"Teaching #3: Paul, truthfulness and integrity"
In your thinking, how important is it for God’s servants to be trustworthy people, i.e. people of their word, who say what they mean and mean what they say?
How do you personally respond when your pastor or youth leader makes a promise, e.g. to take us out for a Coke or coffee, then never mentions it again? As if when he or she just made the promise, there was no real intention to carry it through. Of course, we also need to give people the benefit of the doubt, e.g. they may not be so well organised, forgetting to jot any such plans down in their diaries. And yes, we all sometimes just plain forget!
Nevertheless speaking the truth and living out what we believe are highly esteemed values in most societies, though in today’s post-Christian society, many people place a higher value on material or relationship outcomes rather than upon the truth.
How much more must speaking the truth become a value of the highest importance for all those who teach and proclaim the Good News that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6). We are all called to speak God’s truth and live truthfully.
However, sometimes even after God’s servants have been very diligent to live lives of integrity, someone will still find reason to accuse them of something they regard as a lack of integrity, e.g. “You didn’t keep your promise to me!” Such accusations cannot be disregarded but call for loving, truthful answers.
This is exactly what Paul did when he was accused by some in the Corinthian congregation.
1:12-19 – the Corinthians accused Paul of insincerity in making plans and then not carrying them through. They said that he said “yes” and “no” in the same breath, i.e. saying “Yes, I’m coming” without any real intention of doing so – 1:17ff; cf. Matt.5:33-37.
- 1:12 – Paul spoke about his “clear conscience.”
- 1:17-19 – Paul asked the Corinthians rhetorical questions that in the Greek could only be answered in the negative: 17 Do you think I couldn’t make up my mind about what to do? Or do I seem like someone who says “Yes” or “No” simply to please others? 18 God can be trusted, and so can I, when I say that our answer to you has always been “Yes” and never “No.” 19 This is because Jesus Christ the Son of God is always “Yes” and never “No.” And he is the one that Silas, Timothy, and I told you about. (Contemporary English Version)
- 1:15-16, 23 – Paul explained what really happened, and what was behind cancelling his visit.
- 1:18-22 – Paul connected his making plans with his Gospel message and ministry, that JESUS is God’s “YES and Amen” – “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever” (Heb.13:8) – His unchanging Person, His unchanging message – never today “Yes” and then tomorrow “No” – He is ALWAYS the Truth, totally dependable and trustworthy, God’s perfect revelation of eternal truth.
- 1:23 – Paul looked to Jesus as the One to confirm that he had spoken truthfully.
2:17 – Paul was also accused of trying to make himself rich through his ministry of preaching the Gospel – “trading” the Gospel, using it for his own personal and selfish purposes – cf. 1 Cor.16:1-9, especially v.3.
- 2:17 – Paul openly declared that he and his fellow-workers were “men of sincerity,” ambassadors sent from God.
- 2:17 – he reaffirmed his God-given authority as one “commissioned by God.”
- 2:17 – he declared that whenever he speaks, no matter what he says, he does so “in the sight of God,” ready to give an accounting of every word. See also Matt.12:36.
- Paul recognised that what came out of his mouth, what he taught (his message), what he did and how he lived all needed to be correctly aligned one with the other. In other words, he knew the importance for a minister of Jesus Christ to be a person of INTEGRITY.
The meaning and practice of “integrity”:
“Integrity” is an absolute requirement for all of God’s servants. In fact, it is a biblical norm for ALL believers (1 John 1:5-7). The Bible does not teach or encourage a two-tiered Christianity, i.e. a different set of values for Christian leaders and ministers, and a separate, less demanding set of values for ordinary Christians.
Christians today sometimes unknowingly imbibe postmodern values that reject “absolutes” in favour of “relatives”. As servants of Christ, we need to discern the spirit of our times and especially to stand ten feet tall in our generation as men and women of integrity, whose word can be trusted.
Definition and meaning of English word “integrity”:
- Latin root words: “integritas” (noun): soundness; “integer” (adjective) whole, complete
- Synonyms: wholeness, totality, unity, completeness, purity (unmixed)
- Antonyms: incompleteness, division, impurity
- Definition: Integrity is a quality or condition of being whole, complete or undivided.
Quoted from answers.com/topic/integrity.
A simple description of a person of integrity: Their actions and words are in perfectly alignment with their inner thoughts and beliefs. They do not try to hide anything, nor are they afraid that something hidden will be exposed.
Pictures of a person without “integrity”:
- “Crooked or bent arrow” – Hosea 7:16b “… they are like a crooked bow that always misses its target.” (This is a picture of wayward Israel.) Compare: A person of integrity is an “upright” person, i.e. someone whose words and life reach their mark – see Phil.2:14-15.
- “Double-speak” – saying one thing but deliberately meaning something different (= deceitful).
- “Two-faced” – being very sweet to some people, while to others acting in a sour manner.
- “Play-acting” (acting and speaking as a “hypocrite”) – putting on an impressive outward show for the sake of gaining the favour of certain people.
- “Exaggeration and flattery” – choosing ways of speaking to others so as to win their approval or acceptance for selfish reasons.
Examples and references to integrity in the Scriptures:
- Matt.5:8 (“a pure heart” means having an undivided heart).
- Matt.22:15-22 ** v.16 NIV – compare ESV translation: 15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.) see also Mark 12:14.
- This comment was made by some enemies of Jesus. Do you imagine that the Pharisees in their self-righteousness would have been willing to admit such a fact if it wasn’t already widely acknowledged as fact in their society?
- “Follow Me!” = walk as Jesus walked, living a life of integrity, in order that others might see the beauty of Christ’s life in you – see 1 John 2:6.
- Psalm 7:8; 25:21; 26:1, 11; 41:12; 78:72; 86:11 (“pure” = single-minded; not divided); 101:2.
- Proverbs 2:7; 10:9; 13:6; 19:1; 20:7; 28:6
- 2 Cor.1:12 (ESV) 12 For our boast is this: the testimony of our conscience that we behaved in the world with simplicity (some texts: holiness) and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you.
As followers of Jesus the Truth, we are called to be people of unswerving integrity and truthfulness regardless of how others live (even including some Christians):
- Be people whose word can be trusted and believed, who keep their promises, e.g. “I’ll pray for you!” – be prompt to note down any promise we make lest we later forget.
- Be people who have strong and steadfast convictions, who seek to be consistent in life and faith.
- Be people who are prepared to pay the price for their convictions, whose hearts are set on remaining true and steadfast in our loyalty to Jesus no matter how heated the opposition may be.
Three basic steps in the PROCESS OF living a life of integrity:
- Firstly, know the sinfulness of your own heart.
- Know the deception of your heart (Jer.17:9). We sometimes just don’t “see” (= discern or understand) that we have done anything wrong. We are slow to admit when someone might accuse us, defending ourselves black and blue that we have not said or done anything wrong. We also at times quickly point the finger of blame. When our hearts are out of step with our Lord Jesus, our hearts become “cold” and “hard.”
- Know the potential for your being blind to impure motives. Ask God to open your heart to the potential to justifying yourself when you are being blamed for mistake or wrong, even when it may be glaringly obvious to everyone else that you disobeyed one of God’s commands.
- Know that integrity and truthfulness do not come “naturally.” For example, we may have been raised by parents who encouraged us to be dishonest if dishonesty or cheating would get you ahead.
- Work diligently and consistently with the Spirit’s help, firstly, to discern the inner motives of your heart; and secondly, to throw off corrupt and crooked ways of speech and action, and in their place, to use righteous forms of speech. See Psalm 15:2.
- Secondly, ask God to give you a sensitive and responsive heart to the promptings of His Spirit, so that you don’t develop a hard heart. See John 21:15ff; Psalm 139:23-24; Psalms 32 & 51:6 (“truth in the inward parts”).
- Thirdly, be alert to and fight against common weaknesses:
- Being a man-pleaser – 2 Cor.5:9-10; Gal.1:10 – look for the roots of this weakness in a fear of rejection.
- Fear of man – Prov.29:25.
- Peer pressure – Matt.26:30-35 (Peter’s denial).
- Saving face – maintaining harmonious relationships with others, saying whatever you think they want you to say, being willing to say half-truths or to lie in order that they will think well of you and do for you or give to you what you desire.
Practise truthfulness and integrity for Christ’s sake.
Pastor Graham Roberts
Equip & Encourage International
Ministry at the Evangelical Institute, Greenville, South Carolina, USA