Incarnating Ethics

I once took a count of what sort of things Jesus thought important enough to confront people about in the gospel of Luke. Nine times Jesus confronted people for not showing love in their actions. Nine times he confronted folks for their greed and hoarding, which get in the way of single-minded service toward God and loving action toward the needy. Nine times Jesus confronted people for having divided loyalties, rather than serving God alone. Eight times he confronted people for showing by their actions that they did not recognize his authority. Eight times he confronted people who were seeking places of honor and reputation, and urged instead the way of servant-like humility.

Seven times he emphasized that the crucial question is whether we actually do what he teaches, versus the hypocrisy of claiming to be on the side of righteousness while not doing God's will. Seven times he called people explicitly to repent, to take the log out of our own eye, to stop being self-righteously critical of others and insisting on our own way, and instead to be more humble and loving toward him and toward others.

It is dramatically striking how Jesus' confrontations, and his pronouncing woe, all had to do with ethics. By contrast, he never confronted people about their doctrines. How far some of us have drifted from the way of Jesus!

Whether people have good ethics depends not only on their ethical reasoning skills, but also on where their hearts are, which depends on what treasures their lives are invested in (Matthew 6:21). This means that a lot of people who are not professional Christian ethicists have better ethics than many Christian ethicists. Real Christian ethics is done in community, as we correct one another's tunnel visions. So what will be written on this page, often by professional Christian ethicists, will surely not be mistaken by readers as the final and unquestionable word.

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Sojourners Magazine March-April 1999
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