“Walk as children of light…and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:8,10, ESV)
Christian ethics are often much less cut and dried than we like to imagine. God hasn’t given us a black and white rule book to cover every possible ethical dilemma. His law code abounds with general principles—principles which we must learn to apply in real life contexts. Often the decision doesn’t come down to a simple right or wrong answer, but requires the nuance of discerning the difference between what is good, what is better, and what is best of all. This takes effort, honest self-reflection, bible study, prayer, and above all, wisdom.
Wisdom is the skillful application of knowledge to life. It is living life skillfully for God. True wisdom (as opposed to worldly wisdom which tends to be much more pragmatic, myopic, and earthbound in nature) begins with the fear of God. Think about that for a moment. There are just some decisions you will never be equipped to make if you don’t begin with the basic heart attitude of reverence for God. Even if you know the right answer to the quandary at hand, you will not be able to follow through with it if you don’t start here. Sin, pride, the deceitfulness of riches, self-interest, the fear of man, and a host of other factors will all conspire to unbalance you. Like a man walking a tightrope with a heavy weight in one hand, you may want to make it across to the other side, but wanting and doing are two very different things.
It’s worth remembering that next time you have to make an ethical dilemma. Before you start listing your choices, their possible outcomes, and the advice of other counsellors, you probably ought to start by asking yourself a deeper and more fundamental question. In this decision, is the fear of God ruling my heart and mind? Am I really trying to please God, or am I serving some other master?
I find it helpful to list the other people, motivating factors, fears, insecurities, etc., that are influencing my decision? Be as clear as possible. Write your thoughts down on paper. All of them. What does the Bible say about these thoughts? Are they legitimate, God honoring factors consistent with a life of faith and freedom? Or do they represent chains of bondage holding you back and obscuring what is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and excellent. When it comes to the latter, confess them as sins, and plead God for the grace to banish them from your mind and the decision making process.
Ask God to teach you to fear Him (Psalm 34:11-14). This is not something we can figure out on our own. Come to Jesus, He stands ready to give you all the help you need. In the final analysis, whatever difficulty you face, you will find yourself best equipped to answer it, when you can look the Lord Jesus in the face and say, ‘Lord, you know all things, and you know that I fear you!” This is where wisdom begins, and it’s where all our life choices must start.