We’ve all heard the old saying, “The end justifies the means.” That means it doesn’t matter how you get what you want, as long as you get it. You can lie, cheat, steal, hurt people, destroy lives—whatever—as long as you accomplish what you set out to do. On the flip side, a reference to “the fruit of the poisonous tree” is a legal doctrine which means that if the way you get or achieve something is illegal—lying, cheating, stealing—then the results of those methods are inadmissible in court.
But why should we care what’s accepted in court or not? We’re not lawyers and few of us will ever have to go into a courtroom. Or so we think.
The fact is that God is a god of justice and therefore, He operates in an actual courtroom in heaven. Moreover, He responds to us as if we were in a court of law—because we are.
The point? “The fruit of the poisonous tree.” Since God is a just judge, how we do things is a top priority to Him. In heaven’s courtroom, the end does not justify the means. In other words, God pays close attention to what we do to accomplish our goals—even if they’re good goals—and He absolutely will not bless any endeavor which is accomplished dishonestly or in a way that takes advantage of or harms other people. The results or “fruit” of a “poisonous” method of doing business (whatever biz you’re up to) is not acceptable in God’s courtroom. We can try to justify our actions to anyone who will listen—including the person in the mirror—but if our actions or behaviors are dishonest or detrimental, then God will not only not bless our work, but He’ll oppose it.
For example, if students cheat on a test, they may score a 100 but I won’t give it to them. They’ll get a zero. That’s the penalty for cheating because the end does not “justify the means”. Of course, that all hinges on whether or not I’m smart enough to catch them, but I don’t recommend judging what we can “get away with” with God in terms of what we can pull over on other human beings. I’m not God and I don’t have the advantage of omniscience the way He does. In other words, just because I don’t see it, doesn’t mean He won’t.
But how’s this work in terms of the bigger picture? Let’s say a student “gets away with it” the first time. Okay, but one, two or even three things will happen: One, he’ll get caught cheating somewhere down the line, sooner or later, because no liar is that smart. Two, if he doesn’t get caught in school, he’ll move onto other methods of cheating in life: on taxes, on timesheets, on a spouse. Why wouldn’t he? And three, his character will become completely corrupted because in his mind, the end truly does “justify the means.” Why shouldn’t it? It always has.
Except that it won’t, always.
This principle of “the fruit of the poisonous tree” applies to all aspects of life. Are we trying to have a good relationship with others? Then we’d best be doing right by them—whether they can see everything we’re doing or not. In business? We’d better treat our customers and employees well because we’re not really the boss or the CEO of our business, God is. And he’s watching His employees: us. Whether we get promoted or not has everything to do with how we operate because God is more concerned with our actions than the results we achieve.
He can make us succeed at anything He wants us to succeed at; our success is not His primary concern. That would be our character.
Do we really win when we destroy trust, relationships and character to achieve an end? And will God let that go on forever? No, because here’s a principle: “We reap what we sow.” (We harvest what we plant.) If we sow a poisonous tree (from our sinful behavior), our own fruit will end up poisoning us. But if we sow a good tree, our own fruit will bless us and all who come after us.
The bottom line is that the end will never justify the means in God’s eyes. And that’s because God’s not just concerned with the end-game, He’s more concerned with how the game is played.
In His book, that’s all that determines a winner.