Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 2:41-52; Philippians 1:1-11; Psalm 119:137-144; 2 Kings 17
Our passage in Luke 2 gives some insight into the understanding and wisdom that Jesus had. We are not given any details about the topics discussed, but it was obvious to the teachers inJerusalemthat Jesus was no ordinary youth. As he listened to their teaching, he raised questions that revealed his own depth of understanding.
We are told elsewhere that Christians have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). But how are we to apply his wisdom in the ethical complexities of life in today’s world? For one, we see that Jesus sat and listened carefully to what was being said in the temple courts. We too must begin by listening to the issues of the day. If they involve personal situations, we must listen and ask questions to understand exactly what the ethical dilemmas involve.
The other passages read today provide further guidance. Paul tells the Philippians that he prays for their ability to discern what is best (v. 10). When grappling with ethical questions, prayer is crucial. Paul prays specifically for their knowledge and “depth of insight”. This phrase is only used here in the New Testament, but in other Greek literature of the day it meant “moral perception.” This is the insight needed to know the right thing in a given situation. The next phrase about discernment refers to picking the best option out of several. It doesn’t necessarily mean that one option is right and the others wrong, but among several good options, one may be best.
Paul’s prayer implies that God wants to help us with the complex ethical decisions we face. He believes God will provide the knowledge and insight we need. But note that these are not abstract intellectual decisions. Knowing the right thing to do occurs in the context of people loving one another and being transformed themselves: into those who are pure and blameless. Some of our ethical confusion may arise from character issues we have not addressed or our unwillingness to love others properly. To know the mind of Christ, we must become more like Christ in our characters and love others as Christ did. This requires God’s grace working in our lives, which is why he gets the glory and praise.
While these passages provide general guidance, Psalm 119 points to the source of more specific help. The psalmist prays for the understanding he needs to live life, and finds much help in biblical precepts and commands. While these do not directly address every ethical quandary, they provide guidance. The psalmist also goes beyond the intellect to his heart attitude. He trusts God’s promises and delights to follow his guidance. The sorry situation in 2 Kings 17 arose not because the Israelites did not know the right thing to do, but because they were unwilling to do what God told them to do. As we pray for ethical guidance, we should ensure that our hearts are willing to trust God’s direction. That may be where we need the Lord’s help, not just in understanding what is right.