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« Good and Bad, Right and Wrong (Part One) | Main | Good and Bad, Right and Wrong (Part Three) »

Good and Bad, Right and Wrong (Part Two)

Searching for Ethical Clarity in Contemporary Confusion

Since the Bible has been heralded throughout the centuries as the “Good Book”, the book that teaches right from wrong, it may come as a surprise to some that the Bible does not treat ethics as a singular matter. In fact, one may say that the entire body of scripture is a study in ethics. More properly, the Bible should be understood to be the revelation of an infinitely righteous and holy God to totally unrighteous and unholy man. For the believer, therefore, ethical principles and behaviors do not stand as an independent body of knowable truths; rather, they flow out of the knowledge of God. Moreover, a vital relationship with the living God assures the believer that ethics always transcend intellectual or philosophical knowledge to become a matter of the heart.

Not everything, of course, deserves to be elevated to the level of an ethical consideration. Perhaps the choice between a British diagonal stripe or a plum solid in neck wear would be either right and wrong in the eyes of a fashion expert, but for most of us, such decisions are insignificant. While some may be willing to engage in a lengthy argument on the difference between ethical and non-ethical subjects, I decline to do so here. Vast areas of human behavior lie in the realm of individual tastes and preferences. Some of these things have the potential for ethical adjudication, but until they cross that threshold, they should remain ethically invisible.

Matters clearly stated in the scripture.

The Bible addresses some questions so directly that no controversy really exists. Even the most cursory of examinations of scriptural evidence make this abundantly clear. The only way such evidence can be disproved is to dispute the infallibility of the scripture or adhere to a hermeneutical system other than the literal/historical norm accepted by traditional Bible believers.

For example, suppose a brother in Christ defrauds you in a business deal. Do you have the liberty to take him to a civil court and prosecute him? No, you do not, according to I Corinthians 6:1-8.

1. Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints? 2. Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters? 3. Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life? 4. If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church. 5. I speak to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren? 6. But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers. 7. Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another. Why do ye not rather take wrong? why do ye not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? 8. Nay, ye do wrong, and defraud, and that your brethren. (KJV)

The Apostle addresses this problem in such a direct and thorough way that there remains little doubt as to his meaning. While he concedes that legal transactions among believers can run amuck, he denies that saints have recourse to judgment in front of unbelievers. The wronged party should choose another believer in the church who can settle the dispute. Some people attempt to get around this ruling by claiming that a brother who would defraud them in this way is no longer a brother. Such a charge has no real merit, since all of us have our faults and failures, even while we continue to belong to the body of Christ.

What if the offending brother refuses to accept the judgment of the chosen arbitrator? Even in this case, the scripture is clear. The defrauded brother simply suffers the wrong against him and goes on, rather than pressing the matter in civil courts. In fact, this outcome illustrates the true ethical position. He submits to the scriptural mandate, refuses to bring reproach upon the church by a lawsuit, forgives his errant brother and demonstrates his esteem for spiritual truths over temporal goods or wealth. In addition, he embraces the promises of God to take care of his needs in this life.

Consider the opposite scenario. Imagine that one brother does go to civil law against another brother. He would set in motion a destructive chain of events. Witnesses would be called, people in the church would line up on either side of the dispute, and harsh statements would be made in an atmosphere devoid of love and brotherly kindness. Soon, the incident would most likely mushroom into a serious problem for the church. In fact, whenever this has happened, (and, unfortunately, it has) churches have split, souls have been lost, and factional feuds fomented by the trial have spanned two or three generations. Obedience, honor, forgiveness, temperance and trust in God all become casualties as a result of this unscriptural choice.

The Bible contains many clear statements regarding right and wrong behavior. First, however, a person must answer the operative question of whether or not it is right to obey the Bible. For believers, there can be no other answer than total affirmation of the Bible as the Word of God. It follows, then, that unambiguous statements of right and wrong in scripture dictate to us how we should conduct our lives. People who violate or ignore some clear biblical commands, even while embracing others, transgress a law more fundamental than the particular issue in question, that is denying the will of God in their lives. In effect, they usurp authority over the Bible because they say yes or no to Bible truths at will.

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