Let’s Rethink What It Means To Compromise

“Compromise” is a dirty word. It’s not the kind of dirty word like cusswords or slurs; it’s dirty in the sense that it makes us feel dirty. The sense that compromise leaves is one of dissatisfaction, of things not getting worked out as well as we would have hoped. We gave up something we cared about and got less in return than we would have liked. In short, compromise feels like losing (especially to those of use who are competitive). Even if compromise is necessary, it feels, at best, like a necessary evil.

But what if we were to take the word “compromise” and replace it with “sacrifice”? Isn’t that really the best sense of the word? to lay down, voluntarily, something that matters to us even if the return isn’t great. Sacrifice is a noble thing and shows care for others. It is thinking of a good greater than my own. Compromise feels gross because we walk away feeling shorted, like we didn’t get all we wanted out of the deal whereas sacrifice is a good, if difficult, action to bring about a better end. And that is fulfilling.

Of course not all compromises are bad. And, yes, some things we hold dear cannot be sacrificed. We must never give up or waffle on the essentials of faith and the commitment to Christ. But could we be willing to sacrifice in how we communicate them? Could we forgo aggression or argumentation for civil discourse or personal conversations? And we must be willing to sacrifice when it comes to the peripherals and preferences whether it’s church musical style or political affiliation. Sacrificing in these cases doesn’t mean abandoning permanently or disavowing; it means laying down those things that matter to us for the love of other. If, in a given context, we willingly relinquish a preference or desire for the sake of restoring or reviving a relationship that is noble, not weak. It is no loss to willingly give something up for the good of a relationship or the good of another person.

We know this because of Jesus’ life. He was a man who did not compromise, not in the sense that makes use feel like we need a shower. He didn’t give a little to gain a little like the compromises we so often encounter. Instead He sacrificed. He never “lost” even when he gave up things that were valuable (like his place at the right of God and then His life). And He did it all for the greatest good, without ever letting go of the essential aspect of His life and mission to glorify God by saving the world.

You and I aren’t perfect. We won’t walk perfectly in Jesus’ steps, and that means conflicts will happen. That’s when mutual sacrifice – a more accurate and uplifting phrase than compromise – matters most. Instead of giving more than we want to gain less than we hoped for, we end up giving what we can to gain what the other person needs most. And in this new version of compromise we reflect the character of Jesus instead of the dissatisfaction of compromise as we now know it.

I live in the Nashville area and spend my days helping churches with leadership development. My nights are spent writing and rooting for Minnesota sports teams. I also podcast a bit. I'm the author of The Pastor's Kid: Finding Your Own Faith and Identity, Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith, and The Curious Christian: How Discovering Wonder Enriches Every Part of Life