The end justifies the means. That’s something we see in our world constantly. I think about the movie Hero which starred Jet Li. The conclusion of the movie is that the one who would be the unifying emperor of China was brutally warring with the opposition to form one land because he loved his nation. The end of forming one great, unified nation was worth the destruction wrought by his armies and his policies. Even Jet Li’s character demonstrates this line of thinking as he practices deception and stealth to draw enough to this tyrant in order to kill him. In the end he does not, because he has come to understand what is in the warlord’s “heart.” If you want a more Western example, look at how certain men built their wealth here in America over the last couple of centuries, but are hailed as heroes because they became philanthropists well after they had more money than they could ever spend. It’s all okay, because look at the good they’ve done. Disregard the unfair business practices, the way they cut corners on those who worked for them, and sought to manipulate the system for their own gain. After all, the end justifies the means, just as I said before. But with God, that’s not acceptable.
For our proud confidence is this: the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity, not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God, we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you. For we write nothing else to you than what you read and understand, and I hope you will understand until the end; just as you also partially did understand us, that we are your reason to be proud as you also are ours, in the day of our Lord Jesus. – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14, NASB
Paul writes about the proud confidence of his and his crew: that they have shown integrity in the world, and especially towards the church in Corinth. He attributed this to God’s grace, but he exalted it all the same. He then goes a step further and talks about the fact that the way Paul and his companions have conducted themselves should give the Corinthians a reason to be proud. Likewise, the Corinthians faithfully following suit and acting with integrity would give Paul and his friends a similar reason to be proud. It’s like how a city embraces a sports team that does well. Or how a nation celebrates a gold medal at the Olympics or winning an international event like the World Cup. Except what Paul wants us to be proud of for each other is demonstrations of integrity, both in the world and towards other Christians. So in other words, the end does not justify the means. The means, how we do things, is absolutely critical.
This all makes me think about how we do things in the Church. We’re great about telling folks when they did a good job with a sermon, or with a solo, or when they worked hard for a ministry task. But how often do we go up to each other and praise one another for doing things with integrity? When our Christian brothers and sisters walk and act with integrity, are they a source of pride to us? Are they a greater source of pride than if our favorite sports team won their championship? I think back to when the University of South Carolina won the College World Series just a few months ago. There were a lot of excited folks around here. More excited than I’ve seen them in some time. And I think about how we’ve got things backwards. Yes, it’s great that a local sports team has done well. And yes, that should be a source of pride. But it shouldn’t be a greater source of pride than what a brother or sister has made a stand based on integrity. The former will fade away in a couple of years. Sure, there will be stories and occasional retellings of the magical year USC won it all. But choosing to take a hit because of integrity? If we believe what we say we believe, that lasts for eternity. So shouldn’t we be more excited by our brother or sister’s example? And that’s Paul’s point. It shouldn’t be, “How about them Cowboys?” but rather, “How about Jim and Mary?”
I know part of the reason we don’t do such a great job taking pride in each other’s walks is we’re not as connected with each other as we once were. Everyone is so busy. Churches aren’t localized to one community any more. But part of it is we’re not choosing to take the time to keep up with what’s going on in the lives of our fellow churchgoers. I’m not talking about gossip. I’m talking about doing so out of genuine care and love. So we usually don’t know when they make such a stand. In fact, we tend not to know when they see such a showdown coming. It’s in those times we can be pillars of support, both by encouraging and by praying for our brother or sister. And when we learn that they have made such a stand, we can celebrate their decision to adhere to the standard God expects of us. So what this boils down to is that we make time for each other, we support one another, and we encourage one another to make the right choices. That sounds like a winning plan for the One Body that God desires of us as His Church.