If we don’t understand morality we might fail to see the goodness of certain behaviors and the sinfulness of others. How tragic would it be to spend years doing something you thought was amoral (or spiritually neutral), only to find out it’s immoral. Or how tragic to avoid something you thought was immoral, only to find it’s amoral?
What defines morality for us? The Bible! The question isn’t, “What do we think is moral, immoral, or amoral?” The question is, “What does the Bible teach is moral, immoral, or amoral?” We typically err two ways regarding morality.
The First Error with Morality: Thinking Something Is Immoral When It’s Amoral
What we do with food, guns, and money is moral, because they can be used in moral and immoral ways. Also, our relationships to them are moral, because they can become idols, addictions, or obsessions. Although, as lifeless, inanimate objects, they have no morality of their own.
Certain foods are healthier and unhealthier than others, but foods are not moral or immoral:
Food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.1 Corinthians 8:8; see also Matthew 15:11, Mark 7:18, Acts 10:15, Romans 14:17, Colossians 2:16-23
God doesn’t care what you eat, but gluttony is a sin because He cares how much you eat.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.1 Timothy 6:10
We get into trouble when money begins to control us. Rich people can be generous, and poor people can be stingy. The statement, “Money is the root of all evil!” comes from misquoting this verse, or quoting the KJV, which uses these words. “Root of all evil” is substituted for “root of all kinds of evil.” Although this change is small, it makes the verse say something untrue.
The misquoted version makes money responsible for all evil in the world, but there’s plenty of evil that has nothing to do with money. Jesus said the evil we see around us comes from our hearts:
For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.Matthew 5:19
Evil is not birthed from money, but from us giving in to temptation: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:14–15).
The Second Error with Morality: Thinking Something Is Amoral When It’s Moral
Many places in Scripture discuss the morality of what we say:
He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit.1 Peter 3:10
So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.James 1:19
This verse contains three commands, which makes it moral. It is moral to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Anger and listening are probably mentioned together because they’re closely related. When we’re angry we’re quick to speak and slow to listen. As a pastor, in counseling, sometimes I can tell early on who’s more at fault by who’s slowest to hear and quickest to get upset and point fingers.
The Morality of Listening Often and the Immorality of Speaking Too Much
What we say is moral or immoral. The prophet prophet Jeremiah suffered terribly at the hands of his fellow Jews. He lamented over his abuse, but he seemed to recover from the physical abuse easier than the verbal abuse. When Michal ridiculed David, their relationship was never the same. Words can have lasting consequences:
There is one who speaks like the piercings of a sword.Proverbs 12:18
When we think of the morality of speech, we typically think of what we say, but we should also think of how much we say.
Ecclesiastes teaches that one way fools are identified is talking too much: “A fool’s voice is known by his many words…a fool also multiplies words” (Ecclesiastes 5:3b and 10:14a). Psalm 141:3 says, “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3). David took so seriously how much he said, he prayed God would guard his mouth for him. Proverbs is filled with contrasts between wise and foolish people. The wise listen often and the foolish speak too much:
- Proverbs 10:8 says, “The wise in heart will receive commands, but a prating fool will fall.” Wise people receive instruction, but fools babble on.
- Proverbs 10:19 says, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Talking too much leads to sin, and the wise know when to remain silent.
- Proverbs 13:3 says, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.” Controlling what we say is so important God says doing so can save our lives. On the other hand, talking too much brings ruin.
- Proverbs 17:27–28 says, “He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.” Wisdom is associated with listening, because that is how we learn. Even fools can fool people into thinking they’re wise if they’ll be quiet, but since they’re fools, they can’t keep quiet. They let everyone know they’re fools.
The Need for Self-Control
One reason talking too much is a sign of foolishness is it shows a lack of self-control. We all think of things we shouldn’t say. It’s wise when we keep them to ourselves, and it’s foolish when we let them escape our mouths. Peter is probably the best example in Scripture. He’s known for talking too much, and at the wrong times. At the Transfiguration,
Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.”Mark 9:5-6
Peter didn’t know what to say, but he spoke anyway. The parallel account:
While [Peter] was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!”Luke 9:34-35
God the Father interrupted Peter and said His Son should’ve been speaking, and Peter should’ve been listening. Peter’s life reveals, on more than one occasion, that if we don’t know what to say, it’s better not to say anything at all. If you can’t improve on silence, don’t.
A Bigger Problem Than Ever?
In today’s culture, there are more opportunities to talk than ever, or a better way to say it might be: there’s never been another time in history when even fools can have platforms. Anyone can start a blog or get on social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, and say as much as they want, about almost anything they want. We have cell phone plans with unlimited minutes and unlimited numbers of texts. There are talk shows and call-in radio for people to constantly sharing their opinions. It’s never been easier to lack self-control, and give in to the temptation to talk too much
As Christians, talking too much even hurts our witness:
If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.James 1:26
People won’t take our religion seriously if we can’t control our mouths. It’s almost like they can’t see Christ because our tongues get in the way.
“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”Ephesians 4:29
If this verse set the standard for us, I wonder how much of our communication can really be considered good for building up and [giving] grace to those who hear it?