Right Living at All Times

Wednesday: A Moral and Ethical Foundation

Romans 12:17 In this study, we are reminded of the need to live according to God’s standard of right and wrong.
A Moral and Ethical Foundation

In The Day America Told the Truth there is this sad anecdote. In 1987 a university president was teaching an adult Sunday school class in his local church. It included bankers, business executives and college professors. He asked this question, based on a recent news event: “We hear on the news that an Iranian ship has been sunk in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian government says that it was sunk by American torpedoes. The U.S. government says that the ship hit Iranian mines. Whom do you believe?” The class was silent. No one answered. Everyone wanted more information before deciding what they thought had happened. Not one person in the class trusted his own government enough to believe it would be telling the truth.1

We need to have our national morality renewed. But, of course, that is only another way of talking about the problem. Corporate morality is the one thing we cannot have if the only thing we can say about values is that they are relative. 

This is what Charles Colson told the Harvard Business School when he was invited to address it as part of Harvard’s Distinguished Lecturer series. He told them they could not teach ethics, because ethics requires absolutes and the philosophical basis of American higher education, including education at Harvard, is relativism. He distinguished between “ethics” and “morals.” Here is what he told them:

The word “ethics” derives from the Greek word ethos, which literally means “stall”—a hiding place. It was the one place you could go and find security. There could be rest and something that you could depend on; it was unmovable. “Morals” derives from the word mores, which means “always changing.” Ethics or ethos is the normative, what ought to be. Morals is what is. Unfortunately, in American life today we are totally guided by moral determinations. So, we’re not even looking at ethical standards.2

He argued that in order to have ethics a nation must have access to a set of absolute values or at least believe they can be found. 

However, the only place those values can be found is in the biblical revelation, which is why the Judeo-Christian value system has served so well and for so long as the soul of Western civilization. It is also why we need it again today, and so desperately.

1James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth: What People Really Believe About Everything That Really Matters (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1991), 208. 

2Charles W. Colson, The Problem of Ethics, number 2 in the Sources series (Washington, D.C.: The Wilberforce Forum, 1992), 9. 

Study Questions
  1. What needs to happen before our national morality can be renewed?
  2. Why does the system of ethics require absolutes?
  3. What is the difference between ethics and morals?
  4. Where are absolute values found? Why?
  5. What is the meaning of the Greek word ethos?
  6. What is the meaning of the Greek word mores?

Reflection: Consider some of the major areas of modern life—such as politics, education, the media, medicine, and law. What do people believe the purpose of each one is, and the characteristics for how each one is to function?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to Philip Ryken’s message, “The Law and the Gospel.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: If we are to have the desire to do what is right, we must first know what the right thing is. And right behavior can only come about if our minds are renewed as the Holy Spirit works through the written Word of God.  The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering James Boice’s book, Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World, at 20% off the regular price.

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