“Why would I want to be ‘ethical’?”—Stan
This question arose in a discussion concerning what constitutes “being ethical” in a certain situation. Near the end of the discussion, this fundamental query surfaced as a challenge to the presumption that “an ethical course of action”; i.e., one that adheres to identifiable standards and/or established norms, is indeed discernable, desirable and “do-able”. This question finds its root, I suspect, in the murky environs of cultural relativism, a highly individualized ethical model which basically holds that no one set of shared norms or “absolutes”, if you will, exists within or across cultures.
In brief, the discipline of ethics seeks to define how one “ought” to act. This pursuit involves identifying source(s) of authority, values, ideals, rules, goals, etc. Every individual possesses, whether he admits it or not, a set of norms out of which he makes decisions and defines the way he “ought” to respond. The Christ-follower, of course, looks to Christ Himself and to Scripture for these norms.
So, why be “ethical”? The discussion here could be lengthy and complex. So, I will give four very succinct reasons that will leave room for much more conversation!
First, the Bible teaches that humans innately possess intellectual, volitional, empathetic, relational and spiritual capacity (Gen. 1:26ff). We are, therefore, capable of being moral agents. To deny this capability (and its attendant obligations) is to deny our humanity.
Second, we are social persons whose decisions and actions are inextricably intertwined with one another. Scripture clarifies our responsibility to consider the impact of our actions on others (Rom. 14:13ff). Personal liberty is to be subordinated to consideration of the good of others (I Cor. 10:23-24ff; Phil 2:3-4ff).
Third, impetus toward ethical behavior springs from the conviction that God paid the price of salvation and the believer belongs to Him (I Cor. 6:19-20; 7:23).
Fourth, the eschatological ethical motive: we will one day give an account for how we have lived (Rom. 2:5ff; II Cor. 5:10).