First Sermon of Year - Integrity - TITLE BANNER 2

As we set out into 2014, a word that I want us each to ponder, to reflect on, and to think about is the word “Integrity.” It’s a big, important word, and has been significant in my devotional life for a long while. It comes up all the time.

I’m reading through the Bible right now and am in the book of 1 Kings, which talks about the integrity – or more often the lack of integrity of the various kings of Judah and Israel. As I’m reading through the Psalms, many of David’s requests of God are framed by speaking of his faithfulness, his integrity, in comparison to his enemies. I’m also reading through the Gospels and Paul’s letters, and in every chapter there has been something to challenge my desires, actions, intentions and faithfulness.

On Friday I read Luke 5:15-16 which says about Jesus,

“But now even more the report about him went abroad, and great crowds gathered to hear him and to be healed of their infirmities. But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.”

It challenged me about my prayer life. Jesus was in incredibly high demand, surrounded by physical, emotional and spiritual needs, with every excuse to skip His prayer time to help more people – but he “would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” How can I make excuses about my own prayer life? The challenge was to the integrity of my prayer life – which came up lacking.

Integrity is Important

I’ve been really challenged to think about how hugely important this concept is in every part of our lives.

What does a Faithful Christian, and by extension a Faithful Church, look like? What does the world expect of Christians? What should we expect of each other? What should you expect in a pastor, an elder, a teacher or leader, and what should they expect of the Christians they serve? What should we hold each other accountable to? To have integrity.

I believe everyone wants to be trusted. Everyone wants to have the reputation of having integrity. We want to attend a church or a school which has high integrity. We want to buy from a company with the reputation of taking care of its customers. We want our bank to have a good track-record. Target is having a hard time right now because their computers have had their integrity compromised and hackers have stolen a bunch of their customer’s private information.

First Sermon of Year - Integrity - LACK

Sports certainly gives us some of the best examples. All I have to do is say that names “Lance Armstrong” and “Ben Johnson” and you know what lack of integrity looks like. Think of the riots in Vancouver. The same city that hosted one of the most successful (and beautiful) Olympics in history, became a warzone. If you say “hand of God” to any soccer fan, they immediately remember one of the most famous goals in World Cup history.

I tried to find some positive examples of sportsmanlike behaviour, but they apparently don’t make list of people who have the most integrity – just the least. Which is a great point to remember – it’s lack of integrity that people remember most.

I hadn’t realized it before, but this is a huge concept in scripture. God is extremely concerned about the integrity of His people.

Hebrew Word Study

Let’s do a word study for a little bit to see what God says about it. There are two key Hebrew words in the Old Testament that refer to integrity. One talks about our insides, the other our outsides.

The first word is TAM (or TOM), which is the most frequent. This refers to the Integrity of the Heart, innocence, blamelessness, or what we might call a “Clear Conscience.” When Abimelech had taken Sarah into his house, thinking she was Abraham’s sister, God came to Him with a warning to give her back. He responded by saying to God, “In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this!” (Gen 20:5). “I’m clean! I had honest motives!” And God let him go. It is a word that describes fullness, completeness, innocence and simplicity. When something is whole, without a blemish, not hollow or deceptive, not a façade put up to fool others – like a whitewashed tomb, we can say it has Integrity.

The second is YOSHER. This is Integrity of Actions or doing the right thing. It is a word that describes straightness, evenness, things that are right. When a weigh scale is in balance it has integrity. When a road goes straight, has no bumps, or hidden corners, it has integrity. Proverbs 4:11 uses this word, “I have taught you the way of wisdom; I have led you in the paths of integrity [uprightness]” This is the person you can trust to do what they say, and not meander around. This is the messenger who you give the letter to and you know for sure they will not deviate in their path, share the message with anyone, or stop until they have delivered it to the right person.

When Job is described in chapter 1 verse 1, it says,

“There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” He was “blameless and upright”.

He was “TAM and YOSHER” He was integrity upon integrity. Pure in heart, blameless in deed. A straight talker, and a straight walker. A trustworthy, level headed guy. He was a man of integrity.

Greek Word Study

In the New Testament it’s found in Paul’s charge to Titus in 2:7-8. Paul was talking directly to Titus, who was a younger man than him, and didn’t yet have a reputation among the churches he was serving. So Paul says to him,

“Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.”

The Greek word is APHTHORIA which is the opposite of the core word PHTHEIRŌ which means “to corrupt or destroy”. So, the word “integrity” here literally means “incorruptible” or “indestructible”. In your life and works and teaching… show yourself to be incorruptible, indestructible.

Why? Because once you’ve lost your integrity, it doesn’t matter what you do, what you teach, what you say, how much good you have, or how good your message or product is. Once you are known to be corrupted… once you’ve lost your reputation… once you lose your integrity… it’s GONE and is almost impossible to get back. So Paul says to Titus… “Whatever you do, don’t lose your integrity!”

In the Proverbs

The word Integrity shows up most in the book of Proverbs which, over and over, warns us how critically important this is. Proverbs 10:9,

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.”

This is TOM… walking innocently in your heart and your motives. If you are this man, or woman, then you can walk around without looking around corners, never having to worry about who is listening to what you are saying, not having to regret sending that e-mail or facebook post. You don’t have to backtrack and remember what lies you told, and who you told them to. You don’t have to wonder if that bit of gossip you shared is going to get back around to you, or if anyone is going to find out that it was you who sent that anonymous message.

To have integrity is to have peace in your heart. If you have integrity, can walk securely in this world! People can blame you, accuse you, or mistreat you… but you will have nothing to fear, and God will defend you. But if you are corrupted… if your integrity is compromised… then you will always live in fear of being found out!

Proverbs 16:17 uses the other word, YOSHER,

“The highway of the upright turns aside from evil; whoever guards his way preserves his life.”

In other words, commitment to a life of integrity is a guard against future problems. Living with integrity is like walking on a highway: a well lit, a raised up, easily marked, well-graded road, where you can see what’s coming, and can travel well. This is the person who is caring for their road, keeping their integrity, and making sure they stay on the highway. When you compromise your integrity, it’s like getting off of the main road, and going down a dirt forest path… suddenly the journey is much darker, scarier, with more pitfalls, blind corners, and bandits in the woods. So God says, “Guard your way… preserve your life by protecting your integrity!”

A Picture of Christian Integrity

One scripture that truly hit me between the eyes was Psalm 15. I’ve read it over and over and over because it is so thick with meaning.

It begins with two questions,

“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?”

In other words, for us today, “What kind of person is the man or woman of God?” “What kind of reputation should a person have who is known as one who dwells with God, who lives in His tent, who is in His Kingdom?” “What do they look like?”

This is the description of one of God’s people,

“He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbour, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honours those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.”

That last line there, “He who does these things shall never be moved” reminds me of  Ephesians 6:13,

“Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”

The one who dwells with God, who is one of His people, who is wearing their whole, spiritual armour, will be the one left standing. The one who lives with integrity, with truth, in faith, in righteousness, ready with the gospel, the knowledge of salvation, and equipped with the word of God, praying at all times… “shall never be moved.” What a wonderful promise. I believe we all desire this kind of strength.

Jesus said it this way in Luke 6:43-45,

“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

What He’s saying is that whatever is inside of you is going to come out. If you lack character, lack kindness, lack self-control… it’s going to come out for all to see. You can’t live a life without integrity and expect to get the benefits of having integrity. You will be found out. Out of the overflow of the heart… that which is bubbling up inside… his mouth speaks.

This Is Not About Salvation

Let me pause for a moment here. Christians, and Christian preachers, always have to be careful when talking about what Christianity looks like because it’s so easy to slip into moralism. It’s very easy to take the Christian faith and turn it into a list of things to do – which completely denies the truth of the gospel. In fact, right after Jesus speaks of the fruit of our hearts he talks about the foundations of our lives with the parable of the House built on the Rock. Before anyone can think that they are capable in and of themselves to be that “good person”, He reminds us that the only way to purify ourselves so we can live a life of integrity is to build on the foundation of faith and obedience to Him.

Psalm 15 is a great example of this. It says that the man or woman of faith will speak the truth, love their neighbour, reject vile things, honour other believers, keep their vows, use their wealth well, and stand firm in the face of corruption. This psalm isn’t telling us that those actions are what saves us, or what get us access to God’s presence. No, this is describing the life of the believe who already has access to God. We do those good things because we are saved – not to get saved.

Scripture provides us lists of characteristics of the man and woman of faith – not a list of ways to get saved. You do not need to do these things to impress God or clean up your act before coming to God. God knows you are corrupted, that you lack in character, that you are sinful and in need of cleansing. We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make us presentable to God. We can never come before Him and say “Here I am… I fixed myself… now I’m worthy of your presence, your grace, your heaven.”

No, in fact when we come to God for salvation through Jesus Christ we are saying, “Here I am… I cannot fix myself… I am not worthy… I am only coming because I have heard that you are a God of amazing grace, that is still willing to save a wretch like me. I’m lost and need to be found. I’m blind and want to see. I see my sin, my need, my lack, and my need for a saviour.”

And God comes in grace, through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, resurrects our dead souls, cleans up our depraved minds, redresses us from our worldly corruption, forgives us from all our sin, adopts us as one of His children, and gives us His Holy Spirit to live within us. He makes us new, and gives us a new nature. Once we loved sin and made excuses as to why sin made sense, now we don’t! We were once selfish, believing the world revolved around us, now we believe it revolves around Jesus! We now know the love, grace, mercy and forgiveness of God… and we are more than willing to pass it along to others.

What scripture is describing in these lists is someone who is already being changed by the Holy Spirit within them. It’s describing a journey and a destination. None of us will be perfect in these traits, but they are what we strive for, and what the Holy Spirit is trying to change us into. They help us understand why that twinge of guilt hits how, and how we need to listen to it. They are a description of Jesus as the model by which we live, and the one in whose image we are being made into day by day.

Living the New Life

To close this morning, and to kick off 2014, I want to read from a letter that God wrote to His Church through the Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:1-17. Here Paul roots our ability to live as one of God’s people, including our integrity, with in our relationship with Jesus. He tells us of the high standard to which we have been called. He reminds us that the old person inside us has been killed, and we now have access to a new life – he calls it a “new nature” — in Jesus. Then He describes what that new life looks like. This is written to believers who have been given that new nature, that new self, but are still fighting with that old self.

Open your minds and hearts to what God wants to say to you this morning though His word. Don’t fight any conviction that may come, but ask forgiveness and strength to do better.

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

Take that passage and Psalm 15, and meditate on them over the next couple weeks. Use them to kick off your journaling time. Pray through them every day. Live in Psalm 15 and Colossians 3:1-17. Park your spirit here for a period of time. Look and see where God is asking you to grow… and also where He has brought you from.

This list should bring a measure of conviction for everyone, because no one is going to be perfect in this. But it should also give you a reason to praise God because you can look and see how far you have come.

Maybe you were once a thief, but you no longer steal – or a manipulator who used people, but now you love them. In fact, God has taken away that urge altogether! Praise God!

Maybe you were once a bitter person, who carried the weight of unforgiveness around with them all the time, but God has shown you how to forgive, and you are free! Praise God!

Maybe you were captive to lust, and couldn’t go 5 minutes without a filthy thought, and felt shame all the time, and could hardly sing a song on Sunday, but today, because of Jesus, you are free and clean, and you can sing all you want! Praise God!

Maybe you once struggled with rage and anger, and no one wanted to be around you because you were uncontrollable, but now you have given control over to Jesus and You don’t explode anymore, and you now know peace! Praise God!

Let’s look through these scriptures together over the next while and see what God can do, and what He has done, for, with and through His people.