Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST008/6 Social Duties


Social Duties towards Others.

(a) General Ethical Standards for Social Living.

We live in a social world and therefore we cannot live exclusive lives. "None of us liveth to himself", says Paul, (Rom.14:7); and our Lord's second commandment was "Love thy neighbour as thyself". It is obvious that complete freedom in the sense of each one doing exactly what he or she likes, is quite impossible.

The true ethical basis for social living is again, therefore, love. There are obviously differences in love; we do not love everyone in quite the same way. These types of love can be thought of in three classes:-

  1. We love all with the love of benevolence and good will, which when necessary is shown in the form of pity.
  2. There are particular types of love in various family relationships, friendship, etc.
  3. There is an especially Christian love which is shown to fellow Christians and which can sometimes be called the love of complacency.

This love has its violations. Anger, wrath and hatred come under this head, though anger must be qualified. There are occasions when there is a righteous anger which is justified and right. These violations also include malice, resentment, revenge and lack of forgiveness, jealousy and strife; also included are censoriousness, lying and lack of strict adherence to truth in conversation.

Along this line great care should be exercised in relating numbers and results in work for God and in describing personal benefits or losses. Watson in his "Institutes" has a very fine passage on the law of love which, though long, is worth quoting:-

  1. "It excludes all anger, beyond that degree of resentment a culpable action in another may call forth, in order to mark the sense we entertain of its evil, and to impress that evil upon the offender, so that we may lead him to repent of it and forsake it. This seems the proper rule by which to distinguish lawful anger from that which is contrary to charity, and therefore malevolent and sinful. It excludes implacability; for if we do not promptly and generously forgive others their trespasses, this is deemed to be so groat a violation of that law of love which ought to bind men together, that our heavenly ather will not forgive us. It excludes all revenge: so that we are to exact no punishment from another for offences against ourselves; and though it be lawful to call in the penalties of the law for crises against society, yet this is never to be done on the principle of private revenge; but on the public ground that law and government are ordained of God, which produces a case which comes under the inspired rule ,' Vengence is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.' It excludes all prejudice; by which is meant a harsh construction of men's motives and characters upon surmise, or partial knowledge of the facts, accompanied with an inclination to form an ill opinion of them in the absence of proper evidence. This appears to be what the apostle Paul means when he says, 'Charity thinketh no evil'. It excludes all censoriousness or evil speaking, when the end is not for the correction of the offender, or when a declaration of the truth is not required by our love and duty to another; for whenever the end is merely to lower a person in the estimation of others, it is resolvable solely into a splenetic and immoral feeling. It excludes all those aggressions, whether petty or more weighty, which may be made upon the interests of another, when the law of the case, or even the abstract right, might not be against our claim. These are always complex cases, and can but occasionally occur; but the rule which binds us to do unto others as we would they should do unto us, binds us to act upon the benevolent view of the case, and to forego the rigidness of right. Finally it excludes, as limitations to its exercises, all those artificial distinctions which have been created by men, or by providential arrangements, or by accidental circumstances, Men of all nations, of all colours, of all conditions, are the objects of the unlimited precept, 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'. Kind feelings produced by natural instincts, by intercourse, by country, may call the love of our neighbour into warmer exercise as to individuals or classes of men, or these may be considered as distinct or special, though similar affections superadded to this universal charity; but as to all men, this charity is an efficient affection, excluding all ill will and all injury."

There are certain positive assertioc.s which require to be made concerning the rights and privileges of others. These are three -

  1. The Right to Life. Each individual has a right to life in the best and the fullest way; this will include intellectual, moral and spiritual life as well as physical. Problems naturally arise here. Power and resources are often limited and giving one class its right may be robbing another. There must be an honest endeavour to do the best for others equally, without failing to do the best for those with a stronger claim.
  2. The Right to Liberty. No one has the right to do as he pleases if in so doing, he is trespassing on the rights of others. There must be freedom of speech, conscience and religion.
  3. The Right to Property. There is nothing in the Scriptures to give any basis for maintaining that property is anything other than personal. The early church is no contradiction and has no real parallel with communism. Communism is by external compulsion, the sharing of the early church, as completely spontaneous. That their property was recognized as their own is made clear from the account of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts chapter five. Coveting, even for the work of God for which we are responsible, is wrong. If we are trusting; God, He knows best how to see that the money and workers get shared out properly. A proper sense of the right to property is summed up in benevolence to all. This is described well by Wakefield, "Benevolence is not merely a negative affection, but brings forth rich and varied fruits. It produces a feeling of delight in the happiness of others, and thus destroys envy; it is the source of sympathy and compassion; it opens its hand in liberality to supply the wants of the needy; it gives cheerfulness to every service undertaken in the cause of our fellowman; it resists the wrong which may be inflicted upon them, and it will run hazards of health and life for their sake. Benevolence has special respect to the spiritual interests and salvation of men. It instructs, persuades, and improves the ignorant and vicious; it counsels the simple; it comforts the doubting and perplexed; and it rejoices in those gifts and graces of others by which society may be enlightened and purified." (Christian Theology pp.523,524). As far as Christian Ethics are concerned the exceptionality of the Gospel must always be recognized. The Christian is bidden to "go the second mile', "turn the other cheek", "love our enemies", etc.. There is no possibility of real Christian living without being born again and having the Holy Spirit dwelling within.

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