In ethics, we typically distinguish between personal ethics and social ethics. They’re both important, and you can’t have one without the other. At the personal level, I think the first duty of every Christian is nonparticipation in things that are wrong. It’s unusual to start with that and there are good logical and philosophical reasons why creation comes before fall, but I think phenomenologically, as we live our lives, it’s important to begin with this admonition: “If you see things that are wrong, be careful not to participate in them.”
Where we can, we should also actively resist them, but we have limited capacity to actively resist injustices when they involve other people’s domain of stewardship or responsibility. We can’t run around and right every wrong because that would make us kings over our neighbors, which we’re not. We don’t have the power to do that. But if Christians were really good at withdrawing their participation from things that are clearly wrong, that would be a powerful witness to the world around us.
Christians have not made it an intentional practice to withdraw their participation from things that are wrong. For example, in your workplace when somebody on your shop floor is being ostracized for a reason that’s wrong, go over and talk to that person. Just by shaking that person’s hand, you can be a witness against the injustice being practiced against them. If something’s being done that’s dishonest, you can be a truth-teller, you can refuse to participate in the false reality that your superiors are attempting to construct for their own purposes. And that may mean losing a job or it may mean losing a promotion. I’ve had that myself and I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve had the same situation. In the long run, you’re going to be glad you did it, but faithfulness is its own reward anyway.
Diligence in Work
Second, be diligent in excellent work. One of the primary ways in which we serve God and neighbor is just by doing a good job. Doing a good job can mean different things in different situations so it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a master craftsman creating a glorious work of art that will stand forever.
Places like Chick-fil-A have shown that you can even make excellent fast food. A fast-food restaurant does not have to be a place where the food is lousy and unhealthy and where the environment is unsanitary. You can actually have a clean and welcoming experience. The hospitality practice is an extraordinary experience. You always have a great time when you’re there and that’s fast food—the bottom of the cultural chain.
This is about serving people, serving God by serving other people.
This is not about snob-ism, this is not about making excellent products that the people at the top of the cultural chain will revere forever. This is about serving people, serving God by serving other people, which can be very prosaic, very work-a-day, and humble! But doing an excellent job at your work and working hard at it is an important part of our witness because that’s just Christian love for neighbor.
Perseverance in Suffering and the Practice of Self-Control
Persevering through suffering is an important quality that Christians need to have. We should expect that things don’t always go well and have the ability to persevere in those times.
Frugality and self-control in our spending are other important qualities. There’s a continuum between being overly concerned about frugality and getting to the point where you're like , like the monks John Calvin writes about who compete to see who can survive on less bread and water. There’s a passage in the Institutes where Calvin talks about these monks who are competing. The monk who can live on half a loaf of bread is looking down on the monk who needs three-quarters of a loaf of bread to survive.
We don’t want this legalistic, bottomless pit. At the same time, Christians should be frugal and self-controlled to not waste their money on frivolous luxuries. That has a formative effect on who you are that goes way beyond just the squandering of the money. If you don’t have the self-control to refrain from spending your money on things that are frivolous, that has a formative effect on who you are and it will go way beyond just your pocketbook. So foster diligence, honesty, self-control, concern for others, and integrity.
Greg Forster is the author of Economics: A Student’s Guide.
- The Economy’s 3 Essential Ingredients (Greg Forster)
- Why Giving 10% Isn’t Enough (Greg Forster)
- What Is the Great Gain of Godliness? (1 Timothy 6) (Denny Burk)