A Life of Integrity:Week Four
INTEGRITY OF HEART
Psalm 78:70-72 says, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”
Jesus called himself the good Shepherd, who leads us in and out of the sheep pen. His sheep know and follow his voice. Jesus led with integrity of heart. The people in Jesus’s day said this of Him, “we know you are a man of integrity (Mark 12:14), which could also be interpreted as TRUTH.
Integrity is the opposite of “hypocrisy.” The word integrity comes from the Latin integer meaning “whole.” Remember that word, integer, from math classes. Integers are whole numbers…a thing complete in itself. Jesus is CERTAINLY complete in Himself. The apostle Paul puts it this way in the opening chapter of his letter to the Colossians:
15The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
While King David—a shepherd of flocks turned shepherd of Israel—had integrity of heart, he was not perfect. Neither are we. But that does NOT excuse us from the responsibility of adjusting our lives to the TRUTH of the Great Shepherd—the One who is WHOLE…the head of the church…the supreme Son—and striving to live with integrity of heart.
Over the past few weeks we’ve looked at the integrity of Daniel and his three companions, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego through several of the stories in Daniel. Today I want us to consider a contrasting figure in the Old Testament. His time on history’s stage is brief…just a few chapters in 2 Kings; but God saw fit to give us his name—Gehazi—perhaps so that we could remember the dangers of walking in this man’s footsteps.
Turn with me to the second book of Kings, chapter 5. This chapter records the healing of Naaman by God through the prophet Elisha. It’s a remarkable story of how God works even in the life of the enemies of Israel for his name’s sake. I want to briefly describe what happened as context for what I think God wants us to see this morning with regard to integrity…or the lack thereof.
Let’s set the stage. The time is approximately 854 BC. About 9 years earlier, Elisha had taken up the mantle of his mentor, Elijah (which means, “My God is Yahweh”). Both were prophets in the Northern Kingdom of Israel under King Ahab. Elijah called for the 3+ year drought about 15 years earlier, during which Elijah called fire down from heaven in the great showdown at Mt. Carmel.
After Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot of fire, Elisha (which means, My God is Salvation) continues God’s work as a prophet in Israel. Chapter 4 records Elisha helping the poor widow pay her late husband’s debt with an outpouring of olive oil for her to sell. He also prays to God for a Shunammite’s son to be raised from the dead, and he was! During another famine, Elisha turned poisonous stew into edible food and even turned twenty loaves of barley bread into enough to feed a hundred people! Where have we seen that in the Gospels?
It’s safe to say that Elisha, filled with the Holy Spirit, was a man with integrity of heart. He was a man of truth and he lived it out every day. His companion, Gehazi, tried to live up to that standard, I’m sure; but he failed miserably.
Chapter 5 tells the story of Naaman, a greatly admired commander of the army of Aram. But hd had leprosy…a skin disease. Naaman’s wife had a maid…an Israelite slave captured in a recent battle. The maid told Naaman’s wife that there was a prophet in Samaria who could heal him of his leprosy. With his king’s permission, he loaded a bunch of silver and clothing as gifts for Elisha and set out for Samaria, the capital city of Israel.
When he came to Elisha’s house, Naaman was disappointed that Elisha wouldn’t even come to the door but sent word for Naaman to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed. He refused to comply, but his servants convinced him, so he obeyed and was healed!
Elated and appreciative, the pagan commander of Aram gave testimony to the greatness of God: “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.” Then he tried to give Elisha the gifts, but Elisha would not accept anything. He did grant Naaman permission to take back two loads of soil on which to offer burnt offerings to God back in Aram. Naaman was a convert!
Now, let me pick up reading in verse 20 to see the rest of the story.[2 Kings 5:20-27] After Elisha had given instructions…and after Naaman (albeit reluctantly) obeyed those instructions…both acted with integrityà Naaman for becoming a believer and worshipper of Yahweh and for offering gifts in return for his blessing; and Elisha, for not accepting gifts for offering God’s healing to Naaman since it was God’s after all.
But Gehazi…Gehazi responded completely differently. He did NOT have integrity of heart. Let’s look at the ways he compromised his integrity in this situation.
At the heart of his deception is greed. We know this because at the end of it all, he HID from Elisha the items he received. It was greed that drove him to lose his integrity. We behave based on our desires. If our desires are honest, pure, godly, and self-less, then our behaviors will follow accordingly. But if our ambitions are self-gain, self-gratification, self-preservation, then our actions will ultimately be based on those ambitions. Let’s see the slippery slope of deception Gehazi took in this story.
First, he justified his selfish ambition. “My masters should not have let this Aramean get away without accepting any of his gifts.” He deceived himself! If he were being honest with himself, he would have to agree that HE had no right to question Elisha’s decision NOT to accept gifts. But honesty was not on his mind…GREED was! Personal gain was.
GREED is a powerful motivator. When we want what others have…when we feel that somehow we are OWED something…that we’ve been SLIGHTED…then it’s easy to bargain away our integrity.
Thursday night, a pastor friend and I attended a pro-life sidewalk counseling training. As we waited to be let into the building, a small-framed, stringing haired homeless man we came to know as Gene walked up, asking us if we had lost a flashlight. When we replied we did not and offered that old adage, “Finder’s keepers…” Gene instantly pressed back, “Oh no! It doesn’t belong to me. I can’t take what isn’t mine.” Friends, if there ever was a man who could honestly benefit from owning a flashlight, it was Gene! And yet, there he was maintaining his integrity. [Incidentally, we gave him money for a hot meal, which he never even asked for!]
Second, Gehazi fabricated a story to appeal to Naaman’s charitable character. He deceived others. He told him he needed the money and clothes—NOT for himself or Elisha—but for two OTHER young prophets! What do we call taking money under false pretenses? FRAUD! Michael Milken did it. Bernie Madoff did it. In Mississippi, Bernie Ebbers of WorldCom did it. [Incidentally, Cynthia Cooper, the whistleblower, was a real estate client of mine.]
But what about when someone asks for help with his or her rent, or gas money, but lies about how they got in the situation they are in so that you will feel sorry for them? Isn’t THAT still fraud? Taking money under false pretenses?
Have YOU ever lied or exaggerated the truth in order to gain the support of someone else? Maybe it wasn’t about money. Maybe you wanted someone to take YOUR side in a dispute you were having with a mutual friend or family member? Isn’t that similar? Is your integrity at risk if you LIE to make yourself look better than you are…if you make yourself look magnanimous or compassionate when in fact you just want the favor of that person you’re trying to persuade.
Naaman, still celebrating his newfound health, was all too happy to oblige Gehazi, doubling his request! “What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.”
Third, Gehazi concealed his crime. The greed that led to fraud was bad enough, but now he had to keep his crime from Elisha for fear of retribution. So he hid the gifts in his house. This brings to mind a similar cover up story during the conquest of the Promised Land found in Joshua 7. A man named Akin takes some of the plunder from the conquest of Jericho, against the word of the Lord, and HID the valuables under his tent. His GREED cost his own life as well as the lives of his entire family.
God does not WINK at the sins of deception, fraud, and concealment. Which leads to the fourth step down this slippery slope of selfishness: Gehazi DENIED wrongdoing. “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Uh, nowhere?” His denial that he had been gone was in hopes he could maintain his cover as a faithful servant of Elisha. “I’ve been right here where you needed me, master.”
James says these powerful words about the slippery slope of sin : 14Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. 15These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death (James 1:14-15 NLT). Gehazi was tempted long before he chased after Naaman and shook him down for 150 lbs of silver and a couple of suits! His greed tempted him to come up with a plan, one that he had to implement quickly.
So, he justifies his actions as he saddles his donkey and chases Naaman down. He spins his web of deception, claiming he needed the money for ministry purposes. Then he hides the take under his mattress, as it were. When faced with the threat of getting caught, he lies…AGAIN! Gehazi allowed his sin to grow, didn’t he?
Raising our kids, and now Tyler, I have three simple requirements: Be Respectful, Be Kind, and BE HONEST! I would tell my kids, “You’re going to mess up. You’re going to make bad choices and there will be consequences. But if you LIE about your choices, the consequences will be so much more severe!”
Lying to someone else…about ANYTHING…tells the other person you don’t respect them…you don’t honor them…you care more about protecting yourself from consequences than you care about living a life of integrity. You care more about saving your own skin…or making a few extra bucks…than you do about keeping or growing a relationship with others.
It did not end well for Gehazi. The curse of Naaman’s leprosy fell on Gehazi and his descendants. Karma’s a BUMMER, man! Galatians 6:7 says this : Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.
One last biblical illustration of this point about greed and deception. It comes from Acts 5, where members of the early church were struck down for their greed and deception. Ananias and his wife, Sapphira, sold a piece of property, kept some of the proceeds, and gave the rest to the church, claiming it was the entire proceeds of the sale. It was theirs to keep or give. Their sin was NOT in being stingy with their resources (although we are called to be generous people).
No, Ananias and Sapphira’s sin was deception, which was caused by greed. Thinking they were only deceiving a few uneducated fishermen turned church planters, they passed themselves off as magnanimous givers of an entire plot of land. Fraud. What they did—and we run the risk of doing—is LIE to God! Integrity is doing the right thing even when nobody’s watching. Well…guess what…SOME ONE IS ALWAYS WATCHING!
Have you taken advantage of someone’s ignorance for personal gain? Have you personally appealed to someone’s generosity in hopes of gaining something you did not earn or deserve? Have you misappropriated the facts about yourself or a situation in order to gain a favorable outcome with an employer, spouse, parent, or friend? It’s all FRAUD!
And it indicates a person who is NOT walking with integrity of heart. I said it last week and I’ll say it again: Your integrity…your character…is the ONE thing NOBODY can TAKE from you but that only YOU can SQUANDER.
CONCLUSION: So, tell me…as you think about these biblical examples…can you think about your own life and ask WHO you need to make amends to for lying to them for personal gain? Have you repented to God for your sin of greed?
Here’s the GREAT NEWS! There is no sin too big…no fraud so great…that God cannot forgive and begin to restore you to a life of integrity. It may take some time for others to begin to trust you again. Perhaps some will never forgive you, nor trust you. But their unforgiveness does NOT undo God’s forgiveness. Their lack of trust makes you no less a person of integrity, provided you continue to walk with integrity of heart, just as David did…as Elisha and Naaman did…and most especially, as Jesus did. AMEN.