Ethics: An Issue of the Heart

As we’ve looked through Scripture together, we have discovered that God uses our obedience to prepare us to take part in His plan. When we think about obedience, we think about making the correct decisions. There seems to be a difficulty in the world and in the organizational church when it comes to making right decisions morally. Thus, it becomes necessary for us to explore, biblically, what it means for us to make decisions that are morally right. The standard for moral judgment is called an ethic. While our moral decisions do not save us, they are a way in which we honor God. The first question we are going to look at together in Scripture is this: where do moral judgments begin and why is the study of ethics important?

We, as people, do not simply decide right and wrong. There is a standard by which people operate (an ethic). There is always some condition that we will all base our moral decisions on. This condition could be tradition, consequence, religion, civic law, personal identity, pleasure, or even personal happiness. Jesus taught regarding human morality and He did so as He addressed the Pharisees concerning what they would teach.

Matthew 12:33-37 HCSB

“Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad; for a tree is known by its fruit. Brood of vipers! How can you speak good things when you are evil? For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil. I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Fruits and roots

Jesus, here, was accusing the Pharisees of speaking, or teaching, what was evil because they were evil. He stated that the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart. Put simply, who we are comes out in what we say and do. So, what we say and do is evidence of the inward person.

When it comes to a discussion on ethics and making right moral choices, then, we come face to face with the idea that our moral decisions come from the attitudes and thoughts that we harbor in our own hearts. The fruit that we produce always comes from the roots that we have grown. Jesus said it this way: “A good man produces good things from his storeroom of good, and an evil man produces evil things from his storeroom of evil.” Furthermore, each person will be judged according to the fruit that they bear (the things they say and do) because the fruit comes from an overflow of what is kept in the heart.

The way speak reveals our hearts

This means that as we examine ourselves in light of Scripture and according to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the way that we speak actually reveals the type of person we are. Our moral speech and action reveals our ethic.

When I was in college, Kati and I would go visit churches and I would hear something that didn’t seem quite right. I would analyze what the preacher was saying and I would point out all of the inconsistencies in his message. As I think back on this stage in my life, I realize that the way that I spoke of the preacher revealed something devastating about where my heart was at. I treasured my own intellect more than gleaning from what God might have had for me in those sermons. I was operating according to a selfish ethic and my speech revealed that about me.

There is a great need in the world today. That need is genuine self-examination. We might remember Ephesians 4:29, which tells us not to speak about others in a way that does not build them up. If we speak about others in any way that doesn’t build them up, what might this reveal about our hearts? When we teach the Scriptures, do we teach more of what God has revealed or tell more stories about ourselves? What might this reveal about our heart condition? If we are complaining about something or someone, what in our heart is causing this to come out in our speech? If we are bitter in our speech, are we also bitter in our hearts? If we lash out at someone, speaking to them in our anger, what have we revealed about our heart condition?

Ethics is a heart issue

Our hearts, then, are storerooms. We will either store negativity or store what is useful. We will either keep evil in our storehouses or good. As we store up either good or evil, it will come out in our speech. Our speech is a good indicator of how close (are far) we are in our relationship with Christ. If our ethic is based in Christ, then Christ-likeness will be more and more audible in the way that we speak.

There are many of us who need to check our hearts. We dwell on what is wrong, what annoys us about others, how we are smarter, or how we work harder than others. When these are the things we hide in our hearts, they come out in our speech. If we, however, think on the things of Christ and on His grace and on His love, these are the things that will come out as we open our mouths. Tonight, then, we examine our speech. The fruit we bear is a direct result of the roots we grow. Moral decisions stem from our ethical framework. This is why the study if ethics is so important in the Christian life.

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