Christian ethics stand in contrast with a humanistic code, in which the person is the measure of all things. Humanism permits moral relativism, with ethics that may shift based on what is perceived as beneficial for society at a particular time. Christian biblical ethics are based on a system of absolute moral order anchored in an understanding of God’s character and will as revealed in the Old and New Testaments. Even with different interpretations of the Bible from denomination to denomination and from individual to individual, core tenets emerge.
At the heart of Christian ethics lies human dignity. All humans are to be treated with respect, since we are made in the image of God: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). We are to respect life (“You shall not murder” – Exodus 20:1) and view others as equal in God’s sight (“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” –Galatians 3:28). Belief in human dignity grants each person fundamental rights protected by laws that safeguard life and freedom and forbid discrimination.
The principle of stewardship recognizes that everything we have comes from God and belongs to God: “Every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17); “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). Beginning with the story of creation, God charges humans to be guardians of the Earth: "Let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth" (Genesis 1:26). Whether managing household finances, running a business, raising children, caring for pets or sustaining the planet and its resources, stewardship calls for responsibly managing all that is entrusted to our care.
The Bible issues a mandate to take care of those who are less fortunate: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). According to the Bible, when we demonstrate God’s love to others by giving clothes and food to someone in need, looking after the sick, showing hospitality to a stranger or visiting a shut-in, we express our love also to God. Jesus said: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).
A Bible-based code of ethics calls for acting with integrity, an expression of the core Christian values of love and justice. Beyond basic commandments against stealing, lying and cheating (Leviticus 19:11-13), we are to do all that is within us to live at peace with others and be kind: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility gentleness and patience” (Colossians 3:12). In a spirit of reconciliation, we are to ask forgiveness and grant forgiveness, with severe spiritual consequences if we do not: “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
The Golden Rule
In the words of Jesus, biblical instructions for living hinge on two commandments: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). These are encapsulated in the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). The Golden Rule is central not only to Christianity but to many of the world’s religions. As the basis of an ethical system, it can serve as an impetus to acknowledge the dignity of all persons, provide responsible stewardship, give charitably and live with integrity.
- People for Life: A Christian Manifesto
- Education for Justice: the Principle of Human Dignity
- Biblical Stewardship: What Does Stewardship Mean to God?
- Biblical Theology: A Biblical Approach and Response to Poverty
- North American Association of Christians in Social Work: Ethical Integration of Faith and Social Work Practice
- Religious Tolerance: Shared Belief in the "Golden Rule"
- Holy Bible, New International Version
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