You’ve probably seen, or heard, the phrase “You can’t legislate morality” if you’ve ever gotten into a discussion about certain moral issues and laws related to those issues. At first glance, it seems like a perfectly legitimate belief to have. The problem comes when we examine the laws, all the laws that we have and realize that there is a moral element to each law, and the passing of that law is a snapshot of the moral stands of the legislature at the time. “But we have laws against theft – how is that moral legislation?“ you might ask. Laws against theft are based on the idea that people ought to be able to own personal property and someone else shouldn’t be able to take it from you. If our moral imperative was that might makes right, then laws against theft would go away and be replaced by the concept of might makes right. Does that begin to make sense?
The truth is that you can’t legislate people becoming moral. For instance, we have laws designed to prevent discrimination regarding many different areas of life: skin color, gender, etc. We still have people who hate others because of their skin color or gender. While we have legislated morality, we have not changed the morals. That is a long-term process. As a Christian, I believe that the way to change the morals of people is through changed hearts that come about because of the forgiveness and grace of Jesus Christ. Demetrius, a silversmith in Ephesus, recognized what was happening as more and more people followed Christ in Ephesus. He realized that as more people rejected belief in idols, his business, which included making shrines to Artemis, would go downhill. So he called all the people who would be affected by this change in world view together and got them upset. “When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28)
A riot broke out. Paul was ready to jump in to explain, and preach Christ through the riot, but his companions in Ephesus kept him out of the fray. This riot was about economics that were suffering because the moral outlook, the world view of people was changing. It wasn’t legislation that changed people. It was the grace of God that was beginning to make an impact on the people of Ephesus. I’m wondering if perhaps Demetrius was having other issues with Christians as rather than worrying about decorations and silver bling, these newly formed Christians began worrying more about people than about things. This was a time when Christians were changed people who changed society. Things became less important, meeting the needs of people became more important.
These days it seems more like society is changing the values of Christians. We, and I include myself in this group, have gone back to the day when things, when stuff, when material goods have become important in our lives. We have accumulated so much debt to buy stuff that will break or fade away that we aren’t able to care for others in their need. We have the newest cars, the newest technology, and the newest houses…and the largest debt, but we don’t have the money to care for the needs of the poor. We struggle to give any money to the church, let alone the 10% that Jesus commended the Pharisees for. At the same time, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for not caring for people in need. (Matthew 23:23-24) We have legislation that enforces a form of caring for the poor, but that legislation hasn’t changed the hearts of many who still look down on the poor. Maybe God’s people need to seek Him and realize that God cares more about people who are poor than me getting the newest stuff.
Oh Lord, how we’ve turned things upside down in our world. Christians are more concerned with things than for people. Help me to be more concerned about people and less worried about stuff.