A new beginning with Integrity

How many of you watch movies? How many of you prefer the “Happy ending” movies than the tragic ending movies? Most of us prefer “Happy Endings” right? Those of you who have followed the last episode of Harry Potter Book and the movie that followed should know this. There was heavy suspense on how the serial will end. Will it be a sad ending? Will the author (J K Rowling) “Kill” Harry Potter and will the evil Lord Voldemort triumph? But for all that suspense, the serial finally had a Happy Ending, where Harry Potter triumphs over his arch enemy Lord Voldemort. This is the case in many movies. There are cases where the entire story has been changed to ensure a “Happy ending” for the movie to make sure that it becomes a box office success.  

For many of us who are well versed with the book of Job, we know that in spite of all the trouble that Job goes through, the ending is good. It is a Happy Ending. After all, Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 7:8. “Better is the end of a thing than the beginning thereof”. So when we read the book of Job, we are not thinking really about the trials that Job goes through, our mind already has the Happy Ending in mind. However, today I am not going to preach on the Happy Ending of the book of Job. I am forcing you to think in the middle somewhere, not at the happy ending, but during the time of the trails and troubles that Job goes through.

I am sure all of us know the story of Job. The story line of Job is simple. Job, a blameless worshiper of God, experiences a series of devastating tragedies. Three friends come to comfort him, but end up arguing that since God is good Job must have done something terrible to deserve his intense suffering. Job refutes them and in the process points to injustices God permits in His world. A young observer suggests that God may have other purposes in suffering than to punish. Then God Himself speaks to Job. The Lord gives no reason for what has happened to Job, but Job realizes he must submit to God rather than question Him. Job is restored and his three pious friends, who have so forcefully defended God, are rebuked by the Lord. Job goes on to live a long and blessed life.

Let us look at what the three friends and the fourth young observer think about Job.

  • Eliphaz: He comes as a comforter who sees Job as a good man. However his reasoning for Job’s troubles is that Job might have gone astray. He might have done something wrong, he might have disobeyed God
  • Bildad: Also a comforter who argues from traditional wisdom in his effort to prove that Job and his family got only what they deserved.
  • Zophar: Yet another comforter who goes to the extreme of suggesting a solution to Job’s problems. He urges Job to repent or die the death that God reserves for the wicked.
  • Elihu: A young observer who breaks the cycle of futile reasoning engaged in by Job and his three friends and prepares Job to hear a personal word from God.

Apart from Elihu who points Job in the right direction, all the other three so called friends of Job insist that Job must have done something terrible to deserve his intense suffering. In other words, they were questioning his integrity and were strongly suggesting that he must have sinned against God to deserve such a harsh punishment. They fairly and squarely put Job in the category of the wicked and the hypocrites. Have you ever had this experience? Have you had any of your so called friends or loved ones call you wicked and/or a hypocrite? Well, it certainly did happen to Job. This is where Job rises up to defend his integrity. That is the point that I would like us to look at today, Integrity. I would like us to reflect on Job’s views on Integrity.

Those of you who have heard me earlier on the topic of Servant Leadership might remember that Integrity is one of the key attributes of Servant Leadership that Jesus Christ demonstrated and asked all of us to follow. Integrity is also a hot topic now a days with Aam Aadmy Party winning the elections in New Delhi. How much difference that will make to corruption within the country is yet to be seen. However, everyone agrees that this is a good beginning, and there might still be hope for our country in the area of Integrity. I basically believe that the whole problem is more deep-rooted in our society. I often tell this story. The parents of a third standard student get called to the school principal’s office. Now, if you have or have had a school going child, and if you a get call from the principal’s office to come and meet, I know you will be very nervous, isn’t it? You would be worried as to what mischief your little one was upto, to get a call like that. So like any other parents, these parents also nervously go into the principal’s office, and sit anxiously to hear what she has to say. The principal informs the parents that their son has a problem. The child has the habit of stealing things like pencils, erasers, rulers, etc. from his classmates. The parents are shocked. Naturally. Anyone would be shocked isn’t it?  The father tells the principal. “Madam, I am really surprised and shocked by this behaviour from my son. I don’t know why he should do this. You see, all that he needs, and much more than what he needs, I can bring from my office and give him.”

Did you see the problem in this story? We have a “swalpa adjust maadi” or “chalega” mentality when it comes to integrity. We start grading integrity, we start saying that small amount of cheating does not matter, only “big sins” matter. Unless we, as a nation, are able to see integrity as a pure “black and white” topic, unless we realize that we either have integrity or do not have it, unless we reach a position where we do not accept “grey” areas in integrity, things might not change much.

It is good to note that Job’s stand on the topic of integrity is not like that. The message translation of the first part of the reading that was read to us this morning reads like this. Job 27:3-6 (MSG) : “But for as long as I draw breath, and for as long as God breathes life into me,  I refuse to say one word that isn’t true. I refuse to confess to any charge that’s false. There is no way I’ll ever agree to your accusations. I’ll not deny my integrity even if it costs me my life.  I’m holding fast to my integrity and not loosening my grip— and, believe me, I’ll never regret it.” Powerful words isn’t it, and self-explanatory. The friends of Job were asking Job to compromise and admit to sin, so that the strife will go away. Instead, Job is solemnly confirming about his integrity, He is saying “God forbid that I should justify you in your uncharitable censures of me, by owning myself a hypocrite: no, until I die I will not remove my integrity from me; my righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go.”  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible). I may die, my God may slay me, but I will still hold on to my integrity and righteousness. What a will power? You will hear this in the New Testament from the author of Hebrews. Hebrews 13:18 (NKJV): “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably”. The Bible tells us that it is good to have a conscience, which tells us when we go wrong, when we sin. You might remember the instance where King David takes the census of his army and thereby sins against God. The Bible tells us that it is his conscience that prompted David to admit the guilt and repent immediately. 2 Samuel 24:10 (NKJV) : And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Job’s conscience was very clear. He was sure that he has not, and will never give his heart a reason to reproach him. How many of us can say that this morning? How many of us can claim to be have that high level of integrity that Job asserted that he had?

Now you can always say that anyone make such claims. You can say that hypocrites always do that. Hypocrites always claim that they are innocent, while in reality they are not. So was Job a hypocrite? The Bible tells us that he was not a hypocrite. The second part of the reading that was read to us this morning tells us that Job was not making an empty assertion. He was making this assertion about his integrity, knowing fully well what God would do to hypocrites.  Job 27:7-10 (NKJV) : “May my enemy be like the wicked, And he who rises up against me like the unrighteous. For what is the hope of the hypocrite, Though he may gain much, If God takes away his life? Will God hear his cry When trouble comes upon him?  Will he delight himself in the Almighty? Will he always call on God? Job is making the assertion about his integrity fully knowing that hypocrites do not have any hope at all. (read also Job 8:13,14 and Job 11:20). Job is telling his friends that he will never build on such a rotten foundation of hypocrisy. The fate of the hypocrite is given in Isaiah 33:14 (NKJV) :  The sinners in Zion are afraid; Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: “Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?”.

Now, that is a frightful thought isn’t it? You might be thinking, this is not the “Happy Ending” sermon, isn’t it? Does it mean we have to live in fear, because of some mistake we did in the past? Is there hope and salvation only for people as righteous as Job? Is the “Happy Ending” that we see in the book of Job only reserved for absolutely blameless people like Job? No says the Bible. Even if we were not as strong as Job, there is hope for those who truly repent. Isaiah 1:18 (NKJV) : “Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool”. Fortunately for you and me, Jesus came and took away our sins, so that we can now make a fresh beginning on integrity. We can now give up the life of hypocrisy that we might have led in the past before we came to know and accept Jesus. This new year, Jesus is calling us to be HIS. Chris Wright, the famous bible scholar and preacher made this acronym. HIS stands for Humility, Integrity and Simplicity. Can we respond to that call from Jesus this new year? Can we be HIS? Humble, with high level of integrity like Job, and simple?

Let us Pray.

 

 

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