Ethics Article| Good Ethics- part three

Ethical Choices- Mandates and Principals of the Bible applied to Ethics

Each of these three scenarios in our last article had several commonalities. They all have conflict with other believers. Each one poses a problem that goes against the conscious of another. In addition, none of them offer an obvious Biblical mandate directly related to the issue. How then do we determine what is the right choice for each?

The first thing to do is look at what the Bible has to say, while considering the following advice:

“When a teaching of scripture is not clear or clearly universal, we may use it, but not with the authority of ‘thus saith the Lord’ . Examples of clear universal mandates would be the Ten Commandments…Examples of clear universal principals might be love, self control, contentment, and humility” (McQuilken).

With that in mind, we need to look at each of the situations from the standpoint of what is “clear” (either in principal or mandate), and what is unclear. Much of our dilemma I believe arises, not from a mandate such as “thou shall not steal”, but in defining stealing (for instance). While I agree with McQuilken's statement that there are obvious Biblical mandates and principals, I disagree with his statement that they are “universally clear”. It is in this arena I think much conflict will arise.

For instance, in the situation with the graphics job. Sam believed that his use of the photos was, “no big deal”, but Joe disagreed, to such an extent that he was willing to pay the cost to keep his conscience clear. There is a Biblical mandate, “thou shall not steal”, and it is one of the Ten Commandments. To Joe, this situation was- in his mind- a clear case of stealing. He believed that Sam was wrong for using the photos.

Sam, on the other hand, didn’t see this as “stealing” and was under the impression that the internet was a public place that he could use any information he could find, including photos as long as he followed the law. He knew he would run into legal issues if he printed the photos on his literature, and agreed with Joe on that. However, he was only using them in the manner stated and felt he hadn’t violated any copyright issue (neither consulted with an attorney for factual advice). Here is the ethical dilemma, one person sees it clearly as stealing, another sees it as perfectly fine (the issue here is not the legality of it but the conscience perception of truth).

This same problem is evident in the first case where one Christian believes that drinking in moderation, among like-minded people is not a moral or ethical issue. The other person, like John, sees it as a sin, and to make matters worse, causing others to sin. Here, there isn’t a commandment we can refer to, but there are Scripture verses that can be used to condone or condemn the action. Consider the following two verses:

Ephesians 5:18- Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.

Ecclesiastics 9:7- Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for it is now that God favors what you do

One verse tells us not to get drunk--I would argue that no one “got drunk at the party”--they only drank a moderate amount. I could even quote the other verse to add legitimacy to my stand because it seems to say God “favors” drinking (although realistically, I know I would need to consider the context).

What a dilemma! How do we make a decision in such a case? “There are general principals which apply to a whole range of subjects and which seem especially helpful in making choices concerning various questions disputed or uncertain practices” (McQuilken). Let’s apply this advice to our third example.

In this case, there isn't a verse that readily comes to my mind to support or condemn either side. Oceanside retreats just aren’t covered in the Bible. Some might argue that there are “universal principals” at stake here. The issue of love could be argued. After all, “love” is a universal principal. What would be the most loving decision in this case? That would depend on your viewpoint.

Sarah and Amy wanted to offer a great relaxing retreat and felt it was showing "love" by making it as fabulous experience for the women. Sue would disagree. She felt the higher form of love was inclusiveness, and that Amy and Sarah were causing a class division among the women. Both sides have the universal motive of love, and both sides feel they are choosing what is “right”. This is the very thing that makes “fallible choices” so difficult. Where then do we begin, in order to make good choices?

What are the logical steps to take? While not all-inclusive and complete, here are some things we can keep in mind.

First, we need to go to the Word to determine if we are dealing with a moral issue or not. This means studying the Word, not just camping on a hand full of verses and making a doctrine out of it.

Next, we need to be aware of our attitude and motive. We want to make sure we approach the issue with the right focus. “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). This leads to asking questions about the situation such as, “What would Jesus do?” (Remember Jesus made wine from water in John 2:3 so this may help with the party situation).

We further want to approach each situation with a clear conscience and with faith. “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). In the scenarios of Work Life and Church Life, all participants seemed to have a clear conscience in their decision. In the party scenario, I may want to study further in order to be convinced in my own mind what I did was right so I could act in faith.

We also want to keep everything in prayer as we make any decision, asking for wisdom where we may lack it, being confident that God will supply it, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Finally, we want to keep at the forefront of our decision what is best for the other person. This ties in with attitude and motive. We all know the "Golden Rule" of doing to others as you would have them do to you. As we do this, we will fulfill our highest calling in serving others as we seek for their best interest first.

In our world today, we need wise direction and truth more than ever, as we are faced with decisions on what is “the right “(or ethical) thing to do. As our society grows more technologically advanced and science allows for ever increasing options for life and health--churches try to adjust to culture while still maintaining God’s principals. Now more than ever we need to seek wisdom, and know the Word of God as we go through our day not only making the tough choices, but the small simple ones too as we seek to answer the question-- What is ethical?



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