THE IMPORTANCE OF INTEGRITY
Text: Proverbs 10:9
You are in the grocery store and the cashier has given you $10.00 too much in change. Aware of it, do you grin to yourself and say "Good, I can use the extra cash." Or, do you give it back? This is called a moral dilemma.
You find someone’s wallet. Do you keep the money out of it and mail the wallet to its owner anonymously? Or, do you just throw it aside, keeping it’s cash? Or, do you return the wallet to its owner with all its contents in tact? This is also called a moral dilemma.
Face to face, you and so and so get along well. Yet, separated and in different company, you put each other down. Meeting each other in church, both act saintly and pious. This is an issue that can be one sided or double sided in that one or both parties practice this injustice. I call it "people bashing." Both parishioners and preachers alike can be guilty of this behavior.
In church, your behavior is appropriate. But, in a secular environment, do you assume and conform to the character of your surroundings? Author Herb Miller, in his book Actions Speak Louder Than Verbs, calls this kind of practice "chameleon Christianity" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989, p. 36).
All of the above are tests of integrity. A good way to define integrity is to examine one’s public versus his/her private personality. In other words, are one the same person in the light as well as in the dark? Consistency and inconsistency are therefore the key factors that determine integrity.
Try this one. It is examination time in school. Some students who were tardy upon arrival, come in and explain that they were twenty-five minutes late because of a flat tire. To make it interesting, use the same excuse for teenagers who are late for their curfew. In either case, the parent or the teacher says to the party of four, "Okay here is your exam assignment. I want each of you to go the four a corners of the room and wait for further instructions." Upon dispersing into the four corners, the teacher or parent then says, "I want you each to write which of the four tires were flat?" It is obvious that if any one prompts the other or others as to what answer to put down, then guilt is evident.
Job was a man who walked uprightly and upheld integrity. Job 2:3 says, "The Lord said to Satan, "Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason" (NIV). And Job’s integrity is something that we will come back to later in the sermon.
This morning as we talk about integrity. We must remember that there is both personal and group integrity. Integrity whether personal or corporate has three facets to it, honesty, honor and goodness.
Honesty is a term that we use synonymously with sincerity. In fact, we close a lot of letters with "sincerely yours", so and so.
ILLUSTRATION: "In the Greek original of the New Testament the word used means `judged in the sunlight’; and the English word is derived from the Latin--- `sine cera’, which means `without wax’. In the days when art flourished in ancient Greece, it was the common practice to repair with `invisible’ wax any vase or statue that had, as a result of carelessness or misadventure, been damaged.
A rich man or a person of high rank might employ a sculptor to chisel his bust in marble. Sometimes, if the chisel slipped, the end of the nose would be chipped off. Rather than go to the trouble of making a new bust, the sculptor would so mend the features with wax that the flaws could not be detected unless by very close scrutiny, and palm off on the customer his defective workmanship. If the client happened to be a knowing person, he would carry the finished statuette out of the studio into the open before paying for it, and examine it carefully in the sunlight: otherwise in the course of time, he would have the chagrin of seeing the nose drop off his statuette in the heated room of his house. The statue was not `sincere’, not `without wax’, and could not bear careful scrutiny in the sunlight" (A. Naismith. 1200 Notes, Quotes And Anecdotes. Great Britain: Pickering Paperbacks, 1988, p. 185).
After having lost his livestock, his children and even his health, Job still clung to his faith in God. In Job 2:9, Job’s wife said to him, "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die" (NIV).
Someone who is honest is someone in whom you could be confident. If you are confident in someone, then you can have assurance about his/her performance with whatever is at hand. If you are confident of someone’s behavior, then you are trusting of them. You therefore know that you can rely on him or her to do what is right even when you are not there in their midst.
We are confident in God and his promise of salvation and eternal life. Even though Job lost all his livestock, his children and even his health, Job held on to his integrity, even when his wife lost heart.
ILLUSTRATION: John Wesley was one day walking along the road with a friend who, sore vexed and troubled, expressed his doubts of God’s goodness. `I don’t know what I shall do with all my worries and troubles," said he. Wesley noticed a cow looking over a stone wall, and put the question, "Why does a cow look over the wall?"
"Because it can’t see through it I suppose," replied his friend. "Precisely!" said Wesley. "So if you can’t see through your troubles, try looking over them: and look up to God." (Naismith p. 197). That is how Job continued to maintain his integrity. He was not self-confident in his own ability so as to be what we would call self-reliant. Job’s assurance as based upon God’s promises. He looked over his troubles to God. He was God-reliant unlike his wife who had become self-reliant as was made evident from Job 2:9.
One of the things that honor is based upon is one’s reputation. I once read about the difference between reputation and character. In his book Basic Bible Sermons On the Church, Reverend Ralph Smith put that difference this way: "Character is different from reputation. Reputation is what people think you are. Character is what you really are" (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1990, p. 108). Character is a distinctive mark or trait that a person has that is unique. For better or worse everyone has a trait or traits that are unique. If those traits are negative, then we call them character flaws. Conversely, if the trait or traits are positive, then we call them character qualities or attributes.
ILLUSTRATION: My ethics professor at Duke Divinity School, Dr. Stanley Hauerwas, once told the following story. "A man was once asked by a church group as he was walking down the street if he was a Christian. He said to them, "Why don’t you go and ask my friends over there?" What he was getting at was his reputation among his peers. But, when it comes to our character, and our own perception, Jesus does not want to know what others say. He wants to know and wants us to know in our own words and character who we say that He is (Matthew 16:15).
Another thing that is important concerning honor is respect. Like the similarities between reputation and character, respect has two levels also. When we speak in terms of the respect of the group, we speak in terms of honor. There is also the personal level of respect that each person has of himself or herself concerning our self-esteem. Violation of the respect of the group’s principles of appropriate behavior is something that we call being disgraceful. For example, "You’re a disgrace to this company, this hospital, this unit and etc." When we violate our own character and do something that is out of character with who we really are, we call that shame. Usually, we hear people talk about disgraceful behavior in their past as they say something like, "I am ashamed of who I was..." or "how I acted ..." or "that time in my life."
ILLUSTRATION: "A story is told about an Italian painter who agreed to prepare a portrayal of the Last Supper. He needed suitable models for his disciples and searched the city for faces that would reflect the personalities of the various men seated around Jesus. He discovered a hefty red-haired giant to pose as Simon-Peter. Soon after, the artist found a person with a poet’s eyes to sit as John, another with a questioning look to sit as Thomas, and various others to pose as disciples. The painter also came across a serene and sensitive expression who turned out to be the ideal figure for the model for the figure of Jesus seated at the center of the table.
The one model the artist could not find was a man with the evil and cunning in his eyes and mouth that could suitably depict Judas. The painting was almost complete except for the key portrait of the person who betrayed Jesus. The artist continued his search but was unsuccessful. the painting was removed from the easel and set aside, and the artist reluctantly undertook other commissions. He never forgot the unfinished Last Supper, however and continued to study faces wherever he went in order to find a satisfactory model for the Judas face. Some years later, the artist happened to notice a man in an outdoor cafe who had the look of greed and cynicism that would make him the ideal Judas. The artist approached him and invited him to sit for some sketches. The man sullenly refused. The artist persisted, and offered him a substantial fee. At the sight of a bag of coins, the man at the cafe table accepted.
The painter quickly returned to the Last Supper which had been set aside several years before, and had his newfound model of Judas sit for him. The artist worked swiftly and silently, and after a few sittings had almost completed the picture. The model for Judas grew increasingly quiet, and, during the final sitting suddenly buried his head in his hands and began to sob uncontrollably. The artist stopped.
"Do you remember me?" the model asked the artist.
"No," replied the artist, why should I?"
"Because I am the person who sat for your Christ."
This poor man confessed his wrongdoing and regretted his misspent life. Acknowledging that he started as a model for Jesus, he admitted that he had lived so unfaithfully that he deteriorated into the likeness of Judas. A public confession of sin can mean a new relationship with the Lord." (Dr. William P. Barker. ed. Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide. 86th Annual Volume. Elgin: Davic C. Cook Publishing Co., September 1990 -August 1991, pp. 302 - 303).
This story above depicts a man who not only felt that he disgraced the Christian faith, he also was ashamed of himself for betraying his Lord and also his own character.
One of the Greek words for good is "agathos".
This word describes things that are good in character (Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words. McLean: MacDonald Publishing Co., p. 503). Matthew 7:17 uses this adjective to describe the character of a tree being good in character wherein the quality of its fruit bears testimony to that fact.
ILLUSTRATION: "Actor John Barrymore said: "The good die young---because they see it’s no use living if you’ve got to be good." (Wayne A. Detzler. New Testament Words In Today’s Language. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p. 187). Job’s wife was someone who would have agreed with him (Job 2:9). But, integrity should not be undermined and disregarded just because of the fact that bad things happen to good people. "According to Edwin Hubbel Chapin: "Goodness consists not in the outward things we do, but in the inward thing we are" (Detzler p. 187).
Another Greek word for goodness is "kalos."
"Kalos" denotes something that is good in attractiveness (Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words. p. 504). Matthew 5:16 explains this perfectly: "... let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven" (NIV).
ILLUSTRATION: There is the story of a fellow from Long Beach who went to get some chicken. However, instead of getting a box of chicken. He got a box of the day’s financial proceeds. The manager’s mistake was that he was trying to camouflage the deposit that he was soon to make at the bank.
The fellow, having arrived at his pick nick destination, being good at heart took the box back, when he realized the mistake that the manager had made. The manager was relieved and pleased at the same time. In fact, the manager asked him to stick around so that the newspaper could put his picture in the paper. "You’re the most honest guy in town," the manager complemented. But, this gentleman did not want the recognition. And his reason for declining the publicity of his heroism might surprise you. The young man said, "Oh no, please don’t do that. I’m married, but she’s not my wife." (Charles R. Swindoll. Strengthening Your Grip: Essentials In An Aimless World. New York: Bantam Books, 1986, pp. 77-78). This man is good in his reputation, which is who others perceived him to be. His honesty concerning the mistaken box of chicken was admirable. However, his character was flawed in that he was cheating on his wife. Our goodness, should not be based on our reputation alone. The reason for that is because true goodness is based upon character. Therefore, when our goodness is based upon our character---our integrity, it should be something that others would praise God about (Matthew 5:16). AMEN.