Leonard Sweet tells a story from Abraham Lincoln's days as a lawyer in private practice. The story goes that Lincoln was hired to sue a fellow over a debt that totaled $2.50. He didn't want to do it. But the client insisted "principle" was at stake more than money. The two men had been friends, but the delinquent debt had changed things. Now they would be adversaries over a paltry sum of money.

Lincoln's resolution of his own problem of conscience in the matter was to charge his client a $10 fee for handling the case — to be paid in advance. Then the lawyer with big ears, a craggy face, and insight into human nature gave half his fee to the defendant, who promptly paid the $2.50 he owed.

As with so many Lincoln stories passed around in popular lore, I can't vouch for the factual authenticity of the narrative. What I can affirm for a certainty is that we would all be better served by valuing relationships over vindication.

Ever see business partners doom their company over an ego battle? The specific issue may be credit for an idea or the best office location. What to do with their first windfall profit. Which of the partners will represent the company to receive an award. How to market their product at the next level. Everybody who is watching knows what is really at stake. Ego has staked out the turf, and petty issues quickly become "matters of principle." And everybody loses.

The same thing happens in families. Although love is supposed to be in the giving business, two "adult" partners to a marriage begin to focus on what they're not getting from the relationship. A tug of war begins over the things each person wants and expects of the other. Soon the two people are indicting and blaming. Divorce courts are crowded with people who didn't have to be there.

And nowhere does it play out with more irony and pain than in churches. Holy desire to be a serious Bible student becomes unholy arrogance about a right interpretation. Admirable pursuit of an upright character turns into self-righteous and ugly condemnation of others. Churches squander huge amounts of influence by "taking a stand" at the expense of putting a boot on someone's neck.

The issue here isn't that truth doesn't matter and that we should play to the lowest common denominator. One can't close his or her eyes to criminal or immoral behaviors. But, one is well-advised to hear Jesus on turning the other cheek before deciding that winning a dispute is worth more than saving a relationship.

Just because you're right doesn't always make you right.

Holy desire ... becomes unholy arrogance!

If you are wise and understand God's ways, live a life of steady goodness so that only good deeds will pour forth. And if you don't brag about the good you do, then you will be truly wise! But if you are bitterly jealous and there is selfish ambition in your hearts, don't brag about being wise. That is the worst kind of lie. For jealousy and selfishness are not God's kind of wisdom. Such things are earthly, unspiritual, and motivated by the Devil. For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and every kind of evil.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no partiality and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness. (James 3:13-18 NLT)