“Let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required in stewards that one be found faithful…but He who judges me is the Lord.” 1 Corinthians 4:1–5

Webster defines ethics as “the doctrines of morality or social manners; the science of moral philosophy which teaches men their duty and the reasons of it.” A second definition is listed which places ethics on the personal level: “a system of moral principles; a system of rules for regulating the actions and manners of men in society.”

Ethics are not solely the domain of believers. Ethics are standards for relational behaviors that allow society to function. When rules of high-toned ethics are universally followed there is peace in society. Sound logic dictates that every culture justly may be judged by its societal ethics just as every individual will be judged by his personal ethics (as 1 Corinthians 4 says). In other words, by your treatment of others you inform others how to treat you.

Respect, honesty, diligence, faithfulness, hard work, good-will, and fairness provide the general foundation of moral, ethical principles. In a perfect world every thought, word, and deed is judged by the highest of ethical standards. It ought to be the goal of every society, every family, and every individual to define and embrace quality ethics.

Societies that flaunt and ignore God’s righteous standards will find their resources diminished and their peace evaporate. Prisons must be built, greater fiscal burdens must be borne, armies must be raised and fitted out, the rule of law is no more, security is ephemeral, and innocents die when God’s justice is unheeded, unheralded, and unknown.

The highest standard of ethics that may be sighted is God Himself. He is perfect in justice, righteousness, holiness, and love. Generally speaking, Christianity is not focused on changing world cultures as much as it is about improving those cultures to be the best they can possibly be through the inward transformation of individuals to God’s standards of faith and behavior.

For the believer, a healthy sense of ethical standard begins with what God reveals in the Bible about Himself and His creation. Man exists by God’s direct creation. Every man bears the image of God and displays God’s direct ownership, bears accountability to God, and shares in God’s dominion over the earth. The way we treat every man must be with a view to what God says about what we think, say, and act. This is one of the reasons Christians are unabashedly pro-life and extend compassion to the most innocent of lives among us!

The fact that every human life bears the image of God is a truth behind our passage in 1 Corinthians 4:1–5. God created me. I will give account directly to Him for my dealings, both in private and in public. Faithfulness is required of me.

On a higher level, my faithfulness regarding my stewardship of the “mysteries of God” is in focus. We represent Him and His truth revealed in the Word. The steward is to be faithful in his task to his Master. There will come a day when God will judge your stewardship of His truth.

The ethical behavior of respect for others finds its real apex when viewed as an extension of the doctrine that God created man in His image. It is from this cardinal ethical behavior of respect that all others seem to flow.

Honesty finds its purpose and bearing from “respect for others.” Honesty is an act of love for your fellow man. Romans 12:17 reads, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things [intrinsically honest and proper] in the sight of all men.” And Romans 13:8 reads, “Owe no man anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Leviticus 19:35f, Proverbs 11:1).

Diligence also shines as a virtue because “the image of God in you” is also a commission from God to you. Adam and Eve were given tasks to perform in light of their high privilege. You ought to take each task that comes to your hand as a commission to be reviewed by God. Give that task your best. 2 Peter 3:14f instructs, “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless; and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation…” (Proverbs 10:4, 13:4, 22:29; 2 Peter 1:10). Diligence is hard work (industry) under precise direction (Romans 12:11).

Faithfulness, as in our 1 Corinthians 4 passage, is directly related to God’s faithfulness displayed to you. He is faithful. He never fails. Verse 2 has two interesting words which shed light on this ethical virtue. The word “require” means “to seek out in a man.” “Be found” means “to examine and find out by inquiry.” Paul is saying, “Moreover it is sought out in a steward that one be fully investigated and proven faithful.” Trustworthiness (keeping faith) is a high virtue that is the glue that forms the basis of any real relationship with either God or man.

Fairness is akin to righteous justice. Righteous justice is not synonymous with “social justice.” (Social justice is mislabeled. It is like “Grapenuts—neither grape nor nuts,” as a former preacher of mine used to say.) Righteous justice recognizes that life is not always fair but godly ethics dictates that you seek to be fair in your judgment of both men and things, tempered by God’s truth and mercy. Be just as God is just (Micah 6:8). Trust and obey.