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Which Sins Are Worse?

That's not what's important.

Exodus 1:15-22 (ESV)

Then the king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, “When you serve as midwife to the Hebrew women and see them on the birthstool, if it is a son, you shall kill him, but if it is a daughter, she shall live.” But the midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live. So the king of Egypt called the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and let the male children live?” The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” So God dealt well with the midwives. And the people multiplied and grew very strong. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.”

Some commentators struggle to try to explain away the fact that the midwives here are lying. Sure, it’s possible that the Hebrew women actually did give birth before they arrived but that’s a huge stretch. The text states that the midwives did what they did because they feared God. That wouldn’t make sense if they were telling Pharaoh the truth. Besides, if the Hebrew women gave birth that fast, what did they need midwives for?

This passage teaches that when one is faced with committing a great evil, it’s permissible (even praiseworthy) to avoid it by committing a lesser evil. Not surprisingly, this can get complicated. Also, given our sinful nature, there’s lots of potential for abuse here.

Of course, this also means that not all sins are equal. That’s the really tough bit. History is filled with tales of the Church getting all tangled up trying to figure out which sins are worse than which other sins.

But there’s one simple rule that helps; the stuff that’s obvious is obvious. Genocide is worse than lying.

I like to challenge my students to think – using tough questions like, “Can you sin in a dream?”

That one leads to a lesson on the difference between sins (the actions) and sin (the root condition underlying the sins). I also like to startle them with statements that start off sounding offensive – like, “Jesus didn’t die to deliver us from our sins; He died to deliver us from our sin.”

The lesson is that our sins aren’t the problem; our sin is. Sure, some sins are worse than others – because of the damage they cause – but the underlying sin is the same. That leads to an important application.

Suppressing sinful actions is good, but it doesn’t do much to rid you of sin. I like to say, “You can’t cure a cold by suppressing a sneeze.” Of course that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t suppress, or cover, a sneeze. But that’s because of its effect on others, not because of its effect on you. Only the Holy Spirit can cure sin.

Yes, you can sin in a dream.

The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here:

Mike Slay

As a mathematician, inventor, and ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, Mike Slay brings an analytical, conversational, and even whimsical approach to the daily study of God's Word.

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