Christian Integrity

Christian Integrity: “Stand Firm: Evaluating our Spiritual House”

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Podcast Audio:

This is the final week we will be spending on Psalm 15. We have been going through it for nine weeks now, and it has been a challenging, and hopefully encouraging, piece of scripture to study. I know it has been for me! And from the responses I’ve heard from some of you, God has been working on your heart too. And for that I’m glad.

Let’s open up to Psalm 15 together, and let’s read it one more time from beginning to end.

“O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
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 neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors 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.” (ESV)

Our Foundation

Throughout the series, we’ve been using the illustration of a house that God is building our spiritual house (our lives) into. If you remember, each part of the psalm speaks about a different column that holds up the roof, which is our Integrity. All of this is built on the foundation of our relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we are going to have Christian Integrity, then these 5 characteristics will describe your life: You will Speak the Truth, Love Your Neighbour, Honour the Faithful (which included Rejecting Hypocrites (Part 2)), Be Trustworthy and Generous (which means we Use Wealth Well).

The Psalm says that “He who does these things shall never be moved.” In order for this house to be secure, all of these parts have to be there holding up the walls. You cannot build your life on another foundation other than Jesus Christ because all other foundations we build our life on, no matter how strong we believe them to be, will falter and fail when the storms come.

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, which is the longest recording of a sermon Jesus preached to His followers, He tells this story:

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” (Matthew 7:24-27, ESV)

There are so many foundations out there that people will build their lives on – where they will seek to find hope, strength, security, and peace: Their Government, The Economy, Themselves, Other Religions. But all of these things are insecure. The only solid foundation is Jesus Christ. He is the only immovable, unchangeable, all powerful One who can weather all storms. Therefore, before all else, we must make sure that we have a strong relationship with Jesus Christ.

Wobbly Pillars

9 Psalm 15 - Stand Firm - WOBBLY PILLARSBut to have a strong spiritual house, the pillars must be there too. Jesus doesn’t move – He will never leave you, forsake you, and you can be sure in your salvation – but our pillars can shift. We call this sin.

A person of Christian Integrity wants to be a fully functioning, healthy disciple of Jesus. And God works in them to build them into a strong spiritual house. But when we lie, act in an unloving way, embrace hypocrites, ignore fellow Christians, don’t keep our word, hold onto our money like Scrooge, or waste it on frivolous things, we are willfully making our spiritual house insecure. We are shaking our pillars, shrinking them, and chipping away at them.

What this series has been about is causing us to evaluating our relationship with Jesus (are we built on the right foundation) and then to test strength of our pillars. If we want to people who “stand firm”, “never be shaken”, and “never moved”, then it means we must be diligent about keeping our Christian Integrity.

I hope you understand this. We talked about it in the first sermon and referenced 1 Corinthians 3:11-17:

“If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light [that is the day where we all stand before the judgment seat of Christ]. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

God will test our spiritual house. He will judge our eternal destination – heaven or hell – based on our foundation, our relationship with Jesus. Then He will judge Christians based on their obedience to His word – he will judge the columns.

When you sin, it doesn’t mean that you have lost your faith, or lost your salvation. No, the biggest difference between someone who is a follower of Jesus is that when they fail in these areas, they are convicted of their sin, come to God for forgiveness, and then ask Him to change that part of their life to be more like Jesus. A non-believer doesn’t see their sin… and if they do, they don’t hate it. They excuse it or blame someone else.

Testing the Columns

So I want to do something a little different today. What I want to do is go through some of the questions we’ve been asking for the past number of weeks, and give you a chance to talk about them together during the week. My hope is that over the next week or so you will gather together with a Christian friend, your spouse, or your small group, and go through these questions together. To reflect on them and test the strength of your spiritual house.

But before we do that I want to tell you why this is important.

Not Be Shaken

The reason I want to do this today is because of that last line in the Psalm. “He who does these things will never be shaken.” I don’t want you to be shaken. I want you to be able to stand firm no matter what happens. I want this church to be able to stand firm, and I believe the secret of the strength in your life as an individual, in your relationships, in your work life, in your home life, and in this church, is found in Psalm 15. If you get just this psalm right, you will be a huge step closer to living a life without regrets, without fear, without doubts, and without worries. This is the formula. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good. “He who does these things shall never be moved.” That sounds like a promise from God to you and me.

It reminds me of another favourite passage of scripture of mine and many others: Ephesians 6:10-19. Would you turn there with me and listen to what it takes in order to be able to “never be moved”.

Listen closely because this isn’t about gritting your teeth and trying to do your best. This isn’t about showing God how holy you are by how miserable you can make your life. It’s not about thanking Jesus for saving you and then saying, “Ok, I’ll take it from here.” This is about depending on Jesus every day, living by His strength and not yours. It’s about putting down your own ideas about how life should go, and picking up His plan and putting Him in charge of how to build your house. It’s about not doing things in your own strength, but asking God to use His strength through you. There’s a huge difference between doing things for God, doing things with God, and letting God do things through, for, in and around you.

Fight the Right Battle

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (vs 10-11)

Do you see that? The strength comes from “the Lord”. The “might” comes through a closer relationship with Him. The “armour” comes from God and is given to every person in His kingdom who asks for it. And your primary enemy is not you, or the world – the enemy is spiritual, it’s Satan.

That’s critical to realize or you will spend your life running from column to column, trying to hold up your own house, and feel like a complete failure when your life ultimately collapses. And if you think this is a battle against yourself, or against your enemies in the world, then you won’t even be on the right battlefield! However, if you realize that this is a spiritual battle, and your strength comes from a spiritual source, then you will come to God for the weapons you need to build, rebuild and defend your house.

Fight the Right Opponent

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (vs 12)

That’s important to know. When it comes to your Christian Integrity: being truthful, loving people that are different, knowing the difference between right and wrong, keeping your vows even when it’s hard, living generously… we have to realize that the enemy hates that, and He will fight tooth and nail, pulling out every trick in his book to stop you. And you don’t have the power to withstand him. All of the decisions you make to be truthful, loving and the rest are all made in your spirit, way before they happen in the real world. The battle doesn’t happen when you are faced with something that tests your integrity. The battle is fought before you ever get there – in your spirit – as you contest with pride, jealousy, covetousness, idols, and the temptation to put yourself in the place of God.

If you have the chance to lie, that’s not the first strike – it’s the final blow of the battle. That question has already been answered. Did you come to God and commit yourself to Him? Are you living in His spiritual strength? Are you feeling weak and entitled and selfish? Have you asked for the strength to be truthful, and told the devil that you are not one of his people – you are not a liar! Either way, you already know how you will answer the question.

The battle whether or not you will keep your vows has more to do with your view of God then it does with the circumstances that happen to you or the person you made promises too. The decision to break your word isn’t just a human decision, it is one that is fought in your heart. The spiritual forces of evil are seeking to corrupt you, through temptation and fear, to break your vows, and they are giving you every excuse in the book. And when you break them, they know it has ripple effects that will harm many people, mar the image of God, and hurt the reputation of Jesus and His church. It’s a spiritual battle that happens way before the bad days come.

It’s the same with the decision to be generous, or loving. It’s not based on whether or not the person is worth our time, worth helping, worth our money… it is about whether we are seeing through God’s eyes. Do we recognize the generosity and grace that has come from His hand? Satan doesn’t want you to see that, so he will do everything he can to distract you from it. He will fill your mind with reasons why you don’t have enough, why you deserve more, why you’ve already loved enough and it’s someone else’s turn. He’ll tell you that people aren’t worth the trouble, that it won’t make any difference, that you’re too busy, and that you don’t need to love them if they don’t love you back. I know you’ve felt this spiritual battle.

And so Paul says this in verse 13. Since it’s a spiritual battle…

Suit Up

“Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” (vs 13)

The only way you will be able to stand against all of these schemes, to see straight, and to have the sensitivity to know what’s really going on, is to have the full armour of God on. When the day of evil, the day of temptation, when that spiritual battle rages in your heart about who you are, who God is, whether to be obedient, selfish, generous, loving, honest… if you are not wearing the full armour of God, you will not be able to stand.

Be careful to see how it is written. Who puts on the armor? Does God put it on you? No, you put on the armour. The day of evil is coming – the day of temptation, of fear, of anxiety, of death – and you stand your ground because you chose to put on God’s armour. He’s willing to suit you up, make sure the armor is strong, and give you the power to fight, and when it’s all over, to “stand firm”. But He wants you to come to Him to put on the armour. It’s called dependence.

What’s the difference between the one standing, and the one who is lying dead on the battle field? It’s not who was carrying the sharpest sword, or biggest gun. It is who had the best armour. The one who could take what the enemy dished out, and then turn the battle around. Satan is a coward and a bully and fights like a terrorist or a sniper. You don’t often get to see the battle coming before he’s on you. You won’t have a chance to take a swing with your weapon – you’d better have your armor on.

There’s an old sports quote that says: “Offence sells tickets, but defense wins championships” Our spiritual armour is the difference between having a strong spiritual house, or a weak one. It’s the difference between being “moved” or standing firm.

Testing the Pillars

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Click here if you would like to download a PDF of all the questions.

Let’s talk about these pillars.

For a long time my father worked as a pipefitter at the mill in the town where I grew up. It was his job to fix the pipes that were broken. Then they gave him a different job: he was in charge of maintenance and safety. Instead of fixing things, his job was to make sure things didn’t break and no one got hurt. He would inspect machines, check the fire suppression system, order parts in advance, make sure things were up to code, shut things down that weren’t working properly, and schedule time to fix little problems before they become big problems.

That’s what I want to do for the rest of our time here. Let’s do a maintenance and safety walk around our spiritual house – using Psalm 15 as our guide. Let’s inspect these five pillars that hold up Integrity and see what we need to work on, what we need to pray about, and what areas of our life God is going to be challenging us in over the next while. Maybe some parts need a little fix, and maybe some need an overhaul.

What I’ll do is give you a quick intro, some questions for you to discuss, and then a little time to consider your answer – maybe even write it down.

Are You Truthful?

The first pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Truthful: “Who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue.” Here we talked about how people really don’t like “right and wrong”, but instead like to talk about “differences” and how nothing is ever anyone’s fault. In contrast, Christians should realize the importance of truth, and be able to speak the truth in love to one another.

We said that truth is under attack from Relativism, Scepticism and Pluralism… and that people who tell the truth are probably going to get into trouble at some point. Jesus told nothing but the truth, and he was hurt, rejected, slandered and murdered.

So, here are the questions:

  1. Do Christians have the right to enforce the standards of scripture on one another? How have you handled this responsibility?
  2. Which attack on the truth do you encounter most? Relativism – there is no absolute truth. Scepticism – we will never really know the truth. Pluralism – all truths are equally valid? Which do you struggle with?
  3. Do you struggle with always telling the truth? In what ways have you been hurt by lying or being lied to? How have you been because you or someone else told the truth?

Are You Loving?

The second pillar of Christian Integrity is to Love people.  “Who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman.” Here we learned we need to love everyone! We believe that all people are created in the image of God, that they are objects of divine love, and there are no divisions between us based on race, nationality, culture or social status. We have no reason to hate anyone simply because of how they look, where they are from, or what their customs are. Specifically, we are to do no wrong (no evil) to anyone, or slur (meaning despise or dishonour) someone. Especially other believers!

This is where we looked at Bikers, Goths, Emos, Rappers, Hip Hop Culture, Body Builders, and Metal Heads, and said that in Jesus’ eyes, these people are also objects of grace, and can be Christian ministers within their own culture – and even went as far as to say that we are missing out when we have so much division in the church.

So here’s some questions:

  1. What does it mean to love every member of the human race? Is that even possible? Do you?
  2. Have you, or someone you know, ever been discriminated against because of your race, nationality, culture, or social status? Has it ever happened among Christians? Did you respond in a godly way?
  3. Do you think you could go to a worship service at a biker church, a goth church, a hip-hop church? Which would be hardest / easiest for you? Why?

Are You Honouring?

Next we took a couple of weeks to look at the third pillar which was based on the part that says a Christian “despises a vile man but honours those who fear the LORD”.

Here we spent some time looking at what it means to reject the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected what God is saying in His word – and to give weight and respect those who obey God and treat Him as Lord of every area of their life. On one hand we give VIP status to other Christians. Love them, serve them, forgive them, speak kindly to them, and do all the other “one another” verses to them.

We said, based on 1 Corinthians 5, that there are 3 ways we get this wrong. First are those who are claiming to be Christians, but who are openly sinning and don’t care. Second is the group that is enabling, or even encouraging that person to sin. And third are those who know about it, know it’s wrong, but who avoid dealing with it because they don’t want to get involved.

This is where we brought in Matthew 18:15-17 where we learned that Jesus commands us to get into the business of other Christians who are sinning. And if they don’t listen to us, to take some friends along and try again. And if they still don’t listen, to get the pastor and elders involved. And then if they still are unrepentant, to turn them over to Satan and treat them like a hypocrite and an unbeliever.

So here’s the questions:

  1. Are you an Unrepentant Sinner, Enabler, or Avoider? What do you need to do about it?
  2. Have you ever gone through the Matthew 18 process? What was it like? If not, is it because you’ve avoided doing it?
  3. Why would God command us to treat a hypocritical Christian like a non-believer? What benefit could come from being “handed over to Satan?” How do you deal with hypocrites?

Are You Trustworthy?

The fourth pillar of Christian Integrity is to be Trustworthy. “Who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” The concept here is simple to grasp, but sometimes hard to practice. Jesus said that we need to take what we say very seriously – and follow through, even when it hurts. He said we should let our “yes be yes and our no be no” and that “anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” We should have the kind of reputations that when we say something we don’t have to add disclaimers for why might not do be trustworthy.

So here are the questions:

  1. Can people trust you? Do you struggle with trusting others?
  2. Do you ever add a bunch of disclaimers, explanations and excuses to things you say because you’re not sure if you’ll follow through? Why?
  3. What vows have you broken, and what are you going to do to make it right?

Are You Generous?

The final pillar of Christian Integrity is Generosity, or Using our Wealth Well. “Who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.” Here we talked quite a lot about the Amazing Grace of God, and how His grace and generosity should be the driving force for us to be gracious and generous with others.

We said that this has two sides. Those who have more should not take advantage of the people who have less by being selfish or using their resources to harm those who are poorer than them. And those who have less should not try to get money in a way that harms someone else. We then talked about some ways we can be selfish like: not tipping, valuing a possession over a person, or trading physical, psychological or emotional health for worldly wealth.

So here’s the questions:

  1. In what ways have you acknowledged the Amazing Grace of God this week?
  2. Have you ever taken advantage of someone by being selfish or using your wealth to cause harm?
  3. Have you ever done something wrong in order to get (or keep) more money or stuff?

Conclusion

That concludes our walk around our spiritual home. It is my deep hope that you were helped, and that this week you will draw closer to God, depend more on Jesus, and have a new understanding of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. For the areas that you have done well, thank God and give Him praise for helping you. In the areas that you have sinned, talk to God about that this week, ask forgiveness, receive forgiveness, and then spend more time putting on your spiritual armour so you will be able to stand firm.

Christian Integrity: Keep Your Vows

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Here’s the Audio for this sermon:

For the past while we’ve been studying the characteristics of a person and a Christian of integrity. We’re asking the question, “what does it mean to look and act like a Christian, and a Christian church?” It all starts with the first verse, the question that is asked at the of the list, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” In other words, what do the people of God look like? What does a believer act like?

Let’s read the rest of the Psalm together. I’m reading from the ESV now.

“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 neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose yes a vile person is despised, but who honors 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.”

Quick Review

What we see in Psalm 15 are some very important words that describe what Christian Integrity looks like. We all want to be – we want our children to be – people of Christian integrity. We want to work with, compete against, and have friends who have integrity. But what does that look like? Psalm 15 tells us 5 critical things that we need to have in order to say that we have integrity. These are perfectly shown in the life of Jesus, who is our model for life.

If we are to be his people, then we must always be Truthful (we tell the truth all the time), Loving (we love all people and never discriminate based on outward differences), Honouring (we reject hypocrisy and hypocrites, but honour people who are working out their faith every day), we are Trustworthy (we never break our promises) and we are Generous (we use our money well). This week we are looking at the second part of verse 4 where it says that a man or woman of God, “…swears to his own hurt and does not change;”. I like the NIV translation of this verse which says, “…who keeps an oath even when it hurts, and does not change their mind;” or the New Living Translation which says, “…and keep[s] their promises even when it hurts.”

A Multivitamin Psalm

I’m amazed that this short psalm is so encompassing. It’s like a multivitamin — small, but full of important things we need to live. And in a way it’s also like a multivitamin because if we let it get inside us, it can do well, but sometimes chewing on it can taste pretty bitter. Psalm 15 covers our everyday actions (what we do), the motivations of our heart (why we do what we do), the importance of how we use our words, how we treat believers and non-believers, how to protect our reputations, and how we use our money. You can’t live on multivitamins though, which is why we are going to the rest of scripture to get a balanced diet – to help us understand more about what’s going on and how we can obey God’s word.

Divided in Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength

Integrity is rooted deep in the heart of all believers. To have integrity means being a whole Christian – worshipping and serving God all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind and all our strength (Mark 12:30). Not just our minds, or just our hands. It means not being divided between two things – ourselves and God, or the world and God. It means not being split in our hearts, which causes us a lot of grief.

If you are a believer, then I’m sure you’ve felt this. You are faced with a choice, and the pulling in your heart begins. You love God, but you also feel emotionally attached to something else… or you know that obeying God means you will feel bad for a little while, or lose a friend, or look bad in front of people. And so your heart is divided.

Or you feel a division in your soul. Part of you wants to pray, but the other part wants to pretend God doesn’t exist – to watch TV, sleep, read a favourite book. Every time you are tempted to sin, you feel that division in your soul – part wanting to obey God, part wanting to reclaim your soul to yourself, to give it back over to the devil so you can experience some worldly pleasure. And it causes you pain because you have a divided soul.

Or you have a divided mind. Your thought-life sometimes feels like a game of racquetball, your thoughts bouncing around from worship songs to sexual sin, from bible verses to jealousy and bitterness, from love to fear and worry. You want to devote yourself fully to God, but moments later you are fanaticizing about what you could do if you won the lottery. Right in the middle of a time of prayer you start to make a grocery list. A divided mind, and it causes you to feel guilty and frustrated.

Or divided strength. The same hands you used to help someone, that you raised in worship, that turn the pages of your bible, that hug your children, within hours are used in private sin. The natural talent you have allows you to worship God in a special way, but it is also a way to elevate yourself above others so you can feel superior to them.

Everyone feels this. Not one person in this world has perfect integrity. Not even the most dedicated monk, living in the most distant monastery thinks about God all the time. Not even the Apostle Paul could! Listen to him wrestling in Romans 7, the same way each of us does:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:15-24, ESV)

Jesus as Our Model and Strength

Paul is caught up in the same spiritual warfare as we are, daily battling our fleshly/worldly desires and our spiritual ones. Who will save us from this body that wants to eat spiritual death, walk the path of death, enjoy spiritually dead things, revel in demonic, hell-spawned sin, hang around spiritually dead people? Who can save us from this divided heart?

We can’t save ourselves. Paul answers the question this way in verse 25, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” What is required to save us from this divided heart, this “body of death”, is that someone live a perfect life, be a perfect model, and then go through death, be killed, and then destroy death by rising from the dead! Who can kill death? Who can save us from this body of death? The one who destroyed death once and for all, Jesus Christ!

In other words, when God saved us, we became His people. As Psalm 15 says, we “dwell in his sanctuary”, we “live on his holy hill.” He saved us. He adopted us into his family and since we are his, we have access to the same privileges as Jesus Christ. We are not alone in the struggle for integrity. We have the Holy Spirit inside of us, convicting us of sin, reminding us of our hope, showing us our Father, giving us new wants and desires. And when we listen to Him, we will have what is needed to combat our divided hearts.

Stay Close to Jesus!

This is why every mature believer since the beginning of time has said the same thing over and over – it has not changed!

Stay Close to the Word of God: Read, study and meditate on the Word of God. If you want to live a wise life, go to the source of all wisdom. If you want to be like Jesus, read about Jesus.

Stay close to Jesus: Talk to Him all the time – be in prayer in the morning, the afternoon, the evening, about all things. If you want to be protected, strengthened and encouraged, stay close to Jesus.

Stay around Jesus’ People: Love and be loved by other believers. Serve and be served by other believers. Don’t try to draw strength from hypocrites, unbelievers, and people who play for Satan’s team. Lean on your Christian friends and Elders in the church.

It hasn’t changed for millennia!

This is what God said to Adam and Eve – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to Israel – Listen to my word, stay close to me, take care of each other.

This is what God said to every prophet – Tell them my word, tell them to draw close to me, tell them to start taking care of each other.

This is what Jesus told Paul and Peter and James and John to write to His churches – Tell them to stay in my word, tell them to stay close to me, tell them to take care of each other.

And that’s what Jesus came to do for us and to model for us – Jesus perfectly obeyed God’s word, Jesus was in perfect union with God, Jesus cared so deeply for people that He gave His life for them.

And He gives us access to His Spirit when we obey Him!

God Makes Promises and Keeps Them

Using this as our stepping off point, let’s talk for a little bit about this idea of being trustworthy and how our ability and desire to be trustworthy comes from God. God has made a lot of promises and it would be counter to His very nature, since He is God and can do anything, to break a promise. He can always keep His promises because of who He is.

Listen to some of these:

  • 1 Corinthians 10:13, “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.”
  • 2 Thessalonians 3:3, “But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”
  • John 10:28-29, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”
  • John 14:3, “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
  • (And my favourite verses) Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”
  • (And perhaps the most comforting promise) 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

We live and die by the promises of God. We believe that He will follow through on them. He is not a liar. He does not go back on His word.  Whether we realize it or not, when Christians are in trouble, we echo the words of Psalm 119:154, “Plead my cause and redeem me; give me life according to your promise!” When we worship God, foremost on our minds are his promises, like in verse 162, “I rejoice at your word [“promise” NIV] like one who finds great spoil.” When we read and remember all of the promises He has given us, and his ability to follow through, it’s like looking over a vast treasure. They are our sure inheritance.

Keep Your Vows

And so what God is concerned about here in Psalm 15 is our reputation for being like Him, like one of his people – to be trustworthy. What we say is always what we do. A person of integrity doesn’t break their promises. We are not liars. My ESV Study bible says this, “Vows must be kept because God keeps his promises and desires that his people imitate his moral character.” Therefore God takes what we say very seriously.

And if you made a vow to God, it was very serious business. Listen to part of the Law from Deuteronomy 23:21-23,

“If you make a vow to the LORD your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the LORD your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from vowing, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have promised with your mouth.”

Remember the vow of Jephthah from the book of Judges. He was facing down an enemy army, and even though God had already promised Him the victory, He panicked and made a rash vow to God that if God let him win, when he returned from battle, anyone or anything that came through the door of his house would be offered as a sacrificed. Of course God kept His word and Jephtheh won the battle, but the one who came through the door was his daughter. And He dedicated her the service of God and that she would never marry, ending his own bloodline. His life is a lesson in rash vows.

A person must be careful with what they say, especially to God. And when they do make a promise, they need to fulfill it quickly, and no delay. Why? Because God will hold everyone accountable to their actions, and to their promises. Even the rash and foolish ones. He wants to teach us that words matter.

Turn to Ecclesiastes 5:2-7 and read another warning,

“Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.”

Scripture teaches us that we need to be careful with our worship, our prayers our words, and our promises when coming before God. God will hold us accountable to these things. He says that it is the fool who comes before God with many words, and many promises, but doesn’t keep them.

In verse 6 we see the messenger coming to collect on the vow and the person who made the vow saying, “Oh no… I didn’t mean it. It was a mistake. I was just in the moment. I didn’t mean to. That was just part of the song I sang. I was desperate. I was afraid. I was caught up in emotion.” And God still holds them accountable.

Proverbs is right when it says in 20:25 says, “It is a trap for a man to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider his vows.”

Vows Today?

Now, just so we don’t think this is an academic exercise that only applies to ancient Israel, let’s ask the question: Can this happen today? We don’t make blood sacrifices any more, and I can’t remember the last time I took an ephah of grain to a temple because I needed a new set of oxen, so can we make a vow before God today?

I believe we can, but it’s different for us, because I believe that God takes what Christians say today even more seriously.

You’ve probably heard people say, “I swear to God!” “I swear on my mother!” “I swear on the Bible!” People did that back then too. They used to swear by all sorts of things: By earth, heaven, the temple, the alter sacrifices, the gold in the temple… but like good Pharisees, they had all these little rules about it.

In Matthew 23:16-21 Jesus looks at the Pharisees and teachers and talks about this very thing. He says,

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his 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 if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

His point is that everything is God’s so no matter what you are swearing by, it is all holy! You are accountable for all your words and vows, no matter what you swear on, because everything God has done is sacred. Even the hairs on your head belong to God. You can’t even swear by your own head, because you are not your own! Therefore, all vows are holy and need to be kept.

A Higher Standard

But Jesus went even farther. In the Sermon on the Mount we read Jesus talking to His followers about being trustworthy and careful with our words. And, as Jesus always does, He pushes beyond the Old Testament Law. Turn to Matthew 5:33-37.

“Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.’ But I tell you, Do not swear 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. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

He said to His followers that they need to be so well known for their trustworthiness that they don’t even need to make an oath or a vow. It should simply be… “Oh, that person’s a Christian? They follow Jesus? Well, then I can trust them because everything they say is true.”

People used to use these oaths, and vows, and pledges, to get around things. They tried to find loopholes and ways to get off the hook. “Oh, I vowed by the temple, and not the gold… so it doesn’t count.” “I vowed by the alter and not the sacrifice, so it doesn’t count and I don’t have to do it.”

Jesus always took the Old Testament Law and then raised it up to a higher standard. As one of my commentaries said, “Instead of letting people off the hook, he set the hook deeper. Jesus spoke about oaths in order to point out that they were not the main problem – integrity was. A liar’s vow expresses a worthless promise. But when a person of integrity says yes or no, that person’s simple word can be trusted.”

Anything Beyond…

I think what affects me the most is this verse in Matthew 5:37,

“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The first thing that grabs me is that this is supposed to be simple. And it really is. Just do what you say. When you say something, mean it. When you say you’ll do something, do it. When you say you won’t do something, don’t do it. Keep your promises.

But the other part is, “Anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” I think what this means is that we shouldn’t be adding a bunch more words to our words. People should just be able to trust what we say, without a bunch of extra explanation, excuses, justifications, pretexts and rationalizations.

For example, if someone comes up and says, “Will you do this?” We should be able to say, “Yes, I will.” And leave it at that. It’s when someone is a known liar and can’t be trusted, that more and more words start coming. People only need oaths when there is a possibility that the other party is lying! That’s why we have such a proliferation of contracts in our world. We can’t trust anyone! Believers know that every word they speak will be held accountable by God, and so they simply do what they said they would do, or don’t do what they said they wouldn’t do.

Two Applications

So, in keeping with what Jesus has said, and what the Psalm has said, let me pull two simple applications out of this.

First, and this is obvious, Christians need to be careful with what we say. And this means both “yes”, and “no”. If you don’t plan on doing it, then don’t say YES. If you don’t want to do it, then say NO. If you don’t have the time to do it, then say NO. If you are already way over committed, then just say NO. If a telemarketer calls you on the phone and asks for a pledge, and you aren’t going to, don’t lead them along, or pretend… just say NO.

If someone asks you to do something that you cannot accept, you shouldn’t need to launch into the 20 minute explanation of your schedule, your health, your family problems… and all the reasons why you can’t say yes. Simply say “I’m sorry, NO, I can’t.” If you have a good reputation then they know you’re not being rude, or blowing you off, they know you can’t because you said so.

And when you learn to say NO, when you say YES to something, it will mean so much more to you and the people around you! You’ll be known as a person who is able to follow through. You will have integrity.

So the first thing is that we need to be careful what we say, and what agreements we make. Just let our YES be YES, and our NO be NO, and let that be that… anything else is evil.

Modern Vows You May be Breaking

The second application I’d like to make, is that we need to keep the vows we make — the YES’s and NO’s we’ve already got. I’ve been thinking about this, and this may hit home for some of you. We, as Christians who will stand before God, and who know that all of His things are holy, even us… must fulfil our vows, pledges and promises. He takes them very seriously because our integrity reflects His character, His Kingdom and His Son.

So let me ask you this. Are you fulfilling the agreements you’ve made? Are you looking for a way out? Or, are you breaking any? Remember the Psalm. “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” One “who keeps his oath even when it hurts”.  Here’s some examples of some promises that we make today. How are you doing on these?

Rental / Lease agreements. You promised to pay your rent on time, take care of the place, not sub-let, to report things that go wrong, and to clean up after yourself. How are you doing?

Copyright Agreements. Every movie and CD you’ve ever bought has had a copyright in it. In Canada you are not allowed to copy music or movies you didn’t pay for. Not even for “private use”. You can’t borrow from the library and put the music onto your computer. It’s illegal. Have you broken that agreement? Are you clean in this area?

If you have Netflix then you are only allowed to watch programming available in your region. Changing your computer to get the “American Netflix” breaks your terms of service agreement. It’s the same with American Satellite systems. They are illegal in Canada.

Business agreements. Are you fulfilling all of your business agreements? Are you doing good work, done on time, without gouging the customer for extra profit, cutting corners, using inferior products, and all the rest? Are you a trustworthy business person?

Employment contracts. When you started your job, you probably agreed to certain things when you signed an employment contract. You promised not to steal anything from work… not even a pen or a paperclip. You agreed to use your sick days when you are sick… not other times. You may have signed a confidentiality agreement. Employees, are you keeping it? And if you are an employer, then are you following your agreements? Paying on time and in proportion to their work, granting them their time off without guilt or frustration, making sure they get their break times, that they are trained and understand their job.

Visitor Agreements. When you bought that that day-pass to the zoo, the park, the campus, the hotel, or whatever, you probably accepted a visitor agreement. You agreed not to take pictures of certain things, not to take anything home, not to pick any flowers, to clean up after yourself, to stay away if you feel sick, and many have the agreement to “not make unreasonable demands”. Are you abiding by your agreements?

Loan or Credit Card contract. When you agreed to take their money, you promised you would pay it back. Are you? Or are you trying to find all sorts of ways around having to pay back what you owe them? People think that they are just big, evil corporations… but you made a contract with them. God takes that very seriously! Are you keeping your end of it?

Store agreements. When you bought that thing from the store, you agreed to pay for it. Did you pay the right price for it? If they made a mistake and gave you too much, did you go back and tell them and pay more? When that poor, underpaid, overworked cashier told you “I’m sorry, that’s not our policy”, did you freak out on them? You agreed to purchase it there. You paid for it. The return policy is written on your receipt, on the wall, on the website. Do you expect special treatment? Are you asking them to break their own rules, to make their YES into a NO, for your sake?

Church Membership. When you became a church member you agreed to certain things. You agreed to support the church financially, and with your time and abilities. You agreed to be actively involved in votes and meetings, even when they are boring.

When you voted for last year’s budget, they whole church raised their hands to say they would allow the deacons to spend the money, and that they would give in proportion. Have you been living up to that agreement? We have a large financial deficit this year, so either we agreed to spend too much, or people aren’t supporting in the way they agreed to.

There are people who used to attend this church, who agreed to support it during good and bad times, but left others here to pay the bills and fulfill their ministry responsibilities in their place. They broke their promise to the church.

When you voted for the elders and deacons you agreed to submit to the eldership, support new ministries with your work, attendance and finances. As a Church Member you agreed to be active in your spiritual development, and practice church discipline. If you are a member, are you doing these things, even when it’s inconvenient, or difficult… “even when it hurts”?

Marriage agreements. A vow taken before God for life. Even when it’s hard… when it’s next to impossible to see how it’s going to work out… are you willing to stay together and seek reconciliation? Are you putting effort in? Serving for, suffering for, loving, caring, and pursuing your mate like you are supposed to? Husbands, are you being Jesus to your wife? Wives are you respecting and caring for your husbands? Or is there a point at which you believe it is ok to break your covenant because it is too hard. Maybe not divorce, but merely avoid each other – live separate lives. Do you have that thing in the back of your mind that says, “If they do that again… I’m out of here… I’ll never forgive them!” Or, have you said to yourself, “I’m going to love them and serve them and keep my vows, no matter what!”

I could go on, but you get my point. Is your YES YES and your NO NO? Are you sticking to your contracts, agreements, and covenants… even when it hurts? Or are you like the world that seeks to blame others, wants special treatment, makes excuses, breaks promises, and walks away when it’s too hard?

You are a child of God who has the Holy Spirit within them, a new creation that does not love the things of the world anymore. Are you leaning on God and drawing from His strength so you can obey Him in this way?

Integrity: Rejecting the Vile – Dealing with Unrepentant Sin in the Church (Part 1)

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4 Psalm 15 - Reject the Vile - TITLE BANNER

What we are talking about in this series is how to be a person of Christian Integrity. To do that we are examining what Psalm 15 says about what it means to look like a Christian. I don’t mean how to be superficial in our faith, nor is this a list of ways to impress God or earn salvation. What we are looking at is a picture of what a life looks like after salvation – after Jesus has been made our Lord.  This is what a member of the God’s people, a member of the body of Christ, what a church looks like when they are walking with Him.

Psalm 15 starts with a question: “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” And what we see in the rest of the psalm are six descriptions of a functioning, obedient, growing Christian. The first was Integrity, which was the top of the house of our life, which is built on the foundation of a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

Our Integrity is held up by being Truthful, Loving, Honouring, Trustworthy and Generous. We’ve already looked at being Truthful and Loving, and this week we are looking at verse 4 where it talks about the other side of our relationships with Christians.

“In But Not Of”

3 Psalm 15 - Love Your Neighbour - HOUSE ILLUSTRATIONVerse 4 starts our next description of a Christian: A Person of Christian Integrity and who dwells with God is one “…in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord;”.

This verse is a bit difficult. We just read in the previous verse that a Christian loves everyone around them. And it’s easy to understand that we are to “honour those who fear the Lord”, but how can we obey both of these verses? how can a believer despise and love people at the same time? It seems contradictory.

One easy way to solve the problem is to say that God wants us to despise people outside the church, but honour those inside it. We are to love the church, and hate the world. A lot of religions teach this, and even some Christian churches. Cults especially will take their followers and separate them from the world. They teach their people to read only the literature that they produce, that only their leaders are right (and everyone else is wrong and should be avoided), and that they should give up all their friends and non-believing relatives, and only be around people from their group. That’s not what this verse is saying.

Christians don’t believe that. We like to say that we are “in the world but not of the world”. What that means is that we teach that a believer shouldn’t be like the world, but that they should befriend, love and serve the people in the world. We teach that we need to be careful with what we read, and who we associate with, but also that all truth is God’s truth no matter where it comes from. And one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith is that Jesus commanded us to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19)

So what does Psalm 15 mean when it says that we are to despise a vile person?

Word Study

This is where word studies are very helpful.

The word for “vile” is the Hebrew word MA’AS and it means “rejected, cast away or cast off”. It is most often used of God rejecting a people or an individual, or them rejecting God. Which means that word is most often used to describe God’s people – believers – Christians. And it’s used all over scripture.

It is often used to describe rejecting God’s word. He says in Leviticus 26:15-16 where He says,

“…if you spurn [MA’AS] my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache.”

Or in Proverbs 15:32 it says, “Whoever ignores instruction despises [MA’AS] himself…”. If you reject your teacher, then you are basically rejecting yourself.

It’s used of the Israelites when they reject God and tell Moses they want to go back to Egypt (Num 11:20) and when they look at the Samuel and ask for a King in place of God. They reject God and want a human King. (1 Sam 8:7) And again when the prophet Samuel is speaking to King Saul when he is rejected as king. He says, “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)

In the New Testament it’s the same. When Jesus is pronouncing judgement upon the unrepentant cities in Luke 10:13-16 He says,

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

“You’ve heard the word, you’ve met Jesus, you’ve seen miracles… and you have rejected the word of God. You have rejected His presence, His wisdom, His salvation and His grace. And by doing so, you’ve rejected God!”

In contrast, the word “honour” is a word that means “to be heavy or great, to glorify”. It’s used in the 5th Commandment which says “Honour your father and mother…” (Exo 20:12) It’s used in Proverbs 3:9-10 which says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.”

It’s word used by the worshippers of God to describe how we feel about Him, and a word used to describe how we feel about another person, in our hearts. When that person comes into the room, or you see them around town, their presence has great meaning. Their words have a weight to them when they speak to you. They are honoured, respected, treasured and esteemed. You give them the VIP treatment because they really are a Very Important Person to you.

The Company You Keep

So, if you put together all of what we’re learning here, I believe we could expand this passage to say that a person with Christian integrity is one “who rejects the person who claims to be a believer but has clearly rejected God’s word – and gives weight and respect those who obey and treat Him as Lord of their life.”

This passage isn’t about how we treat non-believers, but about our associations with people who claim to be Christians. You’ve probably heard the phrase “Bad company ruins good character” (1 Cor. 15:33). That’s a biblical phrase, but it was also a popular saying at the time, and remains true today. It was written to a group of people who were associating with false teachers who called themselves Christians but taught that Jesus didn’t rise from the dead and neither would they – so there was no consequences for their actions. They essentially said that believers should just “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.” (1 Cor 15:32)

If we are going to have integrity, then we must be careful of our relationships. If we associate with hypocrites who claim to be Christians, but don’t live like one, then we will be lumped in with them – and be tempted to become one. Scripture teaches us that we need to be good judges of how people who claim to be Christians are conducting themselves. We weigh their words and deeds, and then, if they show themselves to be saying one thing and doing another, we don’t let it slide, but take it very seriously and confront that sin. And if the person is un repentant, won’t change, is rejecting God, rejecting wisdom, rejecting teaching… we walk away.

Believers also honour and respect those who are walking their talk. We give weight to their words, we admire them, we set them up as Godly examples because they are showing us how to be like Jesus.

Now, the idea of rejecting people isn’t something that we normally talk about, especially after last week where we talk about the importance of not discriminating against people, but let’s take a look at what it says in the New Testament about this. This is a hard teaching, and I hope that you have soft hearts today to hear it.

Church Discipline

Turn to 1 Corinthians 5 and let’s talk about Church Discipline and the importance of confronting sin in the church – or as Psalm 15:4 says it, “despising the vile person”.

The Corinthian Church had some serious problems, one of which was that they were not confronting the sin within their midst. People within the church were calling themselves Christians, going out into the city and calling themselves Christians, even believing that they were Christians, but were being bold in their sin – and no one in the church was calling them on it. In fact, some people were actually celebrating their sin!

Sinners, Enablers, & Avoiders

There were three different groups of people who are getting it all wrong, and who Paul was writing about.

First, you have the sinners who are doing something wrong according to the word and the will of God. Paul was writing to them to tell them to repent from their sin.

Second, you have a group of people who are the enablers, who are indulging and even encouraging the sinner. They are actually helping the person to sin by giving them a place to do it, by protecting them, or by patting them on the back for it. Paul writes to them to tell them to stop encouraging sin!

Third, you have the avoiders. This is a group of people who know that what the sinner is doing is wrong, know that the enabler is helping, but isn’t doing anything about it. And Paul is absolutely livid with these people – and the whole church.

Proud of His Sin

Let’s go through the whole chapter together to see what’s going on. Here’s verse 1-2:

“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud!”

Paul is shocked here! “It’s actually reported…” In other words, “I’ve heard, from way over here in Ephesus, about the terrible things that are happening in the church in Corinth. People all over the world are talking about you! Your sin, and the pride you have in it is being reported everywhere. You’re not just allowing it to go on. You’re not just not dealing with it, You’re not choosing not to confront it. But you are actually CELEBRATING IT!”

There is a person who calls themselves a Christian, who is supposedly saved, serving in the church, maybe teaching Sunday school… and is in public, sexual immorality?!? And you’re ok with this? Even the pagans think that what he’s doing is gross! You and this man both know what scripture says, and is doing the opposite, you haven’t confronted him?”

This isn’t just something that was happening then. This happens today to. Churches and Christians joining in with the culture at large, going against the scriptures, reinterpreting the Bible, and celebrating sexual perversion. There are churches that refuse to say that Homosexuality is wrong. There are churches who watch their pastors and elders commit adultery and divorce their wives, but yet allow them to stay on as elders and teach in their pulpits. There are men’s groups that refuse to talk about sexual sin, internet pornography, and watching explicit TV shows, because every single person there is doing it and they don’t want to stop. There are women’s groups who pass around smutty novels designed to create lust in the heart, some even disguised as being for Christians. Even the idea of addressing sexual sin within the church is met with criticism because it’s seen as a private affair… not for public discussion.

Paul here is writing to confront exactly that. It needs to be dragged into the light because there are some people who are sinning, others who are enabling, and others who are avoiding. And they are all in sin.

But this isn’t just about sexual sin. This could just as easily read:

  • “It is reported that there are selfish and greedy people among you who are not tithing properly (or at all) and no one is saying anything. There are people who are buying new toys ever week but who are not taking care of the poor among you.”
  • “It is reported that there are idolaters among you who are allowing created things to take the place of the Creator in their lives. They spend more time, energy and money on their sports team, hobby, computer, car, game, or work than with their God, their family or their church.”
  • “It is reported that you have slanderers, and gossips among you, and you’re too afraid to tell them to shut their mouths and repent! They are badmouthing people behind their back, spreading rumours and hurting reputations, and you’re not dealing with it!”
  • “It’s reported that there are Christians among you who love food and drink more than they love God. They are literally consuming themselves into an early grave, and you’re watching them kill themselves.”
  • “It is reported that there are people among you who are ripping others off. They’re illegally downloading and copying movies and music, they’re cheating on their taxes, they’re using loopholes to avoid paying for things, and others are being devious for their own gain. And you’re not dealing with it! In fact, you’re thrilled to have such a person around and you ask them to do the same for you!”

Mob Mentality

Let’s continue reading:

“Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?”

Hold on there. This is important, and the reason why Paul and God are so concerned about this – and why their response is so serious as to go as far as to “handing this man over to Satan.” Why? Because it doesn’t take much to change the moral, cultural dynamics of a group. “A little yeast works through a whole batch.” One bad apple can literally spoil a barrel. Paul says, “If you let this go, it’s going to ruin the whole church. You are living like Jesus isn’t watching over you, like the teaching of the Bible doesn’t matter, like you’ve never heard my teaching! Let me tell you that when you are together – God is there, Jesus is there, and I’m there.”

Here’s a couple examples of how this creeps into the congregation:

  • Someone recommends a movie and says, “Yeah, there’s a few bad scenes in it, but it’s otherwise pretty good.” A little yeast…
  • Another person says, “If you go to this website you can download free movies.”
  • Or “If you buy that product, you can use it once and return it… I do it all the time.”
  • One person does figures out a way to cheat, to steal, to manipulate the system, and gets away with it… no one says anything to them… and then others take that as their cue to do the same.

We’ve all been there, we’ve all felt it. I’m certain we’ve all done it. You’ve heard the term “Mob Mentality”. It’s doesn’t just happen in big riots, or in stadiums. It happens in the church as well, and it shows just how insidious sin is. Sociologists who study Mob Mentality say that it’s not that the whole group all of a sudden go crazy all at once, but that once people see others around them are doing it (smashing windows, flipping over police cars, stealing tv’s), something s inside of them they feel as though they can get away with it too.

And it works both ways too. Mob Mentality is a close friend to Peer Pressure. People who are involved in societies or groups that have very high standards of behaviour, and who make examples of deviants, are less likely to do things that go against the group.

In other words, our human nature, if not kept in check, and during times of spiritual weakness, will drag us down to the lowest level around us. If that’s chaos, we join in the chaos. If it’s a high level of morality, then we tend not to fall as far.

God knows this. Paul knows this. Everyone knows this. That’s why we warn our kids to choose their friends wisely and stay away from the trouble makers. That’s why we tell them to come home at curfew. That’s why Paul says later that, “Bad company ruins good character”.

Conclusion

What I’ve done this week is presented the problem. Next week, Lord willing, I want to present the biblical solution. What can a gospel believing, Jesus loving, people loving, church do to care for the sinners in their midst? How do we keep the practices of the hypocrites and pretenders, what the bible calls “the vile”, (the people who call themselves Christians but refuse to live like it) from infecting everyone in the church?

We’re going to talk about three things next week. The first will be cutting out the yeast – dealing with the infection. Second will be Rejecting, Protecting and Restoring the person who is causing the problem. And third, we will get practical and read Matthew 18 where Jesus gave us the practical steps about how to deal with another believer who is caught in sin.

The Importance of Integrity

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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.