Our Moral GPS for Christian Ethics

Who would deny that morality is changing faster than we ever expected? Mega-shifts are appearing in the cultural landscape where the fault lines of opposing ethical systems ultimately create moral upheavals and earthquakes. Here at Covenant we wanEthics 8 gpst not only to identify these ethical fault lines, but help Christians navigate the erupting landscape on their journey to the celestial city!

If I were beginning this series of messages in the early 70s I would have called it “Our Moral Compass.” But the GPS has practically replaced the compass in our society, and that is not something to be lamented. Just remember that if you are hiking through the forest the GPS may not do you any good when your batteries run out!

I like the analogy of the GPS for the moral life because the GPS not only tells you your orientation, it gives your position and  direction. And the direction comes from above – from the satellites placed in the heavens. So it is with our moral GPS. It comes from divine revelation. This, of course, is the reason for the moral tectonic plates which come into conflict and cause earthquakes. Christian ethics is fundamentally in opposition to natural, human, ethical systems. This is not to say that righteous ethics are nonexistent among non-Christians. There is a long history of common grace in man’s ethics so that we find good in this world of sin.

How will we approach such a vast subject? There is so much territory to cover on the GPS. We will start with 1 Corinthians 15:33 (Feb. 23), a text which, seems to me, to be a great introductory text: “Do not be deceived, bad company corrupts good morals.” It contains four of the major elements of our study. It identifies “ethics” (translated ‘morals’ in most English Bibles) by the Greek word sounding the same. It speaks of good and bad which are the two main categories of the world of ethical issues. It deals with the reality of corruption or decay in morality and ethics which we see more patently in the society today of course. And finally, since Paul is quoting a saying common in his day from the Greek writer Menander in his work Thais, it shows that even men of the world have an ethical awareness and consciousness.

Come and join us for our Sunday morning studies on Christian ethics for a moral GPS to guide you. And pray that God will bless His people to strengthen and equip them to navigate the moral morass that is out there today so that we can travel on the highway of holiness. You can hear these sermons on our Sermon Audio link as well. Ethics 16

Pastor John

 

Meet Felix & Kathy New Members

Neither one of us was raised in a Christian home although Felix’s family were faithful church-attenders. After we married in 197Felix & Kathy MEMB 20142, we rarely attended church.

Our one and only child, Ken, was born in 1975 and we decided that in order to raise him up to being a good and moral person we would start going to a little Methodist Church near our home. There we learned stories and bits and pieces of the Bible but no real Gospel. The church had a special evangelical weekend where a group of people came in and gave their testimony of Christ in their lives. We both decided we wanted Christ in our lives but didn’t yet know what that really meant.

Soon we realized that we were in a dead church and started seeking out where God wanted us. We tried every kind of “church” in the area and looked up information even as far as reading about Mormons. We got a good education! God, however, put us in a reformed church and we got our first real blast of the book of Romans.

As we grew and matured and learned more about Jesus He became more than our Savior. He IS the Lord of our lives. We became Reformed Baptists before we knew that there was a distinct denomination. Calvin and the acronym of TULIP only served as conformation of what we already knew as true.

As we have move around from New Jersey to Florida to Delaware to Pennsylvania and back to New Jersey we have learned many truths from God’s word (and many things from some churches that we have been convicted are not true!)

One of the most important things we have learned is to be “dazzled” with God. He is everything to us. His word is ultimately not about the Jew or the Church but about who He is and His-Story. Every book is a revelation of Him and His glory, and we are here to reveal that to the world.

Romans 11:33-36  Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out. “For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become His counselor? Or who has first given to Him and it shall be repaid to him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.

We are honored to be a part of the body of Covenant Baptist Church and have grown to love each member there. We pray that God will reveal the ways He wants us to serve His people there.

Psalm 119:33-40  – “Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared. Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good. How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.”

Felix and Kathryn

In The Beginning ~ Genesis 1:1

World 2In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” If you own a home, your deed is the legal declaration of your ownership. Genesis 1:1 is God’s deed of ownership. It is also a doctrinal foundation and confession of faith. Finally, it is a short statement of methodology – He created it.

An Introductory Statement

One must look into the sentence construction in order to understand the meaning of Gen. 1:1. Is it a dependent or an independent clause? If it were a dependent clause, it would read: “When God began to create the heaven and the earth, the earth was without form and empty.” Translating it this way would mean that the world existed as described in verse 2 before God created. This would mean that God did not create ex nihiloout of nothing. So we insist on solid exegetical ground that Gen. 1:1 is an independent clause; it stands alone as a grand summary statement introducing the creation account of Genesis 1 and the Bible.

Formless & Empty

Gen. 1:2 is a description of the world as God initially created it. “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Gen. 1:3 then begins to describe the activity of God in fashioning and filling the earth on the creation days to receive God’s image bearer – man. Verse 2 is an important description of the initial creation under the care of the Spirit of God.

Basic Creation Theology

Gen. 1:1 teaches us four foundational facts of faith. The first is that everything that we are and have had a beginning. This means that things are temporal and people are mortal. The second is that God had no beginning, He is eternal. The very thought of eternity is staggering. Whether eternity if timelessness or unending time makes little difference. This makes theology the “Queen of the sciences!” Nothing is more important than the study of theology, reading and understanding the Bible. The third is that God brought the heavens and the earth into existence out of nothing. This is the foundational and essential doctrine of creation in the Bible. Christians may discuss and disagree about certain creation issues, but this one is essential, otherwise God is not God. Finally, Gen. 1:1 teaches us that the earth is the exclusive and distinct object of God’s purpose. The earth looks just like any other celestial body from outer space, but the Lord looks down from heaven (Ps. 33:13) and sees all the sons of men.

Living in the Light of Creation 

Since everything had a beginning, then everything has a purpose. Every person must live his life here learning the purpose for every thing, institution, and relationship in human existence. The Creator shows us the purpose of life, of time, man, woman, children, things, work, leisure, marriage, government, worship, and everything else that occupies us in life.

Since everything had a beginning, then everything will have an end. We all know this about ourselves, though men try to suppress it in denial of God. But on a much bigger scale, we must know that the world will end. The Creator tells us so in His word. He will destroy sin and its curse on the creation, and create all things new.

Since God created everything, we are stewards of His creation. Gen. 1:1 is God’s statement of ownership, and the gift of life on this earth is our summons to stewardship. God lets us enjoy and use His world. Since we are created in His image, we re-create, design and develop, and employ ourselves in God’s world. And as stewards we will give an account of our stewardship.

In Christ, we are sons, not just stewards. The Gospel makes me an “heir of God and fellow-heir with Christ” (Rom. 8:17). Christ is the Creator and Owner of the universe (Jn. 1:3); “All things were made through Him and for Him” (Col. 1:16); “all things belong to you” (1 Cor. 3:22). We are children of the God who owns the universe. “For God, who said, light be, is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). Creation & Christ – Have you had this new beginning in Christ? This is the only way to live in God’s creation now and be prepared for the end when God makes all things new for HIs glory and those who are His sons and daughters in Christ.

Pastor John

Why do I Feel the Way I do? ~ Proverbs 14:10

Feelings 1Sometimes I ask myself this question. I know how I feel and I don’t like what I feel. I see the need to work on my feelings. You remember that the Psalmist asked himself this question – “Why are you in despair, O my soul, and why have you become disturbed within me?” (Ps. 42:5, 11; 43:5). But I ask myself this question not only when feeling blue, but when I begin to fear, when I have an unsettled sense about things, when something is bothering me, if I begin to think ill of someone, or other things.

Asking the question is the first step to managing our feelings. No one doubts the power of how we feel. With some people, the world turns on how they feel, but this is the ultimate in subjective living. Yet, as Borgman points out: “The emotions play a critical role in each person’s thinking and behavior.”[1] But we cannot be controlled by subjectivity and how we feel, rather, we must bring our feelings and emotions into the realm of objectivity and life’s realities which are explained by God in His word.

The words feel and feeling(s) are only found 23 times in the Bible.[2] But many other passages apply to our feelings, such as Proverbs 14:10. “The heart knows its own bitterness, and a stranger does not share its joy.” Proverbs is our resource for wisdom-living, and yet it does speak about how we feel. Prov. 14:10 is actually a strong affirmation of the broad range of feeling and human emotion which we regularly experience. But the point of 14:10 is that “the full gamut of emotions are known by the concerned person alone.”[3] Two extremes are presented in this verse: bitterness and joy, in parallel: the heart knows and the stranger does not know. Sometimes, no one can know or share how we feel. They may not understand what we feel. Hence, they may not see, or they may see and say nothing. Furthermore, Prov. 14:13 indicates that feelings can be deceptive. One may laugh, but be in pain; one may be living merrily, but be headed for grief. So the ability to deal with our feelings is a great grace which God gives His people.

God alone ultimately knows the human heart. “One’s emotional-intellectual-religious-moral motions are too complex, too inward, and too individualistic to be experienced by others or even to represent them adequately to others (1 Cor. 2:11). The proverb infers the dignity and significance of each individual and, to accept being misunderstood, cautions against evaluating others by outward appearances and to be true to one’s own heart.”[4]

Ask yourself why you feel angry, anxious, envious, jealous, intimidated, discouraged, depressed, hopeless, frustrated, or, proud of yourself, in complete control, to name a few. Then consider what God says and prayerfully ask God to help you with that feeling. Remember that “The manifestations of fallen emotions are nearly limitless. However, like many things in the Bible, not every emotion is either black or white……There are also issues of physiology, personality, and temperament that may not be inherently sinful….[but] allowing our emotions to cloud reality, to restrict what we believe or determine how we respond to truth, are…forms of emotional corruption.”[5]

Sometimes, after I ask myself the question why I feel the way I do, I conclude that I should not feel that way. I shift my focus away from my feeling to the work at hand and take the attention off myself by concentrating on others. Proverbs 3:5b: “Do not lean on your own understanding.” This directly impacts our feelings, and often I find myself saying – Self, you shouldn’t be feeling this way since you claim to trust in God. I tell myself not to base so much on how I feel but on who God is. I remind myself that a life of wisdom in Christ (Col. 3:16; 2 Tim. 3:15) will help me not to be tyrannized by oft-troubling feelings.

Pastor John


[1] Brian S. Borgman, Faith & Feelings: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009), 20

[2] NASB.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, Proverbs 1-15 NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), 590.

[4] Ibid., 590.

[5] Borgman, Faith & Feelings, 53.

Pastor John


 

Depression Medication II ~ Proverbs 17:22

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.”

This great depression prescription has three parts to it. The first part speaks about the pDepression 9 Prov 17 22ainful condition of a broken spirit. The spirit within man is the animating[1] part of man. When the spirit departs life comes to an end. Broken means stricken, crushed, or defeated in Hebrew (Ps. 106:19). The broken spirit is contrasted in Prov. 18:14 with the spirit that gives the power to endure physical sickness.[2] The bones in Hebrew refer to our strength being lost; the marrow dries up and the life is weakened. It is a form of early death because the animating spirit in man is depressed and defeated. All forms of depression in our human spirit, with any accompanying weakening of our physical frame, are painful. It hurts the spirit and the body.

God has much to teach us about our physical and spiritual constitution. This is biblical psychology, a division of the doctrine of anthropology. Man is created in the image of God and that image is reflected in man’s body and spirit. But the spirit as the animating part of man gives movement and strength to our lives. When this spirit is adversely affected, the body is weakened. Waltke says that “This verse asserts the psychosomatic effects of 17:21….grief and joy are matters of life and death”[3] – “He who sires a fool does so to his own sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy” (17:21). This is a reminder that life’s troubles and our sinful actions do take our joy away and cause countless troubles in spirit and body.

The second part of 17:22 refers to the healing agent which is a joyful heart. It should not surprise us that the top prescription medication for maladies of the spirit is joy that fills the heart. Joy transforms our facial expressions (Prov. 15:13). Joy stays with us and is contagious (Prov. 15:15). It can be fostered and fed by the good words of others (Prov. 12:25),[4] and in the timely, well-thought-out responses of others (Prov. 15:23). This is a needed reminder to us that we can do much to help the joy of others. These are some of the main verses in Proverbs about the healing medicine of joy. But joy is a theme found throughout the Bible and calls for our careful study. I encourage you to do a concordance study sometime on joy, joyful, rejoice, etc., in the Bible. If it is the most effective medicine, then we should be ingesting that medicine regularly.

Psalms of joy are a specific genre in the songbook of Israel and the church.[5] They are happy songs of the people of God. Even Psalms of lament have happy endings! Psalms of joy teach us that we are to sing hymns of joy (Eph. 5:18-20, Col. 3:16-17). Singing Psalms and songs of the Christian faith both express and enrich our joy. Sing with your mind (1 Cor. 14:15); it will increase your joy!

Joy is given to us through the Gospel. Only sinners saved by grace have true, lasting, effectual, overcoming, eternal, joy (Lk. 2:10, Lk. 10:20, Mt. 13:44, Lk. 6:23, Acts 13:52, 1 Th. 1:6, 1 Jn. 1:4, etc.).

The third part of 17:22 is the healing process. This is indicated by the form of the Hebrew grammar. The joyful heart causes healing.[6] We take medicine for fast relief. The Bible and Christian doctrine, however, present the healing of man’s spirit (and all consequent benefit to his body) as a progressive work of grace. If I am sad, I want to be happy immediately, and sometimes a good word will do that (12:25). But deep-seated joy that overcomes all maladies of the spirit comes through the exercise of the means of God’s grace which are: repentance and faith in Christ for salvation; daily Bible study, meditation, and prayer; confession of sin and humility in the presence of God; living in the fear of God and acquiring wisdom; being properly attached to a local church; attendance on the preaching and ordinances of the church; Christian fellowship; Christian service and hospitality; loving the brethren and all people with Gospel love. Keep up these disciplines; your joy will increase; your depression and discouragement will decrease.

Pastor Reuther

See Depression Medication Part I below, and other Depression and Proverbs studies on this website.


[1] Animation – the quality of being lively, energetic, vigorous, spirited, necessary for living.

[2] See the earlier article on “Sickness & Spiritual Depression” ~ Prov. 18:14.

[3] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs 15-31 (NICOT – Eerdmans 2005), 60.

[4] See the earlier article on 12:25 entitled “Anxiety & Spiritual Depression.”

[5] See Mark D. Futato, Joy Comes in the Morning (Phillipsburg, NJ, P & R, 2004).

[6] Hebrew hiphil form of the verb.

Depression Medication I ~ Proverbs 17:22

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.” This is one of many passages in Proverbs that helps us view depression, dDepression 8 Prov 17 22iscouragement, and despair from God’s perspective. We have been looking at these in this series of studies. The Hebrew word translated medicine does not refer to medication per se. This is the Hebrew causative verb form which means it causes healing. Since medicine is for healing it is proper to translate Prov. 17:22 as you read it above, and be encouraged that a joyful heart is good medicine!

Medicine properly prescribed and consumed has been a good gift of God to bring healing. Medicine does not displace miracle, because God has the power to directly intervene apart from human means. Medicine does not reign over Scripture truth either, because divine revelation is redemptive and saves us from the effects of sin in body and spirit.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones left the medical profession in 1927 to preach and pastor until his retirement in 1968. He had the advantage of being able treat the whole man, as medicine remained his “hobby” and he often spoke and wrote on the subject of healing and the Scriptures. When troubled or nervous people came to him, he sought to determine whether their trouble was 1.) a physical problem, 2.) a spiritual problem resulting from an erroneous interpretation of Scripture or lack of assurance or things like these, or 3.) a psychological or mental problem. He explains his view that a person with a spiritual problem is generally responsive to God’s word and Spirit, while the person with the mental problem is often not. He offers William Cowper, who was a dedicated Christian man and poet who had periodic attacks of a mental condition, as an example of the last category. [1] Lloyd-Jones is criticized for asserting a category of mental illness, and men who assert that all mental illness is the result of sinful actions are also criticized for not acknowledging real cases. However, in his classic book on spiritual depression, “The Doctor” addresses a vast array of Christian truths calculated to bring healing.[2] Clearly he saw that the ultimate solution to non-physical maladies is the Gospel. He also taught that the Gospel aids physical healing.

Mental illness may be a reality, but it is also over-diagnosed. It may not be completely accurate to insist that all mental problems are the result of sin, though many no doubt are. Much good and balanced work is being done by Christians in this field. Welch begins his study on depression by recommending these simple steps: “Understand what people mean by ‘depression.’ Distinguish between spiritual and physical symptoms. Address heart issues and personal suffering. If physical symptoms are excessive, consider medical treatments known to possibly alleviate the symptoms.”[3]

Medication for depression is readily available. People should carefully consider the implications and side effects of depression medicine[4] on the one hand, and the Scriptural teaching on spiritual depression on the other, reminding themselves that the God who created us knows us altogether; He knows what we need, He is the Great Physician, Christ came healing men with the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit transforms our spirits by His indwelling presence. Prov. 17:22 has three main parts to it which I will mention here and develop in the next article.

1. The Painful Condition: The broken spirit is depression in all of its forms major and minor. The dried-up bones refer to the weakening of the physical frame which results from the broken spirit.

2. The Healing Agent: A joyful heart is the medicine God provides. This stands in contrast (not denial) to all substances used to effect healing. This medicine is clearly the most important and should be sought after with all spiritual diligence.

3. The Healing Process: The healing of spiritual depression is a process, not a quick fix.

Pastor Reuther

See the other articles on depression in this series, as well as the other Proverbs studies.


[1] Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Healing and the Scriptures (Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 1988), 148-156.

[2] Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Spiritual Depression (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1984).

[3] For example, see Edward Welch, Blame It on the Brain? (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1998).

[4] One website listing depression medications listed over 2 dozen different adverse side-effects resulting from these medications, a factor that is often under-played.

Depression Defeater – Proverbs 14:30

A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.” OtProverbs 14 30 heart peaceher translations say: “a heart at peace,” or “a sound heart.” The Hebrew word has the sense of “a heart of healing or health.” To be healthy means to be at peace physically because the body is not fighting disease or feeling its consequences. Getting a “clean bill of health” from the doctor is a great blessing that we all desire.

But often the heart is sick because of sadness, grief, conflict, discouragement, or depression. It just feels “blue” and at times like those the heart just does not help us on our way to live our lives as we need to live them. As we have been seeing in our other studies on depression (look under the “Proverbs Wisdom” tab for these) from Prov. 12:25, where a good word makes the heart glad and defeats depression, and Prov. 18:14, where we learned that the spirit of man can endure his sickness, here we learn that when the heart is at peace, the body is filled with life. The Prov. 14:30 heart is the peaceful and calm heart, the tranquil and composed heart, because it has been and is being healed. We do not possess this peace by escape from life, denial of sin or trouble, or some form of worldly meditation that looks inward to find peace. Healing has taken place, and in the context of Proverbs, that healing is the fruit of wisdom, the fear of the Lord, and godly living. In the context of the whole Bible it is the fruit of Christ and the Gospel.

Amazingly, this man isn’t noisy inside. He isn’t busy-busy-busy. Not obsessed or on edge. Pressures to achieve don’t consume him. Failure and despair don‘t haunt him. Anxiety isn’t spinning him into free fall. Regrets don’t corrode his inner experience. He’s not stumbling through the minefield of blind longings and fears. He’s quiet. Are you quiet inside?[1]

Prov. 14:30 speaks of two states of the heart. One is what we just described – the heart that is constantly being healed and is not ravaged with sicknesses. The opposite is “passion,” which Solomon says, “is rottenness to the bones.” The Hebrew word refers to strong, disruptive, or hostile emotions or passions. Prov. 27:4 refers to some of these: “Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” Envy is the passionate desire for what another person has, and jealousy is the passion for my own things or self. Prov. 13:12 speaks of another problem: Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” When life disappoints we become discouraged and even depressed. This too is a disruptive passion. There are so many things that make our hearts sick and disrupt our peace. We feel the effects in our bodies. We become sluggish and unproductive. Every ache and pain is magnified. We procrastinate and focus inward rather than on living life and fulfilling our callings.

Remember this important principle when studying any verse in Proverbs: Everything in Proverbs ultimately relates to wisdom. And the depression defeater of a healthy heart in 14:30 will be ours only through a life of wisdom. We tend to think that wisdom is a skill that we need to solve problems. It certainly is that. But wisdom is needed for defeating depression and healing heart ills. All of these disruptive emotions come from self and sin, from not knowing, fearing, and being right with God. Wisdom comes in fearing the Lord and trusting Him (1:7, 2:5, 10, 8:13, 9:10, 14:26-27, 15:16, 15:33, 16:6, 19:23, 22:4, 23:17). Read these and see how the fear of the Lord heals the heart and gives life to the body. “The fear of the Lord prolongs life” (10:27).

And remember this: A heart that has been and will always be healed is only found in Christ, the Greater-than-Solomon. I like what Paul said to Philemon: “refresh my heart in Christ” (v. 20); what he said to the Philippians in 2:1 is even better! “If there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion………” (and Paul is asserting that there are all these things!). Christ Himself and His Spirit are our great depression defeaters. Christ gives us the tranquil heart and subdues our passions by reconciling us to the Father through His shed blood and the pouring out of His Spirit upon us. Nothing can take our peace away when we have Gospel blessing and fullness in Christ! Tell your body: “watch out – a peaceful heart and the Holy Spirit are in thee!”

Pastor John


[1] David Powlinson, Seeing With New Eyes (Philipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2003), 75.