A Matter of Integrity

What would you do for $10,000,000? That was the question James Patterson (born 1947) and Peter Kim (born 1958) asked countless Americans. Their findings found their way into a 1991 book called The Day America Told the Truth. What would you do for $10,000,000? According to them, Americans would do these things:

  • 25% said they would abandon their family
  • 23% said they would become prostitutes for a week
  • 16% said they would give us their American citizenship
  • 16% said they would leave their spouse
  • 10% said they would withhold testimony to enable a murderer to go free
  • 7%   said they would murder a stranger
  • 3%   said they would put up their children for adoption

Those findings came in 1991, thirty-one years ago. How much uglier do you think those findings would be today? Those findings tell me two things. First, there is a surplus of desperate people in our land. Money seems to have a death grip on us. According to a 2020 Experian study, the average American holds $92,727 in consumer debt. Second, there is a shortage of integrity in our land. Integrity is defined as, the quality of being honest, and having strong moral principles. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? How many people do you know of true integrity? What would you do for $10,000,000? That leads us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the first eleven verses of the fifth chapter of Acts. To the casual reader, it is an odd piece of scripture. A couple in the early church, Ananias and Sapphira, sell a piece of land and give some of the profit to the church. How can giving money to the church be a bad thing? In my time in the ministry, I never refused a donation, no matter how small. However, according to our story, Ananias and Sapphira gave to the church and for their act of generosity they died. I am shocked every time I read this story. I am not alone. We are told in verse eleven the whole church was shocked.

It is only when you dig into the story that you begin to understand what happened. The fact that money is involved blinds us to the divine truth. They had every right to keep some of the money for themselves. However, they pretended they gave all the money. Verse two tell us they laid the money at the apostle’s feet. In other words, they made a big show of their giving. They pretended like they gave it all. There is no other way to say it. Ananias and Sapphira were liars. They lied because they wanted false praise. They lied because they wanted to be applauded. They lied because they wanted a pat on the back. Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites, and the church will not tolerate hypocrites. In the end the couple dies. There is no harsher punishment then death. The story warns us about being a hypocrite. It encourages us to be people of integrity. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? Do the people in your life a hypocrite?

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must be a person of integrity. You must be a person of high moral and professional standards. Do not misunderstand me. Your integrity will not save your soul. After all, we are saved by grace. We are only saved by the precious blood of Jesus. Being a person of integrity has nothing to do with your salvation, but it everything to do with your witness. Your integrity will enhance your witness. Our world will forgive many things, but our world will not tolerate hypocrisy. Ananias and Sapphira died because they were hypocrites. Your witness will die if you are a hypocrite. You must be a person of integrity. If you want to be a person of integrity, then there are three things you must do. These points are not original. They came from James W. Moore (1938-2019).

People of integrity are honest! Years before Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) entered politics he lived in a New Salem, Illinois. He had a variety of jobs. He once worked in a general store. One day a man came in and purchased a few items. Once the transaction was complete Lincoln discovered he had shortchanged the customer. It was only a few cents, so he tried to find him after work. It was only then that he discovered that the customer lived 17 miles out of town. Lincoln walked the enter way to correct the error. As the story of that experience spread Lincoln was given the name “Honest Abe.” Do the people in your life consider you honest? Before you answer, consider the fact that honesty is such a complex thing.

I have two adult daughters, Sarah and Anna. We raised them the same, but they are completely different. When they lived with us, Sarah led with her heart; Anna led with her brain. If you wanted to feel better about yourself, you talked to Sarah. If you need the absolute truth, you talked to Anna. One day, I was at home dressing for some activity. I walked downstairs and looked at Sarah and said to her, “How do I look?” Sarah answered, “You look great!” Just then Anna walked into the room. I asked her the same question, “How do I look?” She said, “Do you want me to be honest?” I said, “Yes!” (That wasn’t the right answer.) Anna answered, “Your race is red. Your nose is big. Your hair is messed up. Your shirt is wrinkled. Your pants are too long, and your shoes are old.” She ended by saying, “You may want to consider a breath mint.” I looked at Sarah and said, “Is she telling me the truth? Why didn’t you tell me?” She said with a sheepish look on her face, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Have you ever told a white lie to protect someone’s feelings? When I say people of integrity are honest, I am not talking about feelings. I am talking about personal gain. Would you lie for some personal gain? That is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They lied for personal gain. People of integrity are honest. Are you honest?

People of integrity are true! American Christian author Charles Swindoll (born 1934) tells the story about a man who bought two chicken dinners late one afternoon at a fast-food restaurant. The attendant inadvertently gave him the proceeds from the day’s business–a bucket of money (much of it, cash) instead of fried chicken. The man didn’t have a clue. It was only when he arrived at the picnic spot with his date that he opened the bag. It was at that moment they discovered the $800. The man and his date did the honest thing. They put the money back into the bag and returned to the restaurant. He walked in and handed the money filled bag to the manager. He said, “I think this is yours.” Obviously, the manager was relieved and thrilled to death. He looked at the man and said, “Don’t go anywhere. ’Let me call the newspaper. I’m going to have your picture put in the local paper. You must be the most honest man in this community.” The man begged him not to call the newspaper. He pointed to his date and said, “This young woman isn’t my wife. She is married to someone else, and I am married to someone else too. Our spouses don’t need to know we are together.” This is the point. One can be honest and still not have integrity. If you want to be a person of integrity, then you must be true. In other words, you must keep your word. Go back to the text.

At some point in his life Ananias and Sapphira became Christians. They believed the Gospel message and understood the power of the resurrection. They celebrated the fact they were going to heaven. They said the right things. The problem was they didn’t do the right things. They didn’t keep his word. When was the last time you broke your word? Are you a person of integrity? Are you honest? Are you true?

People of integrity are loyal! There is no way you can turn this story and tell me Ananias and Sapphira were loyal. These were the early days of the church. Everything was new. Everyone was a charter member. Ananias and Sapphira had just accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. They had just promised to live for him. Their promise didn’t last long. There is an old preaching story about a young solder, who confided in his chaplain he never cheated on his girlfriend if she was less than fifty miles away. His loyalty went fifty miles. How far does your loyalty go? Are you a person of integrity? Are you honest? Are you true? Are you loyal?

Look at the story with me one more time. Ananias and Sapphira were not people of integrity. They were hypocrites. They were not honest. They were not true. They were not loyal. In the end, they died and the only thing they brought to the people in their lives was sadness. What are you bringing to the people in your life? Are you a person of integrity?

Approximately, two months ago, I retired. I had been in the ministry forty years, the last twenty-eight years at the Western Reserve United Methodist in Canfield, Ohio. I left with many memories of many wonderful people. These blogs are filled with their stories. However, one of the people I missed the most is a man named George. He was the first person I met at Western Reserve. In 1994, he was the chair of the Staff-Parish Relations and helped move to that community. From the very beginning, I considered him a great man of integrity. I never questioned his honesty. I never questioned his word. I never questioned his loyalty. When George said something, it was like signing a legal contract. It was a sad day for that church when George moved away because he was the spirit of that congregation. This is the truth. George brought the best out of me. He didn’t do it because he was ever critical in anyway. He brought the best out in me because I respected him because he was such a man of integrity.

That is what people of integrity do. That is why people of integrity are important. Our world has a surplus of hypocrites and a shortage of people with integrity. Here is a question you must answer. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. (1940-2021) once said, “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”

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