Ethical Standard 1: Focus - Directing all my time, talents and treasures toward the most important tasks before me. (Commandment: No other gods)
Biblical Rationale: Jesus said we should “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:31-34). This is the principle underlying the ethical standard of “focus.” Focus means we put first things first. Ultimately, God and his kingdom is our first priority. This means we put his interests before our own. Thus, the Apostle Paul said that Christians should “esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). In caring for others, this means we treat the other person as the most important task before us in that moment, directing our mental, emotional and physical resources toward meeting their needs. Practically, this requires the development of Attending Skills in the caregiver.
Ethical Standard 2: Critical Analysis - Being alert to dangerous traps before I am persuaded to wander into them. (Commandment: No graven images)
Scripture says that if a mature Christian sees someone overtaken in a trap or in trouble he should “restore such a one in a spirit of meekness” and that we should “bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:1-3). The traps where people find themselves are numerous. There are traps related to their thinking (such as false beliefs); traps of their feelings (destructive attitudes); and traps of actions (such as addictions). Practically, caregivers are able to fulfill this command using Analytical Skills.
Ethical Standard 3: Respect – Speaking to and about others in ways that give them dignity and value, not based on what they have or have not done, but because of who they are. (No profane speech)
All human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-28), “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14) and created “a little lower than the angels…crowned with glory and honor” (Psalm 8:5). As creatures in God’s image we are obligated to honor and respect others, treating them with dignity and value not because of what they have or have not done but because of who they are: creatures in God’s image. This is especially necessary in the words we use to describe and address others. An important way of demonstrating respect is to ask questions in a respectful way for the purpose of understanding them as persons. Caregivers must learn to use various types of questioning skills not simply to gather information but also to acknowledge the worth and significance of what they think, feel and do. Practically, caregivers are able to fulfill this practice through proper use of Questioning Skills.
Ethical Standard 4: Diligence - Using my time, talents and treasures effectively to accomplish the most important tasks before me (No breaking the Sabbath)
The outworking of Focus in caring relationships is Diligence. If we are truly focused on the most important tasks before us we will seek to use our resources diligently and effectively lest we lose our focus. The proverbs warn that lazy people squander their resources (time, talent, treasure) and then, when they are gone, have nowhere to turn (Proverbs 19:15). Caregivers must learn to use specific strategies to accomplish their task of care, all the while remaining diligent in the relationship. For example, they need to learn to diagnose problems and understand real needs. This task can be assisted by the use of diagnostic tasks (such as tests and assignments). They also need to plan and prioritize the times they will spend together to maximize their effectiveness. The Apostle Paul warned that the “time is short” (1 Corinthians 7:29) therefore we must learn to “redeem the time –literally, make the most of the time--for the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16). Practically, caregivers practice these standards through developing Managing Skills.
Ethical Standard 5: Humility - Honoring those in positions of authority over me so that those under my care will hear and heed my advice. (Commandment: No dishonor to authorities)
We cannot expect those under our care to hear and heed our advice if we do not demonstrate honor and respect for those in authority over us. This is why the Scripture commands wives to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22) and citizens to submit to governmental authorities (Romans 13:1,2). Christians must not suffer for their dishonor or disrespect of authorities but because of their humility (1 Peter 4:15). When caregivers acknowledge and obey their own authorities (such as, their teachers, their supervisors, the controlling legal authorities) it demonstrates humility and what the Bible calls a “teachable spirit” (1 Peter 5:5). Though God resists the proud we are always commanded to give “honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). When we do, it is more likely those for whom we care will imitate us as we seek to imitate those in authority over us (1 Corinthians 4:16). One of the great dangers of caring relationships is creating unhealthy dependencies between caregiver and cared for. Many times caregivers secretly encourage such dependency because it makes them feel better about themselves. But when the Apostle Paul pleaded with his followers to “follow him” it was not because of himself but because he was following Jesus (1 Corinthians 11:1). Indeed, Paul commended one group of Christians because they verified his own teachings against the truths from the Bible (Acts 17:11). Practically, caregivers exercise these standards through use of Modeling Skills.
Ethical Standard 6: Mercy - Releasing others from the threat of future revenge into the hands of God. (No murder)
Our English word “mercy” is derived from a Latin word that means “the price is paid.” It implies that a debt has been satisfied. As a character quality, it means we do not hold other people’s offenses against them. We “release them from the threat of future revenge.” Without doubt, mercy is one of the important attributes of God himself and explains why he offers hope and salvation to those who have offended his laws. Thus, Jesus is said to die on the cross and pay the penalty not for those who were God’s friends but his enemies (Romans 5:8). Christian caregivers are called to show this same kind of mercy, especially to those who reject it or do not deserve it. Caregivers fulfill this call through reflecting mercy to those they serve; through explaining to them the mercy God has for them; and through helping them apply what it means personally in their lives to experience mercy. Jesus modeled how we should practice mercy by forgiving those who mistreated him (Luke 23:34). Our ability to extend mercy to others (especially those who are cruel, who seek to hurt us or malign our character) will increase to the degree we are aware of God’s mercy extended to us (Ephesians 4:32). Practically, caregivers demonstrate these standards by use of Confrontation Skills.
Ethical Standard 7: Contentment – Looking for personal satisfaction and reward in the right paths of life, rather than the wrong ones. (No adultery)
Jesus illustrated two ways of life in terms of roads or paths. There is a “broad way” that leads to destruction and a “narrow way” that leads to eternal life” (Matthew 7:13,14). According to Jesus, most people follow the broad way. This is the natural way, responding to the greatest problems of life with natural strategies like self-protection, self-gratification and self-validation. But in the process of walking through life on this path we lose our grip on circumstances, relationships and habits; we hide secret memories, feelings and expectations; and we create failed beliefs about our roles, conversations and decisions. This is what leads to destruction.
Caregivers must help others find the true contentment that comes when people are on the right path. This involves at least three things: reconciliation of vital relationships—especially with God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), confession of their own helplessness and desperation (1 John 1:9) and repentance, involving a change of beliefs (Luke 24:7). Once the right path has been discovered, the task of the caregiver is to encourage the other to stay on the path. Contentment and satisfaction are possible as he keeps his thoughts focused on the future reward God promises to those who walk this path (1 John 3:2,3). Practically, caregivers must learn to use Influencing Skills to effectively explain how this works.
Ethical Standard 8: Justice – Choosing courses of practice based on the knowledge I will be rewarded for doing what is right and punished if I do not (No stealing)
Biblical Rationale: “Mercy” and “justice” are the most important components of God’s character (for example Exodus 20:4-7 combines the two in one description of God). Together they circumscribe his goodness—moral excellence. By implication, mercy and justice also circumscribe the morality of caregivers. Though mercy releases others from threats of revenge, justice works to punish violations and reward those who are compliant. Though caregivers are not law enforcement officers and rarely have punitive authority, they themselves must maintain the highest standards of morality. In practice, this means patterns and practices of accountability, knowing they will be rewarded for doing what is right but punished if they do not in at least three areas: skill competency, demands of caring relationships, confidentiality and privacy of information. Practically, caregivers must use Accountability Skills.
Ethical Standard 9: Reliability – Becoming an accurate messenger of truth so that others can make decisions based on what I say. (No false witness)
One of the most important elements in a caregiving relationship is truth. Truth is a necessary foundation for communication and trust. This highlights the necessity of becoming an “accurate messenger of truth”—the definition of reliability. Reliable messengers understand that words have consequences. They guard against idle words (Proverbs 14:23) and careless, meaningless use of speech knowing the damage it can cause (Proverbs 12:18). They diligently try to follow the biblical injunction to “always let your speech be with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer every person” (Colossians 4:6). Ultimately, caregivers know that when they try to help others they must do so honestly and truthfully lest they be blindsided by trouble themselves (Galatians 6:1-4). This requires that caregivers have a high degree of self-awareness (listening to themselves speak); careful use of self-disclosures (how to use personal examples); and be alert to self-limitations (knowing the proper use of personal boundaries in relationships). Practically, caregivers must learn the use of Disclosing Skills.
Ethical Standard 10: Generosity - Using my time, talents and treasures to benefit others even though they may reject it. (No covetousness)
The Bible presents God as infinitely merciful yet fiercely just. Even so, out of this unusual combination flows his generosity. Generosity means that God is always giving rather than taking. The greatest demonstration was the gift of his only son, Jesus (John 3:16). His generosity was more astounding because those to whom he gave this gift were not his friends but his enemies (Romans 5:10). This kind of generosity is to characterize caregivers as well. As they use their caregiving time, talent and treasure they keep giving to the benefit of others even if the others reject it. Nor do they give with secret motives and hidden agendas for personal benefit for such giving is not true generosity (Luke 12:15). While all caring relationships involve the voluntary exchange of time and talent, there may be situations where there include an exchange of treasure (money) or some tangible honorarium. In this case caregivers must be extra careful that they do not become opportunistic and mercenary—serving only for personal gain. In the practice of generosity, caregivers must learn the proper use of Motivating Skills.
So, what happens when it does not? What happens when we refuse to ground our laws and ethics in this standard? In fact, what happens to our understanding of ourselves—of personhood itself—when we reject this design? I'll address those questions in the next article.