Sermon Illustrations

April 18, 2005 “Good Name Above Good Gain!” Genesis 43:1-12 Key verse(s) 12:“Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back in the mouths of your sacks.”

In a world so caught up in rules and regulations it is not surprising that in that regulating process the door has literally been left ajar for those who enjoy skirting the rules. Whether it’s cheating on college exams and papers (which has become pan-demic on college campuses around the world) or fudging a few figures on Uncle Sam’s form 1040 (according to the IRS tax fraud has increased dramatically in the United States, especially since taxes were simplified over the last few decades), fraud is on the increase around the world. It seems the more governments try to circumvent it with complicated systems of control and reporting, the more it seems to spread. One young enterprising IRS examiner put it this way. “It’s like scratching a rash. The harder we try to stop the itching, the worse the itching gets and the farther the rash spreads.”

Where once a man’s integrity was so valuable that he would do nearly anything to preserve his good name, now integrity has become with many nothing more than an afterthought, something that you almost forgot about but knew, perhaps, you should be careful to avoid trouble with. There was a time when the central focus of political campaigns was whether or not the candidate had integrity or not. Lincoln ran on this platform in 1860 and 1864. Theodore Roosevelt did the same almost fifty years later. But now, a century since Teddy, the fact that a man or woman has shown less than sparkling character during the course of their personal lives seems to be of little importance in a more pragmatically focused world where “our personal lives are none of the nation’s business.” (Bill Clinton, 1998.) Issues like whether or not you have cheated on your spouse or faithfully served your country in the military or, for that matter, believe in God, have been relegated to the scrap heap of time-worn and irrelevant ideas that are no longer applicable to our times. (By the way, if you ever have wondered what common thread tied Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt in such a way as to be the faces depicted on Mt. Rushmore, you need look no farther than this: each man led a life of integrity.)

The thing that so often exemplified presidential leadership in days gone by was something called integrity. Everyone expects a president to be honest. That’s doing the right thing when everyone expects you to do it. But, doing the right thing when no one expects it is certainly another. That’s called integrity.

Booker T. Washington describes meeting an ex-slave from Virginia in his book Up From Slavery: “I found that this man had made a contract with his master, two or three years previous to the Emancipation Proclamation, to the effect that the slave was to be permitted to buy himself, by paying so much per year for his body; and while he was paying for himself, he was to be permitted to labor where and for whom he pleased.

Finding that he could secure better wages in Ohio, he went there. When freedom came, he was still in debt to his master some three hundred dollars. Notwithstanding that the Emancipation Proclamation freed him from any obligation to his master, this black man walked the greater portion of the distance back to where his old master lived in Virginia, and placed the last dollar, with interest, in his hands.

In talking to me about this, the man told me that he knew that he did not have to pay his debt, but that he had given his word to his master, and his word he had never broken. He felt that he could not enjoy his freedom till he had fulfilled his promise.” (Douglas E. Moore.)

Jacob didn’t have to put double the silver back into those sacks. It is probably certain that he could have ill-afforded to do so personally as years of draught must certainly have drained his resources. Nonetheless, even though no one expected him to do so, he was compelled to not only do the honest thing and return the silver, he was also compelled to double it because his name, the most valuable thing he possessed, was even more compelling. Perhaps the temptation was there to try to “get away with something.” Jacob was as human subject to sin as you and I. Yet, he did not yield to this. Rather, he was not willing to accept something for which he had not dutifully paid. It really didn’t matter whether he had to or not. His reputation was on the line and he would spare no cost to make sure that his good name would remain so. Jacob guarded his integrity. He put his good name above good gain.

Heavenly Father, may we always regard our good name highly, not just in public, but also in secret where only You know what we do. May we always place integrity, a good name, above any good gain. Help us to guard our integrity at all costs. In Jesus name we pray. Amen!

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