Compromise is a word that Americans associate with losing. Most of us, when we use this word, use it in the context of giving up something you wanted to reach an agreement with someone else. The other party is also expected to give up something they wanted to reach a concession or compromise. It’s so ingrained that to compromise means to leave the negotiations as equally unhappy with the results as the other party. What if we are looking at compromise all wrong?
Up until a few years ago I also used the word compromise in a negative way. Examples would be compromising ones morals, abandoning morals once held in favor of a lower standard. How about compromising their faith? We use that when we see a fellow Christian partying it up or any other behavior deemed beneath the standards of a Christian. Maybe talking about a politician compromising their position in favor of a lesser appealing position for some favor? You could say a person compromised their finances by making a bad investment or not paying their bills.
A couple of years ago we were ministering at a bi-lingual, predominately Hispanic church. The people who started and led the church are from Argentina. The associate pastor is from Ecuador and the congregants were from the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala, Chile, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Brazil and other Spanish-speaking areas of Central & South America. The pastor would talk of ” compromising with God “. This left my wife and I thinking ” why would you want to compromise? “. In our culture that has always been a bad thing. In theirs it’s not just a good thing, but a necessary thing. After a few weeks and some researching we came to the conclusion that, not only did it make sense, they were using the term correctly.
Everyone who preached had an interpreter. If you spoke Spanish you had an interpreter who translated to English. If you spoke English your interpreter would translate to Spanish. With all the different dialects of Spanish in the congregation there were times when things were literally lost in translation. That’s what we originally thought until we thought it through and researched it.
What we found was a perfect example of compromising without sinning in the Bible. In 1 Corinthians 9 it is all about compromising for the greater good of those you are ministering to. Verses 19-21 speak specifically to Paul compromising his personal beliefs to better minister to unbelievers in a way as to not offend and do more to push them away.
Chuck Swindoll, in The Swindoll Study Bible, says this; Here we have a little glimpse of Paul’s behind – the – scenes thoughts regarding the spread of the gospel. What he says here raises a question: When was the last time you had a non-believing family over for dinner? Or the last time you went to one of their backyard parties? You might say, ” well, I’m not willing to compromise.” Is that good? Paul didn’t see it that way. He was willing to adapt – but not sin – in order to be around those who were not like him. Why? To bring them to Christ. In our evangelical circles the word compromise is often viewed with a critical eye. But there is a definite place for compromise, and wise, mature, and balanced is the person who gives as much as possible so as not to offend while still retaining the integrity to communicate an authentic gospel.
Paul is telling of his willingness to compromise in order to bring people to Christ or build up & protect a weaker, new believer to the faith. He said that even though he is a free man with no master he is a slave to all people. He stated that when he is with those who are weak he is weak, sharing in their weakness. He states he is trying to find common ground with everyone in order to bring as many to Christ as possible. In Acts Paul talked to the scholars in Athens. He didn’t insult them by telling them they were wrong, he treated them with respect and honor and in doing so he had them listening to what he had to say.
He didn’t stay away from this crowd because they were ” sinners ” or ” unbelievers “. Just the opposite, he met them where they were and used their customs, beliefs and religion to introduce them to Jesus. Throughout the Bible’s accounts of Paul’s life, he met the people where they were. He dined with devout Jews and observed their customs and was educated enough to discuss and debate with them. He dinned with Gentiles who were non-believers and did not refuse their hospitality as long as it did not violate any of God’s commands. He dinned with new believers who were Gentiles ( Greeks ) and new very little about the faith. He had learned much about their culture and could reason with and teach them. He was able to encourage both Jewish and Greek new believers. He was flexible and observant enough to know if something would be offensive and counter productive to his audience.
Paul’s whole ministry was about spreading the good news. He did not engage in behaviour control or modification. Even when mingling with unbelievers he did not try to tell them how to behave. The people he admonished and corrected were those he already had a relationship with, hence the letters to the various churches we call books ( 1 & 2 Corinthians, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians ). He was instead a living example of grace, truth and love.
How can we use this for us today? As Chuck Swindoll asked, when was the last time you had an unbelieving family over for dinner? When was the last time you went to dinner anywhere with an unbelieving family or just an individual? Did you refuse to go to a place of their choosing because there would be ” alcohol their ” or ” secular music and alcohol “? When was the last time you mingled with non-believers anywhere and just conversed with them? Maybe nothing more than good-natured banter or talk about sports or shopping while refraining from gossip or cussing without condemning them through words of facial expressions? When was the last time you went to a coworkers or friends home for a ” house party ” where there would be wine while cupcakes, dishes or makeup was being sold? You can go, have fun, laugh and still not violate your conscience if you have a personal conviction against drinking.
The point is, when was the last time you compromised to the benefit of others for the faith? You may be the only person they see who isn’t a stuck up, judgemental and prudish Christian. You may be the one person whose willingness to go to them and not judge, but accept them, that opens their mind to the truth of the gospel. There’s a saying that goes something like this – don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re of no earthly good. Don’t be afraid to compromise a little for an eternal benefit.