To compromise is to make concessions or accommodations for someone who does not agree with a certain set of standards or rules. There are times when compromise is good and right—compromise is a basic skill needed in marriage, for example, and in other situations in which keeping the peace is more desirable than getting one’s own way. Daniel and his three friends essentially worked out a compromise with the Babylonian official concerning their diet (Daniel 1:8–14).
In certain other matters, compromise is not good. The Bible makes it clear that God does not condone compromising His commands: “Be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left” (Deuteronomy 5:32). Joyful are those who “do not compromise with evil, and they walk only in his paths” (Psalm 119:3, NLT). God is holy, and His ways are right. God is good, and His ways are lifegiving. Concerning matters that God has clearly addressed, we do not negotiate, bargain, or compromise.
King Jehoshaphat foolishly entered a compromising situation with the wicked King Ahab, and it almost cost him his life (2 Chronicles 18). Jesus rebuked the church of Thyatira for their theological and moral compromise: “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols” (Revelation 2:20). There are certain lines that should not be crossed, and there are times when compromise becomes evil.
As we go through this world, we will hear many calls to compromise. The “fleeting pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25), “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8), and “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16) all tempt us to compromise in areas we should not. Usually, the temptation to compromise is heightened by some type of fear, such as the fear of being rejected or criticized.
What makes compromise so dangerous is the subtle way it approaches us. Compromise, by definition, doesn’t involve a wholesale capitulation to worldly ways or ideals; rather, it accommodates them. Most of us would recoil at the thought of tossing Jesus aside and embracing an idol, but compromise never asks us to do that. Compromise says that we can have the idol and keep Jesus, too. There’s room on the shelf for one more object of worship, right? And what’s the harm, since we still have Jesus?
It is vital to know when compromise is appropriate and when it is not. In general, we could say that we can compromise on preferences but not on principles. Based on that rule of thumb, here are some matters in which compromise might be helpful:
• the color of the church carpet
• the type of vehicle your family should drive
• where to host the corporate luncheon
• when to schedule a trip to the library
But there should be no compromise over values and the standards that stem from those values. Here are some examples of things about which we should not compromise:
• the essentials of the Christian faith, including the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:3–6) and the faithful preaching of the Word (2 Timothy 4:2)
• the lordship and authority of Christ (Luke 16:13)
• your personal convictions (Romans 14:5)
• moral issues, as defined in Scripture (1 Corinthians 6:18)
We must be careful to live out our biblical beliefs. It is pointless to know and speak up for truth if we do not also act on that truth in the way we live our lives (John 15:1–11; James 2:14–17, 26). Not compromising includes not being hypocritical. When our intention is to actively pursue a deeper relationship with God and obey Him in all things, we are less likely to compromise. We will more readily recognize the things that seek to draw us away from God. We will more readily recognize His voice and trust Him (see John 10:4).
Resisting compromise is not up to our own strength or efforts. Rather, God has equipped us (2 Peter 1:3), and He is with us. Philippians 2:12–13 encourages, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” God’s Word and His presence nourish our souls (Psalm 1:1–3; 119:9–16; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:20–21). Other believers encourage us and walk alongside us, and we do the same for them (Hebrews 10:24–25; Galatians 6:1–5). When we are focused on God and living in active relationship with Him and His people, we come to understand the magnitude of His holiness, the crushing nature of our sin, and the depth of His grace. We see His goodness and that true life is in Him (Psalm 34:8; John 10:10). We long to follow Him in all our ways and to share the good news of salvation with others. The better we know God, the better we can resist the temptation to compromise what’s important.