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16 January 2008

The Principle of the Thing

A principle is sort of like a template -- specific situations in the category of that principle will just plug in and go. For instance, the principle that one should not have a double-standard; what we say is good for others should also be good for us. Once that guiding template has been established, it should apply to situations large and small throughout our lives.

We should teach our children standards and principles, and they should be based on the Word of God, common sense, and good manners (all of which should work very happily together). When we're all growed up, though, our efforts to teach other growed-ups "the principle of the thing" can often be based in self-centeredness.

"I can't believe he's done that again! Well, this time I'm just not going to help him, because he should have know better." In some cases this is a very wise thing to say -- if your fourth-cousin-in-law has just gotten arrested for possession of drugs, for instance, it may not be wise to bail him out of jail (and you probably shouldn't have bailed him out the first time).

"Why should I help her?! She never helps me." In saying this, we kid ourselves into thinking that we're about to teach this person a very valuable life lesson that we already know but she doesn't (she should help people, just like we always do, doggone it!), when in fact we're simply frosted and don't want to help. Chances are great that if we do help, we're a lot more likely to teach this person the lesson that we claim is so important.

Jesus said, "“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for He is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked." (Luke 6:35, NLT) If we consider our enemy to be the least common denominator, how much more should we carry this principle over to those who are close to us?

Assuming that someone is always driven by the worst possible motives (which can lead to efforts of principle-teaching) also goes against Philippans 2:3: "Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves."

Just as some of our pet peeves are rooted in helpful logic and common sense and aren't necessarily just things that annoy us, what I write this morning does not apply to every single situation. However, my guess -- based on first-hand experience -- is that you will definitely know when you're wrongly trying to teach someone "the principle of the thing," because you're probably not going to feel very Christ-like at that moment.


Preston N said...

This "principle" is called by many other names such as moral obligation, natural law, right reason, common sense, or the "first truths of reason". Which ever one of these you want to call it, its what makes all of us accountable and without excuse before God. We can not blame our poor behavior on anyone but ourselves because we all are born with common sense of what is right and wrong. Throughout history mankind has recognized this in various ways - one example is by reading the Declaration of Independence. The first paragraph is about this very "principle", whereby it states "We hold these Truths to be Self-evident".

A good "principle" example would be that in all cultures across the globe cowardliness is never considered virtuous - but bravery is. Why is it whenever we watch something like the Christmas Carol we never see people cheering or sympathizing for Scrooges selfishness or hardness of heart? Why is it when we watch Braveheart we never root for King Longshanks? And if we do see someone do such a thing (which is rare I might add) we would say that person lacks common sense or is not mentally well. For me this is what it means that we are made in God's image - that we have a small fragment of God's sense of right and wrong endowed within (I realize for some this might sound heretical - but just think about it a little).

Dean Lusk said...

Not exactly where I was headed with the post, but good observations!

If you've read C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity," you'll have seen some of the same ideas that Preston has mentioned here.

If you haven't read the book, be sure to put it right after "The Pilgrim's Progress" in your reading queue.

Christy said...

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This Golden Rule is used in our home on a daily basis. I continually remind my children that things would go so much nicer for them if they would remember it and put it into practice.

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