Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Do you have "Integrity of Heart?"

And Abraham journeyed from thence toward the south country, and dwelled between Kadesh and Shur, and sojourned in Gerar.  And Abraham said of Sarah his wife, She is my sister: and Abimelech king of Gerar sent, and took Sarah. But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night, and said to him, Behold, thou art but a dead man, for the woman which thou hast taken; for she is a man's wife.  But Abimelech had not come near her: and he said, Lord, wilt thou slay also a righteous nation?  Said he not unto me, She is my sister? and she, even she herself said, He is my brother: in the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.  And God said unto him in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore suffered I thee not to touch her. Genesis 20:1-6, KJV.

Let me begin by giving a little background to our Scripture.  Earlier in Genesis, we read of the birth of Ishmael, Moab, and Benami. These three men were each born in an ungodly relationship and each man’s family evolved into a nation that often warred against Israel. These three births occurred before Isaac. God had promised to Abraham and Sarah a son back in chapter seventeen. In chapter eighteen, Abraham had an encounter with the Lord and with an angelic guest. Abraham was told that Sarah would have a son within one year. Abraham and Sarah grow older and older, and they still do not have the son God had promised. It is important to realize that Isaac has not been born in Chapter 20; he is not born until chapter twenty-one. 

In this Scripture, we see a lack of integrity in the heart and life of the prophet Abraham, and we see sincere integrity in the heart of the non-believing king of Gerar. Integrity is the character that controls our conduct. While I can only speculate, it may well be that Abraham’s lack of integrity delayed God in giving Abraham and Sarah the promised son. Like the prophet Abraham, many people today lack integrity – including Christians and church leaders. As president of New Life Theological Seminary, I strive to help our students develop the highest integrity. We use the slogan, "Graduating Men and Women of Integrity." I believe integrity is important, because when a man or woman of God loses his or her integrity, that person has nothing to offer their church or their community. The lack of integrity among believers is a serious sin issue. Abimelech could have been killed and his kingdom severely judged because of the lack of integrity of this prophet, Abraham. People are spiritually slaughtered and sentenced to hell for eternity because many Christians within the church lack integrity. Let us consider three actions God used in dealing with Abimilech.
First, God notices Abimelech’s integrity. Abraham’s half-truth endangered the chastity and honor of his wife - of whom he should have been the protector. Abraham had developed a practice of telling half-truths; he had committed this same sin before. In our courts, a witness takes an oath “to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth;” the practice of telling only half-truths is a sinful practice. It is important to realize that the lack of integrity of one person often causes other people to sin. If Abraham had possessed integrity and shared with the king that Sarah was his wife, Abimelech would not have been placed in this awkward situation. This prophet, who was trailblazing the way of faith, and who was learning the basic lessons that generations to follow were to observe from his life, had an integrity problem. His lack of integrity endangered the paternity of their promised son, and the world's hope of salvation - for Abraham endangered the very lineage of Jesus the Messiah.

Unlike Abraham, Abimelech had genuine integrity of heart and spirit. Even God acknowledges in verse six that Abimelech did this thing "in the integrity of thy heart..." For a man to have integrity, he must have the highest moral values. His word must be his bond - what he says, he must do. He must be trustworthy - you can trust him with your children and with your money. He must be righteous - when this man is faced with two evils he will always choose the lesser of the two, and when faced with sin, he will not choose it. He has the highest moral principles and lives a life pleasing to God. Abimelech, as far as we know, was not a man of faith, yet he had integrity. The sad irony in this story is that the man of faith had no integrity, and the man of integrity had no faith. The world needs men, women, and youth of faith with strong ethics and integrity. God notices if a person has “integrity of heart.”

Second, God retrained Abimelech from sinning. This man of integrity was restrained from having a sexual relationship with Sarah. You see, God knew the danger this sin would bring to the world. God knew such a sin could spoil His plan for a Holy nation and a Holy lineage for Jesus the Messiah. God knew such a sexual sin could destroy His plan to send Jesus into the world as our Savior. Even at this point, Satan was working in Abraham and Sarah trying to mess up God's plan to send Jesus into the world.

When a person strives to have integrity, God will help keep that person from sinning. God was more able to restrain Abimelech then he was to restrain Abraham - because of his integrity. Integrity enables God to restrain us from greater evil. Christians need to learn to recognize the restraining hand of God. Yes, our world is wicked, but it does not have as much wickedness as Satan would like. If Jesus did not restrain him though people of integrity, evil would run ten-thousand times more rampant throughout the earth. God says that Satan desires "to steal, and to kill, and to destroy," but God sent Jesus that we might have life, and that we might have it more abundantly (John 10:10, KJV). The only reason more evil does not exist, is that God restrains Satan through Christians of integrity. David writes, "And as for me, thou upholdest me in mine integrity, and settest me before thy face for ever” (Psalm 41:12, KJV). God teaches us that "The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them” (Proverbs 11:3, KJV). May God help us learn to recognize His restraining hand, and may God help us to develop a greater integrity of heart! Not only does God NOTICE a person’s integrity, but God restrains men and women of integrity from sinning.

Third, God instructs Abimelech to right the wrong. Although Abimelech had not sinned, and even though this prophet of low integrity had misled him, Abimelech had done wrong. God had confronted Abimelech, thus ignorance can no longer be an excuse. He that knows to do right, and does not do it, to him it is sin. Now, Abimelech must right this terrible wrong.

I have always felt sad for Abimelech. He had been deceived by a prophet of God who had low integrity. It appears that he sincerely tried to live right and to be a good king. In his historical time and culture, adding another woman to his harem was an acceptable practice for a king. It seems that his only error was one of ignorance; he simply did not know that Sarah was married. Yet, he was wrong, and he had to set things right for himself, for his family, and for his kingdom. Even though Abimelech had never read Proverbs 20:7, he understood that "The just man walks in his integrity: his children are blessed after him."

Abimelech had to make things right for the sake of his children. Verse four reveals that he understood that his whole nation could suffer if he failed to right this wrong. Abimelech's integrity made him afraid of sin and its consequences; he got up early and began the process of righting his wrongs. When righting a wrong, one must bestow more than one has taken. When God convicts a man or woman of their wrongs, they should tell others what God has done for the sake of their souls. His first step was confronting the prophet Abraham (vs. 10). Notice that Abimelech gave Abraham sheep, oxen, servants, permission to dwell anywhere in the kingdom, and a thousand pieces of silver. Abimelech preaches a beautiful sermon in verse sixteen. He explains that Sarah is a covering to Abraham's eyes and vice versa. Husband, you should never look at another woman with sexual thoughts in you heart; wife, you should never look at another man with lust. Husband, you are to protect your wife, not endanger her. Husband, you are to love your wife, as Christ loves His church. I could preach a full sermon on this theme, and all of this is a part of living a life of integrity. Not only does God NOTICE a person’s integrity, not only does God RESTRAIN men and women of integrity from sinning, but God INSTRUCTS people of integrity to know when to right a wrong.

The word "integrity" appears only sixteen times in Scripture, but it is clear that God expects His children to possess integrity of the heart, be people of character, and example Kingdom conduct. We are summoned to be holy, to live righteous, and to walk in integrity. Some two-thousand years ago, lost sinful men despised the character and conduct of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, the perfect God-man. These men rejected him, falsely accused him, and crucified him. Not because he was sinful, but because through integrity of heart, he represented Kingdom character and conduct. Many of you in this room have been confronted by people angered by your words and actions as you modeled and proclaimed Jesus, and if not, you are most likely not walking in the words, character, and conduct of Jesus.

The Bible teaches us that integrity determines our character, and our character is always revealed in out conduct. May God help us to be men and women of integrity? Friend, if we lose our integrity as a Christian, who will believe us when we tell then there is a hell. If our lives to not display righteousness, who will listen when we tell them there is a heaven and there is a Savior who can take them there?

PRAYER: Lord, help us be men and women of integrity. Today Lord, we are not dealing with sinful conduct, but rather the root of that sinful conduct. Lord, it is for this reason I beseech you, if our conduct does not reflect you, grows our character. Lord, challenge us that when we see conduct in one another that reflects less than Kingdom character, give us courage to lovingly confront one another and challenge each other to grow in integrity of heart, in character, that our conduct might be pleasing to you. May our conduct reflect godly character in all that we do. May we abstain from even the appearance of evil and worldliness to the end that the church of Jesus Christ may be strengthened throughout the world and the lost might be saved.
      I ask that you take the same action with us that you took with Abimilech. Look deep into our lives and notice our integrity, or lack of it. If it is lacking, help us to develop it in our lives. If it exists, use it to restrain us from sinning, and to remove the desire to sin from our lives, that the conduct seen by others will be more Christ-like. When it is necessary, instruct us to right the wrongs we have caused, both in our past and in the present, and admonish us to make them right. Help us live holy and righteous before your eyes and the eyes of others.