Does the end justify the means? This has been one of the most hotly debated topics ever by philosophers and theologians alike. Even Christians, who should know better, have struggled with it. Yet the significance of the discussion lies not in what man thinks, but what God says.
“Submitting to one another in the fear of God.” (Ephesians 5:21)
At first glance, the issue of submission appears unrelated to the means versus ends topic. Yet, upon greater examination it becomes obvious that it is impossible to Biblically substantiate the conclusion that the end does not justify the means without discussing submission.
To begin with we must examine why submission is such a difficult issue for many people. Whether relating to our perceived rights–what we feel we deserve–or to what we want, attempting to impose our will on others is an inherent part of our nature, and the idea of submitting causes us to bristle. Why is this?
The reason most people struggle with the idea of submission is because they haven’t first submitted their wills to God. Until I come to a point in my life where I realize that not I but God is in charge, I will struggle with doing things any other way than mine. Once I realize that God is running the show, however, I can rest in the understanding that as His follower not only does He direct what I do, but also how.
Scripture confirms this. Jesus teaches, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) Many people gloss over this verse not really understanding what Jesus said, but because Scripture interprets Scripture doing so causes us to miss a very important clarification of the ends versus means discussion.
God’s righteousness is what’s going on inside of us–it’s our personal sanctification, our obedience to Him. God’s kingdom, on the other hand, is what’s going on outside of us–it’s evangelism, God using us to build His kingdom. These two go hand in hand–you really can’t have one without the other. You can’t live a holy life without any concern for the destiny of others, and you can’t evangelize rightly without personal holiness.
A related issue that we also need to examine is how leadership relates to submission. If God commands all of us to submit to each other, taken to an extreme this would mean nothing would ever get done because everyone would be submitting to everyone else. Is this a correct understanding of submission? Intuitively we understand it is not.
Jesus taught, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:25-28 NLT)
The idea of leaders serving is counter-cultural, yet, “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8,9) So how can we put this all together?
Authority and submission, which at first glance appear to be opposites, are actually two sides of the same coin. As Christians, we lead others towards God’s kingdom and purposes in God’s way–being submissive to the authority of Christ. Again, it’s God’s purposes, God’s way–leading (toward His purposes) with a submissive spirit (His way).
So, does the end justify the means? Absolutely not, because to God, how we do things is as important as what we are doing–His righteousness in us is as important to Him as the furtherance of His kingdom by us.
Help us submit to one another in the fear of God. Amen.