Dirty Words from a Preacher’s Mouth

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“Compromise” is a dirty word to preachers like me. A word search of all the sermons on my laptop computer reveals that not once—not once—have I ever used the word in a positive way from my pulpit. Instead, every single use of “compromise” in a sermon has been to offer a warning or express a woe. And mostly, it is an admonition that needs to be heard and heeded.

I used biblical examples like Judas Iscariot (Matthew 26-27) who sold out the savior for some silver, or Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) who fudged the truth on their charitable giving to look a bit more generous. We pastors remind our people that “narrow is the road” that leads to life and that the slippery slope of compromise quickly turns into the wide road of destruction.

Certainly, most of us need to be reminded be consistent in our Christian walk. We cannot compromise our convictions to fit in, to reap the rewards, or to otherwise get along in the world around us. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 8:14-15, “For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?...And what agreement has the temple of God with idols?”

Seems pretty uncompromising doesn’t it?

Christians should never compromise, we preachers preach. Then we pronounce the benediction and go eat cookies in fellowship hall.

Again, so far as we are talking about Christian convictions, this is good.

But there has been an unfortunate side effect: So often the sermon gets translated into everyday behavior in everyday life. In countless matters that are far less important than the gospel, we stand “uncompromisingly.”

We become “one issue” voters, or go on crusades for political parties. We become intolerant of smokers or drinkers or working moms or those who won’t adhere to our distinctively Christian sexual ethics. We demand that our churches offer worship styles or that our pastors support our pet causes. We pastors can begin to believe that our visions are prophetic, our preferences mandates that cannot be compromised. But in truth, no matter how firmly or dearly we hold these "convictions," at times they should be compromised. Believe it or not, Christian wisdom includes thoughtful compromise.

A bit more careful examination reveals that the great compromiser of the New Testament was not Judas Iscariot or Ananias and Saphira, but none other than Paul himself. In fact, Paul was willing to compromise everything except the gospel for the sake of Christ. Everything.

In Philippians 3, Paul relegates his family upbringing, racial heritage, educational achievements and even “righteousness under the law” as “rubbish” compared to knowing Christ. In 1 Corinthians 9, he even “boasts” about compromising his ethnic identity, about changing his religious habits, his traditions and even his reputation “for the sake of the gospel.” (For a first century Jew, these were NOT small matters!) And on matters like women in leadership, worship styles and marriage, Paul adjusted his personal convictions for the ministry context.

To be sure, when the cause of the gospel is on the line, Paul could be as uncompromising as anyone. He literally “damns” the Judaizers who tried to make Gentiles adhere to the Law (Galatians 1) and even took on Peter, the chief Apostle himself, about this issue (Galatians 2). Without question, Paul adhered to the truths of the gospel: Jesus as Lord of all. The authority of the Scriptures in the life of the believer. The good news of God’s loving and saving reign available to all.

But those clear convictions also gave Paul great freedom for compromising. Business guru Jim Collins tells companies that to have an lasting and enduring legacy they must 1) Determine what should never change and 2) Then be willing to change everything else.

This is not only a good strategy for business. It is a good witness for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Read more of Tod Bolsinger at his blog, It Takes A Church.