What does it mean to be ethical according to the Bible?

Feb 3, 2020 | Encouragement, Questions/Searching, Relevant Life

Admittedly, one of the first things that comes to our minds with the question of ethics is Michael and Holly’s “Let’s Get Ethical” song from “The Office.”However, as pointed out by Oscar in the episode, what Michael and Holly teach isn’t really much about ethics as it is about following the company’s rules, so that’s not very helpful. Let’s turn to the dictionary instead:

Ethics: plural in form but singular or plural in construction: the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation. 

  • Merriam-Webster

Well, that’s a little better but still not the most helpful. What is good and bad? Who decides what is a moral duty and obligation? To determine what’s ethical, we need to have a foundation in which to base them. For many Christians, this foundation is the Bible. 

What does the Bible teach us about being ethical?

It’s important to remember that the Bible does not offer any formulas or recipes like a rulebook but is a living text offering guidance that often requires careful thought and interpretation. The Bible contains stories, poems and allegorical tales known as parables that help us learn about God and how to shape our lives as followers. Surely, ethics are clearly defined in such a text, right?

Well, maybe. The word “ethic” as we use it is more modern, so a definition or application isn’t spelled out anywhere in the Bible using the word explicitly. However, as we read the Bible, engage with its teachings and apply them to our lives, we can form a foundation for what is ethical and what is not.

Defining what’s ethical according to the Bible

It’s tricky for us humans who constantly make mistakes and make many interpretations of Scripture to condense all of what the Bible teaches into a simple definition of what’s ethical and what’s not. It’s not so tricky for Jesus, though. He teaches us pretty clearly that everything the Law taught (basically all the rules outlined in the Old Testament) hinges on two great commandments:

Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

  • Mark 12:29-31 (MSG)

If you really want to simplify things, then this is it. Every question about what’s ethical or what you should or shouldn’t do should fit within the context of these commandments: Is what I’m doing honoring to God, is it good for others and/or is it good for myself? 

If the answer is yes (and please be honest with yourself), then the decision is probably ethically permissible according to what Jesus teaches. If the answer is no, then you might be facing a personal dilemma, in which case you’ll need to make some changes. 

If you are wondering what it means to authentically follow Jesus, join us on Unfiltered Radio as we investigate who He claimed to be and how He taught us to interact with one another.