“I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. Now this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you.” 1 Corinthians 9:23

Most things in life require some sort of compromise. The purchase of a car generally entails compromise. Weighing cost and utility against need and desire generally forces a compromise that gets adjusted by what is available in the car market. Without compromise there would be very few cars bought since there is rarely the “perfect” car at the “perfect” price.

Compromise has its purpose when a relationship is at stake. The whole idea of a marriage is wedding two totally different people of the opposite sex together. For the marriage to survive there must be compromises. For nations to get along and forge agreements, for friends to proceed in friendship, for participation in elections, sports, business, and a myriad of other human interactions, willingness to compromise must be in play for the sake of the relationship.

Compromise is never acceptable when God’s Word is at stake. Some would say that it is important for Christians to compromise together in order to get more things done for “the greater good.” They tell us we must recognize that there are some doctrines that are not as important as others precisely because they tend to divide believers, and divisions can never be good among churches because the “name of Jesus Christ suffers.”

Who among us can determine that one doctrine is cardinal and must never be compromised and another is peripheral and is subject to debate? Are we not to preach “the whole counsel of God”? And is not the whole Bible verbally and plenarily inspired (2 Timothy 3:16f)? If every word and everything about every word in the original autographs of Scripture is “God-breathed” then it sounds to me that every “jot and tittle” is of equal importance (Matthew 5:18). I do not believe Christians have the luxury of emphasizing one doctrine above another. Compromise is fine in the world of relationships, but it is disobedience in the world of Bible doctrine.

There are two basic definitions of compromise. The word can be defined as settling differences by each party making concessions in order to find middle ground. It can also be defined as eroding, degrading, diminishing, and jeopardizing, as in “integrity has been compromised.” Just how is a godly man to determine where compromise is appropriate and where compromise is out of the question?

A quick review of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 9 clearly identifies the key to discerning good compromise from bad. Paul clearly puts doctrine out of the reach of potential compromise by keeping “the Gospel” intact (the only instrument that can save anyone is the unvarnished and unchanged truth of God’s Word) while leaving his own personal tastes up for grabs. He is essentially identifying that convictions must never be compromised but opinions and convenience may always be muted for the sake of gaining a hearing for the Gospel message.

Elsewhere in Scripture the principle of uncompromising conviction is upheld while issues of personal preference are vacated. Obedient believers, filled with biblical convictions, drive the meaning of 1 Timothy 3:15: “…the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.” The church is the earthly keeper of the truth. Psalm 119 starts with these words, “Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!” The psalmist goes on to say, “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart! They also do no iniquity; they walk in His ways. You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently.” The longest chapter in the Bible goes on, verse after verse, extolling every part of the Word of God as virtuous and to be obeyed. Verse 128 reads, “Therefore all Your precepts concerning all things I consider to be right [straight, direct]….” The take home principle is this: Bible-referenced conviction and morality are always of higher consideration than personal convenience and keeping the peace, especially if you want to avoid the negative definition of compromise (degrade, damage, and diminish).

But, when it comes to my own preferences, tastes, and desires, compromise is well within reason. Paul often exhorts believers to be “gentle.” He uses a Greek word that means “sweet reasonableness, kindness, sensitivity of disposition, not pressing my own legitimate rights, each instance of gentleness founded in strength and acted upon in love.” Believers are to exemplify the same reasonableness as Christ (Matthew 21:5) by the aid of the Holy Spirit as Galatians 5:22f says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Precisely the same grace is required in restoration of an errant believer (verse 6:1) and of a Christian’s deportment in general (Titus 3:2).

Paul’s expression of gentleness in 1 Corinthians 9:19ff is the same as his direction to all saints in their witness. “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (Timothy 2:24ff). Truth, especially God’s truth, must never be compromised, but we should gladly allow our own taste to be modified for the sake of the Gospel. Trust and obey.