There has been a decline
in moral values among youth. A 2002 US survey reported that 74% of high school
students admitted cheating on exams in the past year (13% higher than in 1992);
38% of students admitted to shoplifting in the past year (7% higher than in
1992); 43% agreed that “a person has to lie or cheat sometimes in order to
succeed.” Another survey reported that 82% of students believe that right and
wrong are relative terms and that morality is a ridiculous concept; 78% said
they regularly lie to their parents.
a. Most evangelical
theologians accept graded absolutism, e.g. Ex 1:15-21, the midwives violated
the norm of obeying the government in order not to violate a higher norm of not
b. General principles in
judging the hierarchy of norms:
(1) Persons have priority over
things (Mt 16:26).
(2) God has priority over human
beings (Ac 5:29; Da 3:17-18).
(3) Many persons have priority
over few persons (1Co 9:19; 10:33).
(4) Irreversible actions (e.g.
death) are more crucial than actions with long term effects, which are in turn
more crucial than actions with short term effects.
(5) “Do to others what you would
have them do to you” (Mt 7:12; Lk 6:31).
c. The most important is
to seek the will and guidance of God through fervent prayer.
a. The argument for the importance of a belief in God is
called the “Pascal’s Wager”,
formulated by Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). He was one of the most intelligent
person in history.
b. The Argument: Suppose logical reasoning cannot decide
for or against the existence of God; then we must “wager” on this important
question. If you place your bet with God, you lose nothing, even if it turns
out that God does not exist. But if you place it against God, and you are wrong
and God does exist, you lose everything: God, eternity, heaven, infinite gain.
c. Therefore the only wise wager is to believe that God
exists. If God exists, he wins the reward of eternal life; if God does not
exist, at least he wins the reward of a good present life with joy and peace.
In other words, to wager that God does not exist is always a stupid wager.
d. The application of the
principle: choose life not death; fight against the culture of death.
a. When we apply the Bible
in ethics, it is important to distinguish general
principles or commands from specific
applications. While general principles are relevant for all times and all
cultures, specific rules relating to culture of biblical times may not be applicable
b. Many of the Old
Testament laws established for Israel are not applicable now because:
(1) Ceremonial law was superseded by the death of Christ (Heb
(2) New Testament argues for the end of Mosaic
law (Ro 10:4; Gal 3:21-25; 5:18).
(3) We are not under a theocracy.
d. Some commands specific
to the New Testament times may not be applicable today (such as head covering
for women in 1Co 11:5). However, it is dangerous to discount parts of the Bible
by the claim of cultural relativity. Liberal Christians today use this argument
to explain away most of the commandments in the Bible. Therefore, clear
guidelines should be developed.
e. Three questions should
Is the command inherently moral?
Those that are inherently moral are absolute and
applicable to every culture. See sin lists: Mk 7:21-22; Ro 1:29-32; 1Co 5:11;
6:9-10; 2Co 12:20; Gal 5:19-21; Eph 4:31; 5:3; Co 3:5; 2Ti 3:2-4; 1Pe 2:1.
Major sins in the lists: greed, slander, sexual
immorality, malice, pride, jealousy.
(2) Is there a uniform position/prohibition
in the Bible?
If there are different positions, then the
command is not absolute, e.g. eating food offered to the idols (Ac 15:29;
(3) Do we share similar specific life
The cultural setting of Biblical passages
and the intent or reason of the command need to be understood, e.g.
prohibitions in Ac 15:20 were a compromise to satisfy Jewish Christians.
a. Should Christians
follow Mt 5:34 and Jas 5:12 and refuse to swear an oath even in courts?
b. Let us use the 3
questions above to decide.
(1) Is swearing an oath
inherently immoral? No, it is not.
(2) Is there a uniform position
in the Bible on swearing an oath? No, there is not.
Moses urged a legitimate oath in Dt 6:13. Lev
19:12 prohibits only false swearing. Jesus accepted the authenticity of oaths
in Mt 23:20-22. He spoke under an oath, implicitly accepting the
legality of oaths in Mt 26:63-64. Paul, in the form of an oath, says that
God is the witness to his truth in Ro 1:9.
(3) Is the prohibition of oaths
related to specific life situations?
The prohibition is not about legitimate oaths in
court. It is against the common but unnecessary Jewish practice (rash swearing)
of using God’s name or a sacred object to guarantee the truth of what is
c. Conclusion: Christians
can swear an oath when required by law, such as in courts.
a. There are different
levels of ethical decisions/actions based on the seriousness of consequence.
(1) Is it a sin or an immoral
then it is an “immoral act” [level
1] that is clearly a sin, e.g. theft, greed, lie, slander
(2) Will it lead to sin for
yourself or for others? AND Will it be regarded as objectionable by the
majority of Christians?
to either one, then it is an “improper
act” [level 2] that may lead yourself to sin, or may lead others to sin but
the act itself is in the grey area/zone (not white or black), e.g. smoking,
wearing sexy clothes
How do you know whether your attire is proper?
The proper attire of course differs from place to place. A general rule is that
the attire is probably proper if you do not feel conscious about it.
(3) Will it be objected by more
than a few Christians?
then it is an “inappropriate act”
[level 3] that may be objectionable but does not lead to sin, e.g. using foul
language, showing off an expensive car
then it is a “morally neutral act”
[level 4] that is acceptable behaviour, e.g. wearing jewelry
As for foul language, some are more
objectionable than others. The use of God’s name (including Jesus’ name) in
expressing disgust or exclamation or simply in a careless fashion is a
violation of the Third Commandment (“You shall not take the name of the Lord
your God in vain.” Ex 20:7).
b. For questions that do
not involve essential matters of faith, positions can be held tentatively. The
position may allow revision when there are new information or new arguments.
One good example is capital punishment, upon which even evangelical theologians
cannot agree. We need to be more tolerant and not legalistic. We should agree
to disagree agreeably.
c. An excellent saying of
Charles Simeon, attributed to the Church Fathers, is a good guideline.
In essentials, unity.
In non-essentials, liberty.