Three consonants and two vowels form one of the most powerful words in the English language. It is used to express an obligation, counsel advisability, identify reasonable requirements and specify logical consequences. This is a word we all ought to know! In fact, “ought” is the word.
Examples from our every-day conversation illustrate the innate force of this five-letter word. A judge ought to be impartial. Ministers ought to preach short sermons. All sixth graders ought to be able to read. Since the flight left on time, it ought to arrive on time.
This little word carries a lot of weight, doesn’t it? The power inherent in these five letters is most clearly demonstrated in the Scriptures. Here, they represent a Greek word which, while it has other uses, is often utilized to specify 1) a moral obligation based upon a divine imperative and 2) an ethical duty based upon specific compelling factors.
Examples of each usage abound in the New Testament. When it comes to moral obligations based upon divine imperatives, the word “ought” itself need not appear within the text for the obligation to be attached. When God’s Word defines an imperative; the duty to act accordingly is understood. Thus, James 4:17 says, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.”
This is made even more certain in the words of 1 Timothy 3:14-15. In these verses Paul’s inspired statement is: “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” In both of these passages the point is crystal clear, isn’t it? God’s imperatives bring moral obligations which Christians ought to fulfill. There are some things we do simply because we know God wills it so—we know we ought to do them.
The second aspect of this term has to do with ethical duties predicated upon compelling factors. Once again the examples are plentiful. From the inspired pen of the Apostle John we read, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” John also wrote, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 3:16 and 4:11.) These are compelling sentiments. No! They are more than that, aren’t they? They point us to the ethical duty to love one another on the basis of the commanding force of Christ’s example of love.
Another instance of this usage is in the Apostle Peter’s rationale in calling Christians to holy living. In 2 Peter 3:10-11 he states, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives…” Notice Peter’s point: In view of the fact of impending annihilation of all creation, you ought to live in such a way as to escape the destruction.
Our lives are impacted by these five powerful letters continually. Each day, we are presented with moral obligations based upon divine imperatives. God does have a will for our lives; and, we ought to heed this will. In Matthew 7:23-27, Jesus described this as building wisely. Considering the inevitability of the storms of life, this truly is what we ought to do!
Furthermore, we daily welcome ethical duties based upon compelling factors. Just as Jesus’ sacrificial love for all prompts believers to love one another, so, also, the devotion of parents for their children ought to produce a reciprocal response of child to parent. That’s just how it ought to be!
It’s not that any of us will ever be perfect in this pursuit. Without a doubt, we all ought to be thankful for God’s grace! Still, we can avoid numerous occasions for stumbling by simply accepting these realities up front: There are some indisputable “ought’s” in the Christian life. We don’t need to debate them or discuss them; we ought to stay busy doing them, though!
© Bill Williams, October 23, 2005