“He was a man of integrity who feared God more than most.” – Nehemiah 7:2
Integrity – noun. The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. The opposite of integrity is hypocrisy and Jesus leveled some of His strongest rebukes at the Jewish religious leaders of His day for being hypocritical. Perhaps one of the most popular criticisms of God’s enduring institution today, the church, is none other than hypocrisy.
“Authenticity is based on the principle of integrity.” – Richie Norton
Let’s take a look at what it means to be a person of integrity because it appears the stakes are high if we don’t get it right. Integrity does not start with telling the truth. True integrity starts with fearing The Lord. By fear of The Lord I mean being more concerned about what God thinks about stuff than what other people think.
Peter had a front-row seat to Jesus’ teaching, including His admonition about hypocrisy. Yet one thing Peter himself struggled with at first was integrity. In Matthew 16 when Peter tried to tell Jesus He should not let Himself be killed, Jesus quickly pointed out what was in Peter’s heart:
“You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”
Isn’t that precisely what led to Peter’s three denials of His Master? He was more worried about what men thought and tried to fit in with them rather than admit he was a follower of Jesus.
But remember, Jesus restores Peter and calls him to feed His sheep which is exactly what Peter does once the church is founded in Acts. Rather than just being exposed to lessons about integrity, Peter had now experienced lessons about integrity and he finally understood what it truly meant to fear The Lord. Both times when Peter and John were hauled in front of the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:19-20 and Acts 5:29, Peter now makes these bold proclamations:
“Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
“We must obey God rather than men.”
Peter indeed plays an instrumental role in founding the church, God’s enduring institution. The church was and is made up of individuals. And individual integrity leads to institutional integrity. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true: Individual hypocrisy leads to institutional hypocrisy – unless something is done to nip an individual’s hypocrisy in the bud.
In Joshua 7, the children of Israel were in the critical beginning stages of their institutional mission to conquer the Promised Land. They were described earlier in Exodus 19:6, as destined to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” But one man’s lack of integrity led to a serious setback for the entire nation. Achan had kept back some of the plunder from Jericho, in direct disobedience to God’s command.
When Joshua discovered this, the consequences to Achan and his family were devastating. He and his family were put to death. God takes sin seriously, especially when His people who know better sin and risk smudging His name and standing in the way of His holy mission to advance His holy Kingdom. There are dreadful consequences for those who dare to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.
Fast forward 1200 years or so to the critical beginning stages of the modern church’s institutional mission to go unto all the nations to preach the Gospel. In Acts 5, we find Ananias, another man who struggled with integrity and risked the integrity of the entire fledgling church. In an attempt to be seen as a “player” he leads everyone to believe he sold a piece of property and brought 100% of the proceeds as an offering, just like Barnabas had done earlier in Acts 4.
But he actually had kept some of the money back for himself. Worse, he involved his wife on the scheme. When Peter finds out, look closely at the language he used to confront him:
“You have not lied to men but to God.” – Acts 5:4b
Ananias’ lack of personal integrity at this critical juncture for the institution of the church he represented cost him the same price that Achan’s lack of personal integrity cost him when he jeopardized the institution of the Jewish nation that he represented at its critical juncture (the nation, by the way, from which the Messiah would ultimately come): It cost Ananias his life and the life of his wife.
Later in life, Peter summed up the importance of personal and institutional integrity. In 1 Peter, he states:
“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'” (1:14-16)
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (2:9)
God is a God of integrity so His people must be people of integrity. When they are not, there can be dreadful consequences not only for them but for the people around them because God will not allow sin to stand in the way of advancing His Kingdom. May we strive to be known as people of integrity, who fear God more than most!