“It’s Wrong to Compromise!” I’ve heard and understand this fish or cut bait sentiment among believers, but I tend to go along with Kenny Rogers —“You gotta know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.” Sometimes it takes more grit to fold em than sticking to our guns. It was was through the genius of folding ’em, i.e. compromise, that Lincoln preserved the union and emancipated the slaves. When faced with three intolerable options, he had the wit to find a fourth, knowing the murky, treacherous waters of slavery were to be navigated the way bomb squads diffuse bombs–slowly, gently and carefully.
The framers of the constitution walked the same slippery slope. The purists were horrified when the constitution didn’t abolish slavery. They preferred being right about the issue than bringing to birth this great nation. Can there be any doubt this great document would have never been ratified if founding fathers hadn’t compromised?
Compromise and the law of Christ. In Luke’s account of the First Jerusalem Counsel in Acts 15, we find the church was faced with intolerable options as well. The choices were to either obey God’s law to circumcise or disobey it. After listening to arguments on both sides, James decided the Jewish branch of the church had no right to put intolerable burdens on non-Jewish believers. It would violate the law of Christ. Leaving aside the heavier doctrines of old covenant rituals of circumcision and sabbaths, he believed Christ’s law trumped Moses. “Only abstain from the pollution of idols, from fornication and from eating what is strangled and from blood.” Gentile believers were told. It was a compromise guided by Jesus great new covenant law, “Love one another as I have loved you.”.
While this decision angered some, it advanced Christ’s gospel by leaving the door open to the great majority of people not of the Jewish covenant. This agape, new covenant decision saved the young movement which went on to shake the world.
Strong Leaders Understand When to “Fold em.” Paul did when faced with the tricky issue of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some were convicted that this was a sin. Others did not. While agreeing with those who had no scruples about it, it was to them he wrote, “While knowledge (i.e. being right) can produce arrogance, love builds up.” (I Cor 8:1) Paul concludes, “When you sin against brothers by wounding their weak conscience, you sin against Christ….so, I will not eat this meat, lest I cause my brother to stumble.” (8: 12,13). Thus we see, Christ’s law of love transcends what may be considered right and wrong. To hurt and divide Christ’s body is a far greater sin. Paul followed Jesus’ agape principle when he instructed the apostles that if they loved him and wished to abide in him, they must lay down their lives, souls, egos for each other (John 15. 12-17. In the synoptic gospels he laid down the same principle. “If anyone will come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Denying ourselves sometimes means denying our need to be right and fear of being wrong for the sake of the unity of Christ’s body.
When to Hold em” While Paul told believers to fold ‘em on that occassion, there are times when compromise was dead wrong. He tells how once he had to correct Peter, the Rock–not for incorrect beliefs, as we tend to do in the church, but for his actions. “Before certain men came [to Antioch]…, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from them.” (Gal 2:12). Why did the Rock violate the Jerusalem Counsel and Christ’s own command.? Paul explains, “Because he feared those of the circumcision” i.e. the purists who clung to the past and their precious doctrines even if it meant blocking God’s plan to build a new future.
Culprits causing conflicts and divisions in the church Why do Christians fight over issues of predestination vs. free will but fail to fight for Christ’s law of love? Often it’s Peter’s issue–both the one in Antioch and earlier when he warmed his hands while denying his master—his fears! What’s so wonderful and amazing about Jesus’ unfailing love is, how he handled Peter’s failure by the Galilean Sea. He folded em, i.e. he never brought up Peter’s moral failure. Instead he challenged him Do you love me? Are you my friend? Then love, tend and feed those I give you to lead. (See John 21: 15-17). \
Other times the cause is not our strong convictions, it’s loving them more than one another which means loving Jesus less. When I put my need to be right and fear of being wrong ahead of my love for fellow believers, I must ask myself, am I denying him as well?