Does the end justify the means in the Christian church? We live in the age of pragmatism. In a pragmatic world, this is a popular way of thinking whatever you need to do to reach your goals—do it.
This culture has found a home in the Laodicean church of today. Christians perform music scarcely recognizable from the world, but the cry is:
“They’re doing it for God! They’re trying to win the lost! Yes, it is a bit unorthodox, but people are really getting saved! Look at their hearts, not at their hair!”
Churches bring in comedians, stage performers or presentation methods similar to a cabaret in Las Vegas. But the cry is: “This is what the unsaved relate to! We mustn’t quibble over how we do it, so long as we do it!”
So does the end justify the means? What does God say about this? Let us look at three examples where God shows what He thinks of this kind of reasoning.
Our first step is in 1 Samuel 15. Here God told Saul through Samuel to go and completely eliminate the Amalekites. Saul goes off, but decides during the battle that it is a waste to destroy so many good hings. He destroys the worthless and keeps the good. He has not obeyed God. His was a partial obedience. To obey part of God’s commands and disobey the rest is disobedience.
God tells Samuel of Saul’s disobedience and he goes off to confront the king. Saul meets Samuel with a hypocritical, spiritual greeting in verse 13. Samuel asks if Saul has truly obeyed God’s command, “then what meaneth this bleating in mine ears”
Listen now to Saul’s responses in v.15:
1) First, it’s we and the people. It’s not my fault – it’s the people’s fault. Saul doesn’t take responsibility as a leader should.
2) Notice the ‘spiritual’ motive. Oh, we kept these animals to sacrifice to the Lord. Saul was saying – no, we haven’t really disobeyed – I mean, instead of just
destroying these fine animals, we can sacrifice them to God.
In other words, I improved on God’s idea. But read between the lines here. Do you really think that that is what Saul and his men were thinking? “Let’s not kill these, let’s take them home and kill them on God’s altar.”
I don’t think so.
What was really happening is that Saul felt that if he could supply a good motive for his actions, his methods didn’t matter. If he could justify disobedience, it was as good as obedience in his mind.
This is exactly how some Christians behave today – so long as we disobey for good reasons, it’s as good as obeying. It’s really insulting God’s Word: “Lord your methods are not important. I can use my own, so long as I do it with a good motive.”
But God clearly sees it differently. He tells Saul “Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the LORD, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the LORD.” Saul remains self-righteous:
“And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and have gone the way which the LORD sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the chief of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice unto the LORD thy God in Gilgal.”
Listen to Samuel’s reply: “And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as greatdelight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams.”
To obey is better than sacrifice. In other words – to obey my explicit commands is better than doing things for me which I have not sanctioned. I want worship on My terms, not on yours! Man does not set the terms of worshipping God, God does. And this incident teaches us that God was not impressed with a good motive.
He punished Saul for his ungodly methods. He tore the kingdom away from him that day. Saul’s motives, even if they were sincere, did not save him. God certainly did not agree with “the end justifies the means.” In essence Saul said, “I disobeyed for the right reasons.”
But God said, “Doing wrong for right reasons is still wrong.” Incidentally, an addendum to this story is that 300 years later in the book of Esther we find that Haman was a descendant of King Agag whom Saul spared.
Our second example jumps ahead a few years to the reign of King David. In 1 Chronicles 13, David has achieved a certain level of peace in his kingdom, and now he wished to return the Ark of the Covenant.
After having been captured by the Philistines and then returned after they were plagued, it had remained at a place called Kirjathjearim for twenty years. David felt it was time for the Ark to return. He gathered just about the whole country for the ceremony.
The Ark is loaded onto a new cart, and Ahio and Uzza have the privilege of driving the cart. Off they go with singing, and musicians playing with all their might – a huge celebration. Then trouble hits. The ox stumble, the Ark begins to topple, and Uzza reacts by reaching out to stop the Ark from falling –he touches the Ark, and God strikes him dead. What went wrong?
How could God do this? All Uzza was doing was stopping the Ark from crashing to the ground, and who would want that? I mean, surely God did not want the Ark of the Covenant to crash to the ground, possibly breaking?
No, the issue here was not Uzza’s good motive, but his poor method. As a priest trained thoroughly and diligently in the Law, he knew better. Firstly, he knew God’s prescribed method for carrying the Ark was not on a cart. Numbers 4:15 made this clear. It was specifically built with rings for staves to fit into, to be carried on the shoulders of the priests.
Uzza no doubt knew this. Why did he disobey? Perhaps he thought to himself:
“Those commands about carrying the Ark have to do with its transportation. We are transporting it, just with a different means. It doesn’t matter how we do it, so long as we do it. Besides, on so great a day of celebration, the Ark needs to be high and visible for everyone to see. God doesn’t mind… I mean He will surely be pleased that we are trying to make the Ark so clear to all.”
Uzza was saying: God will overlook my disobedient method because of my honourable motive. But God disagreed. I believe He caused the oxen to stumble. He forced Uzza to face his own disobedience. Because not only was the Ark to be carried on staves by the sons of Kohath – it was also never to be directly touched by anyone.
So as the Ark toppled over – Uzza was cornered – he could either let it fall disgracefully to the ground and admit he had given into pragmatism and they shouldn’t have carried it that way in the first place, or he could be twice disobedient- and reach out to stop such an incident from occurring by disobediently touching the Ark.
He chose the second one. He showed that he probably had little faith that God means what He says in His Word and so tempted God by such public, gross disobedience. Uzza thought that motives were enough. But his example shows that though the motive may be right, God also looks at the methods.
The methods reveal whether we love God enough to honour His Word and worship Him on His terms or whether, like Saul and Uzza, we think we can bring a sacrifice with disobedience or ungodly methods, put it on the altar and expect God to be pleased.
A final example here comes from Leviticus 10:1-2. Aaron’s wayward sons Nadab and Abihu, were priests. They go in to make their offering to the Lord. However, they are killed for offering “strange fire.”
Well, Leviticus 6:12-13 tells us that the altar of burnt offerings was to have a continual fire burning. Incense offerings were to be presented to God by pouring the incense on top of a coal taken from the altar of burnt offerings. There is strong typology here – a person’s prayers (represented by the incense) are made acceptable to God by Christ (the altar of burnt offering).
But Nadab and Abihu did not follow this procedure. Perhaps they felt, “Fire is fire, who cares where you get it from?” They did not follow God’s exact commands and God struck them dead.
It is especially serious when you consider that the Law had just recently been given.
It was fresh in their minds. Clearly, like Saul and Uzza, they felt it was all the same anyway, the ends justify the means, and so they improvised. They were careless with God’s Word. God used them as an example.
Nadab and Abihu were not involved in Baal worship. They weren’t creating a golden calf like their father did. They were busy serving God when this happened. But they made the same mistake many make today in thinking:
“If I’m at the altar of God, He’ll accept whatever I put on it”
“If I sing for God, it doesn’t matter if the music is ungodly.”
“If I preach for God, it doesn’t matter if my doctrine is not one-hundred-percent.”
“Whatever I do in service for God, He will accept it!”
Nadab and Abihu prove that this thinking is wrong. God sees the motive. But He also sees the method, because the method shows whether we are truly in submission to God or not. It shows how high we hold up His Word in our hearts.
Proud people think they can serve God on their own terms, and God will be obliged to accept it and reward it.
Humble Christians say, “My service for God must be for Him, and if for Him, then by Him; and if by Him, then it can only be done n a way that pleases Him.”
We have seen three examples of how God cares sincerely about methodology. In fact, we’ve seen how in these instances, God rated the methodology as more important than the motive. The methods, in these examples, overrules the motives, not vice versa as pragmatists tell us.
Remember, God does not tell you to do anything for which He will not provide the power necessary to accomplish the task. That is why God can and will scrutinize not only our motives but also our methods at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
He is entitled to look at both why you did something and how you did it, since it is His Holy Spirit that provides both ‘to will and to do’ of His good pleasure. In 1 Corinthians 3 we learn that if the motive and the material do not meet God’s standard, they will burn up on that day of judgment.
The works will be found to have been invalid. If the motive and the material is not rooted in Christ—it will be burnt up. So worship must have music that is Christ like in style, not only in direction.
Evangelistic methods must be those that reflect a changed life and do not confuse the message of Christ. Whether it be missions, church growth, ministries—they must all use methods that glorify Him.
People say, “Oh, but God sees the heart.” That’s right. ONLY God can see the heart.
The on looking world can only see what we do. Our unscriptural methods do not get acceptance simply because our motives are right.
God has not always spelled things out as clearly as He did for Saul, Uzza and Nadab and Abihu – but there are always enough principles and precepts in the Word of God to judge safely when an unscriptural method is being used.
Go to the ant
I was invited to a conference at a hotel that was about two and a half hours away in an area that is sub-tropical. I love the scent of Frangipani and there was an area adjacent to the hotel with wild Frangipani trees that were flowering. One was an apricot color and the other a soft pink.
I picked the flowering stems and wrapped them in damp newspaper in order for them to get some moisture on the way home. When I arrived home that evening I retrieved the Frangipani from the back seat of my car and to my utter amazement there was an ant.
This was no ordinary ant. It was a leaf-cutter ant of sorts that still had a massive portion of leaf in its jaws. The piece of leaf was about three times the size of the ant. It had been walking up and down the stem of the pant for some four hours now, trying to get back to its nest.
The parallel between that hapless ant and the Laodicean church burst into my spirit like a light bulb was just switched on. Here the well meaning are carrying around the dead doctrine of good motives which are really dead works.
They are confessing and possessing and standing on God’s promises, just like the ant. The ant, I might add is a very industrious creature. They are determined and set in their ways. Determination is a good quality to have, but when that quality turns to stubbornness, it can result in futile religion; and Christianity is not a religion.
Instinct propelled this ant headlong to its own destruction, and it did not even know. It was still confessing and possessing while its doom was sealed way back during the daylight hours.
Romans 13:12 says: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.”
Your servant in Christ,