January 17

Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible

Reading schedule

Matthew 6:1-15; Acts 7:39-50; Psalm 15; Genesis 32-33

Psalm 15 is a concise summary of the core of biblical ethics. The psalmist begins by asking what is expected of the person who lives with God. What sort of person does God welcome into his home and enjoy spending time with? The response points to the character of those who walk with God. What are true followers of God like? The answer is not a list of ceremonies completed, rituals observed, or good deeds accomplished. Instead, it goes to matters of conscience and issues of the heart. They are people who are blameless, fair and true to their word.

The list provided is not exhaustive, as other attributes are provided elsewhere, like in Psalm 24. Many of the intervening psalms examine various aspects in more detail, which some take to show that Psalm 15-24 is a distinct collection. Each psalm develops in more detail some of the ideas introduced in Psalm 15. The overall point is that character matters, and that followers of God should be people of integrity.

The English term blameless has a negative connotation that is not present in the original Hebrew word (tamim). This word means wholehearted, sound or perfect. The Greek word used to translate this word is the same word found in Matthew 5:48 that is translated ‘perfect.’ As we studied yesterday, this is about perfectly reflecting the character of God. We should aim to accurately image God in all we do. This involves treating others fairly and justly, and being trustworthy in what we do and say.

The central role of words is highlighted by the tongue being addressed exactly in the middle of the Psalm. This can involves spreading rumours and gossip about others, either in ways that cause them harm or discredit them. Justice includes rejecting what is wrong, not just being nice and quiet in order to keep the peace. At the same time, he praises those who do good. The proper use of the tongue is not just about refraining from certain types of words, but actively using the tongue to honour and protect others. Trustworthiness is exemplified when it hurts to keep one’s promises. Money and one’s resources should be used to help others, not to gain profit for oneself or advantage for others. Concern for the vulnerable and innocent comes through here, so that lending money does not exploit others nor taking money corrupt justice and truth.

Psalm 15 begins by pointing to God’s character as the source of guidance in ethics. Those who seek to walk with God will develop God’s ethical character traits within themselves. This provides a way of being that should become the habit of the heart: a people with the heart of God. As followers develop these traits, they interact with others in distinctive ways. Others benefit, but so too does oneself. Living life God’s way brings stability and security in one’s own life. Biblical ethics is not only about doing what God says, but is what leads to the good life.

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