A Short Theology of Social Reform

By Dan Doriani - Posted at Place for Truth:

Over the last year, I have interviewed a number of believers who are trying to love their neighbors and change the way work is done in their field. Listening to them, I have come to a clearer understanding of the way social reform works. Generally speaking, people who bring positive reform normally have high skill, passion for a cause, a position that guarantees that they will be heard, and an ability to win allies. Beyond that, I see men and women whose faith spontaneously shapes their work. That makes sense. After all, the Lord reveals his love through the work of Christ and then pours his love into our hearts. As a result, we obey God's great commandment (Matt. 22:37-39), "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." He continues "And there is a second like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

As Paul says, we are saved by faith, not works, but saving faith does work. He writes in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace you have been saved through faith… not a result of works, so that no one may boast." Yet we are "created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." So faith necessarily leads to good works, including acts of love for our neighbors.

Americans tend to think of good works as individual acts and we forget that we probably have the greatest capacity to love our neighbors through our work. We know we should consecrate our work to God, but we think we love our neighbors outside of work. Even at work we tend to regard love in private terms: We listen to a needy co-laborer and offer to help and perhaps share the gospel. To focus on food, we may think, "I love my neighbor by bringing meals to the sick, by collecting for food pantries, and by serving in a homeless shelter."

Fair enough, but far more people love their neighbors by working on farms, in grocery stores, and in restaurants. When we grow good food, transport and package it well, preventing waste and decay, when we sell grain, meat, vegetables, and fruit at fair prices, we also love our neighbor.

In Work: The Meaning of Our Lives, Lester DeKoster proposed that we chiefly love our neighbors as ourselves at work. At work we have the most skill and training, the most resources and the strongest team. As a result, we have the greatest capacity to love our neighbor at work. Therefore, the first place we should look to do good and to bring social reform is at work.