If you have your Bibles with you today, let's open them up to the book of Psalms in the Old Testament, to Psalms chapter 15. Today we are continuing in our series called “Forgotten Virtues” and we’re going to talk about integrity. Now integrity is a word that we need to use with caution, because some people when they hear it, it sounds to them like accusation. It’s as if they think, “Integrity is something I lack, it’s something I don’t have, I’ve never had it, I’ll never have it, and I’ve dug too big of a hole for myself to ever crawl out… into a life of integrity.”
When other people hear it, they pat themselves on the back with a sense of self-satisfaction. They think, “I have integrity” and they carry themselves as if they are above everyone else. And that’s the problem with the word integrity, as with the word character, is that many people pick and choose where they wanted to be applied. Yet if we examined ourselves carefully we would discover that everyone fails the integrity test in at least a few areas.
As we consider the topic of integrity I want to give you a simple working definition.
Integrity is: When your behavior matches your beliefs.
Now it’s important that we understand that integrity is not perfection, integrity is a process, integrity is an integrated lifestyle, integrity is what you do when no one else is looking. Your integrity or lack of integrity is who you really are. It’s when your behavior lines up with your beliefs.
Proverbs chapter 11 says this, verse three, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Proverbs 11:3).
I think we would all have to agree considering the political climate of our culture today that the duplicity of many of our leaders have really destroyed this forgotten virtue. Honestly, I think that today, more people would be shocked by integrity than they are by a lack of integrity. And so today we’re going to look at Psalms chapter 15 and I’m going to show you a snapshot of integrity. David asked God this question in verse one.
“Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?” In other words, who can walk with you, or have fellowship with you, who can enjoy your presence? “Who may live on your holy hill?” He asks (Psalms 15:1).
Now watch how God answers David in verse two: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman, who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts, who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalms 15:2-5).
God tells David that he who lives a life of integrity, he who does these things, will never be shaken. When you live according to the word of God, according to your beliefs, you will never be shaken. Jesus said it this way in Matthew chapter 7: “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock" (Matthew 7:24-25). When you live not only according to your beliefs, but more importantly, according to the teachings of God. You will never be shaken!
Today I want to show you a few benefits of the life of integrity, of course there are many more, but these are my favorites. These are my favorite four benefits of a life of integrity. The first one is: You can walk closely with God.
The men and women that I have known personally who have demonstrated integrity most consistently are those who base their lives on two values. They fear the Lord and they delight in his commands. Psalm 112 tells us, “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who finds great delight in his commands” (Psalms 112:1). The man or woman of integrity walks closely with God, and their lives say at the most fundamental level, “There is a God, and it is not me.” Integrity begins with an attitude that says, “There is a God to whom I am accountable.” And when you live according to God’s values, you can walk with him, and you can enjoy his presence moment by moment.
A second benefit of the life of integrity is: You'll have a built in guide. In Proverbs chapter 11, “The integrity of the upright guides them” (Proverbs 11:3). It has been said that, “Integrity has no need of rules” (Albert Camus). You don’t have to question whether you should do something or not. It’s not a matter of whether it’s black or white or kind of gray. Your integrity will guide you. You’ll look at it and it’s either black or white, this is right or this is wrong. Integrity will guide you to do what is right, because integrity begins with a relationship with God.
A third thing is: You will have constant peace. The Bible tells us in John chapter 16, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). The person of integrity isn’t afraid of getting found out, they’re not afraid that their schemes will collapse around them, they’ll have constant peace. The peace of God, which transcends all understanding will guard their hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7).
And then fourth when you live a life of integrity is: You’ll gain trust, respect, honor and influence. Psalm 112 says in verse two, “His children will be mighty in the land, the generation of the upright will be blessed” If you want great children, if you want to be a good parent, if you want to be a great leader, be a man or woman of integrity, be a person of your word, a positive influence on others, because when you have integrity, they’ll trust you, they’ll respect you, and they’ll honor you. The problem is that so many people don’t have integrity.
You see, the opposite of a person of integrity is a hypocrite. It’s a person who’s an actor, they’re wearing a mask. This is not who I really am, but this is who I’m pretending to be. And all of us at some point or another lack integrity, but it’s often hard to see in ourselves.
We need to let the words of Jesus in Matthew chapter 23 shock us into taking stock of our own lives, actions, and attitudes so that we can avoid making the same mistakes that the Pharisees made. In fact, if you look at Jesus he spoke his harshest words to the religious people of his day because they made a mockery of religion. They squeezed all the joy out of a relationship with God, and had reduced religion to a long list of rules and regulations. What they created in the name of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was light years away from the life of love that God had originally intended for his people to exemplify.
Let me read to you from Matthew 23:25 and following, Jesus looked at the religious hypocrites and He said, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matthew 23:25-28).
Jesus calls them actors, because they’re putting on a show. He’s not condemning the custom of ceremonially cleaning dishes, but he’s saying that it’s pointless to perform religious rituals when your heart is far from God and your life is full of greed and self-indulgence. You see, he knew that they were consumed with self. They were not focusing on others, they were simply putting on a good game face, looking religious, looking righteous, when their heart was filthy with sin.
He tells them to first clean the inside of the cup and the dish and then the outside will also be clean. He said that because they had to begin with their heart. They had to be cleansed from the inside out, and that’s something they could not do for themselves. It takes a miracle from God. The good news is that God performs miracles. And in Ezekiel chapter 36 God says,
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26).
Integrity doesn't start from the outside in, it starts from the inside out. Be pure on the inside. That’s where holiness begins and hypocrisy ends… with a new heart. We need to understand that the outer shell of life, the external appearances are secondary issues to God. The primary issue as far as God is concerned is what we are inside, the condition of our heart. And maybe today you’ve got your mask on, but on the inside your full of hypocrisy and wickedness. It’s so easy to put the little mask on and play the charade when the inside of the cup and dish is filthy before God.
How much do you value your integrity? What is it worth to you? Not just what you say, but what your actions say. Not just what you say, but what does your life say that your integrity is worth?
I want to give you a chance to evaluate yourself as I mention a few areas where integrity is crucial, and I want you to grade yourself silently on a scale of 1 to 10 on your level of integrity for the past three months. I’m going to go over 15 items and I want you to grade yourself 1 to 10 in each area. I’m going to give you a few seconds to think on each one of these.
1. Telling the truth. How have you done, with one being the worst and 10 being the best?
2. Keeping your word. Doing what you said you would do.
3. Showing up on time to meeting, work, and appointments.
4. Managing your money. Paying your bills, spending responsibly, living within your means.
5. Doing your job. Meaning you give your boss or your clients and honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
6. Sharing the credit. At work or at home, you give people the proper credit for what they do.
7. Internet browser history. Are you viewing websites with integrity? One would signify a lack of integrity and a number 10 Internet browsing integrity.
8. Conversation. How you talk to others, talking about others, and the vocabulary you use.
9. Giving. This includes tithing, giving 10%, and sharing with others.
10. Helping others. Being willing to inconvenience yourself in order to do something good for someone else.
11. Managing your emotions, such as anger, self-pity, pride, bitterness, arrogance, and patience.
12. Respect. Treating people with dignity regardless of race, position, or economic status.
13. Prayer life. If you are a Christian is prayer a foundational part of your life?
14. Bible study. Are you spending time in the word every day?
15. Worship. Now this isn’t church attendance, but what I’m talking about is private devotional worship where every day you surrender to and celebrate the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
That concludes your test of the integrity spectrum. If you wrote down your answer you can add them up quickly and check your score. A perfect score on this evaluation would be 150 points. However, if anyone scored a perfect score, you might have misunderstood the exam, because I wanted you to grade yourself and not me.
This number is your integrity index, and it is my prayer that this number will increase as you strengthen your resolve in these different areas. The point I’m trying to make here is that integrity involves every area of your life. Secondly no matter where you are on the spectrum, you can get better. And third the integrity that matters most is yours. What is your integrity worth?
In the Old Testament there’s an interesting story about the conversation between Job and one of his so-called friends. Job had been under a spiritual attack and Satan had stripped him of all these things that really mattered to him. His wife had turned on him, his friends turn on him and say, “We know you've sinned, because all of these bad things wouldn't be happening to you if you were a person of integrity.” And Job’s response is very interesting, he says in verse 27: “...I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live” (Job 27:5-6). And so basically he says my integrity is worth everything to me. You can take away everything else, but you can’t take away my right to choose to honor God in every way that I live. Job says, “That is how much my integrity is worth to me.”
What is your integrity worth? And what do you do when you recognize that you lack integrity?
Well, here's just a few thoughts. First of all, get to know Jesus. Truly get to know Him, not from a distance, but get to know him personally, because you can never live a life of integrity on your own. We all have the inclination toward doing the wrong thing and so the only way to truly live a life of integrity is to allow the indwelling Christ, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, to lead you to do what is right. So you get to know him, you study about him, and you let him start to live through you.
Secondly, I would suggest that you go and apologize to those people to whom you have misrepresented yourself. If you’ve lived a life of hypocrisy ask for forgiveness and begin to rebuild their trust. And for the first time begin to build a life of integrity.
Then, you simply start doing what Jesus said in Matthew 5:37: “Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' No” (Matthew 5:37). As Christ lived through you, you become a person of your word, and a person of integrity. You determine to let your behavior line up with your beliefs, but not just your beliefs, more importantly your behavior lines up with God’s word. When you begin to walk with integrity, your walk with God, you’ll have a built in guide, you’ll have peace, and you’ll gain trust, respect, honor, and influence from those around you. That’s where we have to start and it starts by taking off the mask, being the real you, and letting God work.
It's tragic today that the world is more shocked by integrity than they are by a lack of integrity. But as far as we’re concerned, we will not be that way, because we’ll live under the Lordship of Christ and our behaviors will by the power of the Holy Spirit, line up with our beliefs, God's Word, and with His help we will be people of integrity.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
October 30, 2016
Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Preaching Library, and PC Study Bible.
Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.