"the end justifies the means"
wrong or unfair methods may be used if the overall goal is good.
“The end justifies the means” is a philosophical idea that claims that as long as the goal is good, then the steps you take to accomplish it are acceptable. Even if some of those steps are morally gray. This is an idea that can seep into our decision making. On one level, we do this every time we speed, download music or movies without paying, or use someone else’s resources without permission.
Another level is when we decide lying, stealing, or other crimes are justified because our cause is noble. We yell, call names, slander, and belittle people who think differently than us. We transgress them and ignore the fact that they too are the image of God. Whenever we decide something unethical is okay simply because we are trying to accomplish something good, we are operating in this philosophy.
Some see no issue with this, but scripture shows that this is not an option for the Christian.
1 Timothy 4:12
Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.
1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them,
but motives are weighed by the Lord.
- 1 Timothy 4:12– believers are to set the standard. God called us to “be holy as He is holy”. Our speech, actions, love, faithfulness, and purity must represent God’s own holiness.
- 1 Timothy 4:16– We can not afford to just coast through life, but must take time to have honest introspection of our heart. We must watch what we believe and think because everything we do flows from there.
- Colossians 4:5– When the world sees how a Christian acts, they will assume that must be how God acts. Our every action tells a story about who God is. We must use every opportunity to show Christ.
- Proverbs 16:2– Our motivations are just as important as the actions themselves. We do not get to decide what is right and wrong. That is a standard set by scripture. If something goes against a clear biblical teaching it is wrong; even if we “feel like it’s okay”.
The Bible shows us multiple examples of just how wrong this philosophy really is.
- Adam and Eve want to be wise, so they eat the forbidden fruit.
- The people unify to build a tower at Babel, but in rebellion towards God.
- Abram tries to fulfill God’s promise for a son his own way.
- Israel creates an idol to worship Yahweh.
- Improper Worship
- The Disciples’ Sword
- God’s Will, God’s Way
Adam and Eve
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.
Adam and Eve are in the garden of Eden. It is a paradise world where everything is provided for them, all without toil or pain. God makes them the rulers of this utopia with only one rule. “Don’t eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. They listen, at least for a while. But after a conversation with the serpent, they decide they want the wisdom this tree offers. (Genesis 3)
In Proverbs 4 it says “Get wisdom, get understanding” and “Though it costs all you have, get understanding”. Wisdom is a great virtue. It is something God wants us to possess. James 1:5 says ” If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”
The problem was not the desire for wisdom or that God wanted them to be ignorant, rather it was their decision to get it on their own terms. They “saw” and “took”. James says “ask” and it “will be given”. God is a generous giver, and He will provide. But He wants our faith and trust. The tension is when we place those things in our own ability, rather than in Him.
The Tower of Babel
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. 2 As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
On the plain of Shinar, the people pursued another great virtue; unity. But just like with wisdom, they went about it the wrong way. At this point in history, there was still only one language, one culture. People had not yet been divided and spread over the whole earth. Instead of using their united power for good though, they set their hearts to do evil.
- “a tower that reaches to the heavens”- they desired to reach heaven the wrong way.
- “a name for ourselves”- they were seeking to elevate themselves instead of God. This is the same sin Satan committed. They sought to make their culture supreme. By saying their way of life was best, they could condemn all other cultures. This is the primary drama of history, as one nation decides they have the right to plunder another. It has even led to genocide.
- “otherwise we will be scattered”- God’s command was to fill the earth. They sought instead to stagnate in one place, focused on evil.
Why Build A Tower?
Protection From Another Flood: “A traditional view states that the tower was built by the people to protect themselves from another Flood. The phrase whose top may reach unto heaven is a figurative expression of great height. The tower was built high enough for the people to gain revenge against God-should He attempt to drown the inhabitants of earth again. The problem with this view is that God clearly promised not to send another Flood (Genesis 8:21-22; 9:11).”
Ziggurat: “A popular view is that the people were building a Ziggurat- a tower built for the purpose of worship of the heavens. This meant the people were practicing the art of astrology rather than worshipping God. Yet the Hebrew word translated tower is migdol which simply means tower. In addition, the passage does not teach that the tower was for the purpose of worship.”
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
God is a huge proponent of unity. He Himself is a tri-unity of three persons. In the prayer in Gethsemane Jesus prays that all believers would enjoy the same unity that God does in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The issue is the story we unify around. If it is for our own self-interest, that’s not really unity. Because once my interests oppose yours, our unity dissolves. But when we unify around Jesus, who gave Himself for us, we are coming together for the purpose of benefiting each other.
- Acts 2:44 tells us the early church “met together in one place and shared everything they had.”
- Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Godly unity doesn’t exalt self, it exalts others. It is not a unity by assimilation. It does not mean we agree on everything, that we have the same interests, same background. It means we love enough to cover our disagreements, that we look out for each other’s interests, and we focus on our goal and not our past.
Like many ancient kingdoms, Babylon sought unity by eliminating all other cultures. The Kingdom of God does not seek to exalt any culture, but rather in it we can appreciate and enjoy the many different expressions of humanity that God has created in His image.
Unity despite division: Matthew and Simon
Matthew 10:1-4 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. 2 These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.
“Matthew and Simon could not have been more different. In his old career, Matthew worked a well-paying job as a tax collector for the Roman government his Jewish peers despised. Simon the zealot was a Jewish nationalist who strongly upheld Jewish traditions and culture.
Matthew had worked for the government; Simon wanted to burn it down. An Occupy Wall Street protestor and a Tea Party patriot would have more in common than these two.
But Jesus called both of them, along with ten other underqualified disciples. And for the better part of three years, they spent every day beside each other.
Together, they learned at Jesus’ feet. Together, they huddled in a crowded fishing boat as Jesus calmed stormy seas. Together, they watched Jesus cure lepers, give sight to the blind, cast out demons and raise the dead. Together, they heard Jesus teach with life-changing power and authority. Together, they saw him unjustly arrested, tried, beaten to a pulp and nailed to a cross. And together they witnessed him after he rose from the grave, nail-scarred hands and all.
So while Matthew and Simon had starkly different pasts, I imagine they learned to get along and minister together — not because they completely agreed on every political matter, but because the Jesus they had in common was more important than the politics that sought to divide them.”
Abram and Sarai
“I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.”
4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”
When Abram was 75 years old, God called him to leave the land he grew up in and go to a place he would show him. Despite being so old and having no children, God promised He would make a great nation out of him. Abram steps out in faith.
11 years and many failures later, we find Abram still childless and getting desperate. His wife Sarai suggests that he sleep with her Egyptian slave Hagar to gain a son. (They had acquired Hagar via an earlier deception and lie. Genesis 12:10-20). They attempted to force God’s promise by gaining a son without the need to wait in faith.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had borne him no children. But she had an Egyptian slave named Hagar; 2 so she said to Abram, “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my slave; perhaps I can build a family through her.”
Abram agreed to what Sarai said. 3 So after Abram had been living in Canaan ten years, Sarai his wife took her Egyptian slave Hagar and gave her to her husband to be his wife. 4 He slept with Hagar, and she conceived.
Abram and Sarai’s impatience would be the cause of much strife for their descendants for generations to come.
God says He will not allow Abram and Sarai to scheme to accomplish His plan, but rather He would still provide the promised son.
Despite Abram’s multiple failures, we find that God’s response is not to move on to a better candidate, but rather He continues to double down on His covenant and instead becomes even more devoted to His promises (Genesis 17).
- Age 75- God’s promise
- Age 86- Abram tries to have a son on his own terms.
- Age 100- The promised son is born.
Israel Creates an Idol to Worship Yahweh
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
2 Aaron answered them, “Take off the gold earrings that your wives, your sons and your daughters are wearing, and bring them to me.” 3 So all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. 4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “This is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the Lord.[Yahweh]” 6 So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.
God has just delivered Israel out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. He has shown up in signs and wonders, and through 10 plagues mocked the gods of Egypt.
He leads His people to His holy mountain and shows up in power (Genesis 19:16-19).
BUT- The people are afraid. This all-powerful uncontainable God is more than they can handle.
They want to serve Yahweh, but they want to do it in a way they can manage and be in control of. They create an idol and break the commandments just given to them.
God brings judgment on the people, but much like with Abram’s failures, God commits even more to His people despite their failures.
Related- “Domesticating God: Humanities Quest for Comfort and Control”
When we worship God our way, we are deciding he is not holy.
Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. 2 So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
As God established His covenant with Israel at Sinai, He appointed Aaron (Moses’s brother) and his descendants to be His priests. This meant their family line had the high honor of representing God to the people and the people to God. They were a critical part in God’s redemptive plan for His people, and a foreshadowing of the Great High Preist, Jesus.
Throughout Exodus and Leviticus God gave explicit commands where, when, and how He was to be worshiped. This is because God is Holy, totally separate and perfect. In the previous two chapters, Aaron and his sons are commissioned into the priesthood.
The very next story we are presented with shows two of his sons, Nadab and Abihu transgressing their sacred oath and showing contempt for God’s holy presence. It is not explicitly mentioned what their offense was, but there are multiple explanations:
- They could have been using fire from “outside” the sanctuary, making it unholy. (Leviticus 16)
- The use of unauthorized fire also points to a careless, irreverent attitude.
- They could have entered the Most Holy place, a duty which was reserved for the High Priest alone.
- The command in Leviticus 10:9 may indicate that they were actually drunk while entering the sacred space.
We aren’t told for certain what their offense was, and perhaps that is on purpose. The significance of this story is not that they performed a ritual wrong, but that they blatantly disobeyed God.
God is God, and we are not. To show blatant disregard for His temple and worship is a great sin. We no longer offer burning incense on altars of gold, but we do all worship in a new temple.
All believers are God’s holy church, His new temple. They way we treat others and even our own bodies is the way we are treating God’s temple.
1 Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
Saul’s Disobedient Offering
1 Samuel 10:8
“Go down ahead of me to Gilgal. I will surely come down to you to sacrifice burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, but you must wait seven days until I come to you and tell you what you are to do.”
God anointed Saul as the first king over Israel, and despite some early success and what could have appeared to be humility, we find that Saul is selfish and insecure.
Although on the outside humility and insecurity can appear similar, humility is others-focused while insecurity is self-focused. When Saul was anointed the prophet Samuel told him to go to Gilgal and wait. Samuel would later come and offer a sacrifice and give Saul further instructions.
But Israel was in a military conflict with the Philistines, whose army more than doubled theirs. As the two armies assembled and prepared to face each other, the Israelites became increasingly fearful. The men started to desert, and Saul began to doubt.
1 Samuel 13:7-10
Saul remained at Gilgal, and all the troops with him were quaking with fear. 8 He waited seven days, the time set by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and Saul’s men began to scatter. 9 So he said, “Bring me the burnt offering and the fellowship offerings.” And Saul offered up the burnt offering. 10 Just as he finished making the offering, Samuel arrived, and Saul went out to greet him.
Saul in an act of fear did a good thing (offering a sacrifice to God) for the wrong reasons (fear and insecurity, disobedience, possibly just for show for the army). He did not listen to the instruction from Samuel and is told he has lost the kingdom.
Israel’s army dwindled from 3000 to 600, and yet God still gave them victory over the much larger Philistine force. Further showing Saul’s foolishness in not trusting God and walking in disobedience. When we do the right thing for the wrong reason, it is sin.
“When we do the right thing for the wrong reason, it is sin.“
Ananias and Sapphira’s Lie
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.
3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.
At the end of Acts 4 we are told that the believers were all of one mind, they were unified, and many would sell their own possessions to help take care of the poor. We are told one of these people is a man called Barnabas, who would go on to become a missionary, church planter, and mentor to the Apostle Paul.
Extreme acts of generosity are admirable even today. It is heartwarming when we see love in action: sacrificing for another benefit. We often look up to such people and hold them in high esteem.
It was no different back then, and Ananias and Sapphira wanted a piece of that fame. They wanted others to look at them and think “wow they are so spiritual”.
It is clear from the text that they were under no obligation to sell their land, and even after they sold it they were not forced to donate the full amount. God loves a cheerful, willing giver.
But they wanted it both ways. They wanted the admiration of their peers and the greed of their hearts. So they kept some of the money but said they were donating it all.
Their sin wasn’t that they kept some, their sin was the blatant lie to both the church and the Holy Spirit. Although they did a good thing (donating to the poor), the way they went about it was actually evil. The end result doesn’t make the process justified.
The Dicsples’ Sword
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
“as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.”
In Matthew 26 we are given a narrative of Peter drawing his sword to defend Jesus. In Acts 9 we find Saul zealous for the religious integrity of the Jewish faith. After all, it was their wandering from the tenets of Judaism that got them exiled in the first place. Vigorously defending your God is a good thing, is it not?
These stories teach us that just because we decide to do something in “God’s name”, DOES NOT make it His will. As we see with both Peter and Saul, their “good-intentioned” violence was not what God wanted. Both of them sought to defend God, yet both found themselves fighting against Him. We must do God’s will God’s way.
God’s Will, God’s Way
1 Samuel 15:22-23
“What is more pleasing to the Lord:
your burnt offerings and sacrifices
or your obedience to his voice?
Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice,
and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.
Rebellion is as sinful as witchcraft,
and stubbornness as bad as worshiping idols.
As we can learn from these multiple accounts, God is concerned not just about our actions, but also our hearts. How accomplish something is just as, if not more important, than what we accomplish. More important than our lip service or other “religious acts”, we must first surrender our hearts, and be truly obedient to what God actually wants. Not what we “think” He wants. Not what we do “in His Name”. When we truly surrender and let the Holy Spirit fill us, we can accomplish amazing things. He can work through our failures and shortcomings, as long as we continue to truly seek His face. Then we can partner with Him to do God’s Will, God’s way.