Pastor David B. Curtis

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Whatever Happened to Integrity?

Proverbs 11:3

Delivered 02/25/2001

So fearful were the ancient Chinese of their enemies on the north that they built the Great Wall of China, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. It was so high they knew no one could climb over it, and so thick that nothing could break it down. Then they settled back to enjoy their security.

But during the first 100 years of the wall's existence, China was invaded 3 times. Not once did the enemy break down the wall or climb over its top. Each time they bribed a gatekeeper and marched right through the gates. According to the historians, the Chinese were so busy relying upon the walls of stone that they forgot to teach integrity to their children.

Let me read some of statistics to demonstrate how integrity is vanishing in today's society. These statistics are from a book entitled The Day America Told the Truth. 91% of Americans lie regularly -- at home and at work. In answer to the question, "Whom have you regularly lied to?", the statistics included 86% to their parents and 75% to their friends. A third of AIDS carriers admit to not having told their lovers. Most workers admit to goofing off for an average of seven hours a week, which is almost one whole workday a week, and half admit that they regularly call in sick when they are perfectly well.

The survey also posed the question, "What are you willing to do for $10 million?" 25% would abandon their families. This is amazing! 23% would become a prostitute for a week. 7% would kill a stranger. Think about that! Out of a gathering of 100 Americans, 7 would kill you if the price was right.

In a paper presented at a symposium on employee theft, sponsored by the American Psychological Association, the authors pointed out that inventory shortages cost department stores and specialty chains $8 billion every year. Of that, 10% is attributed to clerical error, 30% to shoplifting, and a whopping 60% -- or $16 million a day -- to theft by employees. 60% is stolen by employees! $16 million a day!

The truth is, American culture is in big trouble. The colossal slide in integrity has grim spiritual, domestic, and political implications which threaten the survival of life as we know it.

How about Christians? The most chilling fact is that there is little statistical difference between the ethical practices of the religious and the nonreligious. 43% of non-church attenders admit to pilfering work supplies, compared to 37% of church attenders. That's only a 6% difference. 17% of the unchurched use the company phone for long-distance personal calls, but 13% of those who attend worship do likewise.

What is integrity?

In the dictionary, it says that integrity is, "Firm adherence to a code of moral and artistic values. Incorruptibility." Or we can say, it means: "A quality of state of being that is completely undivided." That's what the dictionary says. As we look into the Bible, the word in Hebrew means: "completeness". Talking about David, the psalmist writes:

Psalms 78:72 (NKJV) So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

So, that means no cutting corners, complete honesty, no flaw in character, no hairline cracks in his heart, promises kept. With David as a leader, the nation was secure. Not perfection of course, David wasn't perfect, but people with integrity are honest about their failures.

Synonyms for integrity would include honesty, honor, character, and dignity. I like this working definition, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one else is looking."

Ask yourself, "Can I be trusted when no one is looking?" Can I be trusted to not steal from my employer when I'm alone in the store? Can I be trusted to honor my marriage vows when I'm by myself on a business trip? Can I hear the deep dark secret of a friend and be trusted to not blab it to the world behind his back? Can I be trusted to keep my eyes on my own test paper when the teacher leaves the room? Can I be trusted to turn in expense reports that aren't padded with make-believe expenditures? Can I be trusted to be where I've told my parents I would be? Can I be trusted to surf past the sexual immorality on the Internet or cable when no one else is around? Can I be trusted when no one is looking?

God sees, even if no one else does.

A burglar broke into a house late one night, and as he began to look around, he heard a strange voice say, "Jesus is watching you." He froze in his tracks and said, "Who said that?" No reply. "Must be my conscience", he thought to himself sarcastically. He took a step and he heard it again, "Jesus is watching you." "Who said that?", he asked again. "Joshua," came the reply. The burglar turned his flashlight toward the voice and saw ... a parrot sitting in its cage! Greatly relieved, he laughed and said, "Who would name a parrot Joshua?" The parrot said, "Same person who named our pit bull Jesus."

It's tempting to tell yourself that no one will know. But Someone always does. God knows all about you. He knows what you do, what you think, where you go, what you say and what you need. God knows you better than anyone else knows you. And that can be good news - or bad news. The bad news is, that if God knows everything about you, that means he knows where you lack integrity.

Proverbs 5:21-23 (NKJV) For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, And He ponders all his paths. 22 His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, And he is caught in the cords of his sin. 23 He shall die for lack of instruction, And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray.
Psalms 69:5 (NKJV) O God, You know my foolishness; And my sins are not hidden from You.

People of integrity know that God always sees, even if no one else does.

Integrity is an important aspect of Christian character. In Philippians, we see Paul praying for the believer's integrity:

Philippians 1:9-10 (NKJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ,

The word "sincere" means: "spotless inner character". The literal meaning of "sincere" in the Latin and Greek give us a good understanding of this word. The Latin word sinecera is where we get our word "sincere." This Latin word literally means: "without wax." The Greek word elikrines comes from krino, which means: "to judge" and heile, which means: "sunlight". It means, "to test by sunlight," to be pure, unmixed, genuine, not a hypocrite.

In ancient times, the biggest industry in the world was the pottery industry. And pottery varied in quality just as cars vary today, or office supplies, or household goods. The cheapest pottery was thick and solid and did not require much skill to make. It is found everywhere at archaeological sites. The finest pottery was thin. It had a clear color, and it brought a high price. Fine pottery was very fragile both before and after firing. And it was often the case that this pottery would crack in the oven. Cracked pottery should have been thrown away, but dishonest dealers were in the habit of filling in the cracks with a hard pearly wax that would blend in with the color of the pottery. This made the cracks practically undetectable in the shops, especially when painted or glazed; but the wax was immediately detectable if the pottery was held up to light, especially to the sun. In that case, the cracks would show up darker. It was said that the artificial element was detected by "sun-testing." Honest dealers marked their finer product by the caption sine cera-- "without wax."

Paul is saying that the flaws in the lives of believers must not be covered up with wax. Our lives are not perfect. In this life we will always have flaws, but we must not disguise them artificially. We must be sincere and not hypocrites. Paul is praying for their integrity, their purity. The sunlight of the word of God will expose our true character.

The bible says a lot about integrity ­ it's a very spiritual issue:

1 Chron. 29:17 (NIV) I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity.
Proverbs 10:9 (NKJV) He who walks with integrity walks securely, But he who perverts his ways will become known.
Proverbs 11:3 (NKJV) The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.
Proverbs 13:6 (NIV) Righteousness guards the man of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.

In these passages God contrasts integrity to being crooked, unfaithful, wicked, and having a life of duplicity.

So, let's look at ourselves this morning and ask this question, "Am I living a life of integrity?" In order to answer that question, let's look at our definition again, "Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one else is looking." How do we know what the right thing is? What is the source of your values? You're getting them from someplace. Where are you getting them? Now that is an important question, because where I get my values determines how valuable they are.

Would you consider the National Inquirer a good place to get your values? Would you consider TV talk shows a good place to get your values? Yet, if you are an average American, you'll spend 1,000 hours a year watching television. Which means that by the time you're 65 years old, you will have spent 15 years, 12 hours a day, 365 days a year just watching the tube - 15 years of your life!

In contrast, if you go to church every Sunday of your life for 65 years you will have spent a total of 8 months receiving spiritual teaching - 8 months compared to 15 years. That's a big difference, isn't it?

As a nation, we're largely being molded as to what morality is, what decency is, what integrity is by what we see on the TV set. So, where are you going to get your values? You have only two basic choices: You'll either get them from the Word of God or you'll get them from the world. Those are the choices that we have. If we're going to have integrity, we must spend time in God's Word. But let me warn you; if you learn what is right and don't do it, it will cause much pain.

George Gallup in a poll says, "The number one cause of stress in our lives today is not the lack of money, and it's not the breaking down of relationships, it's the incongruities in life. It's saying one thing & doing something else. It's constant conflict inside."

Someone says, "My family is really important to me." Almost everyone would say that. Yet, statistics reveal that the average father in the U.S. spends 5 minutes a day with his kids. So what's he doing? He is saying one thing and he is doing something else. You might say, "My health is really important to me." Really? Do you exercise? "No." Do you eat right? "No." Do you get lots of rest? "No." Do you take days off? "Sometimes, but my health is really important to me."

Are you materialistic? "Oh, no! Everybody else is, but I'm not. I'm not a materialistic person at all." Really? Is your debt load getting deeper and deeper? Are you buying things that you can't afford? Do you have credit card charges that you can't pay? Are you saving money? "No, I spend it all," you say.

So you see, we're not consistent. We don't do what we say is really important. Is God important to you? "Yes!" Ninety-five percent of the people in the U.S. say, "God is important to me." Really? Then do you schedule time to be with God? "Well, no, I'm so busy, I can't." If God is important to you, do you give of your income to support the Lord's work?

1 Corinthians 16:2 (NKJV) On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, STORING UP AS HE MAY PROSPER, that there be no collections when I come.

We are to give proportionately to what we have. We are to give according to how we have prospered. Our responsibility is according to our ability. Do you give to the Lord's work. "No, I need that for myself." Do you spend time in the Word? Do you spend time praying, talking to God, developing a relationship with Him? "No, I am much too busy to do any of that." You see, we say one thing but we do something else.

Let me share with you a couple of things that are true of a person with integrity:

The Person with Integrity Doesn't Compromise His Standards

Joseph was a man of deep integrity, he refused to compromise even when it would have been so easy to do so. What motivated his integrity?

Genesis 39:8-9 (NKJV) But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. 9 "There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?"

He didn't even consider it. The answer was absolutely, positively, "NO", because he saw it as a sin against God. How easy is it for us to just finally give up and say, "Okay", to something that we know is wrong. What are our limits?

Cleveland Stroud had coached the Blue Collar Bulldogs for 18 years before his basketball team made it to the championship. Stroud recalls, "It was a perfect night" when they won. A night you dream of". He was carried around the gym on the shoulders of his triumphant players and their proud parents. But the excitement was short lived.

Two months after the championship, during a routine grade check, Stroud discovered that one player was academically ineligible. The player in question had only played 45 seconds in the regional qualifying tournament. Stroud says, "I thought it was all ruined. I went through a phase where I was really depressed." He struggled with what to do next. Yet, his commitment to integrity led him to the right decision. "Winning is the most important thing for any coach," he said. "But your principals have to be higher than your goals." He reported the error to the league, and the Bulldogs forfeited their trophy. When the team lamented their loss in the locker room, he told them, "You've got to do what is honest, what is right, and what the rules say. People forget the scores of basketball games, but they don't ever forget what your're made of."

Just like Joseph and Cleveland, we have been given responsibilities. If it's not a ministry or a ball team, it's a family or a household. Are we carrying out our responsibilities with integrity?

Throughout his administration, Abraham Lincoln was a president under fire, especially during the scarring years of the Civil War. And though he knew he would make errors of office, he resolved never to compromise his integrity. So strong was this resolve that he once said, "I desire so to conduct the affairs of this administration that if at the end, when I come to lay down the reins of power, I have lost every other friend on earth, I shall at least have one friend left, and that friend shall be down inside of me."

The Person of Integrity Is Not Negligent In His Duties

Daniel 6:1-5 (NKJV) It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; 2 and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. 3 Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. 4 So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. 5 Then these men said, "We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God."

These men searched and searched and the bible says they found no corruption in Daniel. Let's say that we found about 100 people that didn't like you very much, and they were going to investigate your life. They're looking for some area that you have been corrupt in, either intentionally or negligently. What would they find?

Often times we judge ourselves based on the things we do, not on what we haven't done.

James 4:17 (NKJV) Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.

Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins. I believe that as Christians, this is the area that we fail in the most. Because, hopefully, the acts of commission, the intentional sins, are diminishing as you grow in the faith. But this is harder.

How are we negligent?

Raising our families to be God fearing families; are we neglecting our children? It is not the churches' responsibility to teach your kids, it's yours. Marriage: How much time do we spend making our wives feel special? How often do you ask them how they think they're doing spiritually? Do you know what your spouse is studying in her Bible? What about God? Have you neglected Him? He's been calling some of you for years, and you've neglected to answer. A lack of integrity not only harms you, but often other innocent people around you.

It was a chilly Tuesday morning, the 28th of January 1986, when Christa McAuliffe climbed aboard the Challenger Space Shuttle for her historic mission as the first citizen in space. She was a teacher. I only pray that we learned something about the consequences of getting an "F" in integrity. You see, though the weather was cold, a group of engineers were fighting back the hot sweat of worried anticipation. Would the booster seals hold in this kind of weather? Was it safe to launch? Knowledgeable engineers and designers said, "No". Influential executives said, "Yes". A group of top managers failed to listen carefully to the warnings of those down the line who were concerned about the operational reliability of certain parts of the booster rocket under conditions of abnormal stress. The people in charge were confident that they knew best, and that they should not change the launch schedule. They were wrong.

Negligence harms integrity. What area of your life have you been neglecting. Decide right here and now that you will neglect it no longer. If God is who you have been neglecting ­ what are you waiting for?

The Person of Integrity Does Not Lie

I heard Rush Limbaugh explain why he felt the Democrats might win the election, and he said, "People in this country like to be lied to." They don't want to hear the truth - the truth hurts. The words "I tell you the truth" appear 76 times in the gospels. Jesus was a man of truth, and so are we to be.

Colossians 3:9 (NKJV) Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,

What are some of the ways that our honesty is challenged? "Till death do us part." What about at work? Do you slide on the truth there? What about your taxes? Are you completely truthful there? What about shifting blame when you know you're guilty?

Reuben Gonzales was in the final match of a pro racquetball tournament. In the 4th and final game, at match point, Gonzales made a "super kill" shot into the front wall to win the game. The referee called it good. Two linesman affirmed that the shot was in. But Gonzales, after a moments hesitation, turned around, shook his opponents hand, and declared that his shot had hit the floor first. As a result, he lost the match and walked off the court. Everybody was stunned. They couldn't believe that a player with everything officially in his favor, with victory at hand, disqualified himself at match point and lost!

When asked why he did it, Reuben said, "It was the only thing that I could do to maintain my integrity. I could always win another match, but I could never regain my lost integrity."

Being a Christian is more than just having faith, it's being a man or woman of character with integrity as your flagship. If George Gallup's poll is right ("The number one cause of stress in our lives today is the incongruities in life. It's saying one thing and doing something else. It's constant conflict inside") then the way to relieve that stress is to become people of integrity. If you feel that you are lacking in the area of integrity but are interested in growing in this area, let me give you 3 areas to consider:

1. Look at your schedule. Is your schedule consistent with what you say is important? Do you have the most time allotted for the things that you think are really important, or are you spending time on things that you say aren't important? You're going to have to reevaluate your schedule.

2. Look at your budget. Are you spending the most money on the things that are really important, or are you spending the most money on things that you think are not important, on things that only last for a brief period of time?

3. Look at your relationships. Are you spending time with the people who are most important to you? Are you spending time with your family, your wife, your children, your grandchildren? Or are you spending all your time being involved with things that aren't that important to you?

The Blessings of Integrity

People want to be around a person of integrity. In I Like Church But..., Dan Lupton writes about an unemployed Chicago resident named David Yi who found and returned $12,000. When his story became public, he received numerous lucrative job offers.

Integrity brings peace. There is nothing like laying your head on the pillow at night with no nagging pangs of guilt.

President Harry Truman used to say, "Fame is a vapor, popularity an accident, riches take wings, those who cheer today may curse tomorrow, only one thing endures - character." Charles Spurgeon wrote, "A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you and were helped by you will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble."

Ecclesiastes 7:1 (NKJV) A good name is better than precious ointment, And the day of death than the day of one's birth;

At a national spelling contest in Washington, an unusual incident occurred. In the fourth round of the contest, Rosalie Elliot, then an eleven- year-old from South Carolina, was asked to spell avowal. In her soft Southern accent she spelled it. But did the seventh grader use an a or an e as the next to last letter? The judges couldn't decide. For several minutes they listened to tape recording playbacks, but the critical letter was accent-blurred. Chief Judge, John Lloyd, finally put the question to the only person who knew the answer, "Was the letter an a or was it an e? he asked Rosalie. Surrounded by whispering young spellers, she knew by now the correct spelling of the word. Without hesitating, she replied she had misspelled it. She walked from the stage. The entire audience stood and applauded, including half a hundred newspaper reporters.

Now you might be thinking, "I want to be a person of integrity, but I just can't do it." You're right. You can't do it. You aren't strong enough. That's why you need Jesus Christ. You can't do this by yourself. That's exactly why Paul wrote:

Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

What does Paul mean when he says, "I can do all things through Christ"? He means that because he is in communion with Christ, the power of Christ is available to him for every need. Paul cannot do "all things" simply because he is a Christian. He can do all things because he is living in a dependant relationship with Christ. He is abiding in Christ. As we live in dependence upon Christ, we can live a life of integrity.

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