Living With Integrity
Who would like to have a drink from this juice? Come and get it, sneeze into it. Do you still want it? It is amazing how a little contaminant makes this unacceptable to us.
Are we as discerning and fussy in the rest of our life? Are we as careful in our spiritual life, in our moral life? Do we live with such a strong sense of purity in our Christian walk?
In I Chronicles 29:17, David, who was near the end of his life, prayed, “I know that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.” If God was to test our hearts, would he be please to find integrity there?
A. Values Formation
We all live by values - those things we consider valuable or worth living by. I don’t think that any of us have a list of values which we memorize or keep by our bed, but they are so much a part of us that they form who we are.
These values are formed by what we are taught and what we experience in life. Last Sunday, I spoke about the values which we catch from our parents. In my family, honesty was important. We believed in telling the truth. It is a value that I still hold very highly.
Other values we discover as we live. At home when I grew up, we had a shelf in the basement where my father kept some of his tools. One day, he needed to do a certain job and couldn’t find the pliers he needed to do it so he sent me to the store to get another pair. A few weeks later, he asked me to clean up the shelf and I found about three pairs of pliers. From that experience, I learned the value of keeping your tools where you can find them and have usually had some system of organizing my tools since then.
We learn these values and they begin to form how we live. We make decisions by running our options and ideas through the grid of our values. We rank our values and decide based on the ranking. For example, dandelions are in the lawn and someone calls to invite us to go golfing. We have only a limited amount of time and so we have to make a decision. Which activity we do will depend on our values. Likely several values will come into play. It will depend whether a clean lawn, time spent with a friend or enjoyment of recreation are the highest value for us. In a similar fashion, values are behind much of what we do and what we decide in all of life.
B. Awareness Of Values
We are not always aware of all of our values. Some of them are clear and obvious and we know that this is important to us and we live by this value. Other times, we are not so clear on certain values. Sometimes, something is very important to us, but we do not even realize it. When a crisis or a stressful situation comes up, then our true values are usually revealed. For example, I have seen values clearly revealed in the hockey arena. Someone may say, “I like hockey, it is a great form of exercise” or, “I like hockey, it is a great way to meet people.” When they are saying these things, they are declaring values. They are saying that they value exercise or relationships. But, when they start to play and when they start to get aggressive and hurt other people or don’t mind doing something against the rules to get an advantage, then you know that exercise or relationships are not the highest value to them. Then you know that competition and winning are the highest value, even though they may not even be aware of it.
We need to know what our values are. Sometimes, I have thought that I should write down a list of the things that are important to me. Perhaps that would not be such a bad idea. At the very least, we need to look at our lives, especially at times when we are confused or have a conflict or when we are frustrated and discover what our values are.
C. Values We Hold
So what are some of the values which we hold? There are some which we know about and which are great values. Some of the values that I have reflected on are faithfulness to my wife and being honest. We hold different values related to function and beauty. Some of us put function above beauty, so an ugly car that runs well will be just fine with us. Others of us hold the value of beauty above function and so we will do very inefficient things as long as it looks good. We also hold certain values when it comes to relationships. Some people want everyone to like them. This is their highest value when it comes to relationships. Others are more concerned to have honest and deep relationships and if that means that some people don’t like them, that is not so much of a concern to them. One of the values that I hold is that I don’t like dirty hands. If you ever watch me change oil in my vehicle, you will soon see that. As soon as there is a little oil on my hands, the rag comes out quickly and I wipe them off. What are the things you value?
D. Christian Values
What I have said so far is true of every person on earth. We all live like this and we all function by a set of values, sometimes very different sets of values from other people.
As Christians there is a whole other dynamic at work in our values. Not only do we have a set of values that come to us through what we have learned from our parents or by experience, we also have a set of values that we receive from the Word of God. In fact, as followers of Christ, the values we hold from the Bible are the values that we believe ought to fully and clearly form our life in all its different aspects.
The reason we come to church and attend Sunday School and Bible Studies is because we want to deliberately form a set of values that come from God. We want to discover and develop a Biblical set of values. Romans 14:22 talks about those values which are kind of in the gray area. It warns us that we had better form a clear and consistent set of values that are God approved when it says, “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.”
So what are some of the key Biblical values? Of course this is something that we discover throughout our whole life. Let me point to two Scriptures which are interesting in regards to the matter of forming a Biblical set of values.
One day an expert in the law came to Jesus and asked him about values. His question was, “which is the greatest commandment?” but this is the same as asking, “what are the most important Biblical values?” The answer of Jesus was what we have come to know as the great commandment, namely, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” This “great commandment” is probably the clearest, most concise statement of values for us as Christians.
The story of Job provides us with another interesting point of view. Job is declared by God to be a man of integrity. When all the terrible things happen to him, his friends begin to question his integrity. They accuse him of sin, but Job can’t think of any reason why he should be suffering for sin. As far as he knows, he has walked faithfully according to his values. In defending his integrity before God, in Job 31, we discover a wonderful, Biblical set of values which Job lived by. In verse 1 he declares that he values purity of heart when it comes to other women. He has determined not to commit adultery in his heart. In verse 5, he talks about the value of honest scales, in verse 13, he talks about the value of treating his employees with justice. In verse 17, he mentions that he lives by the value of sharing with those in need, in verse 24, he mentions that he has valued trusting God more than trusting in his possessions and in verse 29, we find that he was a Mennonite, because he was concerned to love his enemy. These and other values are solid Biblical values which Job tried to live by.
And so throughout the Bible, there is a lot of teaching which helps us come to an understanding of a set of values which God approves and which he wants us to live by.
A. Definition of Integrity
I started out talking about purity or integrity and have gone on a fairly long tangent on values. The reason is that an understanding of values is foundational to examining our life to see if we are living with integrity. Integrity is what I really want to talk about today.
The Bible talks a lot about this question and helps us understand what integrity is.
We looked at Job 31 a little while ago and as Job examines his own integrity, he defines integrity for us. In several verses, in Job 31, we have a definition of integrity.
In Job 31:5 we read, “If I have walked in falsehood or my foot has hurried after deceit.” Failing to live by integrity is walking in falsehood and turning our foot to follow after what is deception. One writer defines the word “falsehood” in this verse as a “contradiction between what is without and within…”
A further description of integrity is found in Job 31:7 where it says, “if my steps have turned from the path, if my heart has been led by my eyes, or if my hands have been defiled…” In other words, lack of integrity is knowing where the path goes, but stepping off the path. It is knowing in our heart what is the right thing to do, but following our wandering eyes instead. It is doing, with our hands, what we know is wrong to do.
A similar description of integrity is found in Proverbs 4:25-27, “Let your eyes look straight ahead, fix your gaze directly before you. Make level paths for your feet, take only ways that are firm. Do not swerve to the right or left; keep your foot from evil.”
Integrity occurs when the values we say we declare and the values we live by are the same.
B. Do You Live With Integrity?
In the beginning, we noted that God examines our hearts and is pleased with integrity. The question we want to ask ourselves today is, “Am I faithfully living by the Scripture formed values which I say are mine in Christ?”
A pious church member, who thought himself to be a great Christian, says Warren W. Wiersbe, visited the Junior Department of the Sunday school. The Superintendent asked him to say a few words to the boys and girls. He stood pompously before them, and asked, “Why do you think people call me a Christian?” There was an embarrassing silence, then a small voice from the back of the room said, “Because they don’t know you.”
None of us lives all those values at all times. Sometimes because we forget, sometimes because we haven’t learned them and sometimes we refuse to follow them because we don’t want to. Two sets of values clash and we choose the low road.
1. Biblical illustrations
The Bible is full of examples of people who succeeded in living by integrity and also of people who failed to live with integrity.
We have been looking at Job and have God’s word that Job was a man who was “blameless and upright.” In Job 16:17, Job says, “my prayer is pure.” Throughout the chapter we looked at before, Job 31, Job declared that the values he held, which were Biblically formed values, were the values he tried to live by consistently.
The Pharisees, however, failed. They did not see the falsity of many of their actions. They were so intent on living by integrity and were sure that they followed God with perfect faithfulness, but Jesus declares that they failed miserably. He said to them in Luke 11:42, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”
The apostle Paul was very concerned to be consistent and many times he writes about his determination to live with integrity. In Acts 24:16, in trial before Felix, he said, “I strive to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Paul had a hard time with the people of the church in Corinth and it seems that they had a grievance against him. But for his part, he says in II Corinthians 8:21, “we are taking pains to do what is right…not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men.”
The great ancestor of Jews, Arabs and Christians, Abraham was another man who failed to live with complete integrity. When it became difficult, and he became afraid when he was in Egypt, he lied and said that Sarah was his sister. He not only feared Pharaoh, he also demonstrated that although a great man of faith, there were times when he did not have faith, and did not trust God.
Joseph is commended as a man who did keep faith and lived by integrity. What is most amazing about his integrity is that he was alone in a foreign land, abandoned by his family, perhaps feeling he was abandoned by God, yet he was determined to live in faithfulness. When the opportunity of adultery presented itself, he chose to walk in faithfulness to God and is known for his integrity.
We could look at many others in the Bible but there are also other examples of people who walked with integrity.
J. C. Penney’s first venture as a retail proprietor—a butchershop in Longmont, Colorado opened in 1899 and failed almost immediately, after he refused to bribe an important local hotel chef with a weekly bottle of bourbon. “I lost everything I had,” said Penney, “but I learned never to compromise.”
Penney’s unwavering faith in the copybook maxims of his youth roused skepticism in a mercenary age, but his credo underlay his success. At his death in 1971 at age 95, he left a 1,660-store empire that he built without compromising the stiff principles he had absorbed from three generations of Baptist-preacher ancestors. “I believe in adherence to the Golden Rule, faith in God and the country,” he often said. “I would rather be known as a Christian than a merchant.”
Even though he had been a priest for twenty-eight years, Martin Luther, who fell away from the priesthood and the Catholic faith, never revealed anything he had heard in confession.
He left the Church, married a nun, preached and wrote against the Catholic Church and everyone and everything in it, but he never told a single thing he had heard in confession.
2. What About Us?
The question is, however, what about you and me?
We say we are Christians, but is following Christ and obedience to Christ the highest value in our life?
When young people date non- Christians, is their highest value obedience to Christ?
We had an interesting conversation in our College and Career Sunday School class. We are studying Proverbs and we came to Proverbs 28:9 which says, “If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are detestable.” One of the students asked, which law is meant, is it the civil law or God’s law? We then looked at Romans 13:1 which says, “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” and we realized that it doesn’t really matter, that obedience to Christ involves obedience to the laws of the land. Recently, I have noticed that there are a lot of people in Rosenort who do not wear seat belts and who in other ways ignore the law of the land. Is there integrity to our Christian commitment when we do that?
We say that witnessing is important, but do we have contacts with unbelievers? I have noticed that many Christians are afraid of unbelievers and have an us/them attitude towards them. How will we win them if we don’t see them as people who need to be loved into the kingdom. Young people wear Christian T-shirts or FROG or WWJD bracelets, but treat their teachers in school with disrespect and school property like a toilet. How is our witness received if we live like that? Is there integrity in our Christian commitment if we don’t see people - fellow students, people we deal with in stores and even teachers as those to be influenced towards Christ?
We say that we trust in God, but we worry constantly as if God is not concerned about us and will not look after us.
Now as we are challenged by these difficult questions, we need to realize that it is a lifetime struggle to align values. Integrity will not come all at once, nor will we be perfect. In Psalm 73:2 the writer describes his struggle when he says, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.” That is life, that is the struggle of faith, but if we are aware of the struggle we can choose to live by what we are and so to live with integrity.
There is tremendous value in integrity. Proverbs 10:9 says, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”
This week I heard about a person who had purchased something. When he got home, he noticed that instead of the 15 items he had received, he was only charged for 12. A while later, he went back to the store where he had bought these items and pointed out the discrepancy and paid the difference. About a week later, there was a parcel in the mail which was a gift with a note thanking this person for their honesty.
Whether in a short time or a long time, living with integrity, which is living by faith in God and in the truth of God always is the best way to live. It holds promise for this life and also for the life to come.
If the values we profess do not match the values we actually live, we are not pure. Are we as concerned about that impurity as we are about the impurity of this drink?
This morning, I want to invite you to make a commitment to integrity. In Psalm 7:8, the writer prays, “Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.” What a powerful prayer. Could we pray that prayer? Would we want God to judge us according to the way we have lived?
I like the words of John Donne who wrote, “Sleep with clean hands, either kept clean all day by integrity or washed clean at night by repentance.”
May God help us to live in such a way that we can say as Psalm 101:2 does, “I will walk in my house with a blameless heart.”