We are going to pause our march through the book of Daniel and consider Integrity and Situational-Ethics. They are, by definition, antithetical to each other, because Integrity requires that we do the right thing all the time, while situational-ethics allows for doing what is expedient in each situation. Situational-ethics doesn’t acknowledge any higher-authority, so our question is “Are they mutually-exclusive?“
The core tenet of Integrity is that there IS a higher-authority, and that there ARE rules we are required to follow. There are safety-rules at a shooting range for a reason – to keep everyone safe, and if a person doesn’t follow them, they will be evicted from the range.
“Integrity, a standard of personal morality and ethics, is not relative to the situation you happen to find yourself in and doesn’t sell out to expediency. Its short supply is getting shorter – but without it, leadership is a facade.” — Denis Waitley
The core tenet of situational-ethics is that there is NOT a higher-authority, that YOU are the captain of your own ship, that YOU are the master of your own fate, and “if it feels good, do it“. That autonomy has been tantalizing humanity since the Garden of Eden. The serpent tempted Eve in Genesis 3:4 with “You will be like God, knowing good and evil“. We know how that turned out, because we have been living with the fallout ever since.
We find this commentary on the moral conditions in Israel during the time of the Judges; “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) If that isn’t a recipe for anarchy, I don’t know what is.
Situational Ethics: When you decide the moral goodness or evilness of something based on the situation.
Theologians and philosophers have been debating this topic for centuries, but being neither a theologian nor a philosopher, we are going to look at it from a Biblical perspective. Two particular questions come to my mind; 1) Is it ever okay to lie?, and 2) Is it ever okay to break the rules?
Is it ever okay to lie?
The root of the question goes back to the ninth Commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” The short version is “Tell the truth.” I can already hear the cogs whirring with the question “What if telling the truth jeopardizes the life or well-being of another person?” “Would be okay to lie to save another person?“
To answer that question, we are going to go back into the Old Testament to Joshua 2:1-7;
2 Now Joshua the son of Nun sent out two men from Acacia Grove to spy secretly, saying, “Go, view the land, especially Jericho.”
So they went, and came to the house of a harlot named Rahab, and lodged there. 2 And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, “Behold, men have come here tonight from the children of Israel to search out the country.”
3 So the king of Jericho sent to Rahab, saying, “Bring out the men who have come to you, who have entered your house, for they have come to search out all the country.”
4 Then the woman took the two men and hid them. So she said, “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. 5 And it happened as the gate was being shut, when it was dark, that the men went out. Where the men went I do not know; pursue them quickly, for you may overtake them.” 6 (But she had brought them up to the roof and hidden them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order on the roof.) 7 Then the men pursued them by the road to the Jordan, to the fords. And as soon as those who pursued them had gone out, they shut the gate. (Joshua 2:1-7)
The first thing we should notice is that Rahab told a WHOPPER of a lie, not some “little-white-lie“. If that lie isn’t a violation of the 9th Commandment, I don’t know what is, but what is said later in the Bible about this event, and about her?
Because of her actions, Rahab and her family were saved when the Jews conquered Jericho. She married into a Jewish family;
22 But Joshua had said to the two men who had spied out the country, “Go into the harlot’s house, and from there bring out the woman and all that she has, as you swore to her.” 23 And the young men who had been spies went in and brought out Rahab, her father, her mother, her brothers, and all that she had. So they brought out all her relatives and left them outside the camp of Israel. 24 But they burned the city and all that was in it with fire. Only the silver and gold, and the vessels of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. 25 And Joshua spared Rahab the harlot, her father’s household, and all that she had. So she dwells in Israel to this day, because she hid the messengers whom Joshua sent to spy out Jericho. (Joshua 6:22-25)
Her son was Boaz. Boaz’ son was Obed. Obed’s son was Jesse, and Jesse’s son was David. (Ruth 4:18-22)
She became an ancestor of Jesus Christ: 5 Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, 6 and Jesse begot David the king. (Matthew 1:5-6)
She was inducted into the “Faith Hall-of-Fame“: 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace. (Hebrews 11:30-31)
She was highlighted as an example of faith in action: Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? (James 2:25)
One question that has intrigued me for years is “Was Rahab an innkeeper who supplemented her income in the bedroom, or did she operate a whore-house and also have rooms for rent?” The ethics and morality of the spies is never questioned even though they sought shelter in her home, and while she is often referred to as “Rahab the harlot“, she is never characterized as an “immoral–woman“. It’s almost as if her line of work didn’t really matter, because her actions spoke for her true character.
From a historical perspective, young girls were trained to be housewives, to cook, clean, please their man, and raise children, NOT to work outside their home, and they usually married when they were young teens. A widow, who was too old to remarry and didn’t have any children to support her, was often forced to become a prostitute just to put food on the table. Did Rahab find herself in that situation due to no fault of her own? Her future daughter-in-law, Ruth, was a young widow.
A much more recent example of people lying to save other people is the heroic people who hid Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. Integrity, or situational-ethics?
Is it ever okay to break the rules?
Think for a moment… Have you ever been told to do something that you knew was wrong, when disobedience might have serious consequences? Did you obey and do what you knew was wrong, and regret it later, or did you do what was right, knowing that you could live with yourself regardless of the consequences?
We noted two incidents in our previous session of Warriors for Life, one from Daniel 3, and the other from Acts 4, where men refused to obey a “lawful-order“, and in both cases, they were prepared to accept the temporal-consequences of their actions:
16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
We find a striking-parallel to Daniel 3:16-18 in Acts 4:19-20. Peter and John had been arrested by the Jewish authorities after healing a lame man, and they were ordered not to preach anymore… 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20)
They owed their allegiance to a higher-authority – God, and while they were living under the authority of a temporal ruler, that ruler wasn’t their ultimate-authority.
WWJD – What Would Jesus Do?
We are going to venture into Matthew 12:1-8 to see what Jesus did when He was confronted about His refusal to “conform“.
12 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, “Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!”
3 But He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: 4 how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? 6 Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”
The incident that Jesus referred to is recounted in 1 Samuel 21:1-6.
We need to note that, while Jesus wasn’t questioning the Sabbath as it had been established by God, He was redirecting their focus back to why God instituted the Sabbath and questioning all their additional regulations. Where they thought that God hadn’t given enough regulations in His law, the Jewish religious leaders piled more on. They would be great bureaucrats in our government today, and if you think the CFR is bad now, just let them get their hands on it.
Imagine taking your kids to a playground and finding that there were fences around every piece of apparatus with a set of rules for each. Rather than just frolicking and playing, they would be constrained at every turn. I wouldn’t blame them for never wanting to go back to THAT non-play-ground.
The Old Testament does not prohibit plucking grain on the Sabbath in order to eat – the disciples were not farmers engaged in the work of harvesting, and it couldn’t even been considered gleaning, let alone reaping. They weren’t “working” by any definition. Jesus not only exonerated His disciples, He also claimed to be the Higher Authority.
We are going to rejoin Jesus in Matthew 12:9-14, when He healed a man on the Sabbath. Talk about stirring the pot, He kicked it into high-gear.
Healing on the Sabbath
9 Now when He had departed from there, He went into their synagogue. 10 And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?”—that they might accuse Him.
11 Then He said to them, “What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” 13 Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and it was restored as whole as the other. 14 Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him.
This was only one a many times Jesus healed people and did other mighty works on the Sabbath, and in most cases, He double-dog-dared the religious establishment to do something about it, but all they could do was huddle in their enclaves and plot how to get rid of Him.
How are WE going to do?
The ONLY person who never got it wrong was Jesus. Every other person has blown-it, myself included, and I have blown-it many times. We have ALL blown-it, and may blow-it many more times before we take our last breath, but another essential part of Integrity is admitting it when we blow-it. We can all learn from David’s example in 2 Samuel 12. After David knocked-up Bathsheba, the wife of one of his generals, and had her husband murdered, God sent Nathan the Prophet to confront him. We see a fuller-picture of David’s repentance in Psalm 51.
Our society is coming dangerously-close to being as described in Judges 21:25, and if we don’t want that to be our epitaph too, we must be people of, and with integrity. It may be flawed and stuttering, but if our society is to survive, let alone thrive, we are going to have to be the people who hold it together. To do less is to deny that we have anything left worth saving.
Sola Deo Gloria!