Why, as Christians, are Some of Us Called to Law?
The Hebrew prophet Jeremiah is helpful to modern Christians as they wrestle through the process of working in a fallen world and living out their faith. The Jewish people were living in exile in Babylon, and Jeremiah delivers God’s word to them. In short, God wants his people to build homes and settle there, to plant gardens, to raise their families, to seek the peace of the city, and to pray for it (Jer. 29:4-7). It is critical to see that this “peace” is more than the absence of conflict; it is the Hebrew word “shalom” and entails not only the peace, but also the prosperity, the welfare, and the completeness of the city. Thus, there is a depth to what God wanted his people to seek for the city of their exile, namely its wholeness. This principle is instructive for believers today. If the people of God under the old covenant were called to seek the shalom of their city of exile, how much more should those under the new covenant seek the shalom of their particular city?
One of the most practical ways that Christians can seek the peace of their city is in and through their vocational calling. A just and peaceful community honors the Lord, and lawyers have the unique opportunity to seek justice (Micah 6:8). A lawyer is equipped to seek justice, for example, when a person suffers injury or loss from a broken contract or another’s negligence. Similarly, when a crime happens, the lawyer may seek justice by exercising the power of the sword of the state, protecting the innocent, or holding the state to proper standards of due process. Lawyers who serve as judges, of course, have a weighty responsibility and opportunity to dispense justice in ways unlike most any other in a society. Other ways that lawyers can seek the welfare of their city is by helping widows and orphans (e.g., Isa. 1:17 and James 1:27), and assisting married couple as they care for their aging parents and/or young children (1 Tim. 5:8). Lawyers can also seek the good of their community through real estate development, banking and financing, and employment relationships. Finally, though it is certainly not required to be a lawyer to serve in the halls of a legislative body, a legally trained legislator does bring a certain knowledge to the process, which they should exercise for the common good.
In doing these and similar work, lawyers can seek the shalom of their city in a way that other professions cannot. Not better, just different. Doctors can use their education and experience to bring healing, teachers can train up the next generation, electricians can bring light and power to a home, business, or a church, and plumbers can help create cleanliness through water and sanitary conditions. Just as parts of the body are unique and useful, so also different vocations are unique, but each can seek the shalom of the city in its own way.
To be clear, ultimate shalom is found in Christ alone, not in changing one’s community. In other words, deep, abiding, and eternal change for the individual, and by extension the community, comes only through the power of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). At the same time, Christians seeking the shalom of their city—through law, medicine, teaching, plumbing, construction, preaching, and other noble callings—are living out, at least in part, the Lord’s command to love their neighbor and in that God is glorified.
Jonathan B. Austin, J.D. is Assistant Professor of Law at Boyce College and Senior Vice President of Institutional Administration at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.