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It's all a matter of perspective
This sermon is part of the sermon series "American Idols". See series.


Lately, I've been monitoring the gas pump—carefully. I know how many gallons will fit in my tank, so when I go to fill it up at $3 and some odd cents, I want to make sure that the pump actually gives me a gallon of gas for the gallon of gas it charges me.

We live in a world—without question—where things are pretty relative. You all know that 65 miles per hour does not mean 65 miles per hour; it means whatever that guy in the cop car will let you get by with.

Though it's clear many of us have a foundation of shared values, we live in a world where people can't decide what is really an absolute, and what isn't. Kelly Monroe, the editor of Finding God at Harvard, was at a doctor's office and decided to do a little informal testing. She wanted to find out this one particular person's view on morality. Here is an excerpt from her experience:

"Do you believe that morality is absolute? Or are all people just out for themselves?" "What do you mean by morality?" "Well, simply put, what's right and what's wrong?" We talked back and forth for a few minutes and it became evident to me that [the doctor] was having a hard time comprehending the question I was asking. I thought maybe a clear case example would make the task easier, a question with an obvious answer, like, "Who's buried in Grant's tomb?" or "How long was the 100 year war?" Something simple. "Is murder wrong? Is it wrong to take innocent human life?" [The doctor] waffled, "Well …" "Well what?" "Well I'm thinking." I was surprised at her hesitation. "What I'm trying to figure out is whether morals—whether right and wrong—are something we make up for ourselves or something we discover. In another words, do morals apply whether we believe in them or not?" I waited. "Can we say that taking innocent life is moraly acceptable?" "I guess it depends," she said. "Depends on what?" "It depends on what other people think. Or decide." "I'll make this easy," I thought. "Do you think torturing babies for fun is wrong?" "Well, I wouldn't want them to do that to my baby." "You've missed the point of my question. I may not like burnt food, but that doesn't mean giving it to me is immoral. Do you believe there is any circumstance in any culture, in any time in history, in which torturing babies just for pure pleasure could be justified? Is it objectively wrong or is it just a matter of opinion?" There was a long pause. Finally she answered, "People should be allowed to decide for themselves."

In reflecting on this conversation, Kelly Monroe says,

I realized I never want this woman on a jury. I would never want her as a social worker, as an employee in a bank, as a teacher, as a medical practitioner, or in any branch of law enforcement. I would not want this person in any position of public trust. Sadly, this woman's views of ethics is repeated time after time at every level of society. In reality, if she was awakened in the middle of the night by the plaintive screams of a young child being tormented by her neighbor, I'm sure she would be horrified at the barbarism. Her moral intuition would immediately rise to the surface and she'd recoil at such evil. In a discussion of the issue, however, she seemed incapable of admitting that this egregious wrong was actually immoral.

Our culture doesn't know how to think about morality, about absolutes and relativity. That's scary. I'm not suggesting to you that there's always an easy answer—that everything is clearly marked right or wrong. But some things that are obvious.

A world of relativism

Unfortunately, we live in a world where nobody wants to take a moral stand. We want to instead express our moral timidity by standing back and saying, "Well, I guess it all depends on your perspective."

So it's little wonder when I picked up the paper this week and read a recent report that 11 year olds are now using steroids as performance enhancing drugs so that they can win in sports competitions. It's no wonder that I regularly read in the newspaper about such men as the executives at Enron and other major companies who pad their own pockets at the expense of other people's pockets and don't find anything wrong with it. It's little wonder that we pick up the paper and read about yet more abortions. It's no wonder that we talk about sexual immorality in such casual terms. It just depends on where you're standing when you look at it. It just depends on your perspective. While perspective is important, we've allowed that truth to really cloud our ability to make good decisions. Jesus says, "I am the way the truth and the life." There must be some overarching truth that brings everything else together.

There's a verse in Proverbs that gets at the heart of what God is trying to say to us as his people. Proverbs 11:1 says this: "The Lord abhors dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight." Do you hear what he is saying? If not, let's look at verse 3: The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity." Duplicity is their ability to be deceitful. While you're thinking about these verses, let's look at Proverbs 12:22 as well: "The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful." These statements are made throughout the Book of Proverbs.

Before electric scales, people used a sort of balance beam. You see it in developing countries all the time. To price fruit in the markets, they put a two kilo stone on one end of the beam, and they stack fruit on the other end, until it balances out. The assumption is very simple: the two kilo stone actually weighs two kilos. Do you hear what he's saying in Proverbs? Do not have differing weights for your scales. It was common for people to use one weight when they were buying something, but use a different weight when they were selling something, in order to make a better profit. God says, "I hate that kind of duplicity."

What God is trying to say to us is that there is a right place to stand on some fundamental issues. Let's think about Proverbs one more time, keeping in mind the four themes we learned from which to evaluate our American cultural idols. Think about the implications of relativity.

Let's imagine a truly relativistic world. I drove my car away from the tire shop, and I heard this really strange sound. I thought, That's odd; that wasn't happening earlier. I got out and looked, and my back tire was leaning about, oh, I don't know, maybe 10 or 12 degrees. Even a non-mechanic like me knew that wasn't good. I took it back to the tire shop, and they said, "Oh well, we forgot to tighten the lug nuts." Now, accidents like that happen. But in a relativistic culture, someone could say, "Well it's just your opinion that they need to be tight, I happen to think that lose lug nuts are good." Or your doctor says you need 150mg of x, so you got to the pharmacist who insists, "Oh weights and measures don't matter. what's a milligram here or a milligram there?" So they give you 300mg of what you're suppose to have a 150mg of. You don't want to live that way. In fact, you probably won't.

I have enormous regard for Billy Graham. Billy Graham had two standards that I have adopted in my life. He would never enter a motel room alone until somebody went in to make sure that nobody was there. He was such a public Christian that there was a real danger some photographer would plant a prostitute in his room and take a picture of Billy there to bring him down. He would have a car pick him up at the crusades; he would never get into that car until someone made sure of what was in that car. He had some basic standards to protect himself. I try never to go to a house where I know a woman will be by herself. I rarely ever travel in a car with someone who is a female who is not my wife if there is nobody else around. Sometimes it's really awkward and it makes it hard, but the difficulty is worth it. I'm about to go to Europe for two weeks, and I will not have a second thought about whether my wife will be faithful, nor will she question whether I will be. We've never given each other reason to doubt our faithfulness. This is the only way life really works. Proverbs says reflect on these things, ask good questions, be corrected by the people around you, and let them teach you something.

God honors honesty.

Does God have anything to say about this? Absolutely! He honors honesty. He honors truthfulness, he honors obedience to commands, he honors keeping of promises. God's character is what's at stake here. This is what God is. God does not break his word. Scripture says God cannot lie, and we're to be like him. That is an absolute.

God has delighted in telling us the truth, and the truth is that moral relativism will not work. We need to live our lives in such a way that is consistent with the absolutes of God. If you want to teach your children to be different than the world, you're going to have to be different. So when the phone rings and your daughter says, "Mom, phone's for you," and you say, "Tell her I'm in the bathtub," You can't walk into the bathroom and step in the tub. True, it's not lying, in a very literal sense, but what do you think your children have learned? We have to set the standards of truth in our homes and in our businesses. A business contract means little if offered by a dishonest hand.

I love the legend of Abraham Lincoln walking 187,000 miles to return two pennies. I love the legend because it taught me as a kid growing up that honesty was important. It's the kind of thing that would make me go back to the counter in Sam's Club and say, "You forgot to charge me for the bratwurst." I'd rather lose my dollar and 85 cents than lose my honor. If I'm gonna lose my integrity, it's going to cost a whole lot more than a $1.85. I hope there's no price I'd pay for that.

I just can't help but wonder what would happen in if every person in this building began to live by some absolutes. If we would just take our fundamental, core beliefs and live them out with consistency, what would happen to our neighbors as they began to see us be different people?


Cinderella Man is one of my favorite recent movies. It's the story of James Bradock, who was the Depression era boxer who basically threw his fighting career away after losing a bout and breaking his hand. He just kind of went into a depression and quit boxing much. The Depression hit, and his kids were starving. During the Depression in New York, lots of people were sending there kids to relatives in the country, because at least in the country you had a garden or a cow, and the kids could survive. So in one scene of the movie, Jay Brach, James' older son, stole a salami from the deli when there was no food in the house to eat. When his dad got home, he made his son take that salami back to the deli. His son explained that he stole the salami because he knew when his friends ran out of food, their parents sent them away. Now, if there's a good reason for stealing—to feed your brothers and sisters and keep your family together—that ought to be it, right? But listen to this dialogue: "His parents didn't have enough money for them to eat," Jay explains. James replies, "Yeah, well, things ain't easy at the moment, Jay, you're right, but there's a lot of people worse off than we are. And just 'cause things ain't easy, that don't give you the excuse to take whatever is not yours, does it? That's stealing, right? And we don't steal. No matter what happens, we don't steal, not ever. You got me? You gonna' give me your word?" "Yes" "Go on …" "I promise."

Can you imagine a community where every disciple of Jesus practiced that kind of honesty and consistency in his or her life? What a witness to the community that would be—if every disciple just decided to live by the truth, the best way they knew how, no matter what it cost. That's what you're called to—to let God have your life. You're called to live like a disciple of Jesus no matter what life brings you. Let's commit ourselves to that kind of life.

Chuck Sackett preaches at Madison Park Christian Church in Quincy, Illinois, and teaches Ministry and Bible at Lincoln Christian College and Seminary in Lincoln, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


I. A world of relativism

II. God honors honesty.