JOHN THE BAPTIST'S 'SOCIAL GOSPEL' IN LUKE 3: 10-14:
A CHALLENGE TO PUBLIC OFFICERS IN NIGERIA
PETER O. OGHENE OTIUH
theBaptist was one ofthe greatest and supremely effectivepreachers
inbiblical history (Matt. 11:11).His injunctions inLuke 3:10-14 to his
audience painted a graphic picture of God 's judgment on public officers
in particular and Christian leaders in general. His was a social gospel,
which emphasized diligence, faithfulness, non-violence, effectiveness, and
spirituality inthe discharge of one's duties. It is in doing allthese, that man
would eventually reach his salvificgoal. The paper, therefore, is an attempt
to probe into the decadence of public leadership inNigeria with the aim
of challenging public office holders to be alert to their responsibilities.
Who isJohn: the Baptist?
The Hebrew name John means"
Yahweh (Lord) is gracious"
and is borne by several persons in the Bible. The one mentioned in Luke
3: 1-18; Matt. 3: 1-10; Mk. 1:4-6 is John, the son of Zechariah and
Elizabeth, also called, John the Baptizer or John the Baptist. )Matthew
presents John as the fore-runner of Jesus, a "messenger" who, according
to the prophecy of Isaiah, has been sent before the Christ to preparethe
way for Him: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, prepare the way
of the Lord, make his path straight" (Matt. 3:3 cf Isaiah 40; and Mal.
3:1).Although the quotation from Isaiah may refer primarily to the return
of the Jewish exiles in Babylon, it was generally believed among Jews that
all prophecies during that period in history has a secondary mystical
reference to the Messiah, and so the evangelist (Matthew) cleverly applied
the passage to John as the fore-runner of the Messiah.
John's separatist-life and his mystical prophetic appearance led
the people to conclude that he was undoubtedly Elijah who had returned
from the dead.' His message "repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven, is at
hand" was a voice that suddenly broke the silence of the centuries after
the voice of the prophecy has ceased. More so, John's message marked
the beginning of the Christian message of salvation.
Social Gospel: Meaning, History and Scope
Social gospel is the kind of Christian message in which the Church
seeks to transform the society positively. It is synonymous with "social
actions or concerns" in which the Christian church takes it as a duty to
positively affect the community in which it is situated. The concept of
social gospel is an offshoot of liberalism and Liberation Theology.
Social gospel or social action, according to the Grand Rapids
Reports,.... Look beyond persons to structures, beyond the
habilitation of prison imnates to the reform of the system,
beyond improving factory condition to securing a more
participation role for the workers, beyond caring for the
poor to improving the economical system and the political
system until it facilitates their liberation from poverty and
Social gospel seeks to remove the cause of human needs. Tlu-.
include political 'tumours', diseases, injustice, oppression, corrupt :""
brutality, ignorance, poverty, violation of human rights, freedom and
dignity. Social gospel is rooted in the Old and New Testaments. For
instance, Deuteronomy 24: 17-22, which legislates on theplights of the
less privilegedinthe society says: "Do not deprive the alienor the fatherless
ofjustice, or take the cloak of a widow as a pledge" (Deut. 24: 18). On
the rights of the civil employees, Deut 24:14-15 says: "Do not take
advantage ofa hired man who is poor and needy ... " (Deut. 24: 14-15).
The message of Jesus in Matthew25:31-46 can also be termed a social
gospel. This is also reflected in the action of the Apostles in Acts 4: 1-7.
Social gospel is rooted in liberation theology. Liberation in this
sense is both personal and societal, the text and the context are related
dialectically in biblical reflection.' According to Rauscheubush, the
developing concept of social gospel was prompted by the social factor
that was responsible for human needs.' Then the social gospel movement
was led by him. As a result of the civil social situation amidst which he
was working, Rauscheubusch began to participate in social reform
movements and to read reformists' and social activitists' literature which
gave him greater inspiration.
Consequently, Rausheubush produced a
social interpretation ofChristianity which is dialectically opposed to the
salvation message. Although, he was considered a heretic by the church
and abandoned, the concept is stillscripturally alive and subscribed to by
some contemporaryChristians and gospel socialists .
John the Baptist did not end up with repentance
and baptism of the people; it included a message of humanism and
welfarism. Here, Luke added John's moral teaching (3: 10-14) which
includes generosity to the poor, renunciation of cheating and oppression.
John's social gospel was directed to three groups of people; namely: the
crowd (Luke 3: 10); tax-collectors (Lld 3:12), and soldiers (Luke 3: 14).
The people in Lk. 3:10 were probably a mixture of women and men, who
came to himto be baptized (cf Mtt. 3:
The tax-gatherers were men who bought from the Romans the
right to collect taxes, but they were despised by the Jews (Mk. 2: 15;Mtt.
11:19;Lk. 7:34), and the Gentiles also. There were two types of publicans:
first, the Roman
who were Romans of high rank and great
wealth. They paid to the Roman Government annually a fixed amount of
money as returns for the right to collect taxes, tributes and customs of a
province or a large district. In doing this, the
would not only
want to plough back their capital, but also to make huge profits. Second,
the Portitores. These were the actual collectors of taxes, to whom the
sub-lettheir provinces or districts.Many of these sub-collectors
were Jews. After paying an agreed sum to the
they were given
authority to assess taxes on land, produce and livestock, and to keep the
"surplus" for themselves. This led to uncontrollable exploitation and
extortion of the Jews. The corrupt system of taxation and economic
depression in the country, which gave rise to terrible poverty were quite
evident in some parables of Jesus. For instance, the two debtors, the
unmerciful servants,the friend at midnightetc. allreveal the levelof poverty
in the land. Although, the Jews hated the publicans, Jesus was not
unfriendly with them (Luke 19:1
Some ofthe soldiers probably served
as body guards of the publicans. These men probably did not belong to
the regular troops of Herod Antipasbut rather those who provided armed
support for the tax
The key word in John's social gospel message are "give", or
"share" and "love".
(a) Share or Give
The people asked him, "What shall we do"? (Lk. 3: 10). His
response was very arresting and authoritative. He said: "He that hath two
coats, let Him impart to himthat hath none; and he that hath food, let him
do likewise" (Luke 3:11). John responses and command implythat their
social and spiritual activitiesmust be love-inspired. 'Give' or 'share' isthe
principal word here. The message here is simple. People should be
motivated by love to provide for those that lack. This means, that the
abilityto share or give is the height of all morality (cf Matt. 5:1
(b) Diligence and Patriotism
The tax collectors came and asked him, "What must we do"?
(Lk. 3: 12).And John replied by saying: "Extort no more than that which
is appointed you" (Lk. 3: 13). These publicans may be a deputation of
them, representing their order.
Here the response ofJohn is the same
law oflove, governing them in their gathering of the Roman taxes. Asking
tax payees to pay more than was legally required was a common practice
in Palestine (Luke 19: 11). For John, this did not show any sense of honesty.
Even though, John was living a separatist life in the wilderness, he was not
unaware of the social problems facing the people, especially, the less
(c) Humanism and Liberalism
Next, the soldiers came and took their turn. They asked him, " ...
what must we do"? (Lk. 3: 14). And he answered them, saying: "Extort
from no man by violence, neither accuses anyone wrongly, and be content
with your wages" (Lk. 3: 15). In all the answers given by John, the law of
love was re-enforced. This also implies that every duty should be love-
inspired and committed to human good.
Social Gospel and Biblical Concept of Love
First, in the Old Testament love governs the relationship that exists
and Israel (Deut. 16:5; Ex. 20:6). The Greek word
is used to designate the unique and original Christian idea of
love in the New Testament. In the King James Version word "Charity" is
used to show the unique character of this.Fln the Gospels, the iove of
God and of one's neighbour are called the "greatest commandment" (Deut.
6-5; Lev. 19: 18; cf Matt. 22:34-40; Mk. 12:28-34; Lk. 10:25-28).
The two commandments are placed on an equal plane; and it is in
this, that the Christian revolution of charity is rooted. Ideally, the Christian
religion is rooted in love (John 3: 160). Love has been called "the very
key word" in New Testament ethics and the "positive" element in Christian
ethics and morality.
Love is a commandment, but its source is God
Himself(2John4:8, 16). Hence, those who obey God's commandment
to love are partaking in the divine quality of God. The motivating factor in
social concern is love. It is love that leads one to share with others. Love
for the brethren extends to all human persons irrespective of social status,
religion, tribe and cultural affiliation. Love motivates patriotism, generosity,
diligence and faithfulness.
The Problem With Nigerian Public Officers
Public officers here refer to those who hold public offices, either
in government, social organizations or religious organizations. The
leadership problem inNigeria will remain for a long time a difficult nut to
crack because many people who aspire to leadership positions either in
secular or religious sphere are often unconscious of the implications of
such aspiration. The moral problems of the Nigerian nation extend beyond
the politicaland social spheres, but also to the church and religious spheres.
Love of power and influence and greed instead of selfless service, often
characterize the attitudes of the Nigerian pubic officers. The problems
with Nigerian public officers include the followings:
Double Standard, Bribery And Corruption
Many Nigerian pubic officers want to live extravagantly, and so,
live above their legitimate wages.
indulge in dubious means
of enriching themselves. The situation ofthe Nigerian Police and PHCN
(Power Holding Corporation of Nigeria) workers easily come to mind.
The illegal collection ofN20 or more at police check points has come to
be synonymous with the Nigerian Police Force. Sometimes, innocent
people are made to suffer for the offence they did not commit at police
stations. On the part of PHCN officials, the public is forced to pay
exorbitantly for services not rendered. Bribery, corruption and greed are
common inNigerian civilservice.
Even some university lecturers collect
bribes from their students. The case is the same in other public institutions.
It is the situation like ours, which John the Baptist addressed when he
spoke to soldiers and tax collectors.
Abuse of Power and Government Property
Some people believethat anyone inthe position of authority should
make his or her position felt by all means. Such is the belief of s~me
public officers inNigeria. In this wise, the policemen who are supposed
to maintain law and order, often turn out to be violators ofthe law and
enemies of the public. They even sometimes pass illegal orders to civilians
to obey.Police brutality is conunon inNigeria. Superiors inthe civil service
misuse their power by sitting on the promotion of their subordinates. The
story isthe same in some religious institutions where some "bishops" are
"total control". Politicians are not exempted from these immoral and
uncivilized acts. Public officers also misuse public property. Public
properties are recklessly used. Government cars, for instance, are not
well maintained likepersonal cars. The same is applicableto public houses
and offices in most cases.
Due to misplaced values, publicofficers andeven religious leaders
do everything possible to get rich. The greatest value is placed on money.
It no longer maters how one comes about hiswealth. It is this misplaced
value that makes public office holders to steal and embezzle public funds
and cheat others.
Negation ofWork Ethics
an ideal situation, every establishment has approved code of
. ethics for its officers. Every public officer is expected to conform to this
code of ethics in his or her duty post. In Nigeria public officers pay little
regard to work ethics or codes of conduct
In spite of the existence of
.the Code of Conduct Bureau and other similaragencies meant to enforce
probity in public offices, the problems still persist. In this connection the
former President Olusegun Obasanjo says: "A substantial number of public
officers behave as ifthere are no rules and regulations that govern they-
Challenge to Public Officers in Nigeria
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaimed by the
United Nations in 1948 states in part:
Political rulers and government officials are both held
accountable to the ruled for their actions through clearly
formulated and transparent processes, and more
particularlythat the legitimacyof a government is regularly
established through some well-defined open process of
public choice ...
The aim of this declaration isto enable the ruled evaluate their
leaders, to ensure consistency, responsibility and credibility. Any person
assigned the responsibility of holding public office is expected to be
accountable for his or her actions and inactions. Even the Bible enjoins us
to be prepared to make a defense of our faith, the course of action we
pursue ifit becomes necessary to do so (1 Peter 3: 15).Accountability on
the part of public officers will also enable them to live in peacewith their
subjects (Heb. 12: 14), make them responsible wise leaders (Eph. 5:] 5;
Loyalty And Respect
Public officers must be loyal and operate under the rule oflaw.
Public service ethics require public officers to be submissive to the law
that governs the land. Loyalty and credibility are basicvirtues for allpublic
officers who serve diligently and selflessly.
Successful good leadership is known by its exemplary character,
hardwork and transparency. Such was the advice John the Baptist gave
to his audience when he said that they should bear good fruit (Matt. 3:10).
In.Nigeria today, anyleader who does not show good examplebut engages
in preaching morality, nobody will respect what such leaders preach.
According to Beko Ransorne-Kuti, "it is not possible to fight corruption
in a Conditionof high official corruption".
Public Officers Are Accountable to God
Leadership is a God-given privilege. Throughout the Old and New
Testaments, (Dan. 14:17, Isaiah 45: 1,5, Rom. 13:1), we find that leaders
are appointed by God, including the leadership in homes (Eph. 6:1-9; 1
Peter 2: 13). Hence, there are specific biblical injunctions to submit to
those in leadership positions (1 Peter 2: 17, 18).
There is no greater joy than unselfishly seeking the physical and
spiritual welfare of those entrusted to our care. William Wilberforce, a
popular leader in England (1780 to 1833), died with satisfaction that the
emancipation billfor which he had expended much of his time and energy
was passed. The endwas the extermination of slaveryinthe British Empire.
Those public officers who abuse leadership position and power are
accountable to God for their stewardship. Psalm 82, Matthew 3 :23; and
Amos 7, describe God's judgment on self-serving public officers.
Public officers in Nigeria should be tolerant, accommodating and
teachable. They must also be firm and fair in their judgments, especially,
as it concerns their immediate subordinates. They should be consistent
and persistent in the pursuance of their set goals. They should share in the
problems and joy oftheir subjects.
Show Brotherly Love'"
God being the lovingFather of all,He naturally expects His children
to love one another and live as brothers. Brotherly love is a central idea in
the teaching of Jesus Christ. This brotherliness is summed up in the word
"love". Christ commands us to love one another because God our Father
is love. This command to live in love is the law of our King, and takes
precedence over any other law and to obey it, is to be truly happy. When
Christ commands us to love one another, He does not mean an all-inclusive
toleration that does not distinguish between right and wrong; What He
means isthat we should have a spirit that harbours no grudge, that sees
the best in men, that is full of understanding, that is wonderfully patient
and utterly pure.
Jesus taught that we should help the needy and give alms without
parading it like the Pharisees, but after His own quiet example of helping
others. We must not turn away from those who need our help if we are in
a position to give it. The rich man inthe Bible was condemned, not because
he was rich, but because he closed his eyes of mercy against Lazarus, hi
poor suffering brother whom he was in a position to help. "Whoever
must share with anyone who has none, and whoever h~~
food must do likewise" (Luke 3: 1Off).Such a help springing from
love, should know no limit of race or colour, as is shown in the parable
the Good Samaritan.
In this paper an attempt has been made to compare the moral
decadence found in public officeinNigeria with the situation in the time of
John the Baptist and we have argued that the situation is not different.
John's injunctions in Luke 3 are also addressed to the Nigerian nation,
where most public officers are corrupt, dishonest and disobedient to the
rule oflaw, and work ethics. The motivating factors of public officers
should be love and sharing. These two will prompt them to extol good,
exemplary,resourceful, and accountable leadership. Religious leaders and
public officersshould stand up to theirresponsibilitiesby boldlydenuncing
public officers who are corrupt and not performing up to expectation. On
their part, religious leaders who are corrupt and deficient should be
checked by their adherents and sanctioned. Public officers who in the
past and in the present have cheated their subjects and the nation should
make restitution and render unconditional apology.
1. J.L. Mckenzie,
Dictionary of the Bible
A study of the Gospel of Mark
Convention Press, 1958), 20-21.
3. The Grand Rapids Report, 1982 in J. Stott,
4. V. Fabella and Sergio (eds.),
Irruption of the Third Word
(New York: Orbis Books, 1983), xv.
5. W. Rauschenbusch,
Christianity and the Social Crisis
(London: Macmillan Co., 19907), xiii.
6. A. Richard, (ed)
A Dictionary of Christian Theology
(Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1969),312 .
The Jerome, Biblical Commentary,
(London: CasselandCollierMacmillanPub., 1968),128
Studies in the Four Gospel
More New Testament Words
C. O. Isiramen, "The Moral Problems of Nigeria",
S.O. Abogunrin, "Religion and Ethics", in S.O. Abogunrin
(ed) Religion and Ethics
(Ibadan: Daystar Press,
C. Mduabum, "Ethics
the Public Service" presented
training Workshop for public officers inthe Federal
etc by the Presidency, Office of the Head of Services of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Articles
Essential of Bible Knowledge