Jacob, a sermon on Amos by John Piper preached on October 10, 1982.
What does it mean to have justice established in the gate? I don’t think it means to have a society without distinctions, but a society without oppression. No more exploitation; no more small print in the contracts; no more price-manipulating monopolies; no more Marie Antoinettes who say of the poor, “Let them eat cake.” And no more Robin Hoods who steal from the rich. No more central socialist committees who hold a gun to your head and tell you how much of yours is really your neighbor’s, and no more fat capitalistic cats who walk by Lazarus every day on their way to work off their latest five pounds of wine on the silver running machine. No more false advertising; no more slipshod workmanship at $30 an hour. When every wage is fair, every contract is plain, every agreement is kept, and everyone strives for the advancement of his fellow man and not just his own—and all to the glory of God, then justice will be established in the gate.
And how shall we do it? By striving to produce men and women whose hearts are aflame with the righteousness of God. And by struggling together to know what elements of righteousness should be enacted into civil law. When a slumlord gouges a Laotian family with exorbitant rent in the Phillips neighborhood, it is not necessarily because of bad laws; it’s because of a bad man. Therefore, we must guard ourselves against the naïve idea that those who work for rent control at city hall are necessarily working harder to establish justice than those who work to convert evil men so that their hearts and business practices will ring with the righteousness of Christ.
If America stays free—which, by the way, is not the main goal of the church but, I pray, a happy byproduct—if America stays free, it will not be because Christian right-wingers push through a prayer amendment, or because Christian left-wingers push through bigger government subsidies for housing and health and jobs. It will be because the salt of the earth and the light of the world have exerted such a profound spiritual effect on the heart and soul of the nation that men and women feel pangs of conscience when contracts are broken, and refugees are gouged, and prices are inflated, and workmanship is shabby, and babies are intentionally aborted. Constraining civil laws are necessary in a fallen world. But if violations of love are not treated at the spiritual spring, then the river of evil that flows out of man’s heart will break through every legal dam and sweep the world away with injustice. One group on earth has this potential and this mission—the Church of Jesus Christ. If we are not wholeheartedly engaged in this indispensable spiritual work, no one else will do it, for no one else has the message of redemption. And justice will most assuredly, then, not be established in the gate. And then, who will stand when the Lord roars from Zion?
Read the rest of this very good sermon.