Integrity. Honest to the core. Truthfulness in word and action. We have integrity when what we do matches what we say and what we say matches what’s in our hearts. It was the church’s annual fall celebration dinner and little Ben was asked to offer the blessing for the food. The church members bowed their heads and Ben began his prayer. Ben thanked God for all his friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for his parents, his brother and sister, his grandparents, and all his aunts and uncles. Ben continued on thanking God for the pastor, the pastor’s family, and his Sunday School class. Finally Ben began to thank God for the food. He prayed a mighty thank-you for the turkey, the stuffing, the salads, the cranberry sauce, the pies and even the Cool Whip. Then little Ben pause and everyone waited. After a long silence, the young boy looked up at his mother and asked, “If I thank God for Mrs. Wright’s broccoli casserole, won’t God know I’m lying?”(Miller 53). Little Ben had learned about integrity at an early age. He wanted his words to match what was in his heart. Ben had learned the importance of acting in ways that are consistent with our beliefs and our values.
Today’s Old Testament lesson is the first part of the story of Job. Job is a man who has it all. He is unbelievably wealthy with thousands of livestock and a huge staff of servants. Job has a great marriage and 10 perfect children. Job is the most revered and influential man in the land. But most importantly, Job is faithful to God and stays away from evil. Job is upright and whole. Job has integrity.
The story of Job is actually a drama involving God and a character named satan. The drama takes place in a divine throne room. The word that is translated as Satan actually means accuser. It is not the name of an evil being. In this drama, God has convened all of the heavenly beings. One heavenly being, the accuser or satan, has just returned from a walk on earth where he has been checking things out.
“Say, my honorable accuser,” says God, “did you see my good friend Job? There is no better man on earth than Job. He is absolutely the best of the best.”
“Well of course he is,” says the accuser, “he has everything he needs and wants. He is truly blessed. I’ll bet he wouldn’t be so faithful and perfect if you sent some hardship his way.”
“We’ll see,” says God. “Go ahead, do what you want with him, but don’t hurt him physically.”
And before you know it the accuser has seen to it that Job has lost his thousands of livestock, his servants, and all his children. Job is devastated. He rips his clothes and shaves his head and grieves his loss. But then Job says, “I came into the world with nothing, so I guess I’ll leave with nothing. God gives and God takes away. God’s name be ever blessed.” Job does not say anything against God.
In the second act of the throne room drama which is today’s reading, the accuser comes to the courtroom after walking on the earth for a second time. And again God asks if the accuser has seen Job. “Job is one in a million,” says God. “Even though you tried, you couldn’t get him to turn against me.”
“Oh, I made it too easy. A human would do anything to save his life. I’ll bet he would curse you if you took away his health.”
“Well,” God says, “go ahead, do what you must. Just don’t kill him.”
So the Accuser strikes Job with awful, awful skin ulcers. I picture something like shingles that causes great pain and discomfort. Job is so miserable he takes a broken piece of pottery and tries to scrape the ulcers off his skin.
Job’s wife enters into the conversation and asks, “Are you still holding on to your integrity? Why don’t you curse God and be done with it?”
“You are a fool,” replies Job. “We take the good days from God, why not also the bad days?” And the bible tells us that not once through all this misery does Job turn against God.
The Bible tells us that Job has integrity. The Hebrew word translated as integrity is tumma. It means one whose behavior is consistent with their religious beliefs and whose character is one of total honesty. Job’s life is honesty and truth in action. The truth of Job’s life is that he loves God completely. And Job has integrity because his behaviors are consistent with his love for God. Everything Job says and does grows out of his love for God. Job lives his truth even when it is challenging. Job is not what we call two-faced. He does not profess his love of God and then turn against God as soon as something goes wrong. Job worships God in all times and all circumstances.
We live in a society in which integrity is a rare commodity. In an election year we are bombarded with political spin and one party’s attacks on the other. The suspicions and accusations erase all sense of truth from the landscape. Over 60 % of students admit to cheating at one time or another. 25 % of employees have either committed or witnessed workplace fraud. Advertisers make claims about products that mislead us. Pictures are photo-shopped to make celebrities look better than they are; hotel rooms look more spacious than they are. Commercials are edited to make toys more appealing than they actually are. Sports figures who promote healthy living are arrested for drunk driving or removed from their sport for doping. Persons who are open about their faith in Jesus Christ are convicted of abusing children. The tragic result is that we live in a climate of distrust. At the very least we end up confused and disappointed, not sure who to trust or what to believe.
Today’s scripture calls us back to living with integrity. Before we can live with integrity, we must decide what the truth of our life is. What it is we truly believe. As Christians, especially the Brethren brand of Christians, we would all say that of course the truth of our lives is that we are followers of Jesus Christ. We believe that he is God’s son and has shown us the way to abundant life. We strive to act in ways that are consistent with our desire to live as Jesus taught us.
But perhaps we are not being truly honest when we say that. We want to believe our commitment to Jesus is at the core of who we are. But in reality, perhaps our deepest desire is achieving success according to our society—healthy kids, comfortable home, 401K. Perhaps we really measure our words and actions against those of the world. Perhaps it is far more important to us to be consistent with the lifestyles and attitudes of our friends at school, the gang at work, the other parents in our children’s school. Maybe the core in us that defines our right and wrong is whatever makes us feel happy and content at any given moment. In order to live with integrity we must first decide what we really believe. To live with integrity we must identify the One who sets the standard for our words, actions, and attitudes. The One against whom we measure whether something is right or wrong, true or false.
Job’s story shows us as clear as can be that the truth of our life needs to be our love for God. And Job also shows us that maintaining our integrity is not always easy. Just like Job we are buffeted about by the situations and people in our lives. We experience loss and disappointment that can change the way we view faith. We are swayed to abandon our commitment to love God by advice from friends. Advertisers and marketers seek to manipulate our values and lead us away from the things God values. Friends may lure us into doing things or saying things that we know are not pleasing to God. Maintaining integrity may mean we lose friends. We are pulled in so many different directions by our society and the people we know that it is hard to remain anchored to our love for God and our commitment to Jesus. But Job, who has gone through the most devastating of losses and physical illnesses, shows us that it can be done. In all things Job acknowledges God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. Sure, Job laments. He cries out. He doesn’t take all his hardships with a smile on his face. Job curses the day he was born—not God, but the day he was born. But through all his lamenting, Job does not curse God. Job accepts his life circumstances. Job maintains integrity. Job remains true to God. Through his actions, Job makes it clear that his love for God defines who he is.
In his book Integrity, Ted Engstrom told his story: “For Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School in Georgia, it was their championship season: 21 wins and 5 losses on the way to the Georgia boys’ basketball tournament last March. In the tournament the team made a dramatic come-from-behind victory and won the state finals. “But now the new glass trophy case outside the high school gymnasium is bare. Soon after the state finals, the Georgia High School Association stripped the Rockdale High School of the championship. School officials had informed the Association that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the school’s five postseason games. ‘We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time he played; we didn’t know it until a few weeks ago,’ Coach Stroud said. ‘Some people have said we should have just kept quiet about it. It was just 45 seconds and the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what’s honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; they don’t ever forget what you’re made of.'”
The story of Job calls us to reclaim what we are made of. To reaffirm who and whose we are. We are called as Christians to live our lives according to the example of Jesus Christ. No, it is not easy to live with integrity, to always be consistent with our faith in God and our commitment to follow Jesus. Living with integrity takes constant checking of our actions and attitudes against the example of Jesus. Living with integrity requires the courage to shut our eyes and ears to the messages that distract us from our love for God. Living with integrity requires us to examine ourselves and then make adjustments when we have drifted off course. Today, the story of Job asks us to re-affirm again that our lives are based on our love for God and our decision to follow Christ. Job’s example calls all of us to live what we believe. To make sure that all of our words and actions are pleasing to the God we love and serve. May God give us the strength and courage and wisdom to live our faith with honesty and integrity.
Benediction: May the strength of God uphold you, the love of Christ sustain you and the energy of the Holy Spirit empower you to live lives that demonstrate your obedience to Jesus Christ and your love and commitment to God. Amen.
Engstorm, Ted. Integrity. Sermon Ilustrations.com.
Miller, Paul. World’s Greatest Collection of Church Jokes. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2003.