The meaning of ethics and Bible Ethics
The meaning of the word 'ethics' is coming or derived from the Greek word “Ethica' of 'ethos'. It means customs or habits that are approved by a particular culture. The word 'moral' comes from the Latin word 'Mores' which also mean practices or habits, which are acceptable in a particular society. Customs are not merely habitual ways of acting. They are always approved by the group or community or society. It is well-known that morals, customs and cultural habits vary from society to society or from the culture to culture.
What is Ethics?
The simplest answer is that “Ethics is the science or systematic study of human conduct, individual as well as cooperative. By conduct is meant conscious and purposeful action. Ethics includes the study of customs and mores of peoples.” It is concerned with determining what conduct is right and good, wrong and bad. What one ought to do or ought not to do. We have personal ethics as well as social ethics. Social ethics deal with all aspects of social relations including the Ethics of Economics/Politics and international ethics.
The study of Ethics, therefore, will deal with all human conduct directed toward a moral end. Firstly, Ethics deals with the habits, manners and customs of people associated with different cultures. Secondly, it deals with norms of conduct and attempts to show what right conduct is and whether the conduct is directed towards the attainment of worthy objectives. Thirdly, Ethics seeks to explain the relevance of the moral objectives in light of the “knowledge of the highest good.” The rightness of conduct and the worthiness of its objectives are related to the true fulfillment of human life and highest conceivable well being of the human community. Literally, Ethics means the Science of customs or habits of persons. It is also the science of habitual conduct of men. Conduct is an outward expression of an inward character. Ethics evaluates the habits, voluntary actions, character and conduct of a person in terms of right or wrong.
How is Christian Ethics related to Character?
Our topic of discussion is Christian Ethics. If the subject matter of ethics is conduct, how much more it will be of Christian ethics? Christian ethics is founded upon the precepts and examples of the Bible and life of Christ alone. It is the study of standards of right and wrong for Christian character and conduct. Emmanuel E. James defines it in the following words “Christian ethics is the systematic study of standards of right and wrong in Christian character and conduct. It is an inquiry into the meaning and purpose of life and has as its foundation the sources, principles and practices of forming and using judgments of right and wrong, based on the Biblical principles”. D. L. Moody, the American evangelist's comment about Christian Character will well correspond to this. According to him:
“Character is what a man or woman is in the dark,” when they're on one looking no one listening. It is the thought, the desire, the intention that counts in the sight of God, because, “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”
Our true character is determined not by our achievements but by our desires; not by our actual accomplishments but by our ideals. “Out of the heart,” said our Lord, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, thefts, blasphemies.” Mk: 7:20-23.
In the present writer's point of view, the foundation stone of Christian ethics is laid upon the remarkable words of Jesus Christ such as “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. Let us think about some psychological needs that we need to satisfy in our lives. First of all, everyone wants to be loved. Jesus remedy for this is “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”. If our next need is to be forgiven Jesus wants us to pronounce this prayer “Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors”. Not to be judged is another desire, that we have and Jesus commands “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged”. Jesus further adds. “Simply let your yes be yes, and No, No”. Friendship and fellowship are that we need next and most. As a remedy Jesus exhorts. “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” That is why it is said that the Sermon on the Mount turns the world's logic upside down! Let me close with a remarkable statement of Mr. G. K. Chesterton: “The Sermon on the Mount “it turns everything upside down, but later you discover that it turns everything right side up.” Dean Inge says freely that if Christianity cannot hold us at the point of ethical conduct, then what is left is not worth fighting over. If the ethics of Christ is unworkable, then His Cross is a stark tragedy and mocking mirage. We must start off at the Cross if we would travel upward to the ethical call of Christ.
Christian Ethics is a critical study of moral life in society, understanding of God, of the responsibilities of Christian to do the will of God. In the early Church, Christians had a model from the life of Jesus Christ and instructions from Apostles. Community life and fellowship of believers were the moral force for the early Church. Morality and ethics were the foundation of the community life in which they live and loved one another. But they did not make a systematic Ethical system. Apostle Paul laid down practical ethical teachings in his letters. For centuries Christians have had no problem to accept his ethical teachings like “love is our goal in life”. (1 Cori. 14.1), “bear one another's burden” (Gal 6:2), “hold fast what is good, abstain from every form of evil”, (1 Thes. 5:21, 22). But modern Christians and liberals find problems in his teachings. “men should not wear long hair, but women should (1 Cori.11:14, 15). “Women should cover their heads when pray (1 Cori.11:6), “One should not use the secular court of law” (1 Cor. 6:1), “Women should keep silent in the church” (1 Tim. 2:12) “It is better to remain single than to marry” (1 Cori. 7:7) etc. Modern theologians argue Paul wrote epistles to a specific congregation, in a specific location with the specific cultural background, at a specific time and not applicable to modern society. They say if his letters were interchanged Epistle to Corinthians given to Thessalonians and vice versa, contents would have been meaningless. However, we must accept the fact there are timeless Ethical truths in his letters. Ethics of Biblical communities in the first century might not but God same as Christian ethics for countries in all centuries, the fact remains that Bible is authority inspired and is the force behind the formation of Christian ethics and is the central authority for faith and moral life.