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By Prem Kumar Lee

What is integrity?

Integrity as a word has two distinct meanings. One is being moral and the other is being one or whole, not fragmented. When looking at integrity in our lives how do we combine these to concepts?

In Matthew 15:16-20 Jesus says that immoral behaviour arises from ones heart and is not seen in our actions, but in the source or motivations of our actions. Under this norm Jesus condemns both the good works of the people in Matthew 6:1-4 and the evil they do in Matthew 15:16-20.

So having integrity then means that both my heart and my actions need to be moral, and not my actions alone. In this sense being honest is not being moral, but being honest because of an inner commitment to honesty may be.

In this sense, what does Jesus mean by heart? Is it my emotions, my will, my whole being? What is the root of my good and evil? How do I set my heart right?

One the themes in the New Testament is giving up an attraction for worldly things, and instead seeking the kingdom of God. We see this in the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 16:24-28, Matthew 19:16-22, in the teaching of Paul Colossians 3:15, Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, I Timothy 6:6-9, in the teaching of John 1 John 2:15-17, in the teaching of James 4:1-4. The heart is set right by separating ourselves from a desire for the world and its attractions and living for the kingdom.

Integrity then does not come from obeying rules and regulations, but setting right our relationship with the material.

Why then do we have rules?

Rules lays down boundaries for our guidance. In the complex world of today, even after I have set right my heart with the world, I can find deciding on different situations and continuous tensions. Rules help resolve this tension and shows us what is expected of moral people in different situations. However, these rules or examples, are for that situation or context and cannot be taken our of that context.

Hence when we look at the Sabbath law in the Old Testament, it was because of God having rested on the 7th day (Exodus 20:8-11), and also so that those working under us could have a weekly rest (Deuteronomy 5:11-15) and as a sign of the covenant between Israel and God (Exodus 31:13-15). When an individual gathered firewood on the Sabbath he was ordered by God to be stoned to death in Numbers 15:32ff. With the Sabbath becoming such an integral part of the Hebrew nation, we find Jesus taking the Sabbath law and reinterpreting its application in different contexts, showing that these laws not meant to be absolute but contextual. His example of David eating the shewbread in Matthew 12:3-4 is also along these lines. Leviticus 24:9 says that this bread was to be eaten only by the High Priest and his sons within the Holy place. But Jesus seems to say that the rule in Leviticus 24:9 was flexible. So, how does one decide on their behaviour, if rules are not absolute but contextual?

One solution put forward is that the rules were meant for the benefit of mankind (Deuteronomy 10:13) and to show what it means to live God and love man (Matthew 22:40), and so we need to understand how the law or rule does this and apply it accordingly.

Obviously in all this, the heart is paramount. If the heart is wicked, it will be used to abuse the law, and justify all kinds of horrendous actions like slavery in the past. But if the heart is right, then it can help moving from cold rule observance to warm morality.

What happens when culture changes?

A lot of the rules of the Old Testament were contextual to the culture of the time. Examples would be the laws on slavery (Deuteronomy 15:12-18), divorce (Deuteronomy 14:1-4, Matthew 19:7-9), and treatment of disobedient children (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). As culture changed, these laws were done away with. Today we are living in a rapidly changing culture as the world changes with unprecedented rapidity over the last twenty years. Before the old culture has died the new has come, creating culture wars in the church. These culture wars have created new churches as one culture moves out and forms a new church.

As an example, in the past, teaching was by rote, and the dominance of the teachers on the students. This has changed as we have moved to learning by dialogue, and questioning. This has led to a change in the culture of schools and colleges. These students come to the church and find a strange culture where you are not allowed to question dogma and authority. Who is having integrity in this battle? The old with their authoritarianism or the new with their questioning? Is the integrity of the new seen in being the same on the inside and the outside or in being obedient on the outside though my inside does not agree?


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