Situation Ethics

Written by Frank Jamerson.

Situation Ethics

1 Jn. 5:1-5


A. Situation ethics refers to the belief that the situation determines the standard of conduct and moral judgment.

1. Joseph Fletcher, who was an Episcopal theologian, wrote a book “Situation Ethics - the New Morality.” I heard him in Louisville, Ky. in 1966.

2. He said “for the situationist there are no rules - none at all...Only one thing is intrinsically good; namely love: nothing else at all” (p. 55).

3. His only absolute rule is that there are no absolutes.

B. He believed that Christ taught this theory and that Christianity has corrupted the teaching of Christ by pietism (individualizing piety), moralism (“micro-ethics” - such as trivializing over whose wife one sleeps with), and legalism (absolutising the Bible - believing that it is an absolute standard of right and wrong).

1. He said “thou shalt not commit adultery - ordinarily; thou shalt not lie - ordinarily” but “we should love people not principles,” and “unmarried love is superior to married un-love.”

2. Christ “individualized piety” by claiming sinlessness - “which of you convicts Me of sin” (Jn. 8:46) - therefore He corrupted Christianity!

3. He was totally moral - therefore the “micro-ethical” example (Heb. 4:15 “in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin”). His word (the law) teaches us to “Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thess. 5:22).

a. Does not say “the appearance of sin” - meaning if you think it appears sinful - means every form of evil.

b. Daughter wants to go to public beach - say “It appears to be sin”? To her, it may not appear sinful; now what?

c. Neighbor wants to know why you do not buy a lottery ticket - say “it appears to be sin”? Recent ad said “when you play the lottery, we all win.” (Says you give the money, we win!) But neighbor thinks he is “supporting the schools”! If he really wanted to support the schools, would give it to the schools - no, it is greed and covetousness (hopes he wins, and everybody else loses).

d. Some things are specifically condemned, others are judged by principles in God’s word.



A. Jesus did not reject the law of God:

1. He was accused of violating the Sabbath law (Mt. 12:1-13)

a. Working was forbidden, but eating was not (Dt. 23:25 “When you come into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the heads with your hand, but you shall not use a sickle on your neighbor’s standing grain”).

b. His appeal to David’s action showed their inconsistency. They “condemned the guiltless” (v. 7), while defending David’s action, which was “not lawful” (v. 4).

c. His healing the man with a withered hand was compared to lifting a sheep out of the ditch (v. 11).

d. David broke the law, but God showed mercy. There is no need for mercy, if you don’t break the law! Even if the disciples had broken the law, Pharisees could have shown some mercy. (Jn. 8:1-11 Jesus showed mercy, without approving of the woman’s action - He said “go and sin no more.”) It does not prove that we can violate God’s law because of the circumstances.

2. Jesus violated their traditions, but not the law, and certainly did not teach that they were not under any law - except love (v. 12 - Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath”)


B. The “love principle” perverts truth about love:

1. “Love” is neither good, nor bad within itself (a moral neuter).

a. Depends upon what you love and how you show that love.

b. One man loves righteousness and another loves wickedness. One shows love for friends by dying for them; other shows love for himself by murdering his enemies.

c. It does no good go tell a person to act in love - unless you tell him what to love and how to show it.

2. Fletcher’s situation - making love justify sin:

a. Mrs. Bergmeir, a Russian in German prison - only way to get out terminal illness or pregnant; used a German guard! Fletcher called that “the loving thing to do.”

b. The illustration shows that she used the guard as a “thing,” (“we use things; we love people”); Did he have a family? Was she concerned about him, or herself?

3. It deifies man - implies he can know the results of his choices.

a. Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12

b. Young people, or older ones, may think the passion of the moment will bring true happiness. Many times brings long-term sorrow.

c. Who says that having sexual relations is better than chastity?

d. “Casual sex is merely another name for man’s inhumanity to man. The real sin in casual sex is not the act itself, which is purely biological, of course, but the exploitation of human personality...Prostitution, for instance, is wrong mostly because it degrades the prostitute, making her an object for the gratification of man, rather then a person respected in her own right” (William Banowski, in debate with Anson Mount, (Oct. 8, 1967). (Mount said: “A white lie is a lie that you tell because you are doing good by telling it; We do not say casual sex is necessarily wrong...For some people in some situations, casual sex may be better than no sex at all.” That’s the playboy philosophy).

Which is right, and how do you know?


C. The true love (1 Jn. 5:1-3).

1. God tells us who to love and how to love.

a. To love God is first priority (Mk. 12:29-31). We show our love by keeping His commandments, not by breaking them!

b. To love our neighbor is second - we show that by doing for him what God teaches.

Lying, stealing, committing fornication, etc. is never the loving thing to do.

2. The “love principle” does not give us freedom to play around without feeling guilty. It forces us to realize that man must have someone greater than himself to tell him what to love and how to show it.            



There is some truth in every false system. The Bible does not give a catalog list of every sinful practice, but applying Biblical principles is not rejecting the Bible as the standard (Eccl. 12:13).

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