May 23 2012
Jesus was called ‘A man of integrity’. The word ‘integrity’ means ‘The quality of being honest; the state of being whole and not divided’. A person of integrity has a character that is whole and not divided. His words and actions line up with his heart and mind. A person who lies speaks words he does not believe. A pretender acts in a way that is not consistent with his heart. Jesus spoke about pretenders when he said ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me’ (Mt 15.8). Are you a person of integrity? Do your words and actions line up with who you are on the inside? ♦ Our church slogan is ‘Real God, Real People’; being real is being who you are on the inside at all times.
Integrity in words
Why do people lower their voices when talking badly about someone? It’s because they are against that person but don’t want that person to think they are against them. But this is duplicity; it is acting with two personalities, one in front of the person; the other behind their backs. This is reinforced if the person they are talking about suddenly enters the room; they usually greet them with a smile as if nothing had happened (Judas managed a kiss).
Jesus was not this way; he said “What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs” (Mt 10.27). And he practiced it; he had some very blunt things to say about the Pharisees, but he said those things to their faces as much as behind their backs; things like ‘you are like whitewashed tombs … you brood of vipers’ (Mt 23.27, 33). His disciples got worried about his statements. On one occasion they said “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” (Mt 15.12). Is that wrong? Is it wrong to offend people? Apparently not. We not supposed to offend people as an end in itself, but if we are committed to speaking the truth we will offend people. Those who offend sometimes sin; but those who are offended always sin. It takes pride to be offended; the humble are never offended.
Speaking with integrity involves keeping promises. Shortly after arriving in Mombasa I started inviting people to do the Alpha Course in my home. I remember getting frustrated because while many people promised to come, few actually pitched up on the day. I could understand if one or two had a problem, but for most to not arrive didn’t make sense. Then a friend who had lived most of her life in the area said, “In Mombasa a ‘yes’ is often just a polite way of saying ‘no’”. I thought, “What? How can yes ever mean no?” But with time I saw it; people here are very polite, but sometimes they are too polite to be honest. Politeness is exalted above honesty. But Christ did not call us to be polite, he called us to be loving; and sometimes the harshest words are the most loving. Of course, this problem is not just here, it’s in many parts of the world, and I have met people in Mombasa who say what they mean.
The other day a girl I had lent Ks1000 to some years ago arrived at church and handed me an envelope containing Ks10,000. She wanted to prove to me that some people here do keep their promises. It had taken her a few years to put the money together and she had to travel from another city to deliver it, but she stuck to her agreement.
So what is your word worth? Jesus said, “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Mt 5.37). He was telling us to make sure that our yes is not empty. A ‘yes’ must never be a ‘no’; it must not even be a ‘maybe’.
Integrity in actions
God told Israel, “These commandments that I give you today … Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads” (Dt 6.6-8) Jews have taken this literally by tying small boxes containing Scripture to their foreheads and arms while praying. But this is not what God had in mind. God was being figurative; the forehead represents our thoughts, and the hand represents our actions. God was telling them to apply his word to their minds and their actions.
I recently read this about the Great Wall of China: It was built to be too high to climb over, too long to get around, and too thick to break through. But the Barbaric hordes of the North invaded China three times in 100 years. How? They bribed the gate keeper. That wouldn’t happen in Kenya would it? Ahem! You know it would, because it does. We need to invest more in a soldiers character than his equipment.
But the same applies in all areas of our lives. We can provide our families with all the best material things but destroy it with a lie. We can be our club’s most talented golfer and ruin it by cheating. We can be the best salesperson in our company and destroy it with an act of fraud. So God tells us to bind his ways to our thoughts and actions.
We are called to be a people of integrity; a people who act on the outside just as we are on the inside; and a people whose words really mean something.
Other Illustrations used: Courageous – the movie, A Coffee Shop of Whispers, Going Cryptic on Facebook, ‘I Swear to God’, Phylacteries, ‘It wasn’t your fault, it was mine!’
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