By Kenneth O. Peterman
The concept of the ‘ends justifying the means’ should be repulsive to us because it is usually used to allow one to get away with wrong or reprehensible behavior, wrong behavior that would not be tolerated except for the end that it serves. It is easy to reason: since the end is acceptable and even commendable, the means leading to the end should tolerated and even justified. A member of a cult, for example, might change his doctrinal position to agree with whoever he is talking to at the moment to get donations. A church may defend questionable films, unbiblical topics of discussion or ungodly music to justify securing new church members. In the past, this concept has been labeled “situation ethics” or “moral relativism.” The means are acceptable because they accomplish the desired end. To a horrible degree this concept was used by the Nazi during WWII to justify killing Jews in order to “purify” the race. To a much lesser degree we too easily justify our questionable acts (means) to justify our acceptable ends.
Now, when the end is just and the means we use to accomplish it are completely legitimate, we should not hesitate to use them to determine the will of God. Paul, the apostle, used legitimate means in order to accomplish the will of God in his life. The means he used were reasonable, logical, and acceptable — and very human.
When Paul faced difficulties in life (and he faced many) he used all the human resources or means he could to legitimately deal with the situations. He didn’t just sit back and say, “Oh, the will of God be done.” No, he did everything he could to accomplish the will of God in his life by his own actions if at all possible.
In Acts 23, for example, he was brought before the Sanhedrin for an illegitimate examination. In verse 6 Paul perceived that one part of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees and the other part were Pharisees. These groups bitterly opposed each other and Paul took full advantage of it by boldly declaring that he was a Pharisee. He used this means to protect himself from their unsanctioned evaluation. When a great contention arose because of Paul’s statement, the chief captain rescued Paul and took him back to the barracks. Note that Paul, in the midst of the problem, did not say, “Oh, the will of God be done.” No, he actively used the means of his position as a Pharisee to help him.
Again, in Acts 23:12, when Paul’s nephew heard that a band of 40 men were set to kill Paul, he came to the prison and told him. Paul was not passive about it but told his nephew to ask the guard to take him to the chief captain and tell this story. Upon hearing the account, the chief captain arranged for 270 men to guard Paul when he was taken from the prison to see Felix. Again, Paul used this very legitimate means to accomplish the will of God in his life.
Lastly, when Paul appeared before Felix, the governor, for examination, Felix, had already cut a deal with the Jews to send him back to Jerusalem (and probably to his death), Paul used another means at his disposal and on the basis of his being a Roman citizen told Felix that he wanted to be judged by Caesar in Rome. Consequently, Felix had no choice but to grant his request and send him to Caesar instead of Jerusalem. Paul used his Roman citizenship as a legitimate means to avoid going back to Jerusalem to face an angry mob.
Let’s not forget that when we face decisions about the will of God, we can and should used whatever legitimate means are available to us. The fact that unsaved men use ungodly and wrong means to accomplish their ends must not discourage us from employing godly and righteous means to accomplish the will of God. We should be actively involved in determining the will of God — not merely passive participants.