Hey, how about taking a Bible if you brought one? Let's open it to Acts chapter 20.
We're going to be continuing in our study of the life of that great man, the apostle Paul. And I want to start today with a quote. So here's the quote. He quotes our political figures, this one essential, the truth shall make you free. End of quote.
You go, wow, that's a great quote. Who said that? Was it Abraham Lincoln? Did he say that?
Or Billy Graham? Maybe he said that. Mother Teresa, maybe she said that. No, no it wasn't. The person who said this was Martha Stewart.
Yeah, that's right. Who, as we all know, went on trial this past week in New York for securities fraud and obstruction of justice, joining a long list of other corporate executives who lately have gone on trial accused or convicted of unethical and criminal behavior. Now, you know, folks, this lack of integrity that we're seeing in the corporate world is not unique just to the corporate world. Even in the Christian community here in America, we've got our problems. We started with Jim and Tammy Baker and then, of course, there was Jimmy Swaggart. And then there were the primetime exposés on television of people like Robert Tilton and Larry Lee and other televangelists. And, of course, much in the news lately are the child sexual abuse situations with some Roman Catholic priests. And the result of all of this is that people here in secular America have begun to seriously wonder about this thing we call the Christian faith.
We have been seriously discredited. Now, our question for today is how can we, as sincere followers of Jesus Christ, people who don't cheat others out of money, people who don't abuse children, people who don't carry Uzis in the front seats of our car and have AK-47s in the basement, how can we restore, re-establish our credibility, the credibility of Jesus Christ, the credibility of the Christian faith in the eyes of a secular world that considers all of us a bunch of hypocrites? How do we do that? Well, the answer is very simple. It's by being people by living lives of personal integrity. And that's what I want to talk to you about today because that's what the Apostle Paul is going to talk about today as he finishes his speech to these Ephesian elders that we've been studying.
So let me give you a little bit of background. Remember, here in Acts chapter 20, that the Apostle Paul is on his third missionary journey, finishing it up. He's on his way back to Jerusalem with an offering, with money, that the Gentile churches in Greece have collected and sent to the poor believers in Jerusalem.
He's working his way south down the coast of Turkey and he's come to the city of Miletus, not far from the large town of Ephesus. And here he invites the leaders of the church at Ephesus, the church he started, to come and meet with him at Miletus, knowing it's the last time you'll ever see him here on the face of the earth. When they arrive, he gives them a little speech.
It's a speech that we've been going over for the last few weeks. It's a speech in which Paul lays out for them the principles that shaped his life and drove his ministry and made him the man that he was and the servant of God that he was. And I've been telling you the last few weeks that if you really aspire to be a man of God, a woman of God, a great servant of God, the principles here in this little speech are the most significant principles anywhere in the Bible for you and me. Now we've covered four out of the five and they are, number one, the principle of obedience to God. Principle number two, absolute surrender to God's will. Principle number three, a passion for sharing Jesus Christ with other people. Number four, a passion for God's written word.
And finally today we're going to look at the last principle and finish this speech up, the principle of personal integrity. So let's look together, Acts chapter 20 verse 32. Paul says, And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who belong to God.
I have coveted no one silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine supplied my own needs as well as the needs of my companions. Now Acts chapter 19 tells us that the apostle Paul spent almost three years in the town of Ephesus building the church there from 54 to 57 A.D. And what Paul's talking about here is that during the time he was there, he worked for a living. He supported himself and he supported his entire team of six to 12 people by making tents while he was there in Ephesus.
And that's what he's talking about. In verse 35 he goes on to say, In everything I did, I showed you that by working hard in this manner, we must help the weak. Notice Paul not only used the money he earned to support himself and his team, he also gave money away to the weak, to the poor, to the needy people in town, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.
Now when Paul says in verse 35 that he worked hard, he's not exaggerating. Remember we said in Acts 19, let's review Paul's daily schedule in Ephesus. From 6 A.M. till 11 A.M. the apostle Paul made tents and sold them in the marketplace. Then when everybody else went home to take a siesta because it got too hot to work in the middle of the day, the apostle Paul went instead and taught the disciples every day in the school of Tyrannus, he taught them the word of God. Then from 4 to 6 in the afternoon after teaching for five hours, he went from house to house. Acts chapter 20 verse 20 tells us this, talking to people, counseling with people, praying with people, trying to lead people to Christ. And then he went back at 6 P.M. and worked until 10 o'clock at night making and selling tents again because that was the custom in Ephesus.
After the heat of the day died away, they opened back up again in the evening down in the marketplace. Now this was the grueling schedule from 6 A.M. to 10 P.M. every day that the apostle Paul kept for almost three years while he was in Ephesus. You say, well Lon, I don't understand. I mean, why didn't the church people there get together, collect some money and help this poor man? Why didn't they give him some support so he didn't have to go out and kill himself like this every single day?
Well, the answer is they tried. The answer is they wanted to give him some money. He wouldn't take it.
You say, why not? Well, for the same reason he wouldn't take any money when he spent a year and a half in Corinth working to support himself. And he tells us the answer here in 1 Corinthians 9.
He says, watch, look on the screen. He says in verse 6, Is it really necessary that I must work for a living? Whoever serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and doesn't eat from its fruit? Even the Bible says this. Paul says, You shall not muzzle the ox while he's treading out the grain.
The Bible even says, You let the ox have a little bit of the fruit of his labor while he's working. So then, Paul says, since I have sown spiritual seed among you, that is, I came to the town. I preached Jesus first there. I started the church. I led all you guys to Christ.
Since I did that, is it inappropriate that I should reap material support from you? Don't I have the right to be supported by you believers in Corinth while I'm there ministering the word of God? Well, of course you have that right, Paul. Verse 12. But, Paul says, I did not use this right. I didn't use it in Corinth when I was there for 18 months. And as we just saw him say in Acts chapter 20, he didn't use it in Ephesus when he was there for three years.
The Bible tells us that he worked for a living in all of these places and didn't take advantage of the God-given right that he had to be supported by the church there. And you say, Well, why? Why would he do that?
Well, here's the answer. Verse 12. I did not use this right, look, so that I might in no way hinder the spread of the message of Christ.
You say, What in the world does he mean by that? Friends, what he means is that even in the days of the apostles, there were people who were convinced that this Jesus Christ thing was just a big hoax and that Paul was a big con artist and all he was trying to do was separate people and their money. Now, Paul knew as long as people felt this way about him, they were never going to listen to what he had to say. And he also knew the only way to change these feelings, the only way to change this kind of thinking was to be a person and to live a life of such obvious personal integrity, to live a life that was oozing and dripping with such personal integrity that, as Peter says, 1 Peter 2.15, it would put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. This is why, and this is important for us to know, this is why the apostle Paul never allowed the churches he started, he never allowed them to pay his expenses while he was ministering in that town, ever. I mean, think about it, if you're a scam artist and you refuse to take money from people who are trying to give it to you, you are either the dumbest, calm man to ever live or maybe you're a person of integrity with the sincere motives that you say you have and if that's true, well then maybe I ought to listen to what you're saying, huh? Friends, this is what the apostle Paul is trying to get across to these Ephesian church leaders and what he's trying to get across to us, simply that the personal integrity of the messenger has everything to do with how people respond to the message.
Let me repeat that. The personal integrity of the messenger has everything to do with how people respond to the message. And so this is the fifth great principle that the apostle Paul shares with these church leaders. He says to them, if you guys want to be mighty servants of Christ like I am, if you want to see God use your life in awesome ways like he's using my life, there are some non-negotiables, friend, and they are. Number one, obedience to God.
You got to do what God tells you to do. Number two, you've got to have absolute surrender to God's will, whatever that might be. Non-negotiable, number three, you've got to have a passion for sharing Jesus Christ everywhere you go. As John Wesley said, you've got to see the world as your parish. Number four, there's got to be a passion for God's written word in your life.
And number five and finally, you've got to be a person whose life drips and oozes personal integrity. Now that's as far as we want to go in the speech today. We finished it because it's time for us to ask our really important question. And I know you're saving some of your energy for tomorrow because it's the first day of the work week, but you're not going to work tomorrow. So you might as well use it up today. So here we go. Ready?
One, two, three. So what? Yeah, there you go. You say, Lord, so what? Okay, so the apostle Paul worked hard. Okay, so he had a lot of integrity. So yada yada.
So what difference does that make to my life? Well, let's make that connect, shall we? Did you see this week that the Salvation Army received a gift?
Did you see that? They received a gift of $1.5 billion from the estate of Joan Kroc, the wife of Ray Kroc, the founder of McDonald's. Now this was only part of the estate that was divvied up this past Tuesday. The actual total estate totaled somewhere between $2 and $3 billion. Friends, can you imagine having a net worth of $2 to $3 billion? Well, you could have, you know. If you'd have thought of two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun first, you'd have had $2 million.
If you'd have thought of it, Ray thought of it, and that's why he had it. Well, you say, yeah, you're right, Lon. That's a lot of money. Having money is great.
Well, it is. Well, let me give you an interesting verse from the Bible. Proverbs 28, 6. It is better to be a poor man and walk with integrity than to be a rich man whose ways are crooked. Is the Bible against people being rich?
No. But what the Bible is telling us here is that the most important commodity for a follower of Jesus Christ to have is not money, it's personal integrity. Now, friends, before we go on, maybe we should take a quick moment and define integrity so we're sure we're all talking about the same thing. What is integrity? Well, let me give you a definition. Integrity means doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason.
Let's take that apart. Integrity means doing the right thing. You say, well, yeah, Lon, that's a problem. In our relativistic world today, it's kind of hard sometimes to know what the right thing is. Well, let me answer that and tell you it really isn't, friends. Psalm 19, verse 8 says the precepts of the Lord are right. And if you want to know what's right in any given situation in your life, let me tell you what to do. You take the commands of the Bible and the principles of the Bible and you superimpose them on your situation and I promise you the right thing to do will quickly bubble to the surface. For example, the Word of God calls us to tell the truth, to respect authority, to be honest and upright in our dealings with other men and women, to be faithful to our spouse, to be people of full disclosure who don't engage in deceit and manipulation, to speak well of other people, to forgive people who've hurt us, to refrain from revenge, to do unto others as you would have others do unto you, and on and on and on.
These are the right things that the Bible tells us that we should do. Integrity means doing the right thing in the right way, second of all. You know, we just celebrated this year the 31st anniversary of Watergate. And in Watergate, President Richard Nixon and his pals were trying to do a right thing. They were trying to get re-elected. Now in Washington, that's a right thing. But the way they went about doing it left a lot to be desired.
Breaking and entering, burglary, wire tapping, violation of campaign finance laws, sabotage, conspiracy, perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. Now would we call these people men of integrity who did all of this? Of course not.
Why? It wasn't that they weren't trying to do a right thing, it was the way they went about doing it. See friends, integrity means that we're just as careful about how we do something as the something that we're trying to do. And third, integrity means doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason.
And what's the right reason? 1 Corinthians 10, 31. Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. We can do the right thing and we can do it in the right way. But if we're doing it for the wrong reason, if we're doing it with the wrong motive, if we're doing things simply to be noticed by people, to be honored by people, to get prestige and notoriety in front of people to advance our own glory, our own reputation and build our own little kingdom, then as far as God is concerned, these are still not acts of true integrity. Integrity is doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason.
And Paul tells these Ephesian elders, and he's also telling you and me in the 21st century as followers of Christ, that we can never become men and women of God. We can never see God use our life to the absolute maximum until we get serious about the issue of personal integrity. Now in closing today, I kind of want to give you three practical outworkings of this. Three ways, three corollaries if you will, as to how this issue of integrity works out in our lives as followers of Christ. Here's the first one, practical outworking number one, is that integrity means doing the right thing when nobody knows but you and God. You know we all have the opportunities, you do, I do, to do the wrong thing, to lie, to cheat, to steal, to deceive, to manipulate, when we know that nobody else in the whole world would ever find out about it, only we and God would really know. Now friends, integrity means that when we get those opportunities, we don't take them.
That we still do the right thing even if we and God are the only two people who are ever going to know about it. Several years ago I was leading a Footsteps of Paul tour and we were in Greece and it was going great and we went to Athens. I mean Athens is a pretty important city in Paul's missionary journeys. And we checked in in Athens this particular year, the guys who run the tours for me had gotten us the opportunity to stay at the greatest hotel in Athens, maybe the greatest hotel, one of them in Europe. It's called the Grand Britannia and it's right in downtown Athens and this hotel is well over 100 years old.
Winston Churchill stayed here, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stayed here, Princess Di stayed here. I mean this place, you walk in the lobby and you feel like you've gone back to the British colonial era, you know what I'm saying? I mean it's like I expected Gunga Din to come around the corner any minute. Some of you people don't know who Gunga Din is, do you?
Because you're too young. Well, I've got to think of somebody else. But anyway, Gunga Din I thought might come walking around the corner. So anyway, I check in my room and when I get in the room, I open the closet and here is this robe and this robe was just unbelievable. And I want to show you this robe, here it is. And I put this robe on and I mean this thing weighs about five pounds and it was perfect, I mean like it was tailored for me. It's got this beautiful crest on here of the Grand Britannia and I put this robe on and I said, oh my gosh, I love this robe, oh my gosh. So I started going, you know, if I put this robe in my suitcase and took it home, these people would probably never even know.
And if they did, what are they going to do? They're going to come to America looking for me to get a robe back? And it honestly crossed my mind to do that.
You say, I'm really, Lon, that's terrible. Well friends, let me just say if you've never ever thought about taking anything out of a hotel room, you shouldn't have taken. You come on up here right now, you start preaching and I'll go sit in the audience and listen to you. I'm just being honest with you, it did cross my mind. And the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear and said, Lon, integrity means doing the right thing when only you and me know about it.
I was like, shoot, all right, you're right God, you're right. So I folded it up at the end of my stay and I put it in my suitcase. I did. But when I went down the front desk, I said, I have a robe in my suitcase and I need to pay you for it.
And I did. So I got home and I got out the shower and I put on my new robe, I was so excited. And I walked out and I said to Brenda, what do you think?
Look, it's got the little crest on it and everything. And the first thing she said to me is, did you pay for that robe? I said, yes, I paid for the robe.
I did. She said, do you have proof? Do you have a receipt? I go, no, I don't have a receipt, but I promise you, I paid for the robe. So you see, for me, integrity means doing the right thing when only God and me and Brenda know that I did the right thing. Anyway, that's integrity. And I'll let you take this robe. Don't lose this, okay? Thank you very much.
All right. That's integrity. Now, the second practical outworking is, integrity means doing the right thing even when it's hard to do. I think of Abraham. God said, Abraham, Genesis 22, I want you to take your son, your only son, whom you love, take him to the mountain where I show you and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Man, can you imagine how hard that would be?
And I'm convinced Abraham, if that angel had not appeared and stopped Abraham, I'm convinced Abraham would have killed his son. That was the right thing to do to obey God, but how hard would that be? And friends, this is the second practical outworking that I want to tell you about, is that whenever we're confronted with any situation, I can promise you that the right choice, the choice that has true integrity associated with it, is always the hardest choice to make. That's why most people don't make that choice. Hey, listen, if being a person of integrity was easy, everybody be one. And you can be sure that given any situation, the hardest choice is going to be the one that's got integrity associated with it. That's just the way it is. Third and finally, integrity means doing the right thing even when it costs us something.
And it always does. Friends, almost without exception, when we take a stand for integrity, we're going to pay a price. Hey, because of integrity, Joseph went to jail for 13 years in Egypt. Because of integrity, Daniel went into the lion's den. Because of their integrity, Daniel's three friends went into the fiery furnace.
Because of integrity, Ruth ended up as a poor immigrant with her mother-in-law in Israel. Because of integrity, the apostle Paul worked from sun up to sun down for three years in Ephesus. Integrity is going to cost you something, but I got great news for you. 1 Samuel 2.30, God promises those who honor me, I will honor back. And you see, God honored Joseph and he honored Daniel and he honored Daniel's three friends and he honored Ruth. And he honored the apostle Paul because integrity honors God and God honors it back. And so here's the point. Yes, integrity may cost you something in the short run, but friends, you always win in the long run.
Because you activate God's promise where he says, do what has integrity, honor me, and I will supernaturally honor you back in a way that goes way beyond any price you ever paid to do integrity. Now, I golf every once in a while. I don't know, maybe some of you are golfers. I'm terrible.
I'm absolutely terrible. But I know good golf when I see it. And I know a little bit about golf. And I know that one of the greatest golfers of all time was a fellow named Bobby Jones. Bobby Jones, in 1925, lost a major, the U.S. Open, by one stroke when he called a penalty on himself that no PGA official was even able to confirm.
Let me tell you what happened. In the last round, Bobby Jones hit a ball into the woods. And when he went into the woods and found it, it was lying on some leaves. And he stood, and as he addressed the ball and touched his club behind the ball in the leaves, the ball spontaneously rolled a half a turn backwards.
Now, that's a one stroke penalty. He didn't do it intentionally. He made no contact with the ball. No one else had seen it.
Not even his own cat. He saw the ball roll. But after hitting it, he came out of the woods, went to the PGA official nearby, reported that it had happened, and insisted that he be assessed a one stroke penalty. And he lost the open by the one stroke penalty he assessed himself. Later, when he was asked about it, Bobby Jones said that he didn't regret doing it. He deserved no special credit for enforcing the rule on himself. And he said he would rather lose a tournament with a clean conscience than win it with a dirty one.
Well, let me tell you the rest of the story. In 1925, Bobby Jones had been playing on the tour for 12 years. He had only won two majors in 12 years and was thinking about giving up golf. He was discouraged. It seemed like he could never win the majors.
Something would always happen and he'd collapse. After he did this in the U.S. Open and lost it, he went on in the next four and a half years to win 11 out of 15 majors. Nobody has ever done that. He also, in 1930, did something that even Tiger Woods had never done. He won all four majors in the same calendar year.
Nobody before or since has ever done that. And then he retired. Hey, did God honor Bobby Jones for that one stroke penalty?
Did he change his career completely around? And you know, God's honor didn't stop when his golf career stopped. Bobby Jones had a little private tournament that he used to invite friends to every year. He designed the course and he would invite his buddies to come down and play with him down in Augusta, Georgia. And that little tournament that Bobby Jones started went on to become the most famous golf tournament in the world. We call it today the Masters. Hey, did God honor this guy's life for that little one stroke penalty?
You bet he did. But what did God say? Those who honor me, what? I'll honor. And you know, I know many of you, unless I miss my guests here, friends, many of you here today are facing some tough choices in your life where you've got integrity on one side, and it's going to cost you something, and it's the hardest choice you've got.
And on the other side, you've got all the easy decisions to make. And I'm here to challenge you. Choose integrity. All right, it's going to cost you.
All right, it's not easy. But friends, when you act with integrity, you activate the promise of God in your life that those who honor me, I will honor. Choose integrity. And what does integrity mean?
It means doing the right thing in the right way for the right reason even when nobody knows but you and God, even when it's hard to do, and even though it costs you something. These are the kind of people that Jesus Christ wants you and me to be if we claim to be his followers. Now let me close by saying if you're here today and you've never trusted Jesus in a real and personal way, and maybe one of the things that's really hanging you up is that you knew a follower of Christ once who did something really dirty, really nasty, really shady, and man, that just soured you on the whole Christian deal.
Then let me say to you, I understand how you feel, and I'm certainly not justifying what that person did. But folks, don't forget that if you look deep enough into the life of any follower of Christ, you're going to find cracks in our integrity. Hey, if we were perfect, we wouldn't need a savior. Remember that the trustworthiness of the Christian faith rises and falls not on the perfection of the followers of Christ, but on the perfection of Jesus himself. And until you can find something wrong with Jesus, believe me, the Christian faith works. The Christian faith is real, and it's trustworthy. And so if you're here today and you've had that happen, I personally apologize to you for whatever that person did to you.
I feel bad about that, and I'm sorry for that. But don't throw the baby out with the bath, friends. As long as Jesus Christ is a person of impeccable integrity, and he is, then the Christian faith still stands as real and strong, and I hope that'll help you. Let's pray together, shall we? Lord Jesus, thanks for talking to us today about what it takes to become a woman, a man, of God. Thanks for reminding us that these principles we've been talking about the last few weeks, that they're non-negotiable. And that if we really want to become men and women like Paul and see you use us like you did Paul, then we've got to take these principles with absolute seriousness. Father, my prayer is that you would change our life because we've been here and we've been learning these principles, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit, you would bring our lives around and align it with these principles.
Now, we won't be perfect, but God make us consistent. And in this area of personal integrity, I want to pray for people today who are facing some tough choices. And I ask you, God, to give them the courage to choose integrity. Give them the faith to know you're going to keep your promise that those who honor you, you will honor. And help them choose integrity. And may we be people here in this town, we who claim to follow Christ, who drip and ooze with so much personal integrity, that this town stops and is willing to listen to the message that we're carrying. Father, change this town because you change our lives. And we ask you to do this for your glory and honor. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
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