23. Aspiring to Integrity

Aspiring Meditations: 23.  Aspiring to Integrity

1 Kings 9:4    As for you, if you walk before me in integrity of heart and uprightness, as David your father did, and do all I command and observe my decrees and laws

Job 2:3   he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.

Psa 78:72  David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.

Titus 2:7,8  In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned

Now ‘integrity’ comes up not that many times in the scriptures and, strangely enough, ‘honesty’ even less, although warnings again dishonesty arise a lot.  So I tackle this subject, not because the word has hit me a number of times in my readings, but simply as I have prayed on a daily basis for these studies, it is a word that has remained with me just recently.

So what does it mean? Well dictionary definitions for ‘integrity’ include, “the quality or state of being complete; unbroken condition; wholeness; entirety of being unimpaired; perfect condition; soundness,  of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” While we are at it, dictionary definitions for ‘honesty’ include, “a refraining from lying, cheating, or stealing; being truthful, trustworthy, or upright,   sincerity; fairness; straightforwardness.”

Funnily enough, ones of the groups attacking Jesus and trying to trick him, asking about giving to Caesar, start out by saying, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.” (Mt 22:16) i.e. we know you are more concerned with the truth, and so much so that you will not care about what people think about you.  Now that was dishonest on their part, because they were trying to lead Jesus into saying something rash about paying or not paying taxes, but nevertheless, it did highlight an element of what we usually think about integrity, and that is that it is a characteristic of being determined to remain honest, regardless of what others think. Now in the dictionary definition above, I have included, in the first part of it, the element of meaning that suggests wholeness or completeness, unimpaired etc. and that is true of Jesus and, I suggest, he wants that for us, this sense of remaining true to the person he has made us to be and remain whole righteously, we might say.

When someone invites us to take part in something that is underhand or slightly on the edge of honesty, or slightly questionable, the enemy is trying to make a dent in the wholeness of your character and once there is one breach it makes it so much easier for him to undermine you completely. One step over the line makes you vulnerable to future challenges.

Our quote above, from 1 Kings 9:4, comes in the Lord appearing to Solomon a second time, after he had finished building the temple, and the benchmark or plumb line, we might say, for Solomon for the days to come, was to be the example of his father, David. Psa78:72 confirmed that, confirmed David’s reputation. Yes, David was imperfect and he fell in respect of Bathsheba and Uriah, but according to scripture that was the only time he fell in such a way (see 1 Kings 15:5). Generally, however, David had a reputation for integrity, of right and honest dealings, a man who could be trusted and relied upon. That is what integrity is about.

The same sense of holding on to one’s righteousness complete or intact, also appears in the story of Job after his first testing and the Lord pointed out to Satan, “he still maintains his integrity,” (Job 2:3) and a few verses later his wife chides him, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!” (2:9) It is that same ‘holding on to your righteousness’, remaining whole before God.

Paul taught Titus (Titus 2:7) to maintain integrity in his teaching which some have suggested could be ‘incorruptibility’ (Message version), i.e. the refusal to allow any form of corruption into his life and ministry, i.e. this same idea of remaining above board, open and honest, visible for all to see, holding a strict regard for the truth (JBP version).

Now although there may not be lots of exhortations in the New Testament (possibly because mostly the early Christians were not well off or in positions where they might abuse their authority) if we ask the simple question, ‘Should we not then bother within integrity as something to which we should aspire?’ the answer, surely, has got to be patently obvious, “Definitely not, go for it!”

In a day when values are sliding, with the rejection of God as the arbiter of right and wrong, so absolutes no longer exist in the minds of many, history of modern government, and indeed virtually every other public institution in modern life in recent years and decades screams out, ‘we need a return to the values of honesty and integrity in life in general, in ways like we have not seen for many years.’ Bribery, corruption, taking short cuts that are ethically dubious, all of this has been well recorded in public life in Europe in the UK and in the USA at least, numerous times in the last two decades. I have a number of them on file, and they are in the public record.

In this sort of world, the call is for us to stand out, not only with love and goodness, but also in the ethical realm with honesty and integrity. I was blessed recently to receive a testimony that said, “a number of years ago you prophesied over me that God would bless me with ‘the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place’, and I therefore sought to maintain those in my business life. I have just been given a major promotion and the reason my employers gave it me was, they said, because of me being a man of truthfulness and righteousness.” (that is as near as I can recollect what was shared with me while in the USA recently.) What a testimony today!

I like Nehemiah’s words, “I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, that is Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most men do.” (Neh 7:2) Integrity AND fear of the Lord!  An attitude outwards and upwards!  Yes, I will definitely aspire to more of that!

30. Hold the Good

Meditations in 1 Thessalonians

Part 3 :  30. Hold the Good

1 Thess 5:21,22   Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.

I have a horrible feeling we take good for granted and don’t realise that it is something precious and to be held on to. When you talk about holding on to something there is a sense of clinging on to it to make sure you don’t drop or lose it. 

Consider things that are ‘good’: love, peace, quietness, security, safety, warm relationships, stable relationships, honouring and respecting people, absence of upset and hurt, honesty and integrity, freedom from crime, freedom from violence, being able to look back and be thankful, being able to look into the future with confidence. Look at so much of modern life in the West and realise the absence of so many of these things. When we were a child our parents kept us free from worry and so many of the above list were true for us, but in so many modern single-parent homes (and two-parent homes) these things are so often absent.

Before Christ, before we received our salvation, the apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament, All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Rom 3:12) In other words, outside of Christ we have little expectation of finding good, real selfless, godly good, being expressed. Indeed Paul was to go on and declare in a more personal way, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (Rom 7:18) Later on in the practical section of that same book he gave the same instruction that we find here: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good,” (Rom 12:9) and in the closing chapter, “I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.” (Rom 16:19)  Paul’s understanding sharply contrasts with today’s relativistic ramblings where few are able to say, yes there is good and yes there is evil and we know the difference.

But good for the Christian is not just an idea, it is a practical reality. Again Paul was to say to the Galatians, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Gal 6:9,10) Some versions in verse 9 have ‘well-doing’ for the NIV’s ‘doing good’ which is another nice way of putting it. The verse 10 reference is clearly to good deeds. In Ephesians he reminds us that, “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” (Eph 2:10) and of the Colossians he said, “And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Col 1:10) Similarly there is Jesus’ teaching, “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) 

Again and again the emphasis is not merely on working but doing good in what you do. Goodness is seen, goodness reveals who we are.  When speaking about the widows to be cared for by the church under Timothy’s oversight, Paul described the qualifications of those to be looked after as, “well known for her good deeds, such as bringing up children, showing hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, helping those in trouble and devoting herself to all kinds of good deeds.” (1 Tim 5:10)  There are some very practical ways of doing good. When speaking to Titus about the qualities of overseers (elders) he said, “he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” (Titus 1:8). Indeed eight times in that letter Paul refers to ‘doing good’.

Indeed we see there the real heart of this call: “Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.” (Titus 2:13,14) Jesus came to deliver us out of a life of self-centred and godless evil into being those whose life is characterized by doing good, by being good, by being eager to do good. Paul is very specific about it: “I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good.” (Titus 3:8)

The writer to the Hebrew understood this as well when he wrote about us maturing and receiving good teaching: “But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Heb 5:14)  That is what teaching should do, help us understand the difference between good and evil. Echoing Paul’s teaching about good deeds following, James taught, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (Jas 3:13)  Peter also echoes that earlier teaching about good deeds being seen: “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Pet 2:12)

Later on Peter quotes psalm 34 to emphasis this same thing: “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech. He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.” (1 Pet 3:10,11)  The apostle John echoes so much of this in his third letter: “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.” (3 Jn 11). Remember also, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Gal 5:22,23(+). Goodness comes from God and is to be seen in His people. Good is not only a concept but it is also a practice and it is a vital one that needs restoring to the church in the twenty-first century so that the world may see and believe and be blessed, but it needs working at. May it be so!

55. I am Righteous

Meditations in Job : 55.  I am Righteous

Job 27:5,6 I will never admit you are in the right; till I die, I will not deny my integrity. I will maintain my righteousness and never let go of it; my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.

We now come to a long discourse by Job that runs from chapter 26 through to 31. Starting at the beginning of chapter 26, Job chides the friends with cynicism: How you have helped the powerless! How you have saved the arm that is feeble!” (26:2) which of course means exactly the opposite – you haven’t helped one bit! And when he goes on, “Who has helped you utter these words? And whose spirit spoke from your mouth?” (26:4) it’s like we might say, “Wherever did you get all this drivel from? When he continues, “The dead are in deep anguish, those beneath the waters and all that live in them.” (26:5) it’s like he is saying, “Well you have really comforted the dead, writing off all of their previous existence by the way you put down their lives!

Look, he says, moving into a longer section that exalts God’s greatness, “Death is naked before God.” (26:6) i.e. God sees everything, the dead included. In verses 7 to 13 that follow he extols the Lord who has created all things and is Lord over all. He concludes, “Who then can understand the thunder of his power?” (26:14c) In other words, God is so great you’ll never be able to understand it all, so (implied) your attempts to rationalize His activity will fail.

In chapter 27 he maintains his integrity and his righteousness. When he says, “As surely as the Lord lives,” it is like an oath, and he moves in to the strong words we have as our verses today. In this he is quite remarkable. This is the heart of his cries – I am righteous; this is not because of my sin – THAT IS the truth!

Verses 7 to 10 are a call for justice, for God’s wrath to come down on those who are against him: “May my enemies be like the wicked, my adversaries like the unjust!” (27:7) Is this a reference to his ‘friends’ who have become his adversaries? He wants those who are against him to know the hopelessness that is usually associated with the godless: “For what hope has the godless when he is cut off, when God takes away his life?” (27:8). He wants them to experience the same awfulness that he has known of crying to God and not being heard: “Does God listen to his cry when distress comes upon him?” (27:9). He wants them to know the experience of almost coming to the point when he virtually gives up even calling out to God: “Will he find delight in the Almighty? Will he call upon God at all times?” (27:10) Within these words there is, indirectly, the reminder of the anguish that he himself has been going through.

Look, he says, you clever people, “I will teach you about the power of God; the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal.” (27:11) You want to know about the reality of all this? I will tell you! “You have all seen this yourselves. Why then this meaningless talk?” (27:12) I’m the one who has been going through all this, I’m the one who knows the reality of it, so why have you been uttering meaningless words that don’t come from experience (implied)?

The rest of the chapter is given over to his agreement that God does indeed judge the wicked (but that doesn’t include him!)  He speaks about the wicked and ruthless (v.13) and how their sin will bring judgment down on their families to the next generations (v.14,15). It doesn’t matter what the wicked save up, it will be taken away (v.16,17). He may think he is building security in his great house but it will all be taken (v.18,19) All this, his very life, will be snatched away in the twinkling of an eye (v.20-23). Oh yes, Job has orthodox beliefs about what will happen to the wicked, but the only thing is that he is absolutely certain that that doesn’t include him. Yes, he subtly agrees that this is all that has happened to him and so (implied) he understands where they are coming from. It is an understandable mistake, because that is how it usually works – the Lord does judge the wicked and take away what they have. Yes, that is a truth, but he has just maintained his crucial belief – I am righteous! This has not happened to me because I have sinned.

Now we may think Job is going over the top in this but he is doing no more than speaking the truth. We know from the Lord’s earlier description of him – blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil (1:8 & 2:3) – that he had NOT sinned. This test was not about his sin. It was all about whether he would remain faithful to God in the face of all that Satan could throw at him this side of death. There is a strong lesson here about not letting the enemy dump guilt upon you when you are not guilty!  Don’t let him do it!

6. Even More

The Anguish of Job – Meditation 6

Job 2:1-6 On another day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Then the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.” “Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.” The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

There is a repetition in the first half of these verses that take us back to the first time Satan came into heaven and God questioned him about Job. Again, as we have observed previously, it is God who takes the initiative. This is now another day, obviously some time later, and we go through exactly the same process up until the point when the Lord says, And he still maintains his integrity. He has been given every reason to be upset but Job has maintained his integrity. He had not reacted adversely to having had everything taken from him.

There arise thoughts here about one of the key questions of creation. Why did God give us free will? Wouldn’t life have been better if sin had not come into the world and the world then subsequently NOT ‘gone wrong’? So why did God make us with this capability of being able to choose whether or not to respond favourably to Him? Perhaps part of the answer lies in the apostle John’s assertion that “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) because love seeks out love. When we truly love someone we want to give out to them, but we also want the fulfilment of it being reciprocated. Without free will there can be no love reciprocated because love is a response thing, a free thing, something that happens spontaneously, not forced. Surely one of the key questions behind the thinking of the godhead when planning the world is, “How can we give man free will and yet also create circumstances whereby he will be able to love back and enter into the wonder of this love?” Job is a classic answer, apparently, to this conundrum. Job loves God. He has every reason to; he is a much blessed man. OK, take away the blessing. Will he still love God? Yes! Love does not have to depend upon how much we have, although it genuinely is a response to being loved (1 Jn 4:19).

Look at how that first new verse continues: And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason. Bear that in mind in the coming arguments. There was no reason for this to come against Job. He had done nothing to warrant it! It wasn’t his sin that provoked this. No, there are much bigger issues here. One of those issues is to do with the nature of Satan himself. See how God describes his activity: you incited me against him. Can God be incited? Can God be stirred up to act against His will? No, of course not! The point that the Lord is making is that that was Satan’s intention, to stir the Lord against Job so that he, Satan, could go about his malicious business of harming God’s creation out of spite, jealousy and pride.

Did God not realise that this was how Satan would act when confronted with God’s exalting of Job? Yes, of course He did; that was the whole point. Job’s love, his steadfastness, his integrity, his faithfulness, cannot be proved until the possible causes of all those things have been removed. Isn’t that exactly the point that Satan made when he previously had said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (1:9-11). He’s only like this, he maintained, because you have blessed him! Here is the crux. Will people love God when they have little or nothing? That is what is under scrutiny here.

But the debate hasn’t finished. So, OK, you’ve taken away his possessions, but I bet if you took away his health he wouldn’t stick with you, is what Satan next says. Is God being forced into a corner? Don’t be silly! Who took the initiative here? Who started off this conversation again about Job? Once He has started down this path (even before then actually!) the Lord knows this has got to go the full way. Yes, Satan could be allowed to take Job’s life, but that would be the easy way out, really. Oh yes, there have been many martyrs. When you die, you get it over with quickly and move on into heaven, but the far harder path is to be taken right up to the doorway of death, but left suspended in ill-health and sickness, and the Lord knows that that is what His servant is going to have to endure, for Job to go down in history as the man who held onto his integrity in the face of the most awful of trials.

The Lord knows it is not going to last for ever and He knows that He will eventually completely restore Job, but for the moment, from Job’s perspective, this will seem like an ongoing suffering with no ending. In the past I have known immense back pain and at such times you do everything you can to alleviate it with no success and you just can’t see a time in the future without it. That is what illness is like. You are utterly trapped by it and there is nothing you can do to get yourself out of it – except pray, and wait.

Does suffering have to have a reason? The disciples thought so when confronted by a blind man (see Jn 9) but Jesus refused to accept it as anything other than an opportunity to glorify God: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” Living in a fallen world, things go wrong. Sometimes it’s the work of Satan, sometimes the results of the activities of sinful men, and sometimes it’s just because the world is fallen and it’s no longer working perfectly, but whatever it is, for those of us who know the Lord, here is an opportunity to glorify Him by the way we respond to it. No, it’s not nice. Yes, it is thoroughly uncomfortable. Yes, we’d much rather not have to go through it, but as children of God, will we consider it a joy (Jas 1:2) to be given the opportunity to hold on to the grace of God and respond well and to God’s glory.

The apostle Paul was able to say, “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.” (Eph 3:10) In other words the angelic beings will glorify God when they see the way we receive and respond to the grace of God. Similarly, “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe.” (Phil 2:14,15). May we be like that!

2. Veracity of Writers

SON OF GOD MEDITATIONS 2 of 20

Luke 1:1-4 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

Today, by way of preparation towards examining the Bible to see why we believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God, we look at the question of the veracity of the Gospel writers. As a sceptic, I think I understand and appreciate the concerns of those who, with little knowledge, put forward the assertion that the writers of the New Testament may have been sincere but they were sincerely deluded. The integrity and sincerity of the Gospel writers is important. One of the primary attack points from today’s crusading atheists is that these are purely human writings and as such are wrong or inaccurate or misguided. Even my Muslim friend who I referred to in the first of these meditations, makes assumptions and says things that carry the implication that you cannot trust what the writers wrote. There are a number of issues that thus arise which we need to consider here before we move on to consider the claims about Jesus as God’s unique Son, which is what this series is really all about. Yes, these writers were human beings and their humanity can be seen in the way they write – but we’ll put off looking at this in detail until some of the later studies.

Without going into too much detail (which can be found elsewhere by the serious seeker after truth) Luke’s Gospel was written by Luke, a physician or doctor, and two points need to be made from the outset. First, today when we want to write, as I am doing now, we simply type away on a keyboard and there we have our end result. In Luke’s day it was a long and laborious task. It would have taken much time and much effort. In other words you only did it if you have a really good reason to write. Luke states that to his friend from the outset: “that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” The reason that he is doing this, writing this Gospel, is that he is concerned with truth and integrity and wants his friend to be in no doubt about the veracity of what the early church had been teaching.

The second thing to note is this fact about Luke being a physician. That says he is automatically a scholar, a well taught man of his time. This is not some casual blog-writer with no educational credentials to their name. This guy is a bit of an intellectual and truth is important to him. Now when we research a little further, we come to find that he also travelled with the well-known apostle Paul – author of many of the New Testament letters – and had witnessed many of the things that had gone on during that man’s travels; hence his second book, the so-called ‘Acts of the Apostles’. Now what so many sceptics fail to do is spend money, time and effort going out into the world to witness for themselves the things that happen when the power of God is moving. Research history – old, modern and present – and you find reports of God turning up and doing spectacular things. The Gospels are full of them and Luke’s ‘Acts of the Apostles’ is full of them. Be a sceptic by all means but only after you have been and seen for yourself. Luke had been there, seen it, examined it and reported it. He knew the reality of God’s supernatural power and being a scholar and man of integrity (there is nothing remotely underhand in his writings) he determined to record what he found.

Ah, but you say after a little bit of personal research, Luke hadn’t been a close follower of Jesus, and so his accounts are all second hand, so it’s his sources who were the deceived ones and he just passed on their deception. Yes, but that ignores several key things. First the veracity of his own experiences with Paul, his ability to discern truth that others are speaking, his ability to check out the truth (because that is what he is dealing in) and, finally, if you are still unsure about him, check the other Gospel writers in whom the same characteristics are obvious – and they were there as eye-witnesses (remember John’s language seen in yesterday’s meditation). No, this man is not going to write anything over which he has doubts. He is certain of his facts.

Oh no, the one thing that any open minded and honest person will agree once they have carefully read the Gospels, is that these writers were absolutely sure of what they had seen, heard, and now write. That leaves one possible avenue in this discussion about truth, integrity and veracity of the reports, and that is usually put forward as “Jesus conned them!” As a researcher and studier of the Bible for over forty years, I have to suggest that such an assertion can only be made by those who have never read the Gospels with an open mind. I’m sorry I have to keep on using that phrase “with an open mind” but, as I said yesterday, if you come with a mind that is made up before you start reading, you will only see what you want to see and that, I suggest, says something about your own lack of integrity. Sorry to have to put it like that, but I keep finding this predetermined mind-set that decides before reading what the outcome will be. That does lack intellectual integrity and if you live with that, shame on you!

So why am I sure that the assertion that “Jesus conned them” is false? Well think about what went on. There are twelve men (and a number of women) who accompanied Jesus wherever he went for that three years of his ministry. They watch and see literally thousands of people being healed. There is no way that these can all be frauds. The joy, the natural responses of those being healed could not be counterfeited. They also hear Jesus’ teaching, sometimes the same stuff again and again over those three years. If they had had doubts about it, of they had seen inconsistencies or even contradictions between it and his behaviour, they would not have written as they did. If they had seen any improper behaviour between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, as some ancient heretics suggested, and modern sceptics have picked up, they would have not written as they have, and indeed they would have made reference to any such relationship that he had. They didn’t!

Read these Gospel accounts with an open mind, challenge what you are reading with good questions by all means, and see for yourself what I have asserted in this meditation, that you can trust the nature and content of what we find in these Gospels. I have only skimmed over the surface here in this limited study, but you can check it out further yourself – but don’t write it off until you have. That simply leaves us to examine the detail of what we find in the Gospels, and that we will start doing in tomorrow’s study. This study has simply been to prepare the ground to help us be clearer in our thinking as we approach this topic that Jesus Christ IS the unique Son of God. That’s what we are aiming towards, please remember.