As winter approached, a hunter, in need of a warm coat for the cold months ahead, grabbed his gun and ventured into the forest to hunt for a bear. In time he came upon one of the largest brown bears he had ever seen. He slowly raised his gun and took aim at the massive animal.
“Wait,” said the bear, “why do you want to shoot me?”
Shocked at the sound of a bear speaking, the hunter replied, “Because I am cold,”
“But I am hungry,” the bear responded, “perhaps we can reach a mutually beneficial agreement. Put down your gun and let’s talk.”
So the hunter, curious to hear to what the bear had in mind, set his weapon aside and approached, unarmed yet unafraid. In the end, a compromise was made and both found what they were looking for. The hunter ended up surrounded by warm bear fur and would never suffer from the cold again. The bear, his hunger fully satiated, strolled back to his cave for a longer winter of hibernation.
Compromise is a two-way street. There are always winners, but more often than not, there are losers. For the bear, compromise proved to be convenient and, ultimately, comforting arrangement. But for the hunter, it proved costly. In an effort to get what he wanted, he gave up what he could not afford to lose – his life. Yet how often do you and I compromise on our convictions and make “deals with the devil” in an effort to take the easy way out. We end up cozying up to the world and befriending the enemy – all because we lack the conviction to stand firm and set apart.
The Seriousness of Holiness
The Bible is filled with warnings of the danger of compromise. As the people of God stood on the edge of the Promised Land, God warned them about the people who occupied the land. “Make no treaties with them or their gods. They must not live in your land, or they will cause you to sin against me. If you serve their gods, you will be caught in the trap of idolatry” (Exodus 23:32-333 NLT). God continued to call His people to live lives that were set apart and unmarked by compromise. “Set yourselves apart for a holy life. Live a holy life, because I am GOD, your God. Do what I tell you; live the way I tell you. I am the GOD who makes you holy” (Leviticus 20:7-8 MSG).
In this section of the book of Leviticus, God is calling His people to a life of holiness or distinctiveness. He continues to give them a series of prohibitions and instructions regarding the kind of life they are to live as His chosen people. He gives a list of activities from which they are to refrain; including child sacrifice, the occult, adultery, incest, homosexuality, polygamy, and beastiality – all regularly practiced by the people who currently occupied the land. He warned them, “You simply must not live like the nations I’m driving out before you. They did all these things and I hated every minute of it” (Leviticus 20:23 MSG). God is calling His people to a different and distinctive kind of life. But He knew how easy it was going to be for them to simply accept and assimilate the ways of the world in which they lived – in other words, to compromise. It would be subtle and slow, but over time, they would begin to live just like the other nations. They would begin to absorb their ways and lose their distinctiveness. So God reminded them, “I’ve told you, remember, that you will possess their land that I’m giving to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey. I am GOD, your God, who has distinguished you from the nations” (Leviticus 20:24 MSG).
Compromise is contagious and deadly.
Some of the commands of God regarding those who disobeyed seem harsh to our modern sensibilities. God commanded that those who practice the ways of the world should be put to death. That’s serious stuff. God was not playing around. He wanted those who lose their distinctiveness to be dealt with harshly. Why? Because the sin of their actions would end up contaminating the entire congregation. It reminds me of the story of the New York family who bought a ranch out West where they intended to raise cattle. Friends visited and asked if the ranch had a name.
“Well,” said the would-be cattleman, “I wanted to name it the Bar-J. My wife favored Suzy-Q, one son liked the Flying-W, and the other wanted the Lazy-Y. So we’re calling it the Bar-J-Suzy-Q-Flying-W-Lazy-Y.”
“But where are all your cattle?” the friends asked.
“None survived the branding.”
Compromise is contagious and deadly. Yet it is extremely easy to do. In his book, Things I Meant to Say to You When We Were Old, Merrit Malloy describes compromise as, “simply changing the question to fit the answer.” We end up twisting God’s Word. We rationalize our behavior. We excuse our excesses. We try to accentuate our own achievements and minimize God’s call to distinctiveness. We decide what it is we want to do, then we compromise our convictions and die to our distinctiveness.
But God is far from politically correct. He is holy and demands holiness of His people. “Live holy lives before me because I, GOD, am holy. I have distinguished you from the nations to be my very own” (Leviticus 20:24 MSG). His people were to be counter-cultural. They were to be radically different. They were to stand out like a sore thumb or a bright light in a dark room. And any amount of compromise was not to be tolerated. But we live during a time when fitting in is the order of the day. We feel the need to blend in, not stand out. We want to be accepted by the world, not stand apart as distinct from it. Our goal seems to be sameness, not distinctiveness – to the point that it is hard to tell who is really chosen and who is not. We have fallen in love with the world. But John reminds us, “Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world – wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important – has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him” (1 John 15-16 MSG). God is not a God of compromise. He is distinctly and radically different. And He demands that His people be different. He demands that we take holiness seriously. We need to deal with sin seriously – in our lives and in our churches. Sin contaminates. Sin alienates. Sin robs us of our distinctiveness and our power as His people. He has set us apart. May we truly begin to live that way. If you struggle with compromise, why not consider praying the following prayer? You can pray it just as it is or put it in your own words. Either way, make a decision to take a stand against compromise.
Father, I can be a professional at compromise. It is so much easier for me to blend in than stand out. Distinctiveness is hard. But You have set me apart to live a life apart – different than the world in which I live. Give me the strength and boldness to live a holy life. May I demand it of myself and of those around me. May Your Church reflect Your holiness in the world, so that we might be the light You’ve called us to be. Amen
7 STEPS TO MORAL COMPROMISE:
- A failure to commit ahead of time to do the right thing.
- Underestimating evil and flirting with dangerous temptations, thus being exposed to far more powerful evils.
- A failure to recognize the numerous forms of compromise lurking at every corner of life.
- A failure to recognize the smooth flatteries and enticing fantasies of temptations. For example, overstating expenses on your expense report. After all, you company has a large budget and you’ve been a loyal employee who works overtime.
- Succumbing to slick rationalizations. I have a Christian acquaintance who is proud of the fact that through the process of bartering he can avoid paying additional income tax, even though this is illegal.
- A sudden, deliberate choice to give in to sin.
- A failure to consider the costly consequences of sin.
Sherman and Hendricks, New Man Magazine, November/December, 1994, Page 74