Reading Watchman Nee’s classic book Spiritual Authority, I realized that my priorities, and what I thought was important, were perhaps quite different from God’s.
“This”, I thought, “might account for why I see some of the Old Testament punishments as Draconian rather than unbalanced – like my underestimation of the wickedness of sin, perhaps I have also misapprehended other items.”
A quick survey of the capital crimes listed in the Old Testament gave me a quick idea of what God valued, and this alone was sometimes a smack in the face to what I thought was important, especially the last item:
- Worshiping false gods
- Child sacrifice
- Sexual sins, including rape, adultery, homosexuality, incest, and bestiality
- Disrespect for parental, ecclesiastical, government, and any other type of authority
Then, when I went on to study the prophets, there was a whole other list of things not high on my list. Things that perhaps I should have known, but did not really value:
- Ensuring that justice was fair and impartial
- Helping the poor, outcast, and foreigner
- Being honest in financial dealings
My subsequent studies have revealed to me that my view of Biblical ethics was lacking.
Now, having surveyed the Bible for God’s priorities, as well as completed a class in Christian Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary, i am presenting an overview of what I’ve learned so far. I suspect that my priorities will continue to shift as I grow closer to God over time, but here’s my current snapshot.
Love and Truth
God’s priorities may be gathered under two great headings, that of love and truth. In fact, these two paradoxically complementary sides of God’s nature are used in describing God, as well as Jesus himself:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
Love has many synonyms in scripture, like mercy or grace (as in the scripture above). Truth is often referred to as justice or righteousness, and these various synonyms will come in handy as we attempt to apply these priorities. Here are a few more scriptures showing this pair in various forms:
All the paths of the LORD are mercy and truth, To such as keep His covenant and His testimonies. ~ Psalm 25:10
God shall send forth His mercy and His truth. ~ Psalm 57:3b
For Your mercy reaches unto the heavens, And Your truth unto the clouds. ~ Psalm 57:10
I will sing of mercy and justice; To You, O LORD, I will sing praises. ~Psalm 101:1
“I will betroth you to Me forever; Yes, I will betroth you to Me In righteousness and justice, In lovingkindness and mercy; ~ Hosea 2:19
but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ ~ Ephesians 4:15
Grace, mercy, and peace will be with you from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love. ~ 2 John 1:3
God and Neighbor
I’ve placed love and truth into a matrix with the two recipients of love and truth – God and others. These come from what is commonly known as The Great Commandment, a summary of all of the Jewish, and subsequently, Christian faith:
Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” ~ Matthew 22:37-40
This combination of priorities and persons gives us four general categories of spiritual activity to focus on.
- Receiving God’s Love (Mercy/Grace)
- Receiving God’s Truth (Justice/Righteousness)
- Giving Love
- Establishing Truth
In future posts, I’ll go into some detail on each of these.