In 1972, an Episcopal priest by the name of Joseph Fletcher penned a popular book that drew many adherents to his perspective on life—it was called Situation Ethics. Following the tumultuous sixties when most of the moral absolutes on which America had been built were either challenged or discarded—this idea gained popularity. For Fletcher—and for followers of situational ethics—one law governed all decisions in life: the law of love—love was the only absolute, inviolable law. All other laws, including those in the Bible, were given to support the law of love. Therefore, any law could be broken in pursuit of greater love.
Here’s the bottom line of situational ethics: the ends can always justify the means. You’re free to do anything in pursuit of what you believe is a greater good. But is that Scriptural? Are we free to let circumstances (situations) dictate what we do? Do some of God’s laws have priority over others—and are we free to pick and choose? Are our values to be based on life’s situations or God’s stipulations?
When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the law was, He said it was to love God with all one’s being—and the second was to love one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). And when the apostle Paul named faith, hope, and love as three important values, he said the greatest of the three is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
But the New Testament never suggests that the pursuit of love is a license for ignoring God’s other laws and values. Indeed, Jesus said He came not to abolish the laws of God but to fulfill them all (Matthew 5:17). Every law and stipulation of God is perfect and given for a purpose. We are to bring God’s stipulations to bear on life’s situations and circumstances. To do the opposite would put us in the place of judging God’s laws. And to judge God’s laws is to judge God Himself since His laws are a reflection of who He is.
How do we prepare ourselves to live according to 1 Corinthians 15:58 and “be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” in a world where the morals and values are anything but immovable? How do we bring our circumstances into conformity to the Word of God instead of being conformed and shaped by the circumstances around us?
Here are two principles that will help, based upon the J. B. Phillips translation of Romans 12:1-2: “I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give [God] your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.”
The first step is to be unsqueezable. Or, in the words of 1 Corinthians 15:58, “be steadfast, immovable.” If you are immovable, you will not be conformable to circumstances. We have two options when it comes to resisting the pressures and changing circumstances of the world around us: be conformed or transformed—and there is no middle ground. Since the pressure of the world is relentless, if we are not continually letting the Word of God transform our mind, then we will find that the world’s situations will take precedence over God’s stipulations. We will begin to rationalize the clear teaching of the Word and allow a godly “end” to justify the use of ungodly “means.”
The second step is to be un-freezable. Sometimes life’s circumstances and situations cause us to freeze like the proverbial deer in the headlights. We can’t imagine that God has allowed us to find ourselves in such a confounding circumstance. At times it seems to obey God’s stipulations is the last thing we should do “given the circumstances.” But remember how J. B. Phillips translated verse 2: “prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”
Trust God with your circumstances; He will work out the situation for your good and His glory.
Dr. Jeremiah is the founder and host of Turning Point for God and senior pastor of
Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, California.
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