I would like to share a few ideas on ethics from Gregg Ten Elshof’s book, Confucius for Christians.
Here’s an excerpt from the Analects of Confucius (14:34), “Someone asked, ‘What do you think of the saying, ‘Requite injury with kindness’? The Master replied, ‘With what, then, would one requite kindness? Requite injury with uprightness and kindness with kindness’.”
According to Confucius, the good person must respond in context. There is no fixed pattern of behavior and attitude that works in every circumstance. We can observe from the gospel accounts that Jesus was sensitive to relational dynamics in his dealings with others. Jesus doesn’t teach that one’s response to everyone should be the same – there are varying instructions unique to the kind of relationship being addressed (i.e. “Children, obey your parents…”). (p. 49)
“He (Jesus) invites his disciples to follow him into the nitty-gritty circumstances of life in his time where his behavior is, one must say, sometimes really quite surprising and unpredictable. He tells stories that illustrate the condition of the good and bad heart. But he does not seem terribly interested in the project of articulating anything like a completed moral code.” (p. 58)
“But, for those of us who’ve been caught up in the attempt to codify the ethics of Jesus, the Confucian emphasis on context-sensitivity and the centrality of the master-apprentice relationship for the civilization of the moral life may call attention in a new way to the emphasis on discipleship in Jesus’ strategy for bringing his students into the Way.” (pp. 59-60)
“Reflection on the Confucian Way can alert us to the degree to which we’ve overestimated the efficacy of codified ethics for making actual moral progress.” (p. 62)
These ideas are a good reminder to me that following the Way of Jesus for me must be worked out and lived each day in the specific situation(s) that I find myself in. It’s not so simple to study Jesus’ life and then follow a code. He wants us to stay connected to Him in relationship and following Him is an adventure. We need His wisdom, presence and the power of His Holy Spirit to actually act and think in ways that are most pleasing to Him in the circumstances that we find ourselves in each day. This can be fun and exciting and also challenging. A fun recent example for me is a friendship that I have started with a man who is so different from me. Another example is a challenge that I had to overcome to send a difficult letter to a friend who is continuing on a self destructive path. It was a hard letter that I didn’t want to send, but I believed God wanted me to communicate some truths to this friend (in a spirit of love, of course).