Practical Christian Ethics

Tipping the scales
"Tipping the Scales" by Leslie Thrasher (Saturday Evening Post Cover - October 3, 1936)

Social Ethics


The Christian faith is not simply about how to get to Heaven. It is also about how we should live on this earth.

Last week we looked at Christian values from the standpoint of personal ethics. This week we look at the other side of personal ethics, which is, social ethics.

That we should experience life on this earth is part of God’s plan. God desires that we enjoy this life and live in a way that brings glory to His Name; thus, Christianity touches every sphere of our lives.

Our lesson examines three key areas which affect us all. First from 1 Peter is the Christian’s relationship with civil government.

Systems of government vary from nation to nation, but generally speaking, the function of “just government” is to punish evil doers, and commend and encourage those who do good.

To function in this way, there must be a recognition on the part of those who govern, and those who are governed, that there are some universally accepted ideas about what is right and wrong.

For example, all just governments recognize that such deeds as murder, assault, theft, fraud and marital infidelity are destructive of social order. Thus, it is that human life, personal property, marriage and family are protected by law under most systems of government.

Where just government and just laws prevail, the best way for Christians to demonstrate that they are good citizens is for them to submit to government and obey the laws; however, sometimes the Christian is obligated to obey God, rather than man.

Acts 4:18-20
18And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. 20For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

This occasion was where Peter and John were commanded not to speak at all nor teach in the Name of Jesus, but we find this authorization did not stop them. God’s law is supreme and any law of man that is truly good never contradicts the commandments of God. Since the Christian seeks to obey the commandment of God, he is also committed to being a law-abiding citizen.

Individuals who have no regard for God or His will do not have the motivation for doing right, as Christians have.

The Christians’ highest motivation and endeavor are to be good citizens, respecting government and obeying the law, because they are required to do so by a higher law, the will of God.

The Roman Empire was not a democracy, but the people of the empire, and especially those who were citizens, enjoyed a significant degree of individual freedom.

The Christians, because they had been freed from the bondage of sin and ignorance of paganism, felt themselves to be much freer than those who did not know Christ.

In regard to their freedom as Christians, Peter reminded them that freedom is to be used wisely, responsibly, not as a license to do evil. The wise use of freedom requires Christians to act as servants of God, as stated in 1 Peter 2:16, as free, and not using your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God.

1 Peter 2:13-17
13Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; 14Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. 15For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: 16As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. 17Honour all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.

Individual freedom, taken to extremes, destroys the common good for other members of society. No one is more detrimental to the well-being of others than the individual who thinks freedom means he can do whatever he pleases without regard for how it may affect the lives of others. As a servant of God, the Christian understands that freedom is a serious responsibility, to be used for God’s glory and to bless others.

The second consideration is how we should get along with our neighbors and fellow citizens. After describing the Christian’s relationship to government, he then speaks of living in peace with one another. Peace making is a Christian ethic, taught to us by Christ Himself. Peter taught us to have compassion one to another.

I Peter 3:8-12
8Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: 9Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing. 10For he that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile: 11Let him eschew evil, and do good; let him seek peace, and ensue it. 12For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and his ears are open unto their prayers: but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.
Hebrews 4:15
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.

The Bible repeatedly describes the Christian as a member of the body of Christ who strongly associates with the other members of that body. How believers get along with one another is a powerful indicator of the extent to which they have allowed Christian values to define their lives. The way Christians treat one another will strongly influence how the world accepts their testimony of faith in Christ. Verses 8 and 9 of 1 Peter, above, give attention to their need for unity, love, compassion and forgiveness. The apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 3:9, above, that when we are mistreated, we are not to return or render evil for evil or railing for railing. Peter’s instructions in verse nine, and the promise that those who comply will inherit a blessing, remind us of the beatitude of Jesus, spoken by Jesus in:

Matthew 5:5
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

The meek Christian is not a weak Christian. The power to live an overcoming life comes from purity of heart because when Christ reigns in our hearts, His peace is available when troubles would overwhelm our own strength.

The Holy Spirit will empower us to proclaim the gospel when our own wisdom can never hope to answer the world’s criticism. When we recognize Christ as the Lord He really is, we can trust all of life’s circumstances to His care. Our responsibility is to ensure that no suffering we face is punishment because we have done evil.

Psalm 139:13-18
13For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. 14I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well. 15My substance was not hid from thee, when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. 16Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being unperfect; and in thy book all my members were written, which in continuance were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them. 17How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them! 18If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: when I awake, I am still with thee.

The worth of human life is determined by the value God places on it.

David realized that humans have a special relationship to God that the other creatures do not have. God has made humans to be rational, spiritual creatures who can respond to Him with thoughtfulness, faith, love and worship in a way the other creatures do not. This capacity of the human soul to commune with God enables us to see that we are fearfully and wonderfully made by God.

David was awed when he considered God’s personal awareness of all that he was. Psalm 139, above, describes God’s knowledge as being so complete that He knows a person even before that person exists. God even knew about him in his mother’s womb.

At no point does God lose sight of a person. He does not forget about the person He creates. Human life has value.

Every individual is precious in God’s sight. Any disregard for life is sin. Murder in any form and a lack of concern for those deprived of the necessities of life point to a disregard for our Creator. Since there is God the Creator, and He values human life and He has a purpose for it, and we are answerable to Him for what we do with it, we must treat human life as sacred.

Matthew 10:29, 30, 31 (Jesus speaking)
29Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. 30But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows.

If we truly believe that God notices every falling sparrow and knows the number of the hairs on every person’s head, we know that human life is sacred, precious, too valuable to waste or thoroughly destroy.

Sparrows were sold and eaten by the poor in the time of Jesus’ life. It was of little value in the marketplace, but the loss of one sparrow’s life does not escape God’s notice. If God directs His attention even to those things that are slightly valued at all by human beings, imagine His care for those lives He has created in His own image.

Be reminded in Ecclesiastes 12:13:

…Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
Author: Nannie Mae Jordan   (Transcribed by Joyce Carter   Transcribed and Formatted by Jerry Knight)

 

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