The Quest For Integrity - Matthew 5:33-37 - January 29, 2012
Series: Kingdom Life – A World Turned Upside Down #15
I’ve always been fascinated by history and by those things that have gone before. Because of that, there are many places in this world that I would like to see; many countries I would like to visit. China is one of those places that I would like to go some day and when I am there one of the things I will look forward to seeing is The Great Wall of China. This wall is by far the longest man made structure in the world, stretching for nearly 6300 km.
The whole purpose of the wall was to defend China from it’s neighbours. If it’s enemies could not get in, it’s rulers reasoned, then China need not fear destruction from without. And it served it’s purpose well. No enemy was ever able to successfully assault that wall. And yet in the end the wall did not prevent China from being conquered. All it took was for one man, lacking in integrity, to open a gate and let the enemy in. That’s exactly what happened in the year 1644 and it serves to remind me that no matter what lengths a person, a family, a church, a nation goes to, to protect itself from without, the greatest danger we face comes from a lack of integrity within.
Now, the dictionary defines integrity as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles that you refuse to change.” (www.dictionary.cambridge.com) It speaks to an uprightness of spirit; an incorruptibility of character. It is what we need to cultivate in our own lives and in those of our children, because our relationships, our churches, our classrooms, our governments, suffer from a lack of integrity.
In fact we have come to expect a lack of integrity in the lives of our leaders, haven’t we? It makes me think of a story I came across the other day. A farmer was out working in his field when he saw a bus go off the road and crash onto his land. When he went to investigate he discovered the bus was full of politicians. The farmer was at a loss of what to do at first, but decided the least he could do was dig a hole and lay them to rest, and so that is what he proceeded to do. Later in the day though a police officer showed up looking for the politicians. When the farmer explained what he had done the police officer said to him, “Well, if you didn’t have a coroner out here, how could you be certain that they were all dead?” To which the farmer replied, “Well, some of them said they weren’t, but you know how them politicians lie, so I buried them anyway!” (Jeffrey Anselmi, Jesus on Integrity, www.sermoncentral.com) We might laugh at that but we laugh because we recognize that there is a grain of truth in there. We really aren’t surprised anymore when we hear of character failings in our politicians.
But research shows that that lack of integrity hits even closer to home. A number of years ago a book was published entitled, “The Day America Told The Truth.” It was a survey of morals and values from across the U.S.A. Of those surveyed, 91% said that they lied on a regular basis; 86% said they lied to their parents regularly, 75% said they lied to their friends, 69% lied to their spouses, and 50% admitted calling into work sick when they really weren’t. (Michael Luke – Keep Your Promises – www.sermoncentral.com) The truth is that we are faced with a crisis of integrity in these days and yet as children of God you and I are called to be men and women of integrity.
Let’s open our Bible to the 5th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew 5, beginning in verse 33. This is a continuation in our series on The Sermon on the Mount. We are currently looking at Jesus’ teaching regarding righteousness for He says that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees we will surely not enter into the kingdom of heaven. And we’ve already looked at what He has to say regarding hatred and lust and divorce and we’ve discovered that the spirit of God’s Word calls us to a higher standard of righteousness than does the letter of the Law and that’s no less true in the verses that we will look at today. This morning we hear what Jesus teaches about integrity. Let’s begin reading in verse 33 …
“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:33–37, NIV)
Dave and Tom live in the same town. Dave attends church every Sunday. Tom has not been in church in thirty years. Dave reads the Bible every day. Tom doesn't own a Bible. Dave usually listens to the local Christian radio station. Tom doesn't know a single hymn. Dave picked up some material at the local hardware store and told the owner he would pay for it within the month. Tom owns the local hardware store. Three months have passed and the bill has not been paid. Dave invited Tom to church last Sunday. Tom stayed home and watched TV. (Dan Erickson, Nothing But The Truth, www.sermoncentral.com)
Friends, whether you and I know it or not, we represent Jesus to everyone we meet. Scripture calls us, “Christ’s ambassadors,” and someone else has said that “you are the only Bible someone else might ever read.” So what do our neighbours see when they look at our lives? One of the sad truths of our time is that so many well-known Christian leaders have had very public failings of integrity. They have cheated on their spouses, they have walked off with church monies, they have lied and schemed and walked over other people to get ahead in life. And the world has seen it. People have taken notice and they’ve become even more jaded against Christianity, because even though they themselves are not believers, they have recognized that Christians claim to live by higher standards.
So let’s do a little integrity test today and see how we measure up. Don’t raise your hands as I ask these questions but answer them in your heart. They’re also in your sermon notes … Have you ever exaggerated the truth in order to make yourself look better in some way? … Have you ever lied to cover up your sin? … Have you ever deceived someone in order to avoid trouble? … Have you ever been less than completely honest and forthcoming when you do your taxes? … Have you ever copied a music CD, a computer program, or a movie that you do not have the legal right to copy either for yourself or for others? … Have you ever broken a promise that you have made? … Have you ever said that you would pray for someone and then failed to lift them before the Lord in prayer?
How many of you could answer “yes” to one or more of those questions? … If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions you have failed the integrity test and if you don’t have your hand up you need to put it up now because everyone of us could answer “yes” to at least one of those questions and if your hand is not already up you too have just failed the integrity test right here, right now!
Listen to what Scripture has to say … “The LORD detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy.” (Proverbs 12:22, NIV) Are you one in whom God delights? Am I one in whom God rejoices? Are you one in whom He takes pleasure because you are trustworthy and there is no deceit in you? Folks, we need to be men and women of integrity. To a large extent, the people in your life will judge the validity of the faith you claim, and the Jesus you proclaim, by what they see in your life; by how well your actions integrate with what you say you believe; by how the word you speak is fulfilled in daily practice. And so it was in Jesus’ day as well.
But here’s the problem: The Pharisees had this whole intricate system worked out to help them determine what vows and oaths were valid and which could be discarded. They took their vows, they made their oaths, in order to prove their sincerity, but at the same time they were always on the lookout for the loophole that would enable them to turn their back on that which they had vowed to do. The closer that which they swore by was to God, the more binding the oath, and any oath taken in God’s name was binding indeed.
Jesus rakes them over the coals for this very thing in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew when He says to them … “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gold of the temple is bound by that oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but anyone who swears by the gift on the altar is bound by that oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, anyone who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And anyone who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And anyone who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.” (Matthew 23:16–22, NIV)
You know, people today do a similar thing. Remember what you used to say as children when you wanted someone to believe what you were saying? “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” Or you would make a “pinky promise” because you can’t break a pinky promise! You said that because you wanted to impress upon your friends how very serious you were about whatever it was you were promising to do. You wanted them to believe you. And then what happened later when you didn’t follow through? Usually you had left yourself a way out because the whole time you’re making your promise you’ve got your fingers crossed behind your back, right … and those crossed fingers supposedly negated everything that went before.
As adults the things we swear by are a little different. You might have heard people say something along the lines of, “I swear by all that’s holy,” or “I swear by my mother’s grave” or “my children’s lives,” or “as God is my witness.” I don’t know if it still happens but it used to be that when you were called upon to give your testimony in a court of law you would place one hand on the Bible, and raise the other in the air, as you “promised to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help you God.” We take oaths to prove our sincerity to others.
During the time of Jesus’ life there was a Jewish sect known as the Essenes. They would not take oaths because they knew what we seem to have forgotten, that “One who is not believed without an appeal to God stands condemned already.” (Rodney Buchanan, The Quest for Honesty, www.sermoncentral.com) In other words, if you have to swear by God in order to be believed, then you’ve already failed the integrity test; your character has fallen short.
Jesus says that if we’re living with integrity an oath isn’t needed at all because people will know that when we say, “yes,” we mean, “yes,” and when we say, “no,” we mean, “no.” When we give our word, when we make a commitment, we are bound to see it through whether we have sworn by anything or not. James 5:12 … “Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned.” (James 5:12, NIV)
If our lack of integrity is so obvious that we need to swear by something in order to be believed by others, our character has already fallen short. God wants us to be people of integrity and He takes our word seriously. All we have to do is look at what Scripture tells us about Ananias and Sapphira to know that to be true, don’t we? This couple sold some land and gave part of the money to the church. Nothing wrong with that at all. The land was theirs to do with what they wanted, after it was sold the money could have been used for anything they desired, but when they were asked if they had given everything to the church, they answered, “yes” when the truth was “no.” We could say they exaggerated the truth to make themselves look better in the eyes of their fellow believers. Scripture is a little more blunt and it simply says that they lied, not just to other people, but to God Himself. And God struck each of them down for what many would consider to be a simple stretching of the facts. We are told that in the aftermath of this event that “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5:11, NIV) I bet it did! And I would suppose that the brothers and sisters who heard of these things took very seriously the word they spoke to others from that day on.
As should we. I have tried to impress upon my children from an early age that one of the worst things they can do is to fail to tell the truth, to fail to keep their word because when we do that we break the bonds of trust and we call into question all that we say or do from that time on. By the same token, the greatest disappointments I have had in myself are those times I realize that I’ve failed to walk with integrity because I’ve failed to live up to the word I gave or the commitment I made.
See, our integrity speaks to our character and our character to our reputation. As I was preparing this message I received a telephone call from a survey company. My initial response was, “I don’t have time for this,” but when she said she only had 3 questions to ask me I figured that I could answer three questions fairly quickly. Well her 3 questions became 4 and her 4 questions were set to become a whole lot more when I cut the conversation short. From my perspective she had deceived me and it reflected both a lack of integrity and character on her part. But that’s how easy it happens. We tell our children or our spouse that we’re going to make time for them and then something else comes up, we commit to getting something done but fail to follow through, we say “yes” to something when in our hearts we really mean “no.”
When we do that we dishonour God and call into question our integrity. If we are to be people of integrity, what we do must mesh with what we say. What we say must mesh with what we believe. What we believe must mesh with the faith we hold to, to the truth of God’s Word. Integrity is keeping our word, fulfilling our commitments, practicing what we preach.
And a lack of integrity not only dishonours God, and calls into question our character, but it also leads to stress in our own lives. Pastor Paul Kaiwi in one of his messages refers to a poll that reported this … "The #1 cause of stress in our lives today is not the lack of money, and it’s not the breaking down of relationships, BUT it’s the inconsistencies in life. It’s saying one thing & doing something else. It’s the constant conflict inside every person that causes stress."
Someone may say, "My family is really important to me." Almost everyone would say that. Yet, statistics reveal that the average father in the U.S. spends 5 minutes a day with his children. So what’s he doing? He is saying one thing but he is doing something else.
We might say, "Our health is really important to us." Yet, do we exercise? Do we eat right?” We say that our health is important but we are not willing to work on it. Saying one thing but doing something else.
Are we materialistic? "Oh, no! We are not…We are not materialistic people at all." Nevertheless, is our debt load getting bigger & bigger? Are we buying things that we cannot afford? Do we have credit card charges that we cannot pay? Are we saving money? "No, we spend it all," Saying one thing but doing something else.
Is God important to us? "Yes!” 95% of Americans in the U.S. say, "God is important to me." Yet only 9% of Americans attend church regularly and only 2% of Americans are involved in any type of ministry. Do we spend time in the Word? Do we spend time praying, talking to God, developing a relationship with Him? “[We’re …] much too busy to do any of that." You see, we say one thing but we do something else.” (Paul Kaiwi, Got Integrity?, www.sermoncentral.com)
And maybe this morning you have become aware that there is a lack of integrity in your life, that there is a gap between your word and your deeds, your faith and your daily life. What do you do now? Where can we go from here? I’m going to give you a few ideas this morning but I’m going to leave it up to you to fill them out. I don’t want to spoon feed you here – I want you to do the work because then it’s going to stick. But here’s where you can start …
Begin by remembering who your Father is. John 8:44 says that Satan is the father of lies. If you have been delivered from sin through faith in Jesus Christ then you have a heavenly Father in God. Come to Him and confess the truth that you have failed in keeping your, “yes,” a, “yes,” and your, “no,” a, “no.”
Secondly, develop a biblical worldview. Spend time in God’s word discovering the person that you can be in God and seeking to see the world around us through the eyes of God. Out of that will develop biblical priorities. A way of ordering your life and arranging your time that will help you live up to what you are called to in Christ, to be all that you can be in God.
Thirdly, don’t give your word carelessly. Consider whether you really want to, really can, make a commitment to do, or to not do, something at this point. Give it some forethought and consider whether you will be able to and willing to fulfill any commitments you might be about to make. Write your commitments down in you need to. If you say you’re going to pray for someone, write it down because life gets busy and you’re likely to forget otherwise.
Then keep your word even if it seems to be a little thing to you. Character is built one step at a time and reputation is realized with a consistent witness in one small thing after another. Be faithful in the little things and you will find that you are faithful in the big things.
Keep your word even if it is difficult or it costs you. Turn to Psalm 15 with me for a moment. Let’s hear together what is written there … David begins by asking this question: “LORD, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?” And then he answers with these words: “The one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does no wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others; who despises a vile person but honors those who fear the LORD; who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind; who lends money to the poor without interest; who does not accept a bribe against the innocent. Whoever does these things will never be shaken.” (Psalm 15:1–5, NIV)
What he’s saying is this: the one who walks through this life with integrity will be close to the heart of God, will not be shaken by the deceit and sin that those who walk without integrity, become mired in. Friends let our reputation be such that we need not swear by anything to be believed but let our, “yes,” be our, “yes,” and our, “no,” be our, “no!”