The headlines besiege us with news of deteriorating national scholastic performance, a never-ending battle against crime, and political platforms that constantly bend to the whims of the newest poll. The confusion can so overwhelm that we become callous to the latest story of a child killed in a drive-by shooting, a terrorist attack or news about a sports hero arrested for taking illegal drugs.
It seems we can't read the editorial page of a newspaper or magazine without someone pointing out that society's problems stem from a lack of values and standards. Christians are quick to agree that this country needs higher standards of behavior.
Of course, ask someone to describe what he means by higher standards and the real battle begins. The quickest way classify yourself as a fanatic, inflexible or harsh is to claim that a standard of conduct that should be adhered to by everybody.
Who determines acceptable Christian standards of behavior, talk and appearance? What is a standard? Is the answer simply a matter of developing a Christian dictionary of dos and don'ts and recruiting morality police to enforce them?
What are standards?
Standard comes from an Anglo-Norman that referred to a flag or banner carried into battle to supply a place for soldiers to rally. In the 15th century it took on the meaning of a "criterion" or "norm" because a person would visit the royal standard to take an authoritative measurement of weight for bartering purposes.
The person who carried the standard—the flag or banner—was called the standard-bearer. Possibly the most honored, and dangerous, position for a soldier during war was as a member of the color guard. Regiments today still have national and unit flags, which they called "standards" or "colors." In days gone by the color guard was responsible for bearing and defending the standards at all cost. In battle if the colors were captured the regiment had no point of reference, and panic and disintegration could ensue.
We can apply this same concept to Christianity. A standard is a measurement of behavior, set by God, that serves as a rallying point for citizens of His Kingdom.
Isaiah was inspired to write that Christ, when He comes to establish God's Kingdom on earth, will be the standard—the ensign, banner or sign—for nations to rally around. Isaiah encouraged those who rally around that standard now to "wait"—to expectantly look—for God (Isaiah 49:22-23).
Christians are to rally around Jesus Christ in times of crisis. He sets the standards of conduct and morality for all people.
What are some standards of conduct God has established for His people, the color guard of His Kingdom?
Standards of sexual conduct
The sexual relationship between a husband and wife is holy and no less than a gift from God. That gift can be one of the greatest blessings, but when misused it can become one of our greatest curses.
Statistics on AIDS and other sexually transmissible diseases, abortions and pregnancies out of wedlock are staggering, but one of the worst tragedies of sexual misconduct is the cost in human unhappiness, guilt and heartache.
It isn't always easy to be a standard-bearer. You can be considered a religious fanatic for simply espousing virginity (male and female) until marriage. You can be called a bigot for claiming homosexual practices are condemned by God as sin.
Biblical instructions actually go beyond declaring some sexual practices as forbidden. God gives us instructions concerning our approach to maleness and femaleness.
This means that Christian women should maintain godly standards of modesty. As the apostle Paul admonishes, "in like manner also, [see] that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works" (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
Peter writes to Christian women, "Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God" (1 Peter 3:3-4).
These scriptures don't imply that a woman shouldn't care about her appearance or that jewelry or cosmetics are sin. But Paul and Peter teach that women should first be concerned with godly character and a right relationship with God. This forms the basis for how she dresses and adorns herself.
The same principles apply to Christian men. They are to be standard-bearers of masculinity as created by God. This doesn't mean adopting the exaggerated masculinity of machismo, but that they should be strong and courageous as well as caring and sensitive in their support of others and following Jesus Christ's example in their treatment of their wives and children. Christian men are to uphold this standard: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it . . ." (Ephesians 5:25, emphasis added throughout).
Christian men should guard their minds against any sexual thoughts except for the one special woman God gave him a lifetime partner. Jesus claimed that "whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28). Christian men need to be careful about sexual jokes and innuendo that show disrespect to women as the daughters of God.
It is also important that Christians understand that the sexual relationship in marriage isn't to be neglected, but sustained as a divinely established aspect of love between husband and wife (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Standards of honesty and integrity
Old movies were sprinkled with phrases that used to mean something:
"A man is as good as his word."
"A man's word is his bond."
Unfortunately, all too often high standards have become nothing more than clichés.
What happened to the standard of giving a full day's work for a full day's pay? Or the standard of respecting another's property? Or the standard of giving full value for money received in business transactions?
It's a paradox that we live in a world in which people cheat on their taxes, make crooked business deals and call in sick (even though they're not sick) to get a day off work but at the same time demand higher standards.
William Bennett in his best-seller The Book of Virtues makes astutely comments: "To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic, and bona fide. To be dishonest is to be partly feigned, forged, fake, or fictitious. Honesty expresses both self-respect and respect for others. Dishonesty fully respects neither oneself nor others. Honesty imbues lives with openness, reliability, and candor; it expresses a disposition to live in the light. Dishonesty seeks shade, cover, or concealment. It is a disposition to live partly in the dark" (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1993, p. 599).
Mr. Bennett's writing brings to mind the words of Jesus in John 3:20-21: "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they may have been done in God."
Unscrupulous people will try to take advantage of honest people, but we must rally around God's standards. We must be stand in the light of Jesus Christ, repent and come out of darkness. Only the Creator of life knows the way to happy, abundant lives and gives us the standards to attain them.
Family religious standards
Sadly, some parents have the mistaken notion that they should not teach standards of religious belief to their children until they are old enough to make their own decisions. As a result all too many children grow up with no moral bearings, no sense of standards.
Regarding His ways, God commands His people to "teach them diligently to your children" and "talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). As a parent, you can be sure that Satan isn't waiting until your children are adults to teach them his ways. We can either fight against Satan by teaching our children, or we can unintentionally collaborate with him by not teaching our children.
Parents must establish standards of dress, music and television that are acceptable in their home. It is important that parents understand the difference between their own tastes and God's standards of right and wrong. We should help our children develop their own personalities while ensuring that they keep within God's boundaries of morality.
This isn't easy because it means daily involvement in the lives of our children. We must listen to the music they listen to and point out what are acceptable and unacceptable standards of lyrics. It's not enough simply to condemn all their music or way of dress. We must educate them to discern between acceptable cultural fad and unacceptable evil and make wise decisions on their own.
Attending weekly church services should be a family activity. Church services provide fellowship with a community of believers who can reinforce family values. Parents should teach younger children how to pray, not in nursery-rhyme prayer, but in heartfelt speaking and communicating with God. Teach them to take their worries to God in faith and that He will take care of them.
Standard-bearers in the Bible
The story of Lot and his family, recorded in Genesis 19, is an example of a standard-bearer who allowed his judgment to be clouded by society. His family members grew so complacent with the evil around them that God had to force them to leave their environs even when they knew their destruction was imminent.
In the face of overwhelming injustice and sin, our judgment, like Lot's, can become clouded. We can begin to convince ourselves that abortion may be a viable option if you're poor, or cheating on the time card really isn't all that dishonest, or indulging in sex before marriage is okay if you really love each other. After all, we know that God will always forgive us.
Jesus showed abundant mercy to the dispossessed and disliked in society: lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes. But He had little patience with self-righteous hypocrites, people who lived an outward show of religiosity, but were not true guards of God's standards.
Christians are to be God's color guard, gathering around the royal banners of Christ as Lord and Master. Ours isn't an easy calling, but it is a great privilege. Ultimately, humanity's problems will be solved, but only when all mankind adheres to the standard of God's law when Christ reigns on earth.
It's time for God's people to take up those standards and stand by them so that the many who are lost and searching will find a rallying point and come to the knowledge of their King. Be proud to carry the banner of integrity as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:3)!
"We will rejoice in your salvation," wrote King David many years ago, "and in the name of our God we will set up our banners!" (Psalm 20:5). GN