24th October, 1999

  The Millennial Mega-Trends
  Matthew 12:33-37

Dr. James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, says that "integrity is the word for our times! It means keeping our promises, doing what we said we would do, choosing to be accountable, and taking as our motto, "semper fidelis" the promise to be always faithful." This is the time for a fresh look at integrity.

Telling lies and failing to fulfil our promises are not unique to the twentieth century. Being unfaithful to one's spouse, wholesale taxation cheating, stealing from the boss, social vandalism, international disregard for human life in a dozen countries, are all part of our twentieth century social decay. These evils appear to be increasing. Numbers of otherwise moral and well-meaning citizens deny their godly roots, and place themselves and their families in moral jeopardy.

Dr. Lewis Smedes, Professor of Ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary in California, says "Simply put, integrity is doing what you said you would do. Promise keeping is one of the fundamental acts of society." It is the bedrock of social relationships. When we can no longer depend on one another to do what we said we would do, the future becomes an undefined nightmare. Society makes promises to us. Governments make promises to us. Our friends make promises. The Church makes promises. All of these relate to the future. Each one says, "When the time comes, you can count on me." Unfortunately we are discovering we cannot trust governments, many of our friends, and sometimes even our church. There is a dearth of integrity.

We despise the person whose private life is not reflected in public. We despise the politician who has an upright image, but misappropriates public money spending it upon prostitutes. We despise the teacher who cares about children and then is found to be a child molester. We despise the businesswoman who talks of the rights of women and who in private tells racist jokes. We despise the man who projects the image of family concern, but who in private abuses his wife.

We do not accept hypocrisy between public talk and private action, between moral claims and immoral acts, between open demands and closed deeds, between inclusive statements and exclusive works. What you are is not what you say you are, but what your deeds show you are. What you are, lies not in what you claim to be, but what you are seen to be. Your word must be your bond. A person of integrity. With God, integrity counts! Personal integrity is a rare commodity these days. Insurance companies state that one out of every five motorcar write-offs are deliberate acts by the owners. Workers Compensation cases are inflated by bogus claims. Female absenteeism for sickness peaks four times a year, just prior to each lot of school holidays. Les McCarrey of the Institute of Public Affairs says: "I'm afraid it has to said quite ruthlessly, in all my experience, people are fundamentally dishonest. If they can rip off the system, they'll rip it off. And even honest people start to waver when they see their neighbour ripping it off." We live in a deceitful society that despises truth. Few today call people to a standard of public morality, community and personal ethics.

Politicians need to be people of integrity if they are to hold the trust of people. They are suspected of lying, immorality and hypocrisy. The Morgan Gallop Poll No 1706 reveals that only 14% of people trust a politician's word. Lying makes political management of the news easier, but it also creates crassness, deceit and opportunism. If lying is acceptable political behaviour, how can the members of the public be expected to keep their word?

Business leaders are expected to set an example of integrity in the way they handle shareholders investments. Many Australian businessmen have stood before the courts facing criminal charges recently: George Herscu, Laurie Connell, Alan Bond, Christopher Skase, John Elliott. Some of Australia's finest businessmen have stood before some of Australia's finest judges. Integrity is demanded of people in political and commercial life. Employers must be examples of integrity.

Workers look for trustworthiness and fairness in their employers. Without integrity in their dealings with people, employers lose an essential requisite of an effective leader. Coalmine owners who spend their workers superannuation and holiday pay not only are breaking the law, but they are breaking a bond of trust between employer and employee. Where is integrity, truth and morality? It will take a long time for that trust to be restored. The banking industry, is at its lowest level in public esteem since the great Depression. Today it faces today a hostile media and public scorn. When your integrity goes a whole generation rejects you.

Welfare agencies must always be open to public scrutiny and accountability. Several years ago I visited every capital in Australia addressing leaders of welfare organisations urging them to establish a national council for financial accountability. Wesley Mission is one of the few large charities which gives full disclosure on every aspect of our life and finances. We have nothing to hide, and nothing for which we are ashamed. Donors should think carefully before giving to any charity that has few volunteers, high percentage of funds used in fund-raising, and which refuses to divulge all relevant information. Charities must be accountable. It is the only way they can assure the public of their integrity.

The 1980's saw public scandals among American Pentecostal evangelists, and the 1990's saw moral scandals among Catholic Christian Brothers. There is no place to hide such disgraceful conduct. As Professor Charles Birch, now retired from Sydney University, says, "The notion of integrity is the root meaning of the word religion: religare, to bind together. As the chasm between our inner intentions and outer acts, our pretensions and our practice, deepens, so does our hunger for wholeness. And wholeness includes a sense of at-one-ment with ourselves and the rest of the universe. When personal integrity falls apart, we become vulnerable to whatever solution is presented to us by countless sects and movements that parade their wares. Today I sense a deep need for a coherent faith that can meet our deep need for integrity."

Jesus understood this fundamental need of society, and gave clear instructions that His disciples must be people who lived with integrity in speech and behaviour. In an incredibly relevant command, the Lord Jesus said: Matt 12:33-37 "Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognised by its fruit. 34. You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. 36. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. 37. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

The meaning is quite clear: the disciple of Jesus must demonstrate integrity by the way he or she acts and speaks. Character is tested by conduct. What is said reveals what is in the heart. Words reveal thoughts. If you are inherently evil it will out. Bad trees cannot produce good fruit. The only way forward, is not by guarding your speech, but by changing your heart. Every word revealing inner uncleanness will be used in judging yourself. Your words will condemn you. If we were rugby league players, we would be sent off to the sin-bin! Our words reveal what our hearts conceal!

In Hebrew the word integrity is "thummim". On the ceremonial breastplate worn by the High Priest were the Urim and Thummim. "They shall be over Aaron's heart when he goes in before the Lord." Exod 28:30

There were times when a high-level decision could not be made "until a priest could consult with the Urim and Thummim" Exo 2:63 They were two of twelve gemstones representing the twelve tribes of Israel which were used as lots to determine God's will. Thummim suggests integrity is required to stand before God and discern His will. No High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies without his heart being covered by "integrity". God wants every Christian to be protected with the "breast-plate of righteousness" as Paul put it. Eph. 6:14 Before God, our heart should be covered with integrity.

This righteousness is not achieved by being good people or even by living good lives. As the Apostle Paul quotes: Rom 3:10 "There is no one righteous, not even one." Our own merit and goodness cannot make us people of integrity. Isa 64:6 "All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags." Integrity - inner righteousness - can only be bestowed upon us from the righteousness of the best person who ever lived. As Paul again explains: There is only one way: Rom 1:17 "the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith." This requires that each of us admit our sinfulness before God, believe that Christ can cleanse us from every sin, and confess before others that Christ is Saviour. It is only through our faith in Jesus Christ that we can be clean. It is only through faith in Him that God can see us as righteous people. It is only as we stand before God through our faith in Jesus Christ, that He sees us as people of integrity. That is the essence of being totally accountable before God.

The Bible declares that all of us shall face God's judgement and that on that Day we will be accountable of all that we have been and done and said. Unless the righteousness of Jesus covers our sin. Then God sees not our sin, but His integrity of character.

A policeman returning from the scene of an armed hold-up saw a truck speed through a stop sign. He pulled the driver over and as he approached the vehicle the driver shot him from point-blank range with the same gun he had used a few moments before to rob a twenty-four-hour market. The stolen money was beside him on the seat. The policeman was knocked flat two metres away. Then the officer stood up, pulled his service revolver, and fired twice! The first bullet went through the open window and the second tore through the door and ripped into the driver's left leg. 'Don't shoot!' the thief screamed, throwing the gun and sack of money out the window. What saved the policeman's life was the layers of Kevlar, the super strong fabric used for bulletproof vests. The policeman was still wearing his bullet-proof vest from the hold-up scene.

Eph 6:14 The Bible instructs every Christian to put on the full armour of God including "the breastplate of righteousness." Simple qualities like righteousness and faith can deflect whatever the Enemy of souls may fire at us. Our integrity is complete. As we enter the Twentyfirst Century, one of those qualities that must go with us, is the fact that we can be people of integrity and accountability, and that on the Day of Judgement, we are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

  "On Purpose" Charles Birch, NSW Press Uni.

Rev Dr Gordon Moyes

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