Study Guide

James, 1-2 Peter, Jude Morality and Ethics

Morality and Ethics

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. (James 1:22-25, NRSV)

But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. (James 1:22-25, KJV)

Being a good Christian has two essential parts: faith and good works. Sure, listening to God is great, but you can't really get anything without doing what he says. One half of the equation simply won't do, says James.

But someone will say, "You have faith and I have works." Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you senseless person, that faith apart from works is barren? (James 2:18-20, NRSV)

Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? (James 2:18-20, KJV)

Okay, so maybe this doing good stuff just isn't for you. Is there a way to get out of it? Nopers. James makes it very clear that this isn't just a matter of some people being good at one thing or another. You can't have faith without works. End of story.

Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17, NRSV)

Let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. (James 3:13-17, KJV)

Here we have a description of two types of wisdom. The good and moral kind is gentle, humble, and meek. The evil and immoral kind is selfish, prideful, and flashy. It's not enough just to do good works—your heart has to be in the right place when you do them, too.

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Lament and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (James 4:7-10, NRSV)

Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded. Be afflicted, and mourn, and weep: let your laughter be turned to mourning, and your joy to heaviness. Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up. (James 4:7-10, KJV)

Be humble and you'll be mighty, says James. Yeah, God is a big fan of reversing people's expectations. Anyone who becomes meek and lowly to serve others will get a place of honor in the Big Guy's house.

Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money." Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that." As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin. (James 4:13-17, NRSV)

Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that. But now ye rejoice in your boastings: all such rejoicing is evil. Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. (James 4:13-17, KJV)

Just another example of folks not being humble enough for James's taste. Making plans is a little presumptuous in his opinion (especially when those plans involve making loads of cash). A moral person completely surrenders to God and follows where he leads.

Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed. Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:13-16, NRSV)

Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. (1 Peter 1:13-16, KJV)

Being a child of God or born anew is an important image in the Bible. God is like a parent who knows what's best for you, and a good little boy or girl listens to Mom and Dad and doesn't give them lip. Well, at least until the teenage years.

Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul. Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. (1 Peter 2:11-12, NRSV)

Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your conversation honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12, KJV)

Being moral isn't just the right thing to do—it can also help win converts. If non-believers see you acting all good and righteous, they might rethink their opposition to this Jesus fellow. After all, how bad can he be if that super nice lady from down the street likes him?

Slaves, accept the authority of your masters with all deference, not only those who are kind and gentle but also those who are harsh. (1 Peter 2:18, NRSV)

Servants, be subject to your masters with all fear; not only to the good and gentle, but also to the froward. (1 Peter 2:18, KJV)

Not all the Bible's moral pronouncements have aged so well: today, we'd hardly call obedient slaves a good thing. Back in the day, though, slavery was a way of life. If Christian slaves caused trouble for their masters (by asserting they were people created in the image of God or something like that), their masters could make trouble for the rest of the church. Peter's not willing to take that risk.

Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives' conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Do not adorn yourselves outwardly by braiding your hair, and by wearing gold ornaments or fine clothing; rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God's sight. (1 Peter 3:1-4, NRSV)

Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conversation of the wives; While they behold your chaste conversation coupled with fear. Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. (1 Peter 3:1-4, KJV)

Some more controversial ethical duties. This time, it's for the ladies. While some modern women do subscribe to this household arrangement, you'd probably have a tougher time finding ladies who think hair braids are way too fancy to be godly.

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7, NRSV)

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. (2 Peter 1:5-7, KJV)

Morality is kind of like a flow chart: one good behavior weaves itself into the next like a natural progression. Collect them all to win the prize at the end!

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