District Fellowship News
July, August 2011
A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No I won’t go’ but later changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
In the book of Matthew where this story is told, the question that is asked at the end is, “Which of the two obeyed his father?” and the answer is certainly the first. Jesus goes on to apply this parable to the religious folks of the day who weren’t living the way God wanted them to live. They did what they thought was right, but they weren’t being right. Their conduct had become legalistic. They didn’t have integrity. To have integrity, there must be a consistency in every area of our lives. In our story we can actually say that neither brother had integrity. To say no and then do yes is just as bad on the integrity scale as saying yes and then not doing. Integrity doesn’t just involve what we do, but it also involves who we are. Those two things must be consistent.
In the book “Ministerial Ethics” by Joe Trull and James Carter, they describe three parts to a moral life that must be there for us to be people of integrity. The doing part is Conduct. Obviously, a moral person does moral things. You should be able to tell a lot about their life by their actions. Character is who we are, the being part of a moral life. Character is inside, the worldview. What we believe. These two pieces have to be brought together by the Moral Vision. Moral vision integrates what we believe into the world and then brings about conduct that fits with it. Integrity is the synthesis of being, doing, and moral vision in our lives. When we have integrity, we act out our belief system, there is no conflict or hypocrisy.
Back to the sons in our story—No matter what their worldview was when they said one thing and did another they were not living with integrity. In essence each son lied. Lying is the death of integrity whether it is lying in words or lying in actions. The second son’s conduct also showed that his character was lacking in some virtue. To tell his father he would be somewhere and not show up points out a flaw that exists in much of the world today. When we have integrity our words mean something, we don’t just say them. What we speak comes from what is in our heart. Sometimes we can espouse the right things in our words, but not really believe them in our hearts. An example of this is the phrase, “Do what I say, not what I do.” That philosophy only teaches a person to be a hypocrite, not a man or woman of integrity. The first son ends up in the same situation as far as integrity is concerned. He would have had more integrity in the immediate situation if he had done what he said, but the good thing in his story is that he realized his character wasn’t what it should be. He may have had rebellion in his heart to start with, and that came out in his words, but he allowed a transformation to take place inside. He realized rebellion was not consistent with the character of a moral person. By allowing that change to come about and then acting on that change, he was bringing his character and conduct into line with each other.
For us to have integrity in our lives we must start at that same point. Our character, who we are, must be formed in the image of Christ. Only God can transform our character from where it currently is to where it should be. We all have incorporated traditions, ungodly beliefs, and sinful ideas into our character throughout our lives. We must let God bring our inbred value system into line with the truth. As that happens, our next step is to work out what our doing should look like. This is the moral vision piece of integrity. When the three Hebrew men were ordered to bow before an idol in worship, they had to look at what they believed and then work out how they should act. Their choices were informed by their belief in one true God and their love for their God. Those beliefs worked out in the law became “You shall have no other gods before me”, “You shall not make for yourselves any graven images”, and “you shall not bow before them”. There could have been all kinds of justification for bowing anyway: self-preservation, obedience to the laws of the land, etc. These men had to work out how what they believed would look in their actions. Finally, we must do. What you believe in your heart must come out in your words and actions. You cannot believe in the sanctity of marriage, and then violate that sanctity by committing adultery. You cannot believe that you should love your neighbor and then steal from them, or slander them. The belief must be worked out in the action. Just as the three men worked out their belief in the one true God and their love for Him in refusing to bow down to an idol, you must consistently take what you have allowed God to build in you and convert it to action that is consistent with that belief. It is time we lived lives of INTEGRITY.