Sermon quotes on ethics

Wendell Berry

Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.


G.K. Chesterton

The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.

G.K. Chesterton

If you happen to read fairy tales, you will observe that one idea runs from one end of them to the other–the idea that peace and happiness can only exist on some condition. This idea, which is the core of ethics, is the core of the nursery-tales.

Erich Fromm

There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as ‘moral indignation,’ which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue.” 

Man for Himself: An Inquiry into the Psychology of Ethics

Richard B. Hays

God has chosen to save the world through the cross, through the shameful and powerless death of the crucified Messiah. If that shocking event is the revelation of the deepest truth about the character of God, then our whole way of seeing the world is turned upside down… all values are transformed… God refuses to play games of power and prestige on human terms.


Timothy Keller

A friend who attended a prestigious MBA program once told me about the business ethics course he took there. The professor counseled honest business practices for two reasons. First, if you lie or cheat you may be caught, and that would be bad for business. Second, if people in the company know they are working in an honest business, that will boost morale . . . ‘Tell the truth–because it’s to your own advantage,’ was the counsel. What happens, however, when you inevitable come to situations in which telling the truth would cost you dearly? What happens when telling a particular lie would be stupendously advantageous to you?

Martin Luther King Jr.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.


Ursula K. Le Guin

For we each of us deserve everything, every luxury that was ever piled in the tombs of the dead kings, and we each of us deserve nothing, not a mouthful of bread in hunger. Have we not eaten while another starved? Will you punish us for that? Will you reward us for the virtue of starving while others ate? No man earns punishment, no man earns reward. Free your mind of the idea of deserving, the idea of earning, and you will begin to be able to think.
 The Dispossessed

C.S. Lewis

Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.


Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Human will-power alone is not enough. Will-power is excellent and we should always be using it; but it is not enough. A desire to live a good life is not enough. Obviously we should all have that desire, but it will not guarantee success. So let me put it thus: Hold on to your principles of morality and ethics, use your willpower to the limit, pay great heed to every noble, uplifting desire that is in you; but realize that these things alone are not enough, that they will never bring you to the desired place. We have to realize that all our best is totally inadequate, that a spiritual battle must be fought in a spiritual manner.

Peter Singer

What one generation finds ridiculous, the next accepts; and the third shudders when it looks back on what the first did. 

David Foster Wallace

Am I a good person? Deep down, do I even really want to be a good person, or do I only want to seem like a good person so that people (including myself) will approve of me? Is there a difference? How do I ever actually know whether I’m bull******myself, morally speaking?
 Consider the Lobster and Other Essays


Fyodor Dostoevsky

Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end… but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature … And to found that edifice on its unavenged tears: would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell me the truth!”

The Brothers Karamazov

G.K. Chesterton

The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has to-day all the exhilaration of a vice.

The Defendant

Stanley Hauerwas

The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works, but rather who God is.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection. The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.

Romano Guardini

In the Beatitudes something of the celestial grandeur breaks through. They are no mere formulas for superior ethics, but tidings of sacred and supreme reality’s entry into the world.

The Lord, Regnery Publishing, 1954.

Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells

God has given his people everything they need. What he wants is for them to worship him, be his friends, and eat with him. Through employing what he has given them to these ends, they will become the people he wants them to be. So to understand Christian ethics, it is necessary to explore the gifts God gives to his people. We shall explore how God gives his people one gift, Jesus, in three forms. . . . Each of these three meanings is conveyed by the term “the body of Christ.”

The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics  (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), 16.

A.M. Hunter

The New Testament makes it clear that the early Church’s message always …had two aspects—one theological, the other ethical: (i) the Gospel which the apostles preached; and (ii) the Commandment, growing out of the Gospel, which they taught to those who accepted the Gospel. The Gospel was a declaration of what God, in his grace, had done for men through Christ; the Commandment was a statement of what God required from men who had become the objects of his gracious action.’

Design for life: an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (SCM, 1953; revised edition 1965).

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