The Ends Justifies the Means—Or Not?

The word “compromise” is one of the great paradoxes of life. At the very least, compromise is an insidious little devil, often appearing to be one thing in theory but, in practice, turning out to be quite another. However, it’s proven to be quite the popular pastime and, through the ages, has starred as the topic of many hours of covert discussion and/or toasty debate. In its various forms, the concept of compromise has turned up in fortune cookies, as themes in many great pieces of literature, and behind the closed doors of our illustrious halls of Congress. Moreover, depending upon whom you ask, compromise often functions under several other aliases, including cooperation, collaboration, and their more subtle and sinister associate, collusion. At any time, any of these, compromise included, can be found…

  • “working across the aisle.”
  • dishing a little “give and take.”
  • proposing to “meet halfway.”
  • back scratching—as in, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.”
  • “going along to get along.”
  • settling for the “lesser of two evils.”
  • “agreeing to disagree…”
  • deciding to “look the other way.”

Now all of these proposals, on the surface, can present as civilized, mature, and even sophisticated means of interactions with others—and some are. But some are not—even though they’re pitched, sold, and marketed to be.

The End Justifies the Means?

So is compromise right or is it wrong? That depends. Is compromise being used to cooperate or to manipulate? Is it being used honestly or passive-aggressively?  Is it being used to truly resolve an issue or simply to avoid conflict?

Is it being used to advance one’s own self-interests?

If it is being used to our own benefit, then the price of compromise often involves some willingness to concede a moral value or two. Downplaying the income a bit to avoid paying the taxes? Ignoring the kid skipping homework because it’s just too exhausting to make him do it? Rounding the bases on date night to keep the boyfriend around? 

Increasingly, in our God-parched society, “the end justifies the means” has become an acceptable explanation for rationalizing a whole host of behaviors that grandma would never have approved.

In other words, as long as we achieve the desired outcome, it doesn’t matter what we have to do to reach our goal. And here’s the really sad part: many people don’t even try to “justify the means” anymore because much current thinking revolves around the idea that if you don’t do “whatever it takes” to get there, you’re just stupid. And you deserve to be told so.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had students insist that it’s not wrong to cheat on homework or tests because “making the grade” is the only thing that matters. Then they laugh. My response (after the eye roll) is usually that people who cheat on their spouses or end up in prison for corporate embezzlement generally didn’t start there. They started out compromising on smaller issues—like cheating on quizzes—and then worked their way up. Most Class A felonies are preceded by years of practicing misdemeanor offenses or relatively minor moral violations of conscience. Ask someone who’s fallen. They’ll tell you.

Who Are We Kidding?

Maybe the better question is, “Who are we not kidding?” Maybe we’re kidding ourselves but we’re absolutely not fooling God. Yes, he understands our need to meet that goal or to resolve that problem, but doing anything that we think warrants a little self-deception really doesn’t justify compromising the truth of what’s right and what’s wrong.

When we come to that critical moment in life where we either have to sacrifice our values or pay a price for upholding those values, then that’s when we have one of two choices. Do we make the deal or do we trust God?

We probably don’t have to think too hard to figure it out.

Still, there’s always the possibility that we’re not kidding ourselves about whether that “thing” is right or wrong; maybe we do know that what we’re about to do is morally incorrect. If that’s the case and we choose to do it anyway, then we’re kidding ourselves about something else: that we’ll get away with it. As Christians, we should know better. We will, after all, “reap what we sow.”

In God’s economy, the final end never justifies the current means.

“I Would Never…!”

Maybe we would and maybe we wouldn’t. And maybe it depends on the situation. Certainly, in situations where co-workers, spouses, friends, or community members need to work together to get something done, compromise is a necessity. After all, if you and the honey are buying a car and one of you wants a blue one and the other wants a red one, then by all means—compromise—get a purple one. No one will die. Sometimes, when working together on a solution to reach a goal is not an issue of compromising morals nor is it a manipulation tactic, then it’s just good, common sense.

But what if you’re not sure whether you’re crossing a line in compromising? What if it’s a high-stakes’ game? For example, what if the boss is pressuring you to fudge the “bottom line” on accounts so the company makes a little more profit—then what? If you don’t, your job might be at stake so then is it “not wrong”? After all, “the boss made me do it.” That’s a toughie, right? Not really. Nobody can “make” us do anything.

Joyce Meyer was once in that exact situation: she was being pressured by her boss to falsify records in order that the company she worked for might make more money. She refused. And look at her now—she’s an internationally-known Bible teacher. And why? Because when challenged with a test of character, she passed the test.

God rewards integrity.

There’s a difference between knowing what’s right to do and choosing what’s right to do. The knowing is the easy part—if we’re honest. Choosing right is often the hard part—definitely not the fun part. But that’s when we have another choice: trusting the Lord rather than fearing man. Joyce Meyer wouldn’t be teaching Biblical principles today if she hadn’t chosen to walk them out yesterday.

Destiny means compromise is not an option.

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