A Call to Spiritual Integrity.
Have you ever find yourself having a conversation with an individual who proclaims faith in Christ, and then brags about having done something illegal or unethical? I once was enthusiastically told by an actively practicing pastor of his success in cheating on his taxes. Are people of faith held to a different standard of integrity than others?
As our post-modern culture is becoming increasingly decadent with every passing year, one of the casualties of this change is a respect for honesty and integrity. When I started teaching university classes in the late 1970s incidents of cheating were noteworthy because of their infrequency. When I retired from the university in 2006, cheating, in the form of euphemistic “information sharing,” was so commonly accepted and exercised that virtually every student in my classroom took part in some way. Maintaining fairness in the classroom became a challenge when most students were working to complete their outside-of-class or on-line assignments as easily as possible, often copying other student’s work and submitting it as their own. I once analyzed the final term projects of one class in detail to find that 28 students shared with or garnered information from others while only two did not. Only two students passed the course that semester. Most students simply did not accept that turning in another student’s work as their own is a form of cheating. This pervasive culture in the classroom was one of the factors that led to my early retirement.
Cheating and dishonesty has become so common today that, just as incidents of cheating used to be noteworthy, now we are at the point when it has become noteworthy when someone acts with honesty and integrity.
Those who are active in their Christian faith are immersed in this world where truth is becoming irrelevant, and when truth is destroyed all that is left is falsehood. What is becoming accepted by this pagan and secular culture is becoming more and more accepted by those who profess faith in the LORD, Jesus Christ. Certainly, it is not uncommon to observe the destruction of Christian ministries by the transgressions of their leaders. However, even a more significant pattern is emerging where dishonesty and immorality among Christians is dismissed as acceptable by their peers. Currently a pastor of a well-known megachurch settled out of court with several men who exposed his acts of pedophilia, and is now facing indictment by the IRS for using millions of dollars of unaccounted church funds to pay for his over-the-top extravagant lifestyle. While this pastor is continually immersed in all manner of scandal, he is still lauded and supported by his congregation that numbers into the many thousands.
While dishonesty and corruption are becoming more and more accepted by our society, what is the appropriate stand for people of faith? Is integrity dead? Does the LORD approve of corruption among those who call upon His name?
As Moses was preparing Israel to move into the Promised Land of Canaan, he was sending them into a population that had no respect for honesty and integrity. As Christians are today, Israel would find themselves immersed in a pagan society that has no interest in or respect for the righteousness of God. The book of Deuteronomy is simply a commentary on godly living as Moses presents a model of integrity to the nation of Israel, a model that one can live either by following the law that the model defines, or simply living a life that is submitted in love to the LORD, a life that chooses to live in a manner that is consistent with the law.
INTEGRITY IN JUSTICE
Deuteronomy 16:18-20. Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, throughout thy tribes: and they shall judge the people with just judgment.
Because of the sinful nature of this world, we find injustice everywhere. Similarly, injustice was common in the ancient near-east, both among the pagan Canaanites and among the people of Israel. While the nation was knit closely together in the wilderness, the relationship that Moses, Aaron, and the Levites had with the people, they were able to provide them with judges and officers who would serve them with some measure of supervision and integrity. However, when Israel would take the land of Canaan, they would be dispersed over a large area, providing a need for the same services in the communities, but lacking the oversight that Moses (or Joshua) could provide. Recognizing this need, Moses commanded the Israelites to appoint judges in each of the communities, judges who by evidence of their own honesty, would serve with integrity. They were to judge the people with just judgment, a judgment that is consistent with God’s Word and God’s purpose for the people.
Deuteronomy 16:19. Thou shalt not wrest judgment; thou shalt not respect persons, neither take a gift: for a gift doth blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
Moses describes three areas where integrity is to be maintained.
1. Do not deny judgment from those in need. Any number of factors might lead an unjust judge to withhold justice from another, ranging from “I don’t have the time to bother,” to a deliberate choice use his (or her) position as one of power over those in need. Spiritual integrity would demand that one never deliberately withhold ministry from those in need.
2. Do not discriminate among people with the intent of preferential treatment. This world system consistently prefers one people group over another, demonstrating prejudice in many different ways. Spiritual integrity demands that all people are treated with the love that God has for them. Prejudice stands in direct opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit, and should never be found in the heart of the faithful.
3. Never take a bribe of any kind. A bribe specifically refers to the accepting of some form of payment for the specific purpose of denying just judgment. The offer of significant financial or other reward can be a tremendous temptation, even for people of faith. Spiritual integrity demands the quick and unequivocal refusal of any form of bribe.
Deuteronomy 16:20. That which is altogether just shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Though it is evident that Moses’ primary purpose in this teaching was to establish a government for the people of Israel, the principles upon which that government was to stand are the principles found in the Word of God, principles upon which every faithful believer will choose to stand. If a Christian is to live with spiritual integrity, (1) they will not choose to withhold ministry from those in need, (2) they will not choose to treat people with prejudice, (3) and will not choose to compromise the truth for material reward.
INTEGRITY IN PROPERTY
Deuteronomy 19:14. Thou shalt not remove thy neighbour’s landmark, which they of old time have set in thine inheritance, which thou shalt inherit in the land that the LORD thy God giveth thee to possess it.
Integrity refers to the ability of something to maintain its intended and designed properties, even under stress. For example, a bridge is considered to show integrity by its ability to stand without damage under the traffic loads for which it was designed. For people who demonstrate honesty in their lives, integrity has a similar meaning. Honesty is demonstrated when one will not compromise the truth when they are observed by others. Integrity is demonstrated when one will not compromise the truth, even when unobserved.
Property boundaries in the ancient near-east were often indicated by the placement of a stack of stones. Such boundaries delineated the territories of families, tribes, and nations. It would be a simple thing to move the stack of stones on a boundary by a few feet and steal several acres from a neighbor. If such an act were unobserved, it is likely that no one would notice the transgression.
There are many ways that people of faith can be tempted to steal, particularly when there is no accountability among peers. Such theft may be no more than taking a pen from the office. Spiritual integrity demands that one would never take part in any form of theft, big or small.
INTEGRITY IN SPEECH
Deuteronomy 19:15-20. One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. 16If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; 17Then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; 18And the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; 19Then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. 20And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
Wisdom reveals to us a simple truth: people lie. People of faith want to trust others in the same way that they would like to be trusted by others. As a small measure against a lying witness, Moses instructed the judges to deny judgment upon the basis of a single person’s testimony. If a judgment is to be made that will bring harm to an individual, that judgment should be made based upon reliable information. Of course, two or three can agree to lie together, forming a conspiracy such as that which was used against Jesus Christ when He stood before the Sanhedrin.
Spiritual integrity demands that judgment be based upon truth. Likewise, a person of faith should be characterized by such honesty. There is simply no opportunity for a person of faith to be a false witness. Though George Washington probably never said, “I cannot tell a lie,” people of faith simply cannot tell a lie under any circumstances. A person who lives by spiritual integrity will strive for honesty in everything they say, and consequently, they can be trusted by those who know them. The application of loving tact may sometimes require the wisdom of God in order to maintain such honesty, but God does provide that wisdom.
INTEGRITY IN ACTION
Deuteronomy 25:13-14. Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. 14Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small.
Commerce involves the purchase and sale of commodities. When one is buying and selling weighed goods, the integrity of the sale is dependent on the scales that are used. A customer can be easily cheated if the weights that are used to measure the commodity are inaccurate. For example, a dishonest seller may use a heavier weight when purchasing a product to acquire more for the same money, and a lighter weight when selling giving less for the same money. The customer would be entirely unaware of the injustice, particularly if the variation from standard is modest.
The issue is broader than the simple application of weights in a business transaction. The injustice shown here involves a premeditated plan to take advantage of an unwitting customer for the sole purpose of personal gain. There are many ways that we can misrepresent the truth for our own purposes. One who carries “diverse weights” is one who looks for opportunities to take advantage of others for personal gain. Consequently, the passage refers to the practice in both “thy bag” and in “thy house.” Just as the bag is a reference to carrying this attitude of covetousness outside the home, the passage continues to apply the principle inside the home. Spiritual integrity demands that one acts honestly in dealings both outside and inside the home.
Deuteronomy 25:15. But thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
The imperative of honesty comes with a promise: those who deal honestly with others, both outside and inside the home will find their days “lengthened in the land.” To understand this statement, we need to consider God’s promise to Israel and the part that the land has in that promise. The land represents the blessing that God has for those who love and trust him. That blessing includes both provision and protection as God provided the land and all of its resources, and protected Israel from its enemies. When one acts dishonestly, they are distancing themselves from the LORD, turning from the provision and blessing that God promises. By rejecting God and turning to idolatry, Israel abandoned the promised protection of God, and their days in the promised land ended.
Consequently, this statement is not an implication that one will live longer if they abide by the Deuteronomic Law of Moses. When one lives a life of spiritual integrity, they remain in a close relationship with the LORD where He can continue to bless through provision and protection.
Deuteronomy 25:16. For all that do such things, and all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the LORD thy God.
Are people of faith held to a higher standard of integrity than others? People of faith are held to a higher standard simply because they have been given the standard and have been given the opportunity to honor God by holding to it. This passage is the last in a 13-chapter presentation of a set of standards that God set forth that serve to define the type of society that God desires from Israel. Likewise, it defines the basic nature of those whom God considers righteous: those who love Him and express that love in a life that is characterized by faith and integrity.
Though several specific examples of honest living are presented, the message goes far beyond the letter of the Law. Those who have no relationship with the LORD can only find righteousness by keeping every tenet of the Law, since God does promise to bless those who adhere to it. However, without the grace of God, all are without hope because it is simply impossible to keep every tenet of the Law, for to break one Law is to be a lawbreaker, one who is disobedient, and one who is “an abomination” to the LORD.
What happened to that pastor who bragged about cheating on his taxes? This attitude was simply an indication of his lack of basic integrity, an attitude that defined many areas of his life. He left the protection and provision of God’s hand. It was not long before he lost his ministry as a pastor and found himself immersed in the pagan world that he secretly cherished.
The solution to this seeming dilemma is found in God’s grace towards those who place their faith in Him. When one places their faith in God, He puts His law in their heart. When one accepts the Spirit of God into their hearts, they see their world through the eyes of God, with a spiritual understanding of His purpose. A person of faith does not need Mosaic Law to know that the use of diverse weights is not an appropriate way to behave. A person of faith chooses to be honest in their dealings with others because that is the new nature that God gives to them. Consequently, when people Paul states that people of faith are “free from the law”, such freedom is not a license to sin, but is rather a call to call to spiritual integrity.
This passage makes it quite clear that God considers dishonesty to be “an abomination.” Nobody who loves God would ever want to be considered this way. Consequently, this passage is a reminder to all people of faith of the importance that honesty and integrity play in the relationships that we have with one another and with the LORD. God requires spiritual integrity from those who love Him. This may be difficult for those of us who bring so much of this world’s baggage of sin to the table of faith, but it is not impossible. Faith is a worthy vocation, and integrity is its character. Let us all be reminded of this truth and inspired to strive towards integrity in all aspects of our lives.