In 1532 Niccolò Machiavelli first published his ground breaking book, The Prince. In his book he laid down efficient principles for gaining power by focusing on the goal and that goal alone would justify the process, even if it was on the face of it inappropriate or unethical: the end justifies the means. His little book pinpointed one of the major problems with how we relate to one another. Is it ethical to act in any way we wish as long as the result is good? Ironically most Christians throughout history would say emphatically “No!” and label this form of behavioral ethics as “evil.” What we do, however, is often entirely different. Why is it that so often we employ Machiavellian tactics in our own lives and justify it?
Why is it that if we think another Christian is in error, in how they have treated us, in their doctrine, or even in full time ministry, this gives us justification to do “whatever it takes” correct them? We may speak harshly to them. Why? Because they must be stopped! We may establish blogs to write against them and publicly destroy their reputation. Why? Because we must stand up to doctrinal or personal error! We may even remove them from ministry. Why? Because the cancer of their error must be expunged. Is this the way of life God has called us to in Jesus Christ, or is this how Machiavelli would encourage us to regain power?
As Christians we are called to more than simply a “good end” but also to a method or way of life. We are called to imitate God, Eph. 5:1-2, and the primary way we imitate Him is to live lives of sacrificial love. This way of life can be exemplified in simple terms:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 7:12 ESV)
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14 ESV)
“speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph 4:15-16 ESV)
“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”(Eph 4:32 ESV)
If we are commanded specifically to love, and told that the way of our lives determines the outcome, why do we excuse ourselves in how we act? In truth, there is no excuse. God has given us the gospel, and this is not just a doctrine but a way of life. If we break the gospel to establish the gospel, or a good end – some doctrine, behavior etc., we have not kept it but rather broken it. Our calling is to receive the gospel and live it out, specifically and especially when we are wronged or when a person we interact with or even have responsibility over is in error. This would apply to interpersonal relationships of friends and family, husbands and wives, parents and children, church and ministry boards, and every conceivable interaction we could have with another human being!
If you break the gospel to keep the gospel all you have done is broken the gospel, but if you live out the gospel you keep it!