Are You Living a Life of Integrity?

by Bill Rudge

What do you do after looking around and determining that no one sees you? Character is not what you do when people are watching. Character is what you do when you think no one else sees. But Somebody does see, as Psalm 139 indicates,

"O Lord, You have searched me and You know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord. Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." (verses 1-4, 23-24)

Deception Breeds Deception

One week after giving my life to Jesus Christ, Karen and I decided to run away to West Virginia to get married. I was 18 and she was 17. Once the clerk at the courthouse verified our ages, she told us we needed to get blood tests and also get parental consent since we were underage.

After getting our blood tests in West Virginia, we went back to Pennsylvania where we filled out a marriage application form. The notary, who was a neighbor of mine, said we needed to have at least one of each of our parents sign in his presence. Knowing our parents would never sign, I told the notary that my mom was very sick at home in bed and unable to come to sign and that Karen's mother was also unable to do so. We forged our mothers' signatures and took the form back to the notary to be notarized.

Once we forged the signatures we thought that was the end of it, but we were wrong. As the Scriptures illustrate in the lives of such important biblical figures as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, deceit leads to deceit. Abraham deceived the Pharaoh in Egypt, and later King Abimelech, by claiming his beautiful wife Sarah was merely his sister (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). In turn, Abraham's son Isaac did the same thing by saying his wife Rebekah was his sister (Genesis 26:7-11). Then Isaac's son Jacob, coached by his mother Rebekah, deceived Isaac into blessing Jacob instead of Esau. Rebekah dressed Jacob to appear to be Esau. As a result, the first born's blessing and birthright that belonged to Esau was given to Jacob (Genesis 27:1-29). On and on the deceit and dishonesty continued.

Jacob was deceived by his uncle Laban, who substituted Leah his oldest daughter for Rachel, the one Jacob loved, after he worked seven years for her (Genesis 29:13-30). Jacob's sons also deceived him by taking their brother Joseph's multicolored robe, dipping it in goat's blood and then showing it to their father, letting him think Joseph was killed by a wild animal, when in fact they sold him as a slave into Egypt (Genesis 37:21-36). For many years, until Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt and saved his family from starvation, they let their father Jacob be deceived.

Getting back to our story ... Karen and I returned to West Virginia with the appropriate paperwork, but we were informed by the courthouse clerk that we needed both sets of parents' signatures. So we lied and told her our parents were at a racetrack down the road and we would have them sign. We forged the signatures and returned the signed document to the clerk who said, "Okay, you can get married now."

Learning Integrity

So what happened to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

As Scripture informs us, God began to work in their hearts to the degree that they are presented in Hebrews chapter 11 as heroes of the faith.

Like our forefathers in the faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, God has brought us a long way. We suffered many consequences and challenges because of our youthful deceptiveness, but God takes us where we are and works with us by the power of His Holy Spirit to transform our lives.

Return Stolen Items

Before giving my life to Christ, I had stolen hundreds of dollars' worth of items. When I was a Christian for only a few months, God's Spirit began to deal with me, and I began to return things to the different stores and places from which I had stolen them. At first I took back the things I liked the least: the rock albums, the clothes, the jewelry, and the colognes. Then after a few more weeks, God's Spirit dealt with me even more strongly, and I looked for more things I had stolen. I returned a billy club, bayonet, and other weapons. Finally, a few weeks later, God's Spirit came heavily upon me to get rid of everything. I returned the weights, the remaining clothes, my favorite speed bag, and other things I knew I could never afford, but I had to obey.

As new teenage Christians, Karen and I even took money to some of the stores where we could not return the items, because they were ruined or lost. The store clerks were bewildered. I told them, "Listen, I had stolen things before I was a Christian. Now I am a believer in Jesus Christ. Please take the money." They thought we were crazy, but before my Lord I wanted to maintain my integrity.

Little Things Matter

Although God dealt with me about blatant thievery, deceit, and dishonesty, as a young Christian I saw nothing wrong with the little things I tried to justify. You know the type of rationalizing –– like what I once did: "They make me work extra hours at the window factory and don't pay me very good money, so it's no big deal if I take some nails. Besides, all the other Bible college students who work there are taking them, and they have been Christians much longer than I." Deceit can be a subtle thing.

As I grew in the Lord, I began to learn the reality of Isaiah 33:14 -16. It refers to God as a consuming fire and asks the question, "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?" The answer is, "He who walks righteously and speaks what is right, who rejects gain from extortion and keeps his hand from accepting bribes ...." God slowly burned deception and dishonesty out of me as fire purifies metal.

A woman brought me a padlock to put on the gate of our ministry center's fence. I discovered that the lock had been taken from her husband's place of employment. She thought I was making a big deal out of it and claimed that other ministers had accepted the locks. I said, "Listen, even though it seems insignificant to you, if I keep this lock, I will be compromising my integrity before the God whom I seek to walk before with a clear conscience and a pure heart."

God is opposed to dishonesty in little things. No one will get away with making light of little acts of lying and deceit. The Bible says in Luke 16:10 ––

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

A Good Name Is Better Than Riches

Someone had donated several hundred dollars over the course of a year to our ministry, as well as to several other ministries. We found out later that the money had been embezzled from where this person worked. The owners of the company, needless to say, were upset. They wanted all the organizations who received the embezzled monies to pay it back immediately.

Although we had no legal obligation to do so, and did not have the money to spare, we decided to comply with their request. To me our testimony was more important than money. Proverbs 5:21 reveals ––

"For a man's ways are in full view of the Lord, and He examines all his paths."

We were the first ministry to pay back the money, and as a result, were spotlighted in the media. A woman who was impressed that we had agreed to pay back the money, gave us a check for the total amount. The company the money was embezzled from actually continued to support our ministry.

The Pain and Benefits

What are the benefits of choosing a life of integrity, even in little things? Sometimes the value of choosing to live honestly is nothing more than a clear conscience and restful night of sleep. Other times you can actually see the hand of God bless in a material way.

For example, I had just finished doing two school assemblies in West Virginia. Traveling through the mountains of Virginia to our next engagement in Baltimore, our 1985 van completely shut down. We had the van towed to a Chevrolet dealer, and it was discovered that because of an oil leak the engine was blown. An improperly tightened oil plug was the cause. The cost to replace the engine was about $2,000, so we wondered if the extended warranty would cover it since it was an oil leak. The service manager said that if I replaced the rubber oil plug with an original metal one the van would be covered by the warranty.

Here's where it hurts. I told him I was a Christian and would not do it. We had the van towed back to Pennsylvania, where a local dealer put in a rebuilt engine for the discounted price of $1,400. Several people gave toward the cost, as the Lord provided all the money.

Not only were we able to be a good witness to all the people involved, we also saw the material blessing. The dealer who replaced the engine agreed to a unique deal and traded us even –– our van for a car. So not only had the Lord provided us with the van for three-and-a-half years, He blessed us with a car that was like brand-new without spending a cent. I believe that what made this all possible was our refusing to compromise on such a little thing as an oil plug.

Merchandising the Gospel

Honesty and integrity are obviously lacking in much of the secular world. Sad to say, even in the Church today, financial scandals and merchandising the Gospel are accelerating.

How many ministries and churches use manipulation to control followers, coercion to obtain funds, or gimmicks to generate popularity and excitement?

Some resort to fundraising schemes or lie and exaggerate concerning what they are doing or how the money will be used. Others charge exorbitant fees to minister or high prices to purchase their biblical products. How far removed we are from Jesus' words to His twelve disciples of, "Freely you have received, freely give." (Matthew 10:8)

Some pastors and ministry leaders are misusing funds and enriching themselves with great material wealth from those who give sacrificially. Some suggest that donors give multiple tithes or even take out loans and give them the money.

Religious shysters sometimes use anointed artifacts or promise to pray for healings and financial blessings if money is given or sent to them.

In contrast to all the blatant gimmickry and merchandising of the Gospel going on today which is deceitful and wrong, the apostle Paul stated ––

"Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." (2 Corinthians 2:17)

We had better heed the words Elisha spoke to Naaman when he offered him a gift after the Lord healed Naaman's leprosy —

"'As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.' And even though Naaman urged him, he refused." (2 Kings 5:16)

But Gehazi, Elisha's greedy servant, deceitfully hurried after Naaman to receive something for himself. Elisha strongly rebuked him as told in 2 Kings 5:26,27—

"Elisha said to him, 'Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants? Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.' Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow."

Ponder and be inspired by Paul's last words to the elders of Ephesus ––

"You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" (Acts 20:18, 33-35)

Also, consider Samuel's last words to Israel ––

"Whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Whom have I cheated? Whom have I oppressed? From whose hand have I accepted a bribe to make me shut my eyes? If I have done any of these, I will make it right. 'You have not cheated or oppressed us,' they replied. 'You have not taken anything from anyone's hand.'" (1 Samuel 12:3,4).

Despite continual opportunities to obtain temporal material gain through compromise and deceit, believers and Christian leaders must walk before the Lord and the world in integrity. Financial scandals will cease in the body of Christ if believers and Christian leaders really believe Psalm 11:7 ––

"For the LORD is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see His face."

Once you make a heart commitment to walk upright before the Lord, a life of integrity will soon become as natural as breathing.

Verbal Commitment and a Handshake

In January of 2001, I sold my dream –– the ministry center –– to have additional funds to reach the world. That in itself is a long and amazing story. But what I want to focus on here is that by merely a verbal agreement and a handshake the deal was done. Even though there was no contract at the time, a doctor called to say he would pay cash for the building the next day. I explained I had made a verbal agreement with the Mercer County Area Agency on Aging, Inc. and my word was as good as a contract.

A state representative at the dedication of the Agency on Aging building commented how amazed he was that by a verbal agreement and a handshake the sale of our former ministry center to the Agency on Aging was accomplished. He went on to say that it would be great if all government agreements and transactions could be done in the same manner.

Only As Good As Your Word

"You are only as good as your word" is a principle I seek to live by. I gave my word to a former voodoo witch doctor in Haiti that I would return to see him. Every imaginable obstacle and dangerous circumstance rose up to thwart the fulfillment of that promise of my fifth trip to Haiti.

I was told by the host mission I could not come because they were expecting violence against Americans. Haitians had blocked roads and stopped some American missionaries, harming them and damaging their vehicle. There was to be a nationwide strike and there would be a lot of violence since there had already been several deaths from recent demonstrations. Besides, because of a gas shortage they could not run the generator at the mission compound. Also, the Iraq war was on the near horizon and things were very unstable and volatile.

Nevertheless, I felt compelled to go because I had made a promise, and this was the only opportunity I would have for several years to return. So in spite of other obstacles and impossible circumstances, the Lord made the way possible.

Before we left Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, for Gonaives, I told some vendors outside the mission guest house I would buy something when I returned. One of the women yelled out in Creole, "They all say that, but they never keep their word." I assured her I would keep my word but she didn't believe me. Several days later I returned. She was elated to see me and as promised I bought souvenirs from her and the other vendors. They were most appreciative and repeatedly said, "You kept your word! You kept your word!"

Last Sin Mentioned

In the last two chapters of Revelation, God strongly warns about lying. Perhaps one of the reasons God mentions lying as the last sin in the Bible (Revelation 22:15) is because it was Satan's lie that resulted in the fall of mankind (Genesis 3:1-5).

Scripture makes it clear that believers are not to be conformed to Satan's image. Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). We are to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29), who walked in truth and integrity.

Revelation 21:8 alarmingly indicates that "all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."

And Revelation 22:15 makes known that "everyone who loves and practices falsehood" will not be permitted to enter God's eternal Kingdom.

We who have been redeemed by Christ, whose names are written in the Book of Life, must live like the One we claim to follow. We must ask God to crucify and burn out of us any deceit and falsehood, as we strive to be upright, honest, and truthful.

My Prayer

God is not only looking for people of courage, strength, and power who will stand up and impact this world for Christ in these last days. He is also looking for those who will not be compromised by dishonest gain, lying lips, and deceptive motives. He is looking for men, women, and young people who will live a life of integrity before Him and this world. That is why my prayer is:

Lord, I am a person who was far from Your standard and made many mistakes. But early in my walk with You, You began to burn deceit and dishonesty out of me. Your Word and Spirit have taught and enabled me to overcome and walk upright before You. Forgive me when I fail. Cause me to always speak the truth in love without ulterior motives for selfish gain. Help me to honor You in all things.

I also pray that Your Spirit speaks to the hearts of every person reading this. Reveal any area of their lives where they are allowing deception, lying lips, dishonest gain, or selfish motivation. Bring them to repentance and give them the assurance of Your forgiveness. Put within them a desire to walk in integrity all the days of their lives. In Jesus' name.

Amen.