September 25, 2015

The importance of integrity

Zechariah 6:1–7:14, Acts 22:22–23:22, Job 29:13–25

Integrity means to be the same person inside and out, saying what I think and thinking what I say. Even so, I realize how easy it is to fake it, to act like a Christian ought to act, but on the inside being totally selfish about whatever I am doing.

During God’s judgments on His people, He spoke to Zechariah the prophet: “Say to all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth month and in the seventh, for these seventy years, was it for me that you fasted? And when you eat and when you drink, do you not eat for yourselves and drink for yourselves?’” (Zechariah 7:4–6)

God knows the heart. People may be fooled but no one can escape the scrutiny of the Lord. He isn’t interested in fake pious behavior like fasting if it isn’t accompanied by genuine sacrifice of self-interest that shows genuine loves to others. He said to Zechariah, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” But they refused to pay attention and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears that they might not hear. They made their hearts diamond-hard lest they should hear the law and the words that the Lord of hosts had sent by his Spirit through the former prophets. Therefore great anger came from the Lord of hosts. (Zechariah 7:8–12)

Job knew better. He defended his lifestyle to his ‘friends’ who accused him of wickedness. “The blessing of him who was about to perish came upon me, and I caused the widow’s heart to sing for joy. I put on righteousness, and it clothed me; my justice was like a robe and a turban. I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know. I broke the fangs of the unrighteous and made him drop his prey from his teeth.”
“Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days as the sand, my roots spread out to the waters, with the dew all night on my branches, my glory fresh with me, and my bow ever new in my hand.’” (Job 29:13–20)

Job honestly admitted that he expected a happy and prosperous old age. He did not expect what happened to him. Later he would say to his accusers, “Far be it from me to say that you are right; till I die I will not put away my integrity from me.” (Job 27:5)

The Apostle Paul also was a man of integrity, even though it put him in danger. To an angry mob, he spoke of his conversion and included God’s command to him: “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:21)

Up to this point they listened to him, but when he said that, they raised their voices and said, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” They were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air. (Acts 22:22–23) If I thought I’d get that reaction, I might have kept my mouth shut!

But Paul, like Job, spoke his heart: “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” This infuriated them even more, so the solders took him to safety. The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.” (Acts 23:6–11)

The next day, the Jews plotted to kill him, but Paul’s nephew overheard their scheme and told his uncle of their plans. He sent them to the military leader who listened, then said, “Tell no one that you have informed me of these things.” (Acts 23:12–22) Paul’s life was spared under the protection of many soldiers, no doubt because this one soldier respected him for his integrity.

Marcus Aurelius once said, “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” This seems the attitude of God toward His self-serving people, and the words that Job ought to have said to his accusers, and the principle by which Paul lived.

For me, it is also a good word, one that motivates me to live with integrity.

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