The End Does Not Justify the Means

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good,
to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
Genesis 50:20

Many people are of the opinion that what they do is morally upright if it brings about something good. If people are benefited by an action, does that mean that the action was good? Suppose a person endeavors to satiate his own desires by an action. As a byproduct of his actions, people are aided—lives are even saved. Does this mean that the action was good? Is God pleased with the person’s actions? No, not necessarily!

As we read in this account of Joseph and his brothers, we notice that this particular paradigm is highlighted. What makes an action good is not the outcome. What makes an action morally upright is rooted in something that exists even before the action takes place: the motive. There are two wills involved within this action: Joseph’s brothers’ and God’s.

God had purposed this event to glorify Himself by the saving of His people. However, the brothers were selfish and evil, wanting to rid themselves of this favored brother, a motive that is far from glorifying God. The brothers were not aware of God’s plan when they were throwing their brother in the well or selling him into slavery. They were oblivious to the fact that God would save a people from famine by Joseph’s removal. It was not on their radar. But good things happened; doesn’t that make it okay? No, their intention was evil.

We may argue with this idea further, but let us look at one other example (but not the only one left). Jesus was an innocent man, yet He was crucified. No offense was ever present, yet He was tortured and killed unjustly. We can all agree that there were a host of people in the wrong for their actions in the death of Christ: Pilate, Judas, etc. Would we justify their actions by noticing that their actions were purposed by God to save His people? Would we dare applaud the actions of Judas? Would we thank Pilate? I doubt it.

“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Act 2:22-23)

It is an awesome thing to know that God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). He is good, and He protects His people through His acts: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28).

In the midst of all of this, may we praise God for His pure motive: to bring glory to His Name. We should be careful to seek that motive. Also, we should never justify our actions that have resulted from evil intentions just because God is gracious and had meant it for good. Ask this question, “How often are my motives as pure and unadulterated as God’s?” Our motives never a firmly pure. Even if you understand this, reflect on it. If you have difficulty with this, search out Scripture. A good passage to include in this study: Hebrews 4:11-4:16.


1. In fact, the unbeliever—a person without saving faith—will never do anything that pleases God. In other words, the unbeliever does nothing but sin because all things are done from an impure motive.
  • “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

  • “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23b).

2. Because of remaining indwelling sin, even the believer must repent for impure motives in all things. Actions for the believer on this side of glorification (i.e. perfection) will always be mingled with faith and unbelief.

3. We should seek to have pure motives and not be quick to judge our actions as pure even when the outcome is good.