The Danger of Situational Ethics
But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’ [a firm yes or no]; anything more than that comes from the evil one.
We want to succeed and get ahead- there’s nothing wrong with that, unless we take unethical shortcuts. In business and in all other relationships, we’re tempted to tell people what they want to hear so that the deal will close, we’ll get the promotion, our spouses will appreciate us, our kids will behave, and our friends will be more impressed with us. But telling people what they want to hear is, at its heart, manipulation, not integrity. Jesus didn’t give a deep psychological explanation for manipulation or attempt to rationalize it. He said that manipulating people is from the pit of hell!
One of the marks of a person who is vitally connected to Christ is the courage to speak the truth- not to be obnoxious and blast people, but to speak simple truth with clarity and grace. However, we’re only human. When we’re tempted to exaggerate to impress or withhold information to protect ourselves, we need to fight against it and say, “This is the truth. This is what happened.”
Yes, we can certainly complain that “everybody shades the truth” from time to time, but that doesn’t matter to Jesus. Every time we’re tempted to manipulate people’s responses by shading the truth, we have a choice: to follow the evil one or follow Christ.
It’s amazing what happens when you recognize your good qualities, accept responsibility for your future, and take positive action to make that future even brighter.
Honor, honesty, integrity aren’t things that we come by automatically or easily. The sin nature that we are born with works against these principles. Even little children easily learn to fabricate stories and act self-centered. There is a cry for truth in our world today, but we must ask whose truth? Most os us say we want the truth but many times the truth exposes something in our lives that we wish to keep hidden. The stories of the Bible show us the lives of those who lived with honor, honesty, and integrity and those who lived with dishonor, dishonesty, and little to no integrity. Being confronted with truth reveals our character and nature.
Let’s look at a couple stories:
Saul had been selected as king over Israel to succeed Samuel the prophet. According to scripture, Saul had a lot going for him. He was tall, handsome, and looked like what everyone imagined a king looked like. His predecessor, Samuel, was his advocate and supporter and had paved the way for him to sit on the throne. But Saul had a character flaw. Several times he made poor leadership decisions and always placed the blame for them on others. One day, for example, in his haste to go to battle, he chose to offer the sacrifice instead of waiting on Samuel. Although Saul wasn’t qualified to offer the sacrifice, he justified it by accusing Samuel of being late and the people pressing him to do something. On another occasion, he was given instructions to destroy an entire city, leaving nothing, including the sheep and cattle alive. He chose to disobey those instructions and when Samuel confronted him, he blamed the people, he claimed that he had brought them to be offered as a sacrifice to God, and he had spared the king because that was the customary process. But neither God nor Samuel was buying it. Samuel, speaking for God, told Saul that “disobedience was as the sin of witchcraft.” In other words, Saul had acted in a manner that was totally opposite to the character of God and it cost him his kingdom.
Some years after David ascended to the throne, he found himself in a place where he had lost his honor, his honesty, and his integrity. He became involved in an affair with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. Learning that she was pregnant, David tried covering it up by bringing Uriah home. That didn’t work so David hatched a scheme to let Uriah be exposed in battle and killed. You see, when we start down the road of lost honor, lost honesty and lost integrity, we find ourselves getting deeper and deeper into sin and the things we would have never considered before, we find ourselves involved in. Once again a sinner was confronted with the truth. Nathan, the prophet paid David a visit. While there he told a story of a wealthy man with many sheep, choosing to steal his neighbor’s single sheep. The honor and integrity and honesty buried under the mountain of sin rose to the surface in David and he demanded justice to be enacted. And the other shoe dropped when Nathan said, “You are the one!” This king could have responded with anger, denial, or coverup. Instead when he heard the truth, he confessed and repented. His failure didn’t destroy his honor, honesty or integrity. And because David allowed truth to prevail, God made a covenant with him that his seed would sit in the throne forever. And do you know what? Christ Jesus was humanly descended from David and He will sit on the throne forever.
Two final stories of men of honor, integrity, and honesty. When Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were brought to Babylon as young men, they kept their covenant with God and refused to eat food that had been offered to idols. They did so with great risk- possibly death. That character trait followed them all their lives. You find it when the three Hebrews faced the fiery furnace. They refused to abandon their covenant. They could have reasoned that they were far from home, nobody was looking and besides everybody else was bowing down. But they stood on honor and integrity and answered the king honestly when it would have been easy to go with the flow. Daniel kept his integrity as a man of prayer by refusing to cease even when the kings decree forbid prayer. It got him in the lions den but it also elevated him in the palace.
While many struggle with being people of honor, integrity, and honesty; one thing is for sure, they want those kind of people around them for they know they can trust them.
In our world of weak ethics, we have crafted a phrase that ought to give us all cold chills- “situational ethics.” What that phrase means is that there are no absolutes. It says that there are situations where it’s best to lie, to take advantage, to hide the truth, and to make decisions based on subjective reasoning. This view is wreaking havoc on every relationship it touches. It gives permission for us to elevate self-interests and self-preservation above honor, honesty, and integrity. Our mistrust of leaders, the increasing feeling of conspiracies, and segregation and stereotyping are emerging from this rubble of situational ethics. The only antidote for this poisonous disease is a full-hearted return to biblical views and values. The only cure is that we speak truth and we receive truth. And this truth is spoken in love, putting the other person first. This is not a mean, intentional exposure that is designed to destroy the one who has fallen. Go back to the story of Nathan and David. Nathan didn’t call a press conference when he spoke truth to David. Scripture implies that the two of them were alone. It was a friend speaking truth to a friend that was loved.
It begins with us. We must choose to live the truth in every part of our lives. Can your spouse trust your honesty? Can your boss trust your integrity? Can your children trust your honor? If we are ever going to convince the world of the authenticity of Christ, then we as His ambassadors must take on His character.
Dr. John Thompson