March 1

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

Reading schedule

Matthew 19:13-22; Romans 1:1-7; Psalm 51; Leviticus 16-17

Psalm 51 powerfully expresses the guilt and remorse we should experience when we see our wrong-doing. This psalm is tied to a particularly bad event in king David’s life. Having committed adultery with the wife of one of his faithful officers, and then having him murdered, David has to be publically exposed by the prophet Nathan. He then acknowledges that his sin is against God, who forgives him (2 Samuel 12:13). Psalm 51 expresses the remorse that David experienced and his resulting humility.

David learned that in spite of all his abilities and opportunities, human nature wants to do wrong. Even from the time of his conception and birth, he was sinful (Psalm 51:5). We like to think that we are born innocent, and only with time do we learn to make bad choices. The biblical view is that our natural tendency from the beginning is towards sin and wrong-doing. The problem is not just that our behaviour needs improvement. The man who came to Jesus believed that he was a good, ethical man (Matthew 19:16-22). He thought that since he obeyed all the right rules he was okay. But Jesus led him to look at his heart and his priorities. What was most important to him was not God or helping others, but his money.

Jesus wanted the man to see that his problem went beyond his own ability to fix. We think we can reform ourselves. By doing some good things, or going through some rituals, we try to win God’s forgiveness. Leviticus 16 describes part of the elaborate sacrificial system available in ancient Israel to address sin and guilt. Yet sacrifices and burnt offerings could not earn true forgiveness (Psalm 51:16). As important as they were, they were symbolic of God’s ultimate way of dealing with sin: through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross (Hebrews 9:7-15).

The sacrificial system and our best efforts cannot fix our sinful nature. David learned this painful lesson and expressed it in his need for God to create in him a new heart and a new spirit (Psalm 51:10). This points to the depth of our ethical problem. We need more than ethical principles and better rules: we need transformed hearts and souls. Jesus makes this available so that we can become new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17). As part of this, we are humbled by seeing our own sinfulness and need for God’s work in our lives (Psalm 51:17).

This then has practical implications for when we teach others. We should express our views without any sense of superiority or personal accomplishment. We should realise that we are as thoroughly sinful as everyone else, and just as dependant on God’s mercy and forgiveness. This should lead to humility as we seek to expose unethical practices and appeal to others to see the wisdom in God’s ways.

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