Ethics for Situations

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).

- 1 Timothy 1:3–11

Yesterday we briefly examined the difficulty encountered when trying to make ethical decisions. All of our choices are made in response to particular situations, and we must strive to take what Scripture says into account if we are to please the Lord.

However, as we also noted, this is not the same as situational ethics. This idea gained popular hearing beginning in the 1960s with the publication of Joseph Fletcher’s book, Situation Ethics. In this work, Fletcher asserts that the only moral absolute is to do “whatever love demands” in any given situation.

This principle is not necessarily objectionable if it is filled with biblical content. However, this is not usually the case with those who embrace Fletcher’s paradigm. The meaning of love has been made highly subjective in our day, and individuals usually believe they can determine by themselves what love demands in any given instance. On a popular level, we see this working itself out in the sexual morals of our society. Oftentimes, one person will attempt to pressure another into pre-marital or extra-marital intercourse by saying, “If you love me, you would do it.” Our society’s proclivity for confusing the descriptive science of morals with the normative science of ethics compounds the problem. Not surprisingly, the sinful behavior of humanity becomes normative and thus defines love in our culture.

What the Lord requires of us can be summed up in love of God and neighbor (Matt. 22:34–40). But we must always remember that only the Lord can tell us what love truly is. Love is the greatest commandment, but it is not the only requirement given to us. Other stipulations must be obeyed if we are to exercise true love. As 1 John 5:3 says, “This is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.”

Today’s passage tells us love must issue from a pure heart, the context showing God’s law defines purity (1 Tim. 1:3–11). But all too often, the church embraces a statistical morality where her people behave just as the majority of the surrounding culture does. This is not as it should be; we must strive not to be “of the world,” submitting to Christ, not to prevailing cultural mores (John 15:18–19).

Coram Deo

How do you define what love is? Do you look to whatever “feels like love,” bowing to pressure from your friends and family? Maybe television, movies, or magazines determine what love is for you? Take some time today and meditate on 1 John 2:28–3:10 so that you can better understand how love and righteousness are inseparably related. Spend time in fellowship this week with a godly couple so that your resolve to follow God’s law might be strengthened.

Passages for Further Study

Lev. 20
John 14:21
1 Cor. 13
2 Thess. 2:13–15
2 Peter 2

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