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Is good intention ever
a good excuse
for being wrong?
There are a lot of people with good intentions, especially Christians. Most Christians go about serving God genuinely with a good intention of wanting to serve Him and bring more people to know Him. They are even willing to sacrifice valuable time and money to do God's work. However, their actions could be right or wrong. The question is asked if what they do is wrong, does that mean that their good intentions made it correct or acceptable. We will look through this question now, in light of what the Bible says about the subject.
A verse from the Bible would already serve to illustrate the relation between intention and truth.
For I can certainly testify about them (the Jews) that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. (Rom. 10:2-3 - NIV).
In this passage, Paul was saying that the Jews of his time were zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on the truth of God, therefore they established their own righteousness and did not submit to God, which is sin. This verse alone could show that good intention alone does not determine whether what you are doing is correct or wrong. Nevertheless, we would go on to look at the good-intentioned action of a person in the Bible.
We would look at the life of King Saul, the first king of Israel. The passage looked at is 1 Sam. 15. In this passage, Saul was asked to wipe out the Amalekites, killing everybody and everything, including livestock. However, Saul did not obey God's orders, but instead spare the livestock and Agag, the king of the Amalekites. Let's look at why he did this and what was God's response through the prophet Samuel.
Saul answered, "The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest."
"Stop!" Samuel said to Saul. "Let me tell you what the LORD said to me last night."
"Tell me," Saul replied.
Samuel said, "Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The LORD anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, 'Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out.' Why did you not obey the LORD ? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the LORD ?"
"But I did obey the LORD ," Saul said. "I went on the mission the LORD assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the LORD your God at Gilgal."
But Samuel replied:
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD ?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the LORD ,
he has rejected you as king." (1 Sam. 15:15-23)
As we can see from this passage, King Saul had good intentions in not killing the sheep and cattle from the plunder; he wanted to sacrifice them to the LORD as an offering. Of course, whether he says this to please Samuel and God is another story, but let's assume he is really sincere in wanting to sacrifice them to God. Also note that he follows all of God's commands (to kill all the Amalekites and destroy them) except for one small infraction, the refusal to obey God fully and destroy the livestock and instead plunder them. For this small infraction, Saul was condemned by God and his authority as a king rejected by God. Notice that whether he was really sincere in sacrificing the best of the plunder was irrelevant as the judgment by God is that he didn't follow God's instructions (1 Sam. 15:11). His intention were never questioned, only his actions to see whether he is obedient to God. In fact, the prophet Samuel replied back to Saul regarding his good intention of sacrificing the best of the livestock to God in a classic statement:
"Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams ... (1 Sam. 15:22)
Here, we can see what God is most concerned with. God requires obedience, not sacrifice; in fact he who is the Creator and Owner of all doesn't need anything we can offer to him. Saul rebelled by not obeying God and thus he is punished regardless of his good intentions.
How does this apply to our question regarding the good intentions of people who may be serving in the ministry and just serving God in general? We have seen that King Saul expressed good intentions in his service towards God, however, he failed the test of obedience. What does that tell us of people who serve God and do things for Him with good intentions? They are to obey God, for good intentions is no substitute for obedience. In fact, let's look at Saul's example to see the punishment that God metes out to those who disobey him.
In 1 Sam. 15:26-29,
But Samuel said to him, "I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the LORD , and the LORD has rejected you as king over Israel!"
As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, "The LORD has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors-to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind."
God's judgments have now fallen on King Saul. As we can see from this passage,
Saul was punished by
(i) Being rejected by God as an appointed king under God.
(ii) His position of authority and his kingdom has been taken away from him and given to another.
What can we learn from this? From this passage, we can see that for those people who persists in disobedience, even though they have good intentions, God's judgments will come upon them. All of us who are serving God have been blessed by Him and gifted to serve in the area we are serving. In a sense, this is our 'kingdom'. When we disobey God, even with good intentions, God's judgments would come down on us sooner or later. For Saul, the first judgment was immediate but the second one took quite a long time and was only fulfilled on the day he was killed by the Philistines and completed the day David became king over all Israel. For us who disobey, what God will do is to reject us as his instruments, and he will remove our position of authority and our ministry and give it to another that is better than us. For well-known pastors with great influence and authority, this means that you personally would be rejected by God as a minister of the Gospel and your ministry would be taken away from you to be given to another person.
Given this, we who serve God in whatever capacity should be fearful and obey God. Good intentions are not sufficient reasons. Saul tried to protest to God through Samuel but was immediately sentenced by God severely, for what was seemingly a minor infraction of God's instructions. How much more some of us in the present age, who flippantly treat God as a sugar daddy and a God who is loving to the point of sentimentalism? When we treat God's instructions in His Word like an option to follow and twist His words to make our points! When we tone down the offensive parts of the Gospel and 'repackage' it to get a better hearing, are we obeying God? NO! You may have good intentions like wanting people to be saved, but are you obeying God when you tone down the Gospel, trying to make Jesus like any other normal friend who desperately wants to be with us and would love us to the point that we don't need to change our sinful lifestyles? Far from it! In fact, this idea of God is totally blasphemous! Oh, let us run back to God, clinging to Him and His Word, forsaking the worldly ways and cleaving to Him alone. Let us run to the Cross and plead with our God for mercy, while judgment has not arrived and there is still time for repentance.
"To obey is better than sacrifice" (1 Sam. 15:22b)