Near the start of the new century, people were being interviewed about how we might refer to the first decade. As in the “'50s,” the “'70s,” the “'90s,”` and so on. Should it be the “Zeros”? No, that doesn't sound quite right. How about the “Ohs?” Or, as has been suggested quite tongue-in-cheek, the “Uh-Ohs!” The interviewer finally said we might go with the suggestion, the “Oughts.” True enough, “ought” is an acceptable way to refer to zero. Those with a little more gray in their hair might remember that that's how some used to refer to the first decade of the last century: “Ought-four,” or “Do you remember back in Ought-seven...?”
But “Ought” can refer not only to the number zero, but as a helping verb, indicates obligation or duty. The sense of “oughtness” is one of the distinctives that identifies men from animals. Animals do things more by instinct, not because they think they “ought” to do so because it's morally right, or that they have an obligation. Oh, they sense a natural compulsion or impulse to do something - such as protecting their young - but they do so without any real understanding that it is the “right” thing to do, and “wrong” not to do it.
Several examples of “ought” in the English Scriptures (NIV) can help us see its use in conveying the importance of doing God's will because it is right, whether any other reason is suggested or not - even though the context usually suggests other motives.
- “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” (Rom. 12:3)
- “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” (Rom. 15:1)
- “For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example.” (2 Thess. 3:7)
- “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.” (1 Tim. 3:14-15)
- “Instead, you ought to say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that. Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.” (James 4:15, 17)
- “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” (2 Peter 3:11)
Depending on the historical setting, the sense of obligation in the use of “ought” in scripture differs slightly from one passage to another. But these examples may help us to see God's intention that we perceive and accept that there are some concepts and actions that are vital to our positive relationship with him as Savior and Lord. In other words, these are things that we ought to do. In fact, it is only good and right that we do them. And those are excellent reasons, don't you think?
Larry Sheehy is the preaching minister at Statesboro Church pf Christ. He can be reached at (912) 764-5269 or firstname.lastname@example.org