How can I live the Christian life? How should I live?
Are there rules I should follow? What is the Christian Moral code?
The Characteristics of Christian Behaviour
(h) The Moral Code
For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
Any discussion of Christian behaviour would be incomplete without some reference to morals. Morality is a vital concept because it forms the basis not only for proper conduct but also for law. Every society is founded upon a system of morality or ethics. Many discussions and debates centre on what is ethically wrong and what is morally permissible. Christian Apologist Cornelius Van Til ably defined ethics as the response to three questions:
What is the motive for human action?
What is the standard for human action?
What is the end or purpose of human action?
According to Scripture, Christian Ethics is motivated by a love for God and our fellow man. The moral standard adopted by the Christian is the Law of God. This is the proper definition of true morality. The goal of human action is the glory of God as set forth concisely by the Westminster Divines;
“Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”
Therefore in setting forth the Law of God, within the context of Christian behaviour, Paul is defining true morality.
1: The Specification of the Moral Code
The Moral Code which governs the Christian is the Law of God. Paul, however, does not enter into a discussion about the entire content of the Law, here, nor does he even mention each individual commandment. The reason for this is twofold.
Firstly, in teaching Christian behaviour he is focusing upon how the believer should relate to his fellow-man. Therefore the second table of the law is primarily in view.
Secondly, he only identifies those commands in the second table which are negative in their reach. This is important. Morality is as much about what we cannot do as it is about what we can do. Indeed the negative must come first because then the lines are identified across which we should not tread.
“It is often pleaded that ethics should not be negative but positive. The fallacy here is that the plea is unrealistic; it overlooks the fact of sin. If there were no liability to sin and no fact of sin there would be no need of prohibition…God’s law must be negative of sin..Truth is negative of error, right of wrong, righteousness of iniquity.” (John Murray).
Therefore all systems of discipline must define wrong.
2: The Implication in the Moral Code
This passage, however, moves beyond the letter of of the law to what is implied in the law. By drawing two lessons Paul shows us that the moral code is more than marking a list of dos and don’t s.
He firstly says “Owe no man anything” (v8). Paul is not teaching that it is wrong to borrow. Indeed the Scriptures would teach that to lend is a Christian virtue and that borrowing is legitimate in any economy (Exodus 22:25, Psalm 37:26, Matthew 5:42, Luke 6:35). Paul, however, is teaching that we should be scrupulous and conscientious in repaying our debts. John Murray commented that Paul condemns “the looseness with which we contract debts and particularly the indifference so often displayed in the discharging of them” (Psalm 37:21).
The second inference drawn from the law by Paul, relates to working ill to our neighbours (v10). This prompts the age old query “Who is my neighbou?r”. Our neighbours are all people with whom we connect whether at home, in Church, in society or at work. Christian morality demands that we work for the good of all people without exception.
3: The Conformation to the Moral Code
This is the main thrust of the passage and it answers Cornelius Van Til’s first question in relation to Christian Ethics, “What is the motive for human action?”
Indeed all the commentators are agreed that in the Greek text there is a link between owing money and love in v8. In essence Paul is saying that we are continually repaying our fellow human beings a debt of love. Therefore it is our obedience to the law which repays this debts. We resist adultery out of love for our own partners and out of consideration for the marriages of others; we will not murder because life is sacred; we do not steal out of respect for the belongings of others; we will not bear false witness because lies deeply wound the trust that others place in us; we should not covet because it makes us selfish and materialistic and affects our values and our care for other people. Paul sums up this aspect of the law by quoting our Lord who said “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27). It unnatural for us not to love ourselves (Ephesians 5:29). Christian behaviour, however, demands that we love others and have the same concern for others as we would have for our own lives and needs.
“We are selfish when we do not love our neighbours as ourselves, when we are so absorbed with our own selves that we have no regard for others” (John Murray).
This teaching is presented in the New Testament is various ways (Ephesians 5:28, Philippians 2:4, John 15:13). Ultimately only the regenerate man can conform to the law because he has been gifted with God’s love.