Etched in our nation’s history is a motto found in the final chapters of the book of Micah. The motto has become a rally cry for religious leaders and politicians who strive to inspire the hearts of the people. It was the rally cry of abolitionists and Quakers as they sought to end slavery. It was used to fuel political reform during the tenure of two American presidents. The motto is etched in stone in the alcove of religion in the reading room of the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
What is this biblical maxim found in the book of Micah? It is the same passage that continues to stir the hearts of God’s people today: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
This single verse embedded in the book of Micah has remained one of the most celebrated passages among religious leaders throughout history. It has served as the basis for songs, sermons, and conferences. It has grown in popularity over the last decade as people have used it as a springboard to launch a variety of agendas leading us to ask two important questions: What is the intended meaning of this text and how do I apply it in my life today?
Managing Micah’s Message
Picture the setting. Micah boldly called the nation of Judah to hear the Lord lay his case before the people. The Lord summoned the nation to defend itself in a courtroom setting as the mountains, hills, and foundations of the earth served as the jury. The charge was simple: the nation had strayed from the Lord and found itself drowning in a sea of corruption, rebellion, disobedience, and pride.
In the preceding verses the Lord recounted the numerous times he provided for and protected the nation, but rebellion still remained (Micah 6:1-7). In verse 8 the Lord showed the extent of his love and grace by revealing a roadmap of restoration for the wayward nation. A simple question requiring a simple response was all that was needed to bring restoration.
Roadmap of Restoration
What does the Lord require of you? The answer to this question reflects an ongoing expectation of the Lord from one generation to the next. It requires a steadfast life that honors the Lord in passion, pursuit, and priorities. Micah answered the question by providing a roadmap of restoration, a simple truth that applies to every individual in every generation from one nation to the next.
This basic roadmap serves as a timeless tool every Christian in every generation can apply. It helps us regain focus on living a life that honors the Lord in three areas: our principles, our priorities, and our pursuit.
Restoring Our Principles: Act Justly
My grandfather taught me about the importance of principles early in my life. He was a man of honor, integrity, and character who sought to glorify the Lord in every aspect of life. He taught us this unforgettable lesson: “Better the poor whose walk is blameless than the rich whose ways are perverse” (Proverbs 28:6). The lesson I learned from an early age was simple: Right principles lead to right priorities resulting in the right pursuit.
Micah taught the same principle. Justice is a key theme throughout the prophet’s message. The nation had become corrupt and he called them back to a restoration of justice.
The phrase act justly carries the idea of committing our lives to the pursuit of that which is right and true and living with a sense of right and wrong. Restoration of justice was needed once again in the nation.
“Above all else, guard your heart,” the writer of Proverbs advised, “for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). The foundational principles of justice, love, and mercy flow from the heart. Notice that Micah called the nation to act justly rather than simply to love justice. Most people will say they love justice, but few live out justice to the degree God desires. It’s much easier to love justice than to act justly. Put your faith into action today and stand for God’s justice.
Restoring Our Priorities: Love Mercy
The next step Micah introduced to followers of the Lord dealt with the restoration of priorities. Priorities determine the direction of our lives. Many years ago my wife and I decided to teach our boys two fundamental priorities that lead to a successful life. They might fail in other areas of life, but if they applied these two priorities they would be a success in the eyes of the Lord. The two priorities are to love God and to love others. Jesus taught the same priorities in Matthew 22:37-39 as he instructed his followers to love the way God intends.
Micah taught the same principle in these verses. To love mercy carries the idea of learning to love our neighbor as ourself (v. 39) and to show kindness, forgiveness, and mercy even when it is not deserved.
We apply this principle by choosing love over hate, love over vengeance, and love over unforgiveness. To love mercy is costly as it places the needs of others ahead of our own. We can’t love mercy and love selfishness at the same time. God tests our hearts by making kindness not merely something we do, but something we love.
Restoring Our Pursuit: Walk Humbly with Your God
The final principle we learn from Micah deals with our pursuit in life. To walk humbly with your God carries the idea of choosing to pursue God as our top priority. It describes the heart’s attitude toward God as we choose to depend on him rather than our own abilities (Micah 2:3). God lives with those whose spirits are “contrite and humble” (Isaiah 57:15). Jesus taught that the humble will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
Instead of taking pride in what we bring to God, let’s humble ourselves and recognize that no amount of personal sacrifice can replace a heart committed to justice and love. Remember this: to walk humbly, you must begin on your knees.
Timothy Lueking is the founder of ReStart Ministries, Inc. and Senior Minister at Sullivan First Christian Church in Sullivan, Indiana. He and his wife Katherine have three sons.