“Integrity is Good for You”
August 22, 2010
The righteousness God desires is integrity.
I. The Question: (Psalm 15:1)
II. The Summary (Psalm 15:2)
III. The Evidence (Psalm 15:3-5)
IV. The Outcome (Psalm 15:5)
One day recently Jonathan Kittle came to the office looking a bit bleak. He wasn’t feeling well. He actually ended up taking a nap on the floor. Later that day he posted a comment on Facebook: “a little more aware of gravity today than I usually am . . . .” He received a number of responses, some thinking he’d had a problem flying, but it was the first one that struck me. A friend of his wrote: “it’s not just a good idea, it’s the law” – the law of gravity, that is.
Well, today we’re going to study, from Psalm 15, the concept of integrity. And as we explore the Biblical underpinning of this concept, we’ll find that it’s not just good for you – it’s the law. In the same way that ‘love God and love your neighbor’ sum up the law and the prophets, the word integrity sums up God’s calling on his people in their daily lives and relationships.
The English word integrity has a broad scope. Dictionary.com says “1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. 2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished: to preserve the integrity of the empire. 3. a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition: the integrity of a ship's hull. The last two definitions amplify the first: adherence to moral or ethical principles becomes integrity when it’s whole, entire and undiminished; when it is sound, unimpaired and perfect. In other words integrity is consistent soundness of moral character in all circumstances and at all times.
Many have offered short, pithy sayings to illustrate integrity. You often see these on motivational posters: Marcus Aurelius said “If it’s not right, don’t do it; if it’s not true, don’t say it.” Shakespeare advises “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” Thomas Jefferson: “In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.” Macaulay: “The measure of a man's real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”
Some of these are fun “Be the person your dog thinks you are.” “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.” A common theme is the idea of being the same on the inside as you are on the outside, and doing the right thing even when no one is watching.
This commercial captures integrity as well as anything I found:
How is this concept reflected in Scripture? Two Hebrew words are sometimes translated ‘integrity.’ One of those is associated with uprightness: standing tall, not giving in to moral pressure. This is perhaps best illustrated by Proverbs 14:2 “Whoever walks in uprightness fears the LORD, but he who is devious in his ways despises him.” The other word is associated with completeness or wholeness, being the same on the inside as on the outside. It is often used of King David, as in Psalm 78:72 “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
A version of that second word for integrity appears in our Psalm this morning. Psalm 15 is a psalm of David, and here’s what he says:
1LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?
2He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from his heart 3and has no slander on his tongue,
who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,
4who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD,
who keeps his oath even when it hurts,
5who lends his money without usury
and does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
He who does these things will never be shaken.
David begins with one of the central questions of Scripture and of life: who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? In other words, what are the requirements to be in the presence of God? David words his question in terms of the tabernacle, because that was the visible symbol of God’s presence in his day. But this desire for the presence of God is seen throughout Scripture. We read in Genesis that God walked with Adam and Eve in the coolness of the day in the Garden of Eden, but that after they sinned they were separated from God by being cast out of the Garden.
The rest of Scripture shows how God has been at work to reverse that separation. This shows up in promises like “I will walk among you,” “I will be with you,” “you will be my people and I will be your God.” We’ve seen this ofen enough that I’m not going to develop it this morning, but suffice to say that this specific image of being with God in his sanctuary is in keeping with the Biblical theme of being in God’s presence. David in fact treasures this specific image probably more than anyone else in Scripture.Psalm 84: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! 2My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. . . . Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.”
But his desire to know who can live in God’s presence reflects the fact that God is holy, set apart and pure, exalted, worthy of full devotion, perfect in goodness and righteousness. And we are not. We are sinful, rebellious and selfish, preferring devotion our unholy desires to devotion to his will and ways. But someplace deep inside is a desire for God’s presence. In our hearts we echo David’s thought: what kind of person do I have to be to be with a holy God?
And the answer David is about to give us is the one that comes before and after Jesus. This is so typical of the Psalms that I want to clarify it now. We know that in many Psalms the author sees himself as sinful and helpless, as in need of mercy and he declares over and over that he will trust and believe and put his hope for rescue in God alone. At the same time he recognizes that God requires man to live a standard of righteousness based on God’s holiness. The Psalms recognize that standard as true for all men even before salvation. But they also presume that after a person has turned to trust in God’s mercy that standard does not change and is still the measure of a godly life.
So if the Psalmist is asked ‘who may stand in God’s presence?’ he is likely to give the answer ‘the one who trusts in God’s mercy,’ but he is also likely to give the answer, ‘the one who lives by God’s standards.’ And both are true. But it’s not until the New Testament that it is made explicit that only those who trust in Christ can live this new life: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Paul makes it perfectly clear that “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” so that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.”
So as we read we have to recognize that the Psalmist describes a righteousness which was always God’s standard, long before Christ, a righteousness that can only be found through trust in God’s mercy, and a righteousness that is again the standard of life for those who through trust in Christ have been re-created in righteousness before God to walk in newness of life.
With that understanding, we can learn a ton about the righteousness God expects of us by taking seriously David’s own answer to his question. Who can stand in God’s presence? Verse 2: “He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous.” A line of Hebrew poetry like this often consists of two parallel parts. In this case ‘he who does what is righteous’ is parallel to and explains ‘he whose walk is blameless.’ We’ve already seen that righteousness is the standard of right living for those who have trusted in God’s mercy. So that standard of right living is here being called ‘blameless.’ And the word blameless is a form of the word often translated ‘integrity’.
Do you get this? The righteousness God desires in us is that we be blameless, that we have integrity. The righteousness God desires is integrity. As early as Genesis 6 we read that “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.” Those with this integrity are those who walk with God. This blameless integrity is sometimes explicitly tied to their trust. Psalm 26:1 “Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.”
And blameless integrity, through faith, isn’t just an Old Testament concept. Paul teaches the Ephesians that God chose us in Christ, “before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.” He prays for the Thessalonians that “God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” For the Philppians that their “love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, 11filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ.”
Integrity is the mature fruit of life in Christ. This is seen in its application to elders. Paul says to Titus: “An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless--not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The word blameless is the banner under which these elder requirements fall, because integrity reveals that God’s standard of righteousness is being lived out in a person’s life.
In the same way the blameless integrity of Psalm 15:2 is the banner under which David can describe the life of the righteous in more detail. He gives nine characteristics of the blameless person, the person of integrity. First, he speaks the truth from his heart. Remember, one of the definitions of integrity is being the same on the inside as you are on the outside. So the truth that comes out of our mouths should be truth that has penetrated to our hearts. If we speak the truth of God’s word into someone’s life, but that truth has not penetrated our own heart, why should we be believed? We have no integrity.
Scripture speaks about that truth in terms of an undivided heart. Psalm 86:11 “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” The person of integrity serves God whole-heartedly, yet depends on God to give him that undivided heart.
The first phrase of verse 3 provides the contrasting parallel: the person of integrity has no slander on his tongue, does not speak to hurt others or lie for his own gain. James 3 talks about our tongue being like a rudder on a ship: it steers and guides our lives. It is capable of great good or of great harm. Those who desire to walk with God will not be using their sharp or poisonous tongues to harm their neighbors. And yet there is nothing more common even among believers. We’d reduce the need for peace-making ninety percent if our tongues were always instruments to build up, never of hurt or malice.
Verse 3 continues with another pair of qualities: he does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman. Doing no wrong is the negative way of saying “love your neighbor as yourself.” As the doctors say, ‘First, do no harm’. Paul says “love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” 1st John points this right at us: “If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.”
Notice that the tongue, your words, is immediately brought up again: the person of integrity casts no slur on his fellowman. I can’t help but think of Facebook, which I use, and twitter, which I don’t, and blogs, and e-mail. These so-called social media can be places of encouragement, but are often places where people vent their disappointment or even anger with others. I’m sure you’ve seen the kind of post that says ‘I’m miserable because so-and-so did such-and-such.’ And all my Facebook friends chime in to say ‘oh you poor dear; how could they have done that?’ Now I feel justified in my anger because others agree with the slurs I’ve cast on my supposed opponents.
Verse 4: “who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD.” It’s interesting that David isn’t extolling unqualified approval of all men and all choices. He’s saying a person of integrity has to make distinctions between honoring what is good and right and dismissing what is evil and unhealthy. At first this might seem harsh, but the actual Hebrew shows what is meant. The word despise means ‘to accord little worth to something,’ to not take something to heart, to dismiss or ignore something. And what is being dismissed as of little value is the vile man, the reprobate. That word means ‘to reject’ and is being used of a person who has rejected the things of God.
So, although the Psalm is saying that the person of integrity does not harm others, it’s also saying that integrity doesn’t accept the outright rejection of God nor feel like it ought to spend time with the person who has done so. The verse is saying ‘don’t buy in to the person who has rejected God.”
What does this look like in our lives? On the negative side it means being willing to distance yourself from the council of those who are hard hearted toward God. The world-view, the political correctness, the life-style choices of the hard-hearted must be rejected, no matter how vigorously they are defended.
This is stated positively in the second phrase of the verse: the person of integrity honors those who fear the Lord. You have two friends. One is a rejector, constantly avoiding the things of God and apparently hard hearted toward God’s ways in his life. The second friend is soft-hearted toward God: he fears the Lord: stands in awe of Him; obeys Him; respects his authority. This friend, according to David, is to be honored: the root of this Hebrew word means weighty, heavy. If the first person is to be dismissed as of no account, the second person is to be given weight and standing in our lives.
I can’t help but think of how Jesus dealt with Peter. When Peter got outside himself and in fear of God recognized Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, Jesus honored him, giving him a new name and proclaiming that the truth he’d recognized would be the foundation of the church. Moments later, when Christ shared the truth of his coming suffering, Peter reverted to the ways of the world and said ‘no, no, this can’t be how it works.’ And Jesus said ‘Get behind me, Satan.’ Jesus honored him when he feared the Lord, but dismissed him when he didn’t. The person of integrity does the same.
The last phrase in verse 4 is one of the gems of Scripture: He keeps his oath even when it hurts. The person of integrity does not back off on his or her commitments when the going gets tough. I know I’ve needed this teaching: I’ve struggled over the years with making promises I know I won’t keep. ‘Yea, I’ll do that,’ ‘Yea, I be there,’ eve ‘Yea I’ll pray for you.’ These are empty words, commitments to things that are either not a priority for me or won’t fit in my schedule. Over the years God has allowed me to hate making promises I won’t keep; I’ve learned to be more cautious about doing so. It’s still not perfect - I still hate it when I recognize I’ve failed, but I want to be a person who keeps his word, even when it becomes inconvenient.
I think we benefit from keeping our oaths even when they hurt. On a very personal level, I remember promising my dad, twenty seven years ago, that when he died I would try to take care of my mom. Trying to keep that promise changed my life, even though I didn’t do it very well some of the time, and even though there were many times when trying to care for her hurt. But it taught me something about what faithfulness should be; it taught me a lot about how wonderful God is to care for me when I’m difficult to love.
Verse 5: the person of integrity lends his money without usury. Other translations say ‘doesn’t lend his money at interest.’ On the surface that sounds like a pretty ancient teaching: lending in our society is at interest, is very formal, and often drives economic growth. But we can still apply this on a personal level. The verse reminds us to hold our stuff lightly, to be able to give where there is need, and to lend without worrying about our stuff getting hurt.
I’ve had the thought several times in the last year or so that it would be great for our community if we were more in the habit of lending. I suspect we spend a lot of God’s money buying or renting things that someone else in the body already has – power tools, generators, toddler clothes, even the second car. I wonder if it would build community for us to make a list of things we’re willing to hold in common: ‘twelve passenger van, not perfectly reliable or at all attractive, but available for transport of people or stuff for durations of a day to two weeks.’ At Trinity we actually do a lot of this sharing among ourselves now, but maybe we can create a system to do more. The person of integrity lends freely because it’s only stuff.
Verse 5 goes on: a person of integrity does not accept a bribe against the innocent. We said earlier this summer that when you begin to look for justice issues in Scripture, you find God’s heart for justice everywhere. The Psalms we read this week, 9 to 14, show God’s heart for the fatherless and the needy. This verse shows his heart for the innocent. If I allow just a little bit of injustice, a little bit of malice, a little bit of bitterness, a little bit of revenge to do harm to the innocent, then I am no longer a person of integrity. I may never approach a court of law, but if I allow power or influence to speak to me more strongly than innocence and need, I’ve lost it.
So what have we seen? That God walks with a person who, through trust and through Jesus, has become righteous, and who endeavors to live blamelessly, to live with integrity. The specifics of that integrity are being true to God both inside and outside; taming the tongue and not being guilty of wronging people through our words; loving our neighbor by first doing him no harm; pushing away the influence of those who are hardened toward God, but honoring people when they live in fear of him, soft-hearted; inconveniencing ourselves in order to be faithful to others and to our promises, holding onto our stuff lightly and seeking justice for the innocent and the needy.
These things, God says, are the life of integrity and when our lives say this one thing, then we will not be shaken from our awareness of God’s presence.