Grace Fuels Ethics
Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, â€œWhen you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.â€ But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, â€œWhy have you done this, and let the male children live?â€ The midwives said to Pharaoh, â€œBecause the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.â€ So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, â€œEvery son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.â€ [Exodus 1:15-22]
Probably one of the first things you think when reading this text is: "Wait a secondâ€¦ the midwives told a lie. That's bad, right? But it helped them out, so does that mean it's okay to lie to accomplish good?" This is a confusing ethical dilemma, and the essence of it is familiar to many of us. Is it okay to break the law of God in order to bring about "the greater good?" Does the end justify the means, when the means are obviously sin in themselves? If my boss wants me to conduct business dishonestly, and threatens my job security if I don't comply, should I do it? What if my marriage or the lives of my children depend on it? Do I lie to get ahead in life, or preserve my life, or even to preserve the lives of others? Do I cheat, steal, or otherwise go against God's character and expressed will, because the outcome will be better than if I don't?
These are hard questions, but there are answers. The temptation common to these questions is this: if I would just break God's commandment, I can get the life for myself that I think is best. The temptation is to manage our own destinies. The Hebrew midwives feared God and didn't kill the male childrenâ€”hooray! But when their lives were in jeopardy for having disobeyed Pharaoh, they figured the best way out of this fix was to lie, which is disobedience to God. True, God had not previously commanded them not to lie, but neither had he previously commanded them to preserve life. They knew enough about the character of Godâ€”as do we allâ€”that they knew his will for their lives. They feared God and disobeyed Pharaohâ€¦ then when under pressure they feared Pharaoh and disobeyed God.
But good came about from it, right? So everything's okay in the end, right? Wrong. The problem is this: the midwives gave in to the temptation to take care of things for themselves, because their instinct was, "If I obey God and tell the truth, I'm deadâ€¦ I don't want to die, so I'll lie." They didn't trust in God's supreme and good providence. They could have said, "If I tell the truth, God can preserve me from Pharaoh's wrath." Or they could have said, "If I tell the truth, and Pharaoh kills me, it's God's good plan for my lifeâ€”NOT proof that he has abandoned me." But they gave in to the lie, "If I obey God, things will go badly for me, because God doesn't care for me like I can care for myself." The temptation is to disbelieve his favorable providence in your life, because it really doesn't appear that things are going your way.
The way to hold up under such temptation is this: believe! Persecution and temptation are aimed at one thing only, and that is the eradication of your faith in God. So we must believe that God has good in mind for us, even if it looks like our suffering and death. We can be assured of this good intention toward us as we see his love demonstrated toward us in Christ. Because Christ died for sinners, we know that God will never strip away our good eternal destiny. Because of Christ, we know that all things work together for good for his peopleâ€”even if being his people means we lose our families or jobs or lives.
And this good news is even better when you realize that you don't have to be perfect to deserve this kind treatment from God. Jesus came to save sinners, not "righteous people" (as if there really were such a thing). Sinners are the only kind of people God saves and blesses. The Hebrew midwives sinned, and God blessed them anyway, not because they had been really clever to lie to Pharaoh, but because he is a gracious and powerful God with a good destiny in mind for them. God truly has wonderful providence in store for people just like you and me, if our faith is in him through Jesus Christ.
So you can stand firm in your faith in the face of temptation and persecution, and say, "I don't know how God's going to work this out, because things look pretty bad right now, but whatever it is must be good, and so I will trust him with my life and do what he has called and commanded me to do." Looking to Jesus, you can resist sin, even to the point of shedding blood.
"When Germanicus, a young man and true Christian, was delivered to the wild lions on account of his faith, he behaved with such astonishing courage that several pagans were converted to the faith that inspired such braveryâ€¦." [John Foxe's Book of Martyrs]
When God's grace fuels your ethics, you can live the beautiful and faithful kind of life that will either make people want to kill you, or make them fall in love with your Savior, to the glory of God.