Character and Integrity

Posted on 12/13/2009 by Rev. Benjamin R. Faust D.D.

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TRANSCRIPT: (does not contain everything found in the audio above)

*** listen to the audio for introduction and prayer ***

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We bring the sacrifice of praise
     into the house of the Lord
We bring the sacrifice of praise
     into the house of the Lord
And we offer up to you
     the sacrifices of thanksgiving
And we offer up to you
     the sacrifices of joy


You shall go out with joy
And be let forth with peace
And the mountains and the hills
Will break forth before you
There'll be shouts of joy
And all the trees of the fields
Will clap, will clap their hands

And all the trees of the fields
will clap their hands
The trees of the fields will clap their hands
The trees of the fields will clap their hands
While you go out with joy


Bless the Lord O my soul
     and all that is within me
     bless his holy name

For he has done great things
     he has done great things
     he has done great things
He's so good to me

He saved my soul
     he saved my soul
     he saved my soul
He's so good to me

He is coming soon
     he is coming soon
     he is coming soon
Bless his holy name

*** listen to the audio for the message introduction ***

The title of today's message is "Character and Integrity."

Character and Integrity. These are two things that are in short supply today. defines "character" like this:

Honesty and courage. Moral or ethical strength.

How honest is the average person today? I guess that depends on the circumstances.

How courageous? Well, that would depend on the circumstances too, whether they involve offending someone by telling them the truth.

How about moral or ethical strength? I'm sure you've heard of moral relativism -- the truth supposedly changes based upon the circumstances.

In fact, the state of humanity in the area of character is often completely dependent upon the circumstances.

They stay faithful to their spouse until they have a big fight or some big temptation overcomes them.

They stay together as husband and wife until they supposedly "fall out of love," and then their life-long vows suddenly mean nothing.

They tell the truth until a "little white lie" would get them out of trouble or keep them from looking stupid or extreme.

But honesty that is not constant is not pure honesty; courage that falters is not pure courage; and moral strength that crumbles is not pure strength.

And honesty which can lie, courage which can fail, and moral strength which cannot stand, are not the ingredients of character.

We have a picture of this lack of character in Acts chapter five. Let's read what happened, and then we'll talk about how this relates to character.

Acts chapter five, beginning with verse 1:

Acts 5:1-12a (NKJV)

1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession.
2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?
4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God."

5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things.
6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.

7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
8 And Peter answered her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?" She said, "Yes, for so much."
9 Then Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out."
10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.
11 So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people.

So here is Ananias and Sapphira, members of the local church. And they sold something they owned, and brought part of the money to the church.

Sounds pretty good so far. But there's a part of this story that isn't explicitly told. We can safely assume that they brought in the money in a manner that made it appear as though they were giving ALL the money to the church, when really they were keeping a part for themselves.

Now, those Christians who somehow believe in socialism might say the problem was that they wanted to make some money for themselves instead of giving it all to the church for redistribution to those who needed it.

But that's not what the Bible says here. In fact, Peter explicitly says, "While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control?" Then he said, "You have not lied to men, but to God."

The truth is, they could have kept ALL the money for themselves, and they would have lived. But Ananias and Sapphira were lacking something money couldn't buy. They were lacking character.

They wanted to look good. They didn't want to be thought badly of by wanting something for themselves. But remember that, if they had not lied about it, keeping ALL of it for themselves would have been much better than trying to look good to others.

Maybe you're thinking about someone you know as we talk about this story, maybe it's yourself. But we're surrounded by people who are lacking character, and if the truth be known, most of us have a long way to go in the area of character ourselves.

We want to be liked. We want people to think well of us. We want to look holy and compassionate. And it's very easy to do little things, things that give just a slightly false impression, in an effort to gain the approval of others.

But that's deception. And any deception is a lie. And what did Paul say? "You have not lied to men, but to God."

You see, the most important part of having character is not to impress other people, or even to feel good about ourselves, but it is to please God.

It would have been considered righteous for Ananias and Sapphira to bring in a small part of the money and say to everyone, "This is only 20%. We're keeping the rest for ourselves." Other people in the church might have thought them less spiritual, but they would have been right in the eyes of God.

Are we willing to tell the truth, to not let people get the wrong idea, even if they think badly of us because of it? This is part of character, and God wants us to be people of character.

Character goes hand in hand with Integrity. defines "integrity" like this:

Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. A sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.

Soundness of moral character. So while character is honesty, courage, and moral strength, integrity is the soundness, the dependability and strength of that character.

You can trust a man or woman of integrity. Even when it might cost them everything, their character does not falter, but they have the courage to remain honest, and they do not compromise their morality and ethics.

Consider Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. They hated him because of his dreams. They wanted to kill him, but one of the brothers talked the others out of it, and instead they threw him into a pit. When some foreigners passed by, they sold him as a slave, and he was taken, bound, into Egypt.

You might not have always gotten along with your brothers or sisters. You might not even talk to them today. But how many times did they try to kill you? And how many times did they sell you as a slave?

And yet, this is exactly what happened to Joseph.

You'd think he'd have good reason to be angry with God. After all, God let all this happen.

In fact, it didn't stop there. Because of Joseph's integrity, his unfailing character, his unwavering moral strength, Joseph was thrown out of his master's house and cast into prison.

You see, Joseph's integrity cost him something. It could have cost him his life. But he didn't entertain thoughts of compromise. If he had, we probably would read quite a different story today.

You see, sin begins in the heart. If you entertain a sinful desire, then you give it a measure of power over you. It's only ignorance and pride that makes us think we can sin in our hearts without sinning with our hands, and Jesus told us that heart sin is just as much a sin as sin that everyone else can see.

In Genesis chapter 39, we read the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife. And in verse eight, Joseph says, "How can I sin against God?"

You see, a Ananias and Sapphira Christian will hide their sins inside and try to look holy on the outside, while a Joseph Christian will cry out to God to purify their hearts so they will not sin against him.

Are we Ananias and Sapphira? Or are we Joseph? Ananias and Sapphira were concerned with pleasing others, while Joseph was concerned with pleasing God.

In Genesis 39, verses 11 through 15, we read this:

11 But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside,
12 that she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside.
13 And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside,
14 that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, "See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice.
15 And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside."

Joseph didn't just stand there trying to reason with her. He didn't flirt with temptation. Instead, he ran. Joseph ran away from temptation, even though it meant he had to leave his outter garment with a woman he had just refused. Surely he knew that could turn out very badly for him. But the thought of sinning against God was so offensive to him that nothing else mattered.

I think that most of us today, if we were in a similar situation, would rather take the chance of being around temptation a little longer so that we could retrieve our outter garment and save our reputation. Wouldn't we?

And too many of us would actually welcome that kind of a situation. We would end up excusing ourselves by saying we're only human.

But while the Bible tells us that Potiphar's wife cast longing eyes upon Joseph, it does NOT say Joseph did the same toward her.

You see, inner compromise is a crack in the vessel of character, a flaw that destroys our integrity. Other people might not see that crack for a very long time -- maybe not ever. But God sees it.

And sometimes he will allow us to break that cracked vessel wide open, so that we will acknowledge our depravity, and will fall upon his mercies, surrendering that area of our inner life to him.

How is character built? How does character become so strong and constant that it becomes integrity?

Well, there are a number of things which God uses to strenthen our character. These things, apart from God, could either help us or destroy us. So the best place to start is with our relationship with God.

It wouldn't hurt to make it a habbit to ask God every single day, "Lord, build my character today." Just keep in mind that this is similar to asking God to build your patience.

You see, character isn't built in an atmosphere free from pain. It is the hard times, the painful times, the times that could destroy someone who's not being held up by faith; it is these things which God uses to build our character.

The water heater springs a leak. The car breaks down. We lose our job. The doctor says we have terminal cancer. Most of the people we love the most are killed in a plane crash.

We COULD blame God. We could be like what Job could have been if he had listened to his wife and blamed God. He would have died.

We could question God's goodness. We could question God's love. We could even question his existence, or whether he is who and what his Word tells us he is.

Or we could be like Joseph. Hated by his brothers who wanted to kill him, sold into slavery, and cast into prison because he wanted to please God.

What do WE do with the bad things that happen to us?

We can question or blame God, or hold on to him that much more passionately. And the difference is death or life. We could die spiritually, or we could trust God and let him use these things to build character in us.

James 1:2-4 (NKJV) says this:

2 My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials,
3 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
4 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

Perfect and complete. That sounds like part of the definition of integrity, "A sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition." And this is the end result of trials, if we put our trust in God and let patience have its perfect work -- it is character and integrity.

Romans 8:28-29 (NKJV) tells us this:

28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

All things. All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose.

If we doubt God, if we blame God, if we start questioning his goodness, is that love? God is completely good, completely faithful, and completely without one single flaw. He has never given us a reason to not trust him.

And if we take captive those thoughts which would question him, realizing they come from the same place as the questions from the snake in the garden, and we replace those thoughts with the Word of God, holding firm to him and his promises, then no matter what happens, it will work out to our good; for he has predestined us to be conformed to the image of Jesus.

Do you want to be more like Jesus? Well, it won't happen in a life of ease in which bad things don't happen, we never lose anyone or anything, and everything turns out the way we want it to.

It is through the fire that we are purified. It is through the storm that we are cleansed. It is through repeated contact with the rough stone that we are sharpened. And it is through trials, losses, pains, and seemingly hopeless situations that our faith is tested, our patience grows, and our character and integrity are made strong.

Patience. It seems like a strange thing to throw in there. But don't we get impatient with God? I don't know how many people I've talked with who say they asked God to reveal the truth of Jesus to them, but he never did it.

The strange thing is, they're not dead yet. They were impatient with God. They figured since God didn't answer them on their timetable, he wasn't going to answer them at all, and perhaps he isn't even there.

That's why we need patience. We want things done NOW. Or at least before an invisible deadline we have set in our minds. We forget that God is perfect, all wise, and all knowing, and his time is the perfect time.

In Isaiah 40:28-31 (NKJV), we read this:

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

God does not grow weary and impatient. His understanding is so far above ours, we cannot even begin to grasp it. When we are weak, when all our might is gone, he gives us power and strength.

We are naturally impatient and weak. But when we realize just how far we fall short of his glory, and we turn to the perfect God, surrendering our imperfect selves into his hands, then he will strengthen us and lift us up, and will walk beside us.

And when we wait upon the Lord... That's not an easy thing to do. He doesn't follow our schedule. He doesn't bow to our demands to do things in the time we think is best.

But our minds are so feeble. Those who trust in their own power of reason above the power of the Word of God are simply bowing to the same god of pride that turned lucifer into a depraved creature awaiting eternal damnation.

Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so God's thoughts are higher than ours. Compared to him, we are practically brain dead, and the little we understand, we understand only in part.

In Isaiah 55:8-11 (NKJV), God says this:

8 For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the LORD.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

When we start leaning on our own understanding, that weak, unstable understanding, instead of on the perfect Word of God, we'll become weak, and that pride that would drag us to hell begins to grow.

But when we instead lean upon the perfect Word of God, humbly realizing that his ways are so far above our ways, and his thoughts are so far above our thoughts, then he will give us strength, and he will grow our patience, and with his potter's hands, he will continue to shape us into the image of Jesus.

Our own efforts often fail. Our own plans fall short. Our own reasoning is flawed, and our understanding is so limited and prone to error. But the Word of the Lord never fails. It accomplishes that God pleases, and it prospers in the thing for which he sends it.

Do you want the pains of life to destroy you? Or do you want God to use them to build strength, character, and integrity in you? Trust in the Lord and wait upon him, and he will give you strength, he will refresh your soul, he will shape you into the image of Jesus, and he will carry you through.

Anyone here today who's on the ministry team, please come stand at the front, as we prepare for a time of prayer and ministry.

In Isaiah 55:6-7 (NKJV), we read this:

6 Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.

Have you forsaken your own ways? Have you turned away from your own way of thinking? If you return to the Lord, and if you seek after him while he may be found, then he will have mercy on you, and he will abundantly pardon.

Some people give God a chance to prove that he exists, and God has only so much time to prove himself before they reject him.

But they have it all backwards. It is GOD who is giving THEM a chance to turn from their own wicked ways and to come to him for mercy, and it is GOD who has given THEM a certain amount of time, and after that time expires, it's too late.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to try to turn the tables on God and get him to do things my way. Instead, I'm going to seek the Lord while he may be found. I'm going to turn from my own ways and my own thoughts, and will seek for his mercy every day. For his mercies are new every morning, and NOW is the time in which he will abundantly pardon.

And if you need to surrender everything to Jesus today, then I invite you to come running to him. Fall down at the feet of Jesus, and ask him to have mercy on you and to pardon you for your iniquities.

And every single one of us needs more patience, character, and integrigy.

So whether you need to turn from some things, trust God more, surrender more to him, or just wait upon him as he builds patience, character, strength, and integrity in you in his perfect time and way, then I'd like to invite you to get out of your seat and come gather at the front for a time of prayer, ministry, and waiting upon the Lord.

If you'd like someone to pray with you, you're invited to instant message me or someone else on the ministry team.

Whenever you need to go, you're dismissed, and after this time at the altar, we'll meet in the room to your left for a time of fellowship, and I hope to see you there.

Lord, I ask that your Word would not be stolen away, but it would go deeply into fertile soil, and that it would accomplish in each and every one of us that for which you sent it.

Help us to trust you more no matter what happens in our lives, and that you would use these things to build character in us, so we would be men and women of integrity, resembling you a little more each and every day.

And we ask these things in Jesus' name. Amen.

Come, let's gather at the front, and let's dedicate ourselves to become men and women of character and integrity.