Category Archives: Ethics


Pastor Ray’s blog Raykliu is continued in Rayliu1.

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Parable of the Hidden Treasure (1 of 2)

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Q. I read a famous author interpreting the treasure as international peace, and the secret to world peace is Israel. Most commentators interpret the treasure as either Christ or the Church. Is the author’s interpretation valid?

A. No, I think his interpretation did not take all clues into consideration. The parable is given only in Mt 13:44:
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

Since it consists of only one verse, we need to draw clues from its immediate and wider context in addition to the text itself. But before we do that lets look at the historical and cultural background.

Historical Background. In the old days people typically store up their savings in the form of silver coins (Lk 15:8). There were bankers where you can deposit your money and receive it back with interest (Mt 25:27), but not all trust them and would rather keep the money themselves. Some store it at home, where thieves break in and steal (Mt 6:19-20). To keep it safe some dig a hole in a field and hide it there. However, with periodic wars between Israel and her enemies, and between Judah and Israel, people get killed and their treasures were forgotten, giving rise to the possibility of finding treasures hidden in fields.

Legality and Ethics. Scholars have raised questions re the legality of the man buying the field to get the treasure, and his ethics in not turning over the treasure to the field’s owner. Though strange to the Western mind, his action was actually both legal and ethical under Jewish law.

The man found the treasure in someone else’ field. Either he was there without the owner’s permission, or he was there with approval, employed by the owner as a laborer. If the former, he would be trespassing, an intruder. He could simply steal the treasure. He need not buy the field.

If the latter, there are two possibilities when he found the treasure. Either the field’s owner already knew of it being there, or he has no idea that a treasure existed. The former is unlikely as the owner would have removed the treasure for himself. In any event, the laborer would be the owner’s agent, and anything he finds belongs to the owner. If the latter, then the treasure did not belong to the field’s owner, because he could not lay claim to something he didn’t even know existed.

However, the laborer did not know whether the treasure was hidden by the field’s owner himself, or whether he had no knowledge of it whatsoever. The only way to test the vendor’s knowledge and claim the treasure legitimately at the same time is to buy the field. If the vendor hid it himself or knew of the treasure, he would have extracted it before the deal is closed. If he didn’t, then finders keepers applies, and the purchaser becomes the treasure’s owner. The morality is similar to finding sunken treasure in an old shipwreck. The original owners have expired a long time ago and whoever finds it can claim it. Everything the man did was legal and ethical under Jewish law.

(To be continued)

Occupy Central – Dark Forces in the Shadow

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Yesterday I referred to a re-blog of a good background article. The original was written by Tony Cartalucci, a geopolitical researcher and analyst based in Thailand. Here are links to his recent posts:

Power of Attorney

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Of all the decisions a person has to make in his lifetime, one of the most difficult is when he is acting as power of attorney (poa) for loved ones. For aging parents, this responsibility often falls on their grown children. It is never easy when the parents have an illness or accident and become unable to decide for themselves, and the children have to decide whether to resuscitate and approve aggressive treatment for the parents. Although I have no medical knowledge, sometimes church members would seek my advice as their pastor in family meetings. Accordingly I would like to suggest a few thoughts for consideration.

While most of the attention will be focused on the physical condition of the patient, I believe one crucial factor is the spiritual state, “Is the parent saved?” Physical life is valuable, but it’s also transient. The life expectancy at birth in Canada is 79 for men, and 83 for women. At age 65, it’s a further 19 years for men, 22 years for women. Although life expectancies had climbed slowly over the years due to medical advances, life is still short. But the next life is eternal, and so where the parents will spend eternity is of paramount importance.

Some families have waited till the last moments before calling their pastor to share the gospel with their parents. Although hearing is one of the last faculties to go, and you can still witness to patients on their death-bed by speaking into their ears, it shouldn’t have to wait so late. Every Christian should make it a priority to share the gospel with their family members. You never know how much time a person has, so do it sooner rather than later. If your parents aren’t saved yet, choose resuscitation to give them an opportunity to hear the gospel before they pass into eternity, other things being equal.

If the salvation of the parents is already assured, then their age and physical condition become pivotal. Here we are weighing the duration or quantity of physical life against the quality. If they are relatively young (say in their 80’s), in reasonable health overall and therefore able to sustain surgery with good recovery, and lengthy, difficult-to-bear treatments such as chemotherapy is not required, then by all means take the operation.

If, however, they are senile and in poor health, suffering from other ailments and not enjoying life with dignity, then it may not be in their best interests to undergo surgery or other aggressive treatment to prolong their stay. It is better to let nature runs its course, and not intervene when it’s time for them to go. Having said that, no aggressive treatment does not mean “do not treat”. It simply means no invasive surgery or other drastic means to prolong life as much as possible. The medical staff would still treat pains, fevers, hydration, hunger, warmth etc., making the patient as comfortable as possible while allowing nature to take over.

The hard cases are the in-between ones, and each family has to wrestle with what’s best for the patient, not its own convenience. The best is to discuss with the parents while they are in good health, as to what their wishes are when such calamities come. This lifts the burden from the children’s shoulders, and allows them to execute the decisions the parents made for themselves. Hope this helps.

Comments on Covenant to Pastor Homosexuals

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Recently a brother sent me a copy of a declaration co-signed by 26 leading pastors and seminary principals in Hong Kong, on a commitment to pastoral care for homosexuals,
as well as an open letter by a well-known evangelist in response to the declaration.
He asked whether I have any comments on both. I am a retired pastor and a missionary, not a scholar, but here are my comments:

Regarding the joint declaration by the church leaders, their intention to be inclusive is good, but in trying to emphasize the love of God to reach out to homosexuals I think they have given up too much on the holiness of God.
As pointed out in the open letter, there was little mention on homosexuality being wrong and an abomination to God. The whole tone is conciliatory towards gays.

I hold homosexuality to be sin.
As to sexual orientation, the Bible is silent. The cosigners seem to accept the view that some gays are born that way and not something they have a choice in. By implication since God made them that way, it’s not their fault. I am not convinced of this view myself. But even if it is, my view is that gays are still responsible, as their orientation would be similar to every one’s sinful nature.
I can’t say because I’m born a sinner, therefore I must give in to sin. Similarly a gay person can’t say because I’m born gay; therefore I must give in to homosexuality.

Regarding the open letter, generally I find the analysis to be good, except the claim that since God can tolerate the Amorites 400 years (Gen 15:13-16) but has to judge the Sodomites immediately, therefore sodomy must be worse than the other sins. This is not the only possible explanation, because:
* Homosexuality is listed among other sins which equally damn a person from entering the kingdom of heaven;
* God may have given the Sodomites plenty of time already, but they still have not repented. They ran out of time; therefore judgment came.
Other than this I believe the critique to be fair and solidly based on the Bible.

Are White Lies Ok?

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Q. I was witnessing to a very smart 13-year-old girl who has an inquiring mind. She asked me, a little boy drew a picture, if she tell him the picture is beautiful to make him happy, would that be a sin? If she tells him the truth, it would hurt his feelings. I said, saying something that is not true is lying, but there are white lies, I lie too. I know that she is not satisfied with my answer, but I didn’t know how else to answer her. Please advise how I should answer her. Come to think of it, Moses lied to his father-in-law (Ex 4:18), Rahab lied to protect and save the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:4-6). God did not condemn them for their sin of lying.

A. I wrote a series on Falsehood last Fall. My comments on Rahab are in:
But what about white lies? They don’t hurt anyone, do they? Everyone does it, so it’s ok? Many have asked this question, so I will elaborate a bit besides giving you my opinion.

To some, a lie is a lie, and all lies are sin, with no exceptions.
Eph 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
• Lk 16:10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.

A white lie is a little falsehood, but it shows the character of the person that he will do what’s expedient. When larger issues are at stake, he will be dishonest with much to protect himself, and therefore cannot be trusted. All these are true, and we have to very careful about avoiding lies. But before we get to that I have a fundamental question, “What is lying?”

Some feel lying is deception. Others add “deliberate” because we may give a false impression inadvertently, without ourselves even knowing it, but others are somehow “deceived”. I define lying to be immoral deception, and not all deceptions are immoral. For example, a fake move in sports is a deliberate deception, but it is not immoral. In war, we are not obligated to tell the enemy the whole truth and nothing but the truth. They have no right to know our military secrets, as their intention is to kill and destroy. To tell the enemy the truth would be immoral, and withholding information from them to protect our citizens is moral.

My position in ethical issues is graded absolutism. That is, I believe there are higher and lower laws. In ethical dilemmas, you choose the greater good. Since the greater law supersedes the lesser law, in choosing to abide by the greater law we are not held accountable and charged under the lesser law, just as an ambulance is not charged for crossing a red light when it is rushing to save lives in emergencies.

I think Aristotle’s rule is helpful here. He said honesty is:
• speaking the right truth (subject)
• to the right person (object)
• at the right time (timing)
• in the right way (manner)
• for the right reason (motive).

We don’t have the right to disclose truths shared in confidence, and not every person has a right to know. Some meant harm, others are just nosy. A truth shared at the wrong time still hurts, and sometimes our attitude is more important than what was said. Finally what is our motivation in disclosing truths? Is it correct? These are all important considerations when we share or withhold information tactfully.

If you think that’s only Aristotle and not Scripture, just look at how Jesus dealt with individuals:
• Subject: While Jesus is the truth (Jn 14:6) and truth came through Him (Jn 1:17);
• Object: He refused to answer the chief priests and elders (Mt 21:27; Mk 11:33; Lk 20:8);
• Timing: He delayed disclosing Himself to the Samaritan woman at the well (Jn 4:26);
• Manner: He confronted the woman caught in adultery after He forgave her (Jn 8:11); and
• Motive: He did what He did because He did not come to judge, but to save (Jn 12:47).
Aristotle’s rule described His conduct very well.

That much for principles. Now how do I apply it in your case. First, is there a higher moral law to obey than to speak the truth? Are there lives to save? Is national security at stake? In your example, there is none, and there is no real reason not to tell the truth. Second, as the boy is the one who drew the picture, his right to know is legitimate. Third, timing does not appear to be an issue in this particular instance. Fourth, the manner needs to be tactful. We want to build up the boy, not tear him down. Fifth, the teenager’s motive is not to hurt the boy’s feelings, which is honorable, but not sufficient to justify withholding the truth.

There are other considerations as well. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Few people would call insects and pests beautiful, but when God created them He pronounced them “good”. And from the perspective of design, symmetry they are beautiful works of art. Is she evaluating his picture with her subjective teenage standard, or is she comparing his composition to other young children?

So taking all the above into account, I would suggest instead of simply saying “It’s beautiful!” or “It’s ugly!”, she should first tell him what’s good about his picture, and then how he can improve it. Showing him the areas of improvement is a positive way of building him up, and a gentle way to let him know it is not fully satisfactory and does not meet all expectations yet. You have not lied and you are encouraging him at the same time. You are being true to both God and man. Others may have better solutions, but that’s my approach. Hope that helps.

Response to “Just Because He Breathes”

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Q. What’s your response to this story? read before reading this post.)

A. A reader forwarded the above article to me asking for my comments. I read the post, watched the 1/2 hour video by the parents Rob and Linda on YouTube, and read the letter the father wrote to his gay son Ryan. However, I have not read the blog in its entirety.

I have never gone through the struggles that Ryan had, nor the pain that the parents endured as they wrestled with their son’s sexuality. I have not walked in their shoes, and am not judging my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But since someone asked for my opinion, I write with a certain heaviness of heart, knowing my own shortcomings, and the fact that no matter what we do or how we feel, it will be inadequate.

First of all, I want to affirm the unconditional love the parents have for their son. For the first 6 years, from when Ryan told his mom at age 12 that he was gay, to age 18 when he gave up on God, they did everything they could to steer Ryan back. But according to them they acted out of fear. Then, from the time Ryan dropped out of their lives for 18 months, to his subsequent returning home, till his death at age 20 from drug overdose, the parents changed to living by faith. They learned to accept Ryan the way he was, in their words “as God made him to be”. They changed from fighting or resisting Ryan’s condition, to accommodating and embracing Ryan’s lifestyle, “just so long as he breathes”. I wish I could have the love they have for their son. They have done more than many parents I know, ourselves included. But as much as I see them to be strong evangelical Christians and loving parents, I do not share their position on compromising God’s holiness, as they would celebrate if Ryan were to be wedded in a same-sex marriage.

There has always been a dynamic tension between God’s love and His righteousness and holiness. As love God forgives, accepts and receives. But God is also holy and righteous, and cannot tolerate sin. He does not leave the guilty unpunished; otherwise He would not be just. When we over-emphasize His righteousness at the expense of His love, we are left with a cold, stern judge. However, when we stress His love at the expense of His righteousness, we end up with a diluted “love wins” theology and a God who is less than God because He accommodates sin. And my understanding of Scripture is that homosexual activity is sin, which God abhors.

We do not have a case of our Lord dealing with homosexuals in the gospels, but there is a case of a woman caught in adultery. When the scribes and the Pharisees brought her to Jesus, He told her “neither do I condemn you“. But He did not stop there, He continued “Go now and leave your life of sin.”(Jn 8:11) He forgave her but confronted her sin, commanding her to leave her life of sin behind. What would Jesus do in Ryan’s case? I think He would have done something similar. He would not condemn him; He would love him; but He would also require that he leave his lifestyle behind. Some would find this position to be harsh and easy to say, but impossible for a gay person to deny his inward desire. But Heb 12:4 said “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” It’s a decision each person have to make for himself.

Christians more Restricted?

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Q. Christians know what the Bible approves or disapproves. Aren’t they less free than non-Christians as there are so many restrictions?

A. No, Christians are not less free, non-Christians are. First the logic. People assume that if you don’t know, you can do whatever you want, but ignorance is no excuse. Say you were driving 60 km/hr in a 40 km/hr zone but did not notice the signs, and you were stopped by a police car. Can you say to the policeman, “Officer, this ticket is not justified, as I did not know the speed limit”? Of course not. He’ll ignore your plead of innocence and give you the ticket, because knowing or not knowing, you have broken the law. So both Christians and non-Christians are guilty when they break God’s law, only the latter is ignorant of the fact and can’t prevent it.

Secondly, the reality. Because of our sinful nature, we are sold as a slave to sin. We cannot carry out the good we want to do, nor can we stop doing the evil we do not want to do:
Rom 7:14-15 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
• Rom 7:18-19 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.
• Rom 7:24-25 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

In short , non-Christians are under bondage to sin, but Christians are delivered by Jesus Christ and set free from the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Non-Christians are unable not to sin, while Christians are able not to sin when they do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. So non-Christians are bound, whereas Christians are free depending on their choice.

Third, our Lord’s assessment. Jn 8:32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. When we know and obey the truth, we will be sanctified and become more like Jesus. True freedom is not free to sin as much as we want, but free not to sin as we ought to as children of God. To think otherwise indicates a lack of spiritual maturity.

What is Truth?

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As part of our TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification, we had to examine how dictionaries evolved over time, and what that tells us about our changing society. One particular exercise involved comparing the meaning of “truth” in the 1828, 1913 and 2012 editions of Webster’s dictionary, which I found to be very interesting.


Webster’s 1828 edition has thirteen definitions of truth, while both the 1913 and 2012 editions have four. However, the four definitions in the later editions have multiple parts, so some of the secondary meanings in the first edition are in fact embedded within the latter’s multi-part definitions. Rather than compare each part in detail, some revealing observations can be made by examining the most important first definition, as well as what’s included and what’s dropped.

Both the 1828 and 1913 editions define truth as conformity to fact or reality. Both assumed the existence of an external standard which is factual and real, and truth is that which conforms to this objective standard. Furthermore, this exact accordance is with that which is, or has been, or shall be. In other words, the standard is unchanging, or absolute. What was true in the past, is true in the present, and will be true in the future.

In contrast, the 2012 edition defines truth as sincerity in action, character, and utterance. In other words, truth is subjective. If one is sincere in what he does, in who he is, and what he says, then that is truth to him. What he believes in may not conform to fact or reality, but that does not matter, because truth is relative, not absolute. This reveals that “educated society” has abandoned the notion of absolute truth in favor of relative truth, and relativism has become the foundation.

Secondly, Webster’s 1828 edition quoted only from the Bible for examples of what constituted proper usage of the words. The 1913 edition still quoted from the Bible, but added examples from other literary authorities such as Shakespeare, Coleridge, Mortimer etc. The 2012 dropped references from the Bible altogether. What this reflected is a drift away from Scripture as the final authority, to the Bible as one source amongst many, to the Bible being no longer regarded as authoritative and relevant. No wonder we are facing so many problems, and people are throwing up their hands in despair!


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Q. Rom 2:15 says, “since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.” What about the case of people raised by gay couples? Won’t they consider homosexuality as normal since that’s all they have been taught while growing up?

A. That certainly makes it more difficult for them to know right from wrong, but parents are not the only influence. Conscience, as defined by Easton’s Bible Dictionary, is “that faculty of the mind, or inborn sense of right and wrong, by which we judge of the moral character of human conduct. It is common to all men.” In the Bible it is spoken of as “defiled” and “seared”:
Tit 1:15 To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.
• 1 Tim 4:2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,

which would apply to those raised under adverse conditions.

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But children are not influenced by parents alone. They are also affected by teachers, peers, the media, and society at large. That’s why gay proponents have been working hard to infiltrate the education system, television, and the music industry to shape the minds of the young to their worldview and value system. Christians have been losing influence, but all is not lost yet, as God had written a sense of right and wrong in people’s hearts:
Rom 2:15 who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

That was true in Jesus’ times e.g. with those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery:
John 8:9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last.
and it is true today, though the effect is waning.

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That is why we need to multiply our efforts in sharing the gospel, as the blood of Christ is the only means to cleanse men’s hearts and an evil conscience:
Heb 9:14 how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
• Heb 10:22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

The desired result is a conscience without offense:
Ac 24:16 “This being so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men,
which is both good (Acts 23:1; 1 Tim 1:5, 19; Heb 13:18; 1 Pet 3:16; 2 Pet 3:21) and pure (1 Tim 3:9; 2 Tim 1:3).