Ethics is the study of right and wrong. This might sound like a complicated sort of word, but it is deeply practical, and you likely already have an idea of what it means. To say that someone is an “ethical” sort of person means that she or he is morally righteous. That “ethical” individual is admirable. People look up to that person, following his or her actions. We all have personal examples of people we look up to who have showed us what righteousness looks like. Maybe you had a grandfather who was incredibly patient and rarely lost his temper. Maybe a mother was always affirming with her words and never used them to cut other people down. Or perhaps you had a teacher who took extra time to make sure everyone else succeeded.
Without getting too abstract, there are a few ways people actually define ethics. This is a topic that sure keeps theologians and philosophers busy! Some argue we need to have really good rules and laws to ensure other people behave morally. Others argue that “the ends justify the means” and believe that ethics ought to be about some end result, instead of playing by the rules. Even others will argue that ethics is something humans create entirely.
My personal view of ethics is somewhat different than following the rules or planning for the best outcome. Ethics ought to be about virtues, that is, good qualities we hope to instill in our lives. Virtues include things like honesty, integrity, courage, compassion, and so forth. I believe that one of the best ways to teach someone about right and wrong is to share stories about people who either live out or fail to achieve a moral life.
(You can probably tell I’m a fan of this view from the children’s sermon in church with the tale of the tortoise and the hare… Fables are absolutely wonderful ways to teach people—both young and old—about what it means to do right!)
This week’s sermon on Saul addressed this issue of ethics. Saul clearly comes out to be an unethical sort of fellow. He doesn’t do the Lord’s will. He gets jealous of Jonathan and David’s friendship. He rejects God’s word. He even consults witchcraft. And finally, he harms his own body. All throughout 1 Samuel when Saul steps on the scene, we find mistake after mistake, compounded for the worse by the fact that Saul refused to repent.
As I preached, I noted that Saul provides a fantastic example of what not to do. Don’t be like Saul. Don’t reject God’s word. Don’t shy away from true Godliness. I think reading these kinds of stories can truly impact someone, simply because they provide extremely practical examples of what it means to be an ethical person. Yes, rules can be important, but I find that reading powerful, engaging stories about right versus wrong can have a much greater impact.
This week, I encourage you to think back on other examples of ethical people in your life, and follow their example. Be like that grandparent who was truly understanding. Be like that neighbor who would always show compassion, regardless of whoever needed help.
And the ultimate example of morality for our lives ought to be Jesus Christ himself. He is the clearest source of what is truly right, and we ought to imitate his life. Philippians 2:1-5 puts it this way:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus