The Turning Point in Western Ethics – by Eliezer Gonzalez

Jun 15, 2015 1624

Lift-UpThe turning point in Western culture, the moment in which the ethics of Western Civilisation were transformed, is found in the Bible. Here it is:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. – Phil 2:5­–8

Before this moment, to be humble was universally considered a shameful and degrading thing in Western culture. If you had power or wealth, you flaunted it and used it to further advance your own position over those of others. If you showed any kindness or generosity to others it was only to serve your own ends.

But Jesus Christ changed everything.

The Apostle Paul describes Jesus Christ as humbling himself to the point of becoming a slave, and even dying the death that only slaves and the worst of non-Roman criminals died – the death of the cross. The point is that he does it not to benefit himself in any way, but purely out of totally disinterested love for others. And there’s the gospel.

However this was horrifyingly foreign to the ethics of Western culture up until that time. It was a culture in which honour was everything, and status was to be sought at all costs. Everyone had their place in society, defined by birth: Romans were above barbarians, and the wealthy were above the poor, and men were above women.

Yet now, following the example of Jesus, the teaching of the early Christians was, Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Rom 12:10). This turned all the values of civilized society upside down. You see, if God sacrificed so much for the salvation of even the lowest of the low, then all of human life is infinitely valuable.

It is true that since that time there have been throughout the history of Western culture many forces that have pulled society away from this Christian ethic, and they are still evident today. However, we can trace the results of this new Christian ethic in the history of the Western culture as we look at the best of its contribution to the world today: in the development of the concept of human rights, the abolition of slavery, the emancipation of women.

Unfortunately, secular society today obscures the reality that all of these things have their origins in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Rather than complaining about society, we should realise that each one of us can influence it, even one relationship at a time. The words of Paul in Philippians 2:5­–8 remain a moral, ethical, and spiritual challenge for us all.

– Eliezer Gonzalez

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