Main passage: Micah 7:1-9
This month we are studying the topic of Truth about Honesty. Talking about Honesty, one incident comes to my mind, when a church member shared an honest opinion with me. This is when I had just started preaching in churches. You know when you begin something you are very enthusiastic about it and you generally do not know how time flies. It is another matter that some preachers never realize that even if they have delivered thousands of sermons. Anyway, coming back to my story. I had a cut on my face. After the sermon, a member, who is a good friend came to me asked me about the cut. I told him the truth. I said, “I was thinking about my sermon for today while shaving and cut my face.” My friend smiled and said very thoughtfully, “May be, next time onwards, you should think about your face while shaving and cut your sermon instead.” I will not forget that honest advice easily.
Why is honesty such an important topic for us to discuss today. A study by the Psychology Today Magazine revealed that each of us lies in 20% of social exchanges lasting 10 or more minutes. In one week alone, 30% of us deceive others in one-on-one interaction 10% of lies were exaggerations, 60% outright deceptions, But MOST were subtle lies, often of omission. AND even though an average of 1 out of 7 of lies is uncovered, more than 70% of liars surveyed said they would tell their lies again. Micah 7:2-4 (NLT) describes the current situation beautifully. “The godly people have all disappeared; not one honest person is left on the earth. They are all murderers, setting traps even for their own brothers. Both their hands are equally skilled at doing evil! Officials and judges alike demand bribes. The people with influence get what they want, and together they scheme to twist justice. Even the best of them is like a brier; the most honest is as dangerous as a hedge of thorns.” Don’t you think that is the current situation? Have you read about the controversies surrounding the Lokayukta in Karnataka? The Lokayukta is an office set up exclusively to prevent corruption in public offices and govt. Instead what we read daily in the newspapers is the corruption that surrounds that office itself. Officials and judges alike demand bribes. The people with influence get what they want, and together they scheme to twist justice, said the prophet thousands of years ago. How well that description fits even today.
The sad part is that the church, the body of Christ, itself is not free from this malice. Current situation in the world churches match with the words of the Prophet Jeremiah From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. Peace, peace, they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush – Jeremiah 6:13-15. A research done on the current church situation reveals that many people in the church either ignore or accept corruption and dishonesty in the church and Christian organisations. The study estimates an embezzlement of $16 billion dollars (Close to Ten thousand Crore Rupees) by the world’s Christian Churches in the year 2000 while the annual spend on world missions is just 15 Billion. You get the math. More money is embezzled by church leaders than what is spent on spreading the word of God. There are Litigations and Power struggles within churches and denominations. Some of you might have heard about the ongoing litigation between two factions of a rich church in Kerala. Bribery, misappropriation of funds and property, witch-hunts of whistle-blowers, and numerous court cases are common. 84% of Christians and church goers surveyed agree that the issue is real.
So why do people become dishonest? What causes dishonesty and lack of integrity? Business firms, auditors and HR professionals talk about what is called as The Fraud Triangle ( A term first coined by American sociologist Donald R. Cressey). The theory is that Fraud or corruption or dishonest actions happen because of three aspects Viz; Motive, Opportunity and the Rationalization of the Act. Let us take some examples and see if this is true. Let us start with the fall. When Adam and Eve sinned for the very first time, there was an “opportunity” created by God telling them that they should not eat from one particular tree. God’s purpose in creating that opportunity was to give them a chance to demonstrate obedience not through coercion but through freewill. Else God could very well have hidden the particular tree from their sight. So there was the “opportunity” side of the fraud triangle there. There was actually no real “need”, but Satan willfully created a need in them, making use of the opportunity. He created a need in them by promising them that if they seize the opportunity they will be “like God” being able to discern good from bad. Genesis 3:6 (NLT) The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. Thus Satan adds the “need” side of the fraud triangle. Then we see that once the act was committed, Adam rationalized it saying that he did it because “the woman” asked him to do. Eve rationalized the act by saying “the serpent deceived me”. There we the completion of the Fraud Triangle in the very first dishonest act, the fall itself. There was an opportunity, Satan creates a need, or brings out the latent need, the act is committed and then rationalization follows.
We see the Fraud Triangle at work in the life of King Saul that we studied last time when I spoke here. Look back at the incident of Saul and the Amalekites. (1 Sam 15:1-23) God creates an opportunity for Saul to demonstrate his total obedience by asking him to do some terrible acts. Saul converts that into an opportunity to fall prey to his men’s greed, and this creates a need for him to disobey and spare the very lives of some of the people that the Lord asked Saul to utterly destroy. Then when he was confronted by the Lord through Samuel, he rationalized the act by saying that he allowed it happen so that he and he men “could sacrifice to your Lord”. We see the Fraud triangle in full action here.
We see this repeated many times. We see this in the life of David when he falls for an opportunity to sin while looking at a beautiful woman bathing. He then rationalizes the act by working on many cover up actions, which includes murder. We see this in the story of Ananias and Sapphira told in Acts 5:1-11. We studied this during my last sermon here. An opportunity arrives when they get a large sum of money by selling a plot of land. A need to hide comes through greed, and they wanted to rationalize it by many means, but did not get a chance to rationalize because both of them were struck down.
Once again going back to my last sermon, I spoke about the main fund raising method used for building the beautiful St. Peters Basilica in Vatican. We see the Fraud Triangle in full action in the thought process of the church leaders of the time. The need was the huge amount of money required to build this beautiful structure. An opportunity presented itself to exploit the emotions of people by selling indulgences that could save their loved ones from suffering in Purgatory. The rationalization was sadly because of the infinite “Treasury of Merits” that was available at the disposal of the church leaders due to Jesus’ act on the cross. They believed that they could draw upon it shamelessly for material benefits. Needless to say that the sale of indulgences was not used only for building the Church building, but was for a long time used to line the pockets of many leaders who formed the church hierarchy at that time. Other dishonest methods in church history included Concubinage fee and a practice called Simony. The Orthodox Church required abstinence as a pre requisite for priesthood. This created the need for having concubines for many priests, bishops and even popes. Some of the Bishops and Popes saw in this an opportunity to make some extra money and they started the practice called concubinage fee whereby a priest who had concubines and/ or children through concubines could legalize the situation by paying a hefty fee, which went to the pocket of the next in line of hierarchy, usually a bishop or an archbishop. Simony is another practice where one could buy and sell church offices by paying money. One could buy a bishop’s office by paying a large sum of money in advance to the Archbishop or the pope. We see the Fraud triangle in full action here, with the rationalization being that the money was needed for many things including doing “good works” and defending Christendom from other attackers and breakdown and anarchy etc.
And as I highlighted in the beginning, the story continues with the current church, cutting across denominational barriers continue to be plagued with dishonesty.
So, is there a solution? Is there hope? Can we make a difference? Can we be different? How can we get out of the Fraud Triangle that hems us in from all angles around us? Can we do it by ourselves? Do we have help? Let us go to the second part of the bible passage for today. Micah 7:7-9 (NLT) As for me, I look to the LORD for help. I wait confidently for God to save me, and my God will certainly hear me. Do not gloat over me, my enemies! For though I fall, I will rise again. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. I will be patient as the LORD punishes me, for I have sinned against him. But after that, he will take up my case and give me justice for all I have suffered from my enemies. The LORD will bring me into the light, and I will see his righteousness.
The trick lies in converting the Fraud triangle into a Grace Triangle. The Fraud Triangle can be turned around into a Grace Triangle through three easy steps.
- The “need” side can cease to be a problem if we trust in the Lord to provide for all our needs. (not necessarily our wants, but he will meet all our needs). Trust that our Lord is Jehovah Jireh.
- The Opportunity side of the Fraud triangle can be used for demonstrating our obedience to the Lord in all opportunities that arise. Just like Abraham did when he was asked to sacrifice his only begotten son. When we exercise our freewill according to God’s will, when we surrender our human will to God’s will, every opportunity can become one for getting closer to God
- The Rationalization side of the Fraud triangle can become the Glorification side when we glorify God through our thoughts and actions.
There we have it. We can convert the Fraud triangle of Need, Opportunity and Rationalization into a Grace Triangle consisting of God meeting our need, Opportunity to get closer to God and Glorifying God.
Let us examine ourselves, look for areas where the Fraud Triangle is in action, and look for opportunities to convert every Fraud Triangle in our lives into a Grace Triangle. This will be the beginning of our transformation. Let us pray that God will help us in the transformation.