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God’s Word Alone for Ethics

September 14, 2017

“But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.” (Jer. 44:17, ESV).

We have been dealing with ethical instruction in 1 Timothy 4. Again, we can tie the topic to God’s Word through Jeremiah.

Jeremiah told the remnant of Judah that they would be judged in Egypt for their idolatry. He told them they would be destroyed just as Jerusalem was destroyed. In the above text, we read that their response is that, for a good portion of time, their lives were going well while they were worshiping false gods. Therefore, they would not listen to Jeremiah, but continue to offer worship to the queen of heaven.

The people of Israel are making a mistake here, that we can also make. They are misinterpreting God’s providence. God had been incredibly long-suffering, and merciful, to the people of Judah. They had been sinning and casting off God’s Word for a long time. Instead of listening to the Word of God, in order to correct their behavior, they looked to the circumstances of their lives to determine God’s will. They said, “Things are going well right now. I have food and shelter, and my business is successful. Therefore, I must be doing what God has me to do.” Instead of determining right and wrong by God’s Word, they turned to pragmatism. They were essentially saying, “Worshiping the queen of heaven must be right because it is working!” We are especially susceptible to this type of thinking in America, as pragmatism (the idea that something is right if it works), is considered to be the only American homegrown philosophical system.

Instead of looking to our uncertain interpretations of what God may or may not be doing in our lives in order to determine morality, we must stay true to God’s Word. You see, there were at least two possible interpretations of why things were going well for Israel while they were worshiping false gods. First, it could be that God was blessings this behavior. Second, it could be that God was being merciful to His people, although warning them to repent before He judged them. God’s Word tells us it was the latter. Thus, we must learn that we cannot look to whether or not something seems to be working in order to know God’s will. God’s inerrant and authoritative Word tells us His will.

We can also make this mistake in the other direction. We may look at our lives and realize that things are not going well. Perhaps our business is failing. Perhaps we are struggling financially, or perhaps we are even sick. So often, we can look to these circumstances and say, “Things are not going well, I must be sinning!” This is still pragmatism. This is still trying to determine right and wrong by whether or not something appears to work. God’s Word tells us whether or not we are sinning. Things may not be going well because God is sanctifying us and trying to grow us out of His love for us. He may be teaching us more about Himself, while, by His grace, we are actually doing well to obey His Word.

All of this should teach us that we must be all the more diligent to define reality by God’s Word, and God’s Word alone. False systems of ethics are everywhere. We cannot turn interpreting God’s providence into an ethical system, unless God has clearly told us in His Word why He is doing something. We are not God. We do not always know what He is doing.

May we stop trying to determine how we are living our lives based on the uncertain interpretations of how things are going at any given moment. May we be all the more diligent to insist on ethics as described in God’s Word, and hold fast to His teachings, regardless of how successfully or unsuccessfully things may be going. God’s Word is the truth.

From → Miscellaneous

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