The Most Compelling Argument for the Gospel
Integrity, Witness, Character
If you go into any Christian bookstore you will find shelves of books that teach you how to defend your faith in a skeptical and anti-supernatural world. You will find arguments for the existence of God, evidence for and defense of the Biblical doctrine of creation, and rock solid reasons for trusting the authority and trustworthiness of the Scriptures. As you read these books you also will find proofs that establish the historical validity of the death and resurrection of Jesus as well as reasoned arguments for the deity (or God-nature) of Christ. These are valuable materials and every believer should have one or more of these books to help them articulate their faith.
But these are not the best tools you have at your disposal. This morning it is my contention that the most powerful argument for the reality of the gospel is that of a changed life . . . a life of integrity.
The word “integrity” comes from the same root word as integration. Integrity is when you integrate faith with your living. Warren Wiersbe says,
A person with integrity is not divided (that’s duplicity) or merely pretending (that’s hypocrisy). He or she is ‘whole’: life is ‘put together,’ and things are working together harmoniously. People with integrity have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Their lives are open books. [Integrity Crisis p. 21]
This morning we are going to look once again at the integrity we see in Joseph’s life. And then we will talk about the call to integrity for our lives.
THE INTEGRITY OF JOSEPH
We have seen Joseph’s integrity before.
- When Joseph was a servant of Potipher he was so trustworthy that Potipher trusted him with all his affairs.
- When Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce Joseph, he refused, even though he knew it would cost him.
- When he was in jail on false charges of rape, he was a model prisoner and was put in charge of the other prisoners and even interpreted the dreams of the baker and cupbearer.
- And when he was called before Pharaoh, he refused credit for the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams but instead he gave full credit to the Lord. He was a model of consistency and integrity.
In Genesis 47 we see the record of how Joseph managed the food supply for all of Egypt during the seven years of famine. It was a tough job. And in this chapter we see several things regarding Joseph’s character:
He Did not use others for His advantage
During this time of famine, Joseph had enormous power. The life the people once enjoyed became a desperate struggle for survival. Personal reserves were gone. Everyone needed help. The nearest thing we can think of is the Great Depression. And at this time Joseph had every opportunity to take advantage of the situation. He could have jacked up prices, he could have given food only to those who gave him a “kick-back”, or he could have focused only on his family. But he didn’t. He handled the situation responsibly and fairly.
This situation is different from the other example we mentioned. This time Joseph is on top. He’s the boss. He holds the cards. The more successful you become, the tougher it can be to live a life of integrity. The temptations are greater and the risk seems less. That’s why we see so many celebrities and powerful people fall into such reckless behaviors. Joseph however, does not use the situation for his advantage. His integrity ran deep. His values were anchored to his faith. He was not only serving Pharaoh . . . he was serving the Lord.
He acted with mercy and fairness
As you read the story you may wonder how I can say that Joseph acted with mercy and fairness. First, he takes all the money the people had, then their livestock, then their land, and finally the people sold themselves. On face value this doesn’t sound merciful at all!
But we must see several things,
- Joseph was not just taking . . . he was giving. For their money they received a year’s worth of food for their family. The problem was not the price . . . it was that in the famine there was no way to make any more money. There is no complaint that Joseph is overcharging anyone.
- The animals and the land were worthless to the people at this point. If Joseph did not take the animals they would have died of starvation. And when he took their land, it was parched and worthless. Joseph moved them to the cities (the better translation of verse 21)to make it easier to help the people and administer the food.
- And when the people offered themselves for food, Joseph was still merciful. He cared for them when they were dying. They were grateful to live. But notice also that when the famine is over, Joseph put the people back on their own land, presumable returned their animals to work the land, provided the seed for the land and let the people keep 80% of what they earned. Wouldn’t you be grateful for only a 20% tax rate?
- By not simply giving handouts, Joseph preserved the dignity of the people. He avoided a welfare state which would have led the people to feel the government “owed” them a living.
His integrity won the respect of the people
“You have saved our lives,” they said. “May we find favor in the eyes of our lord; we will be in bondage to Pharaoh.” [Genesis 47:25]
In response to Joseph the people do not rebel or grumble . . . they praise him. They feel that they owe Joseph their lives. They respect him and trust him.
Those who act with Integrity make an impact. Joseph’s lifestyle gave credibility to his testimony. I think Joseph’s integrity changed his family, and changed a nation.
In September 1982, Moody Bible Institute students and twins Kristen and Karen Turner, were recognized in the Chicago Tribune because they returned a wallet containing $350.00. As they were returning to Moody at nine o’clock one night, they crossed Rush Street and, in the middle of the street, found the wallet. They picked it up, discovered $350.00 in it, and took it to the nearby police station.
The Trib’s story explained that a man had gone out to test-drive a motorcycle and lost his wallet on Rush Street. When he got back and attempted to pay for the motorcycle, he discovered his loss. He mournfully told his friend that the money was gone and he would never find it unless the angles provided it.
These two students did more for the gospel in that one act than they could have in a whole day of distributing Gospel tracts. They showed people the difference Jesus makes.
INTEGRITY IN OUR LIVES
It is one thing to observe integrity in the life of another, it is another to possess it ourselves. If we are going to be people of integrity we must understand what integrity is and what it is not.
Defining Integrity Practically
Focus on the Family magazine lists several ways we compromise integrity and I’ve added some of my own,
- trying to save a few bucks by passing your child off as younger rather than pay the adult rate
- Paying for one plate at a buffet and then sharing it with your children
- Pulling into a handicapped spot because “you will just be a couple of minutes”
- Stuffing food into your pockets to sneak them past the “no outside food or drinks” sign at the theater
- Turning on our radar detector so we can break the law without getting caught
- Telling our children to tell callers that we are “not home” even though we are
- When we make inflated claims to insurance companies because “people do it all the time”
- When we under-report our income or take money “under the table”
- when we are supportive to a person to their face, but tear them apart behind their backs
In each of these cases we show a lack of integrity. We compromise truth for a perceived immediate advantage. But we don’t see the big picture. Lee Strobel in his book, GOD’S OUTRAGEOUS CLAIMS, drives home the point with some very good questions:
- Christians believe that all people matter to God. But do we really live out that value when we’re dealing with coworkers, customers, and competitors?
- Christians talk about humility and say it’s better to serve than to be served. but does that show up in how we relate to the people who work for us or in the way we trumpet our accomplishments in our quest for a promotion?
- Christians endorse truth telling. But does that translate into practice when we’re selling a product, talking about a rival, promising a delivery date, or cutting a deal?
- Christians preach honesty. But is that always on our mind when we’re filling out expense reports or creating an advertising campaign?
Is integrity a big deal? You bet it is. The presence of integrity opens doors. The absence of integrity slams them shut.
We talk a great deal about grace in our church . . . and we should. We do so for two reasons. First, our salvation is not gained by our goodness. We will never make ourselves good enough to earn Heaven. We are forgiven and saved because of what Christ has done on our behalf. God’s gracious gift is the basis or our salvation. No matter where you have been or what you have done . . . you can come to the cross and receive His grace. Christ has done for you . . . what you could not do for yourselves. What you are called to do is to believe . . . to receive this gift. God calls you to trust Him with your life and your eternity.
And the second reason we emphasize grace is because it reminds us to live gratefully. There is no room for spiritual arrogance in the person who understands that what he has received has been received as an act of mercy, rather than merit. If we remember grace we will live gratefully.
But our emphasis on grace carries with it a danger. Some conclude that since salvation comes to us by grace . . . it doesn’t matter how we live. Some say “it doesn’t matter what I do because all I have to do is ask for forgiveness and God will forgive me.” That kind of thinking is a distortion of grace.
The true child of God, loves the Father for what He has done. That person wants to live a life of consistency and integrity not to earn salvation but to demonstrate love and gratitude to the one who saved them. Those who have received grace will want to honor God in their living. Corrie ten Boom gives a great example of this in the book MY FATHERS HOUSE. In this book she tells of the days when she worked with her father in his watch making shop. Times were often hard.
One time there was a large bill that had to be paid and no money to pay it. Then one day a well-dressed gentleman came into the shop and asked to see some very expensive watches.
“Mmmm….this is a fine watch, Mr. ten Boom,” the customer said, “This is just what I have been looking for.”
I held my breath as I saw the affluent customer reach into his inner pocket and pull out a thick wad of bills. Praise the Lord — cash! (I saw myself paying the overdue bill and being relieved from the burden of anxiety I had been carrying for the past few weeks.)
The customer looked at the watch admiringly and commented, “I had a good watchmaker here in town . . . His name was van Houten. Perhaps you knew him.”
Father nodded his head. (He knew and was respected by all the watchmakers).
When van Houten died and his son took over the business, I kept on doing business with the young man. However, I bought a watch from him that didn’t run at all. I sent it back three times, but he couldn’t seem to fix it. That’s why I decided to find another watchmaker.”
“Will you show me that watch, please?” Father said.
The man took a large watch out of his vest and gave it to Father.
“Now, let me see,” Father said, opening the back of the watch. He adjusted something and handed it back to the customer. “There, that was a very little mistake. It will be fine now. Sir, I trust the young watchmaker. Someday he will be just as good as his father. So if you ever have a problem with one of his watches, come to me. I’ll help you out. Now I shall give you back your money and you return my watch.
I was horrified. I saw Father take back the watch and give the money to the customer. Then he opened the door for him and bowed deeply in his old-fashioned way.
My heart was where my feet should have be as I emerged from the shelter of the workshop. “Papa! How could you?”
“Corrie,” he said, “you know that I spoke at Mr. van Houten’s funeral and at that time shared the Gospel with those present. What do you think that young man would have said when he heard that one of his good customers had gone to Mr. ten Boom? Do you think the name of the Lord would be honored? As for the money, trust in the Lord, Corrie. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills and he will take care of us.” [Kent Hughes, GREAT STORIES]
No wonder he was a man who was admired and respected and who had a powerful impact for the Lord.
How Do We Cultivate Integrity?
So, how do we cultivate integrity in our lives? I’m no expert, but I do have some ideas.
Immerse yourself in Godly thinking. Paul tells us that we should, “be not conformed to this world, but should be transformed, by the renewing of our minds.” (Romans 12:2). Paul understood that behavior stems from our thinking. If we begin to think biblically, we will start to act in a Godly way. We cannot think biblically until we know what the Bible says. A person of integrity needs to be a person of the Book. We will become like that which we give our minds to.
Biblical thinking can be summed up in this philosophy advocated by the apostle Paul, “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Cor. 10:31). Thinking Biblically means recognizing that every moment is lived before the Father. Our desire is to honor Him all the time . . . 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And that leads to the second step.
Start in Your Private Life
You don’t turn integrity on and off. Integrity is something that is a part of your entire life. If you are one way in public and another way in private you are not a person of integrity, you are a hypocrite . . . and eventually the world will see that. Integrity is anchored to who you are when no one is looking.
- when the boss is gone
- when no one is home and we browse the Worldwide web
- when we engage in leisure time activities
- in our thought life
- when we are on business trips
- when you are watching television when everyone else is asleep
If you concentrate on being a person of integrity in private, it will spill over to your public life . . . it does not work the other way around.
The best place to practice Integrity is in the little things
Probably everyone here knows that the key to beating cancer is early detection. It is finding the cancer when it is still small. The larger the cancer is, the more likely it is that the cancer has spread to other areas. And the same is true when it comes to integrity. If you want to be a person of integrity start with the little things,
- report a story with accurate details . . . avoid exaggeration
- admit ignorance rather than trying to bluff your way through
- giving credit where credit is due (rather than taking it for yourself)
- be on time
- doing what you agree to do . . . no matter how insignificant
- show a servant heart in your own home
- report expenses accurately (rather than rounding up to the nearest dollar)
- pray for someone when you say you will (it is best to do it immediately)
The person of integrity wants to weed out any behavior that can turn into the cancer of hypocrisy. And let’s be honest, we all have things that we need to address in our lives. It may be how fast we drive (ouch!), or how we handle frustration. Maybe it is our language when we are angry or those items we stash in our bedroom we hope no one finds. Being a person of integrity does not mean you are perfect . . . it does mean you are striving to live out what you say you believe.
Dr. George Sweeting, past president of Moody Bible Institute, tells a story of a trigonometry professor who, upon giving an exam, would always share these words with his students:
“Today I am giving you two exams. The first is in trigonometry; the second is in honesty. I hope you can pass them both. However, if you are going to fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many good people in this world who have failed trigonometry, but there are no good people in the world who have failed the test of honesty. [Great Stories, Kent Hughes]
There will be some who say that those who live this way will get trampled by the world. But I disagree. A person of integrity might pay a little more money rather than cheat, might face more ridicule rather than follow the crowd, and might even be persecuted in other ways. That should not surprise us. The world does not like anyone that makes them look bad. It is easier to attack the person of integrity rather than to make necessary changes in their own lives.
But the person of integrity is a person who will make an impact. They will still be standing when others fall. They will be remembered when others are forgotten. . . . like Joseph and Mr. ten Boom. When these people share the evidence for the gospel . . . others will listen . . . and believe.