Ethics: On Discerning Moral Action

Last time we were together, we began our series on ethics and we discovered that the moral decisions we make are an overflow of what is going on in our hearts, and this especially applies to the words we say. If we hide evil in our hearts, evil things will come out as we speak and as we teach. If we hide good in our hearts, good will come out. Therefore, we dwell on the things of God so that the things of God will come out in both our speech and our action.



Before we begin addressing some of the specific moral issues of our day, we need to know what it means for us to prepare our hearts to make good, moral decisions and to develop good opinions regarding the issues facing us in our day. It seems to me that we are often very quick to form an opinion about anything that happens and that people usually form different opinions concerning the same issue. Rarely do we genuinely ask ourselves why we think something is either right or wrong.

As an example, I might ask whether it is right or wrong for a woman to use birth control pills to avoid having a child for a time. Many of us will form our opinion immediately without asking what is meant by birth control. There are birth-control pills that simply prevent conception and there are those that will terminate at the moment of conception. Our answer will also depend on our theological view of Genesis 1:28. The question is just a little more complicated than it seems on the surface and we don’t know that if we do not look deeper. I often hear people form a moral viewpoint that using any translation of the Bible other than the 1611 King James Version is wrong because it is not the Word of God. This moral opinion also comes from a lack of information regarding the translation process. Usually, those who are KJV only believe that the King James was translated from the original languages while all other translations are produced from the text of the King James. This is not true, but does help us to understand the moral opinions of others.

So, what does it mean for us to prepare our hearts and minds to make good moral decisions? Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs to be practical advice for his sons. Here, we get to glean from the advice that he gives. This is not a requirement for salvation, but it will help us as God continues to draw us into greater maturity in the faith.

Provers 18:13-17 HCSB

The one who gives an answer before he listens —

this is foolishness and disgrace for him.

A man’s spirit can endure sickness,

but who can survive a broken spirit?

The mind of the discerning acquires knowledge,

and the ear of the wise seeks it.

A gift opens doors for a man

and brings him before the great.

The first to state his case seems right

until another comes and cross-examines him.

Quick to speak

One of the greatest downfalls of our society is that we are, for some reason, under the impression that we must respond quickly and loudly to everything that happens. Solomon states in this text that the one who gives an answer before he listens acts in foolishness and disgrace. Here, we receive a very important lesson for our lives as we seek to live in wisdom and to honor our Lord: If we are quicker to share our opinion than we are to hear and understand others, we are actually foolish and we are the ones who act disgracefully.

As I observe the world today (and myself on many occasions), I find that, especially those in the organizational church, are so quick to share their opinions and so quick to condemn others. I think that this verse speaks clearly enough on this that I don’t need to spend much time in repetition.

Quick to listen

Instead of being quick to speak, then, it seems an important practice (not that it brings salvation because it doesn’t) to remain silent and listen respectably before we speak on any issue. We read from Solomon that the mind of the discerning acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks it. As I write this, there is a sign above one of the bookshelves in my study with this verse on it. It is why discipleship in the church is so important. It is why training in righteousness is so important. It is the reason that our considering the moral issues of our day together as a church is so important. It is why we study not only the Scriptures, but culture, philosophy, the arts, science, religion, theology, and apologetics.

Wisdom is the well use of knowledge. Even as Solomon wrote, he considered knowledge to be a prerequisite for wisdom. Knowledge does not necessarily lead to wisdom, and i think this is an important distinction to make. The practice of wisdom, though, requires knowledge and understanding. This does not apply only to intellectual study, but also to the knowing of people and the knowing of circumstance. If we are to act in good wisdom, then, we must be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to get angry.

Challenge to seek greater understanding

Solomon continues for his sons, “The first to state his case seems right,” and we have also experienced this. Those who are the loudest, who are quick to state their opinion, or fast to board the latest trend, seem right. What they, or we, have to say usually sounds good, at least until it is cross-examined. Someone will always ask us why eventually. More times than not, people are unable to give reason when I ask “why.” For the christian in the organized church, sadly, it is most often reasoned “because the Bible says so,” or “because we’ve always done things this way.” There is a great ignorance in the world today and it keeps us from acting in wisdom. Brothers and sisters, ignorance is not bliss. In fact, even the Scriptures that we default upon urge us to seek full understanding regarding all things so that as we interact with the world, especially on an ethical basis, our reasoning will be valid when so many others are not. We must first seek understanding, then we can talk about issues like homosexuality, trans-gender operations, stem-cell research, and so much more.

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