Walking in Integrity
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes some astonishing statements. Jesus gave six illustrations on how one must have a life of righteousness that surpasses the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In each of these six illustrations Jesus jumps back to certain OT Laws on which these Jewish religious leaders prided themselves in accomplishing. Jesus challenges them on two accounts:
- 1) Firstly He challenges them as to whether they have the right understanding of that truth, and
- 2) Secondly He points out their failures and the consequences of their failure.
We will discuss only the section on oaths and speaking truth found in Matthew 5:33-37.
A. Discovering the truth. What do others say?
We should not be too quick to judge the Jewish religious leaders. Our modern day Christianity has a lot of holes too. We too quickly pride ourselves on keeping certain commands such as coming to church but miss out on the hearty issues of not being bitter or being kind. All of us can fall into the trap of thinking we are obeying God's Word when we aren't. Think of some of these categories:
"Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
34 "But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,
35 or by the earth, for it is the footstool of His feet, or by Jerusalem, for it is THE CITY OF THE GREAT KING.
36 "Nor shall you make an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.
37 "But let your statement be, 'Yes, yes' or 'No, no'; and anything beyond these is of evil." Matthew 5.33-37
Remember that it is super important that all of the Lord's words are observed. Wouldn't you want to be sure you are not going to be turned away at the kingdom gates?! You don't want to understand the verses of Matthew 5 for the first time at the gates of heaven. It would be too late then. Although the hearing of the truth might humble us, we need the truth to impact our lives. Medicine is provided for the wounded, hope for the depressed and truth for the wicked. Now let's analyze the importance of integrity.
One thing the Pharisees did by their oaths and vows was to legitimize falsehood. They disguised evil with what was holy. Let me give you an illustration of what was common when I was small.
We could say any kind of lie to our friend or brother just so we had crossed our fingers or part of our body. I remember my brother understanding the trick and accused me of crossing my fingers behind my back. I quickly responded by saying, "No I'm not!" I quickly uncrossed my fingers (before I said that) and showed him I wasn't. But at the same time I was crossing my toes in my running shoes. I was convinced I could say any lie just so part of my body was crossed.
The Law was concerned with us being honest people.. The Jewish leaders focused on the object upon which they swore or didn't swear rather than the words of falsehood. Once we accept this kind of perspective, then all of a sudden we have used deceit and dishonesty at our conversation's base level.
The Old Testament was teaching us that we were not just to look innocent and honest but that we would be men of integrity.
B. Discerning the world. What do others say?
But that was then in their culture. What happens in our culture? Are we saying, "Yes, yes" and "No, no"? Do we only speak and expect others to speak truth? Certainly not. Lies are too well accepted and justified.
Two things often accompany lies and deceit:
If truth requires trust, then falsehood needs coverup and deception
- 1) Denial of deceit to others and self.
We simply deny we have deceived someone, that is, we lie again. As to others, it wouldn't be deceit if others knew the real truth! As to ourselves, we would feel too guilty. We don't like others treating us that way.
- 2) Justifying our deceit to our own conscience.
We justify our wrong by priding ourselves of the good need it fulfilled. Moral relativism has most affected this area. Honesty and speaking the truth are like a decomposing corpse in this generation. Listen to these samples:
Everyone's opinions and beliefs are right
The victim is always right
Stories are more revealing than truth
Statistics are more accurate than facts
Presentation is more crucial than reality
Image more influential than actuality.
Slandering, backbiting, gossip, lying, deception, exaggeration, and flattery all hide behind many of our personal relationships. One Christian leader admitted that the husband should not tell his wife of his immoral excursions into pornography. It was as if a marriage could survive on such dishonesty and lack of truth. If truth requires trust, then falsehood needs cover up and deception and shallow relationships to function.
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Some people getting married want to cover up their past sins. This is wrong. One might not need to get into details, but can a good marriage be built when secrets are hidden from each other? Is this what 'two become one' means? These people who hide sins will not prosper (1). Lies, defense lines and walls will be the norm rather than truth and depth of relationship. But beyond the high personal cost, would one dare misrepresent oneself to another? Why? For marriage? Those sins which influence your life must be brought up. One might risk rejection by his loved one, but this is better than later having to find she married some projection of a person.
This message of truth is a pertinent message to hear in this compromising, tolerant and evil generation. They define evil ways of life as good; cursed ways to be blessed, truthful ways as naive.
You will not have everyone agreeing with Jesus' high standard. His high standard is based on the Law and of which we will all be held accountable. In fact, I perceive that there is much deception going on in and around churches. Basically the fault is with two deceptive and hurtful premises on account many people who think they are Christians will find they never were. They thought they were good people but never had a righteousness that exceeded that of the Pharisees. Their pride kept them from seeing they were living like the world but only dressed up a bit better. What are these two faults?
- 1) Lies are sometimes better than the truth.
- 2) Lies with good intention have no bad consequence.
We do not realize how much standards distorting the truth really damage relationships. We figure this is better than keeping the Lord's commands. Some people are so jittery that they will say anything to avoid rejection. At times this can lead to compromise of moral issues.
For example, a man should be polite enough to ask permission to hold a woman's hand. If the woman feels uncomfortable, what should she say? What should she say if she feels it to be inappropriate? Should she change subjects quickly? Make up an excuse? Say no? Or as it often happens, she just goes on and holds his hand because she doesn't want to loose his friendship.
She doesn't realize, perhaps, that this will be just one step in a long series of approaches, each one bringing further guilt and pain. Honesty could tremendously help that relationship. But if she is dishonest, then she gets physically and emotionally involved in a relationship that she did not want. She might wonder why they can't just have a good relationship rather than being so involved. I have helped my daughter out by having anyone interested in taking her out first call and talk to me. I will let him know my standards and ask if he will hold to them.
Often in our mind we treasure certain situations to such a degree that we are willing to compromise on issues of the conscience. But most of these issues come down to silence or false words. We have to see that Jesus was not just talking about vows but how people got around the truth. In this case they took vows. The real issue is that they would say things that were not true.
Silence is a tricky topic. We often use silence to avoid confrontation but most often it is a hold up of truthful communication. Silence allows false assumptions to exist which lead to misunderstandings. How will we deal later on with these misunderstandings? It is one thing if we are not clear. But if we are hesitant about a certain issue, then we need to bring it up in a humble and caring way.
|I suppose if we would ask people whether they lie and whether they think it is right or not, people would say yes to both, generally speaking.
But when we go back and ask them if it is okay if people cheat them or lie to them, they would not like it. I remember hearing of one person applying for a job who misrepresented himself. It took the company a while before they realized that the man they hired knew literally nothing about the job.
Or think of that girl or boy friend that misrepresents themselves? They act as if everything is up and up, but it is only after tying the marriage know that they discover they have large debts or that she didn't really love you but only wanted to get into the country. Or perhaps not so dramatic but equally wrong is the statement, "Oh, it doesn't bother me..." when it really does bother him.
On the right you will see a diagram which shows a man who lives with lies. He thinks he is just deceiving others, but God blinds him so that he even lies to himself. This has several problems.
- First of all, he has a problem with others. Since he portrays himself to be a person different from who he really is to others, nobody really knows him. This can happen to spouses, children and business partners. What a barren life! Talk about being unfulfilled. Talk about loneliness. And then think of the worry about people finding out your true self
- He also has a problem with self. Except for those few who are seared in conscience, men can not live with an utterly evil self. They twist their perception of self and the world. Sometimes they blame others and are very critical. Others are hiding all their sins and are getting hurt. They just can't understand themselves and there is no way to improve things. By the way, this is the reason the beginning of hope for addicts of all kinds is to admit they are an addict. Truth does wonders for deceivers. Their world is broken apart
- Problem with God. They twist their perception of God too. They somehow think of themselves better than they are. This is the reason they are hard to come to repentance and know Jesus. They think they are good when their hearts are evil, just like these religious leaders.
A lot of the Christian journey is spent regaining the sight of ones sinful self in light of God's perfect glory. It speaks of becoming a Christian but also future discoveries that he is too much like the world of deception. I challenge each of you to mark where you are in your spiritual journey and go on unashamedly as a man or woman of integrity.
Clearly the Bible gives us no option but to speak the truth. Listen to God's unchanging Word:
Colossians 3:9 "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its [evil] practices."
Ephesians 4:14 "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming."
Ephesians 4:25 "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH, EACH ONE of you, WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another."
There is no doubt about the importance of speaking the truth in love. We should not bear false witness. Lies cover up evil, enable you to persist in doing evil, help you make you not feel so guilty, and are in fact evil ways to hurt people. Lies began with the clever deceiver known as the serpent or accuser. He crafted truths in such a way to be misleading. He was devious and his work was in his eyes successful.
Lying is very popular partly because:
1) It is natural to our base nature
2) We have not known it is wrong
3) We have not known of its horrible consequence in this life and the next
4) We believe we can avoid some immediate consequences as getting caught and shame.
5) We are not convinced that living a life of integrity and honesty is an alternative
6) We are not convinced that a life of integrity would be better.
C. Deciding your future. What do you say?
I know there are a lot of questions you might like to ask. Some have even deeper questions as to whether there is such a thing as absolute truth. For me, the amazing question is why is there falsehood and deception? No one would even listen to this message unless there was a desire and even knowledge of truth. If there is no truth, then there is no deception. But there is that aspiration that there is something better; there is some things which are better than others. There is a standard which you want your children to live under.
There is no time now to discuss these. Please send me your questions. But I do want to ask you what about yourselves? I can pretty well guess that unless you have made a commitment to become a man or woman of integrity, then you are still living a life of disguise. Deceit of some form keeps you from the truth. If not then you would come to know Jesus, Truth itself, and find healing.
Let God examine your heart right now. Have you been completely honest with others or do you need to confess your sins to each other? If you have lied, it is important not only to confess it but to figure out what lie allowed you to think good about your deception. When we have hardened our hearts, we need to confess the lie, see ourselves as working with the spirit of the world and ask for the blood of Jesus to cleanse us.
Integrity is the "uncompromising adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." Random House] The man of integrity is known by the Lord. He opens His life for God to examine. He doesn't like being found false, but if so discovers something wrong, he confesses it and does it no more. This man has no s wall of defense about himself so he can be open and intimate. What you see is true. What you hear from him is true with his person. This man can be intimate with God and man. He can be a man above fear and worries. He is a man who can be truly concerned with others.
(1) "13 He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion."
Proverbs 28:13, NASB.