You have probably heard the phrase, “The end justifies the means.” The phrase is by Niccolò Machiavelli. The phrase implies that if a goal is morally right, any method of getting to it is acceptable. He said that a ruler of a kingdom or a republic shouldn’t be criticised for his deeds, including violence, when the intention and the results are beneficial to him. Machiavelli contends that as long as one achieves their goal, it does not matter what they do in the process. Is this how believers should think?
As a saint, I would vouch for the contrary and challenge us to pursue the reverse–the means justify the end. That is to say, what we do before the destination matters to God more than just getting to the destination. The Christian walk is described in scripture as a race. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 2:5, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” He emphasises on the process–competing according to the rules–as opposed to just the crown. There is immense wisdom here for the believer. God is concerned not just about getting to heaven but mainly about how we journey to heaven. Concerning our heavenly journey, Jesus says in Matthew 24:13 that those who endure to the end will be saved. Again, notice the emphasis on enduring to the end, which implies a specific focus on the journey before finally being saved from this broken world. We can, therefore, safely conclude that, in our walk of faith on this earth, the means are critical before the master, just as much as the end. How does that play out in our day-to-day living?
When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, Jesus told him about the path to be followed to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-5). First, he had to be born again. That is the means that justify the end of entering the Kingdom of God. Some think it is enough to be and do good (charity work and social kindness efforts). But if we do not believe and put our faith in Christ, we cannot be called sons of God (John 1:12). Most people do not value a relationship with Jesus. However, this is the most crucial part of our journey to our final destination as Christians. It is this Christ who will enable us to endure to the end (Matthew 24:13). Jesus said in John 14:6 that he is the way. So, foundationally, being born again through Christ is what justifies the end goal of a joyful eternity. There are no other means.
Remember what Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 2:5, that the athlete must run according to the rules? Now, we know sanctification is the day-to-day work of the Spirit to make us more and more like Jesus Christ. Jesus sanctifies us by His Spirit, through his Word, as we surrender ourselves to him (John 17:17, 1 John 1:7, Isaiah 52:11). If we do not allow the Spirit of God to work these things out in our lives, then we end up becoming very callous and lewd in our approach to life’s issues. For example, many young people in dating relationships in the church today treat fornication casually, thinking they can christen it with a church wedding or a pastor’s prayer. In God’s eyes, what counts is not the suit and gown but that you walk in sexual integrity during that dating period (1 Corinthians 6:18-20, 7:1-3). The means (purity) are what justify the end (holy matrimony).
Also worth considering are the men and women who sell their bodies in adultery to their seniors/ bosses for fame and promotion or a person who does business and thinks that the money they need must come regardless of how corrupt the deals will be. God warns against the use of wrong scales (Leviticus 19:35-36). In essence, God has no problem with riches and wealth. His issue is usually with how we get there.
Niccolo Machiavelli’s idea ignored the essential value of the process, which, many times, has just as much value, especially when people are involved. His notion would justify, for instance, a Prince carrying out atrocities (murders, displacements and harassment) if it led to his Kingdom’s expansion. How could that ever be right? Yet, it is this mentality we buy into when we pursue being woke in our generation. Wokeness says, “I will do all I can to pursue my goal as long as I get what I want; it doesn’t matter how many other things go wrong or how many people are thrown under the bus.
Philippians 2:3 instructs us to avoid a selfish approach to life and, instead, esteem others better than ourselves. Secondly, as believers, we must appreciate that God values the process and not just the end. Therefore, may we pay close attention to the journey because that is what our master will use to qualify or disqualify us.