Making Ethical Decisions

Many things are not explicitly dealt with in the scriptures.  Things like: “Should I go to this party?” “Should I attend this concert?”  “Should I watch this movie?”  “Should I go to this event?

How do we make ethical decisions in these and other such cases?

Principles

1.  Does it bring glory to God?

We should engage in behavior that honors and glorifies our God.  Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”  1 Corinthians 6:20, “ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.”  1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether… ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

We should seek to avoid things which dishonor Him.  Let us not give occasion for folks to blaspheme His holy name [2 Samuel 12:14; Romans 2:24; (cf. Isaiah 52:5; Ezekiel 36:20, 23; Ezekiel 16:51-59); Titus 2:3-5].  Our actions should magnify Him (Philippians 1:20); Let us not “suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18 NASB).

2.  What will others think?

We are not to be a people who live for only self (Philippians 2:1-5).  Paul lived, “Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).  He did not want folks to get the wrong idea of how be handled money contributed by brethren for the poor.

He even was willing to forego his rights if such hindered the spiritual walk of another. He said, “Wherefore, if meat make my brother  to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend” (1 Corinthians 8:13).  He instructed, “Give none offense neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32).

Peter was likewise concerned about influence.  He said that proper behavior includes, “having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles (non-Christians – B.H.) that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

3.  Is it authorized?

A Christian should seek authority for what he does.  We’re taught, “Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus…”  (Colossians 3:17).

The Bible authorizes in three ways: (1) Direct Statement (or explicit statement); (2) Account of Action; (3) Implication.

All that we do should be checked with the Bible.  In an interview with Don Ruhl he illustrated this point.  He said that when men say that the eating of meat or eggs, or the drinking of milk is not healthy – while the Bible paints a different picture – we can rest assured that such things are not harmful for most people (though some should avoid due to allergies, or health problems).  The Bible is the standard.

4.  Is it expedient?  Does it edify?

Just because something may be authorized, does not mean that it ought to be done in every instance, or circumstance.  Paul said, “All things are lawful (should be limited to ‘All things’ under consideration in context – B.H. cf. 1 Corinthians 8:4), for me, but all things are not expedient (helpful in achieving an objective.  Note: expedient actions are limited to lawful actions – B.H.): All things are lawful for me, but all things edify (build upon) not” (1 Corinthians 10:23).

Paul said, “Let all things be done unto edifying” (1 Corinthians 14:26b).  Again, “Let us… follow after (pursue-NKJV) the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).  We each should ask if a given action is helpful in building up others spiritually.

5.  Does it control me?

Does it occupy too much of my time or resources?  Does it distract me from what is truly important?

Paul was determined.  He said, “All things are lawful ( 1 Corinthians 8:4 cf 1 Corinthians 6:13 – B.H.) for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12).

I should never allow the cares, riches, and pleasures of this life to distract me from my Christian duties (Luke 8:14).  I should determine that God will be my master (Luke 16:13).

Hobbies such as golf, fishing, horse riding, etc. may be good moral activities; However it is possible to let such things to become the obsession of life.  Such is wrong.

6.  Is it kind?

Jesus said, “Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12).  This is called by some, “The Golden Rule.”

The flip-side is found in these words, “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work” (Proverbs 24:29).  This is called by some, “The Silver Rule.”

Read and reread 1 Corinthians 13:1-7.  Love should be something we “pursue” (1 Corinthians 14:1 NKJV).

7.  What is my motive?

It is possible to do the right thing and yet be wrong, because we did it out of the wrong motives.  This is taught in several passages (Matthew 6:1-2, 5, 16; 1 Corinthians 13:1-3; 2 Corinthians 9:7).  The Bible beseeches, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory” (Philippians 2:3).

8.  Is it respectful of authority?

God has ordained a system of order and authority.  Children are to obey their parents, and honor them (Ephesians 6:1-ff; Colossians 3:20).  Wives are to place themselves under the authority of their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Peter 3:1-ff).  Citizens are to obey the laws of the land (Romans 13:1-ff; Titus 3:1; 1 Peter 2:13-17; Matthew 22:21).  The church is to submit to the elders (Hebrews 13:7, 17).

It should be understood that the above submission to authority is to be limited to authority that is not demanding something which is in violation with God’s will (see Acts 4:19; 5:29).

9.  Does it violate priorities?

God has set certain priorities.  God must be first in our lives (Matthew 10:37-39; cf. Luke 14:26-27; Acts 4:19; cf. Acts 5:29).

However, with in the framework of God’s code of ethics He has set forth these points: (1) Mercy comes even before worship (Hosea 6:6; Matt. 12:7 cf. Luke 14:1-6).  (2) Domestic responsibilities are not to be neglected due to ecclesiastical pursuits (Mark 7:9-13; Matthew 15:3-6).  (3) Obedience is more important than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22; Isaiah 1:14-16; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:8; Matthew 5:23-26; 1 Timothy 2:8; 1 Peter 3:7).

10.  What kind of custom is it?

Is the custom evil?  Then it is to be avoided.  I’ve heard of cultures that have customs that are in clear violation of the Scriptures.

Is the custom good?  There are customs in some cultures that are good.  Such as showing respect to the aged (Proverbs 16:31; 1 Timothy 5:1).  These customs should be kept.

Is the custom neutral?  Neutral customs are neutral.  In general they should be kept so as to avoid offense.  Marion Fox has written, “Morally neutral customs are to be examined to see if their effects either hinder or aid the cause of the Gospel.  A morally neutral custom is to be followed if it aids the cause of the Gospel (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, B.H.).  No morally neutral customs are to be followed if they hinder the cause of the Gospel” (cf. John 4:9, 27; Acts 10:27-28, B.H.).

Customs which are tied to things contrary to God and His truth should be avoided (see Exodus 23:19; Leviticus 19:27-28.  These things were tied to idolatrous practices).

11.  Is this action something I wouldn’t mind others knowing (wife, brethren, children, parents)?

We should always remember that God sees all (Proverbs 15:13; Psalm 139; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Romans 2:16; 1 Timothy 5:24-25).

12.  Will this activity/decision tempt me to do evil?

The Bible admonishes, “Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22).

13.  Does it violate my conscience?

God has given us a sense of oughtness within we call the conscience.  It is not a safe guide in and of itself (Proverbs 16:2, 25; Acts 26:9).  This is the case because one’s conscience is only as good as what man and his upbringing has placed within it.

However, as we try to follow God’s will and are not convinced of the rightness of some practice, we should restrain from doing the thing in question until convinced (Romans 14:23).  A “clear conscience” is never justification to loose what God has bound; A “troubled conscience” is reason to restrain from an optional activity that one is uncertain concerning before God.  When in doubt go with the stricter standard.

14.  Will this activity or decision draw me closer to God? Or farther away?

Conclusion

Meditating on these points should help in making ethical decisions.  Maturity comes by spending time with God’s word.  Hebrews 5:14, “Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those when by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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