Corruption is a chronic condition of the human heart. I recall someone from Durban once telling me about an interview he had with a prospective accountant. He asked the applicant, “Are you honest?’ The applicant answered, “Yes, but not fanatically honest, if you know what I mean!” We had some fun imagining what it means to be just moderately honest!
It’s hard not to get despondent when you read about yet another official on the gravy train, spewing lies and selling out his people for money. In South Africa, the sheer scale of looting is estimated at R1 trillion, mainly due to the corrupt awarding of contracts and mismanagement of public funds. The Zondo Commission noted that ANC ‘cadre deployment’ was a great enabler in state capture.
Corruption is not a victimless crime, as it’s always the poor and working class who suffer from poor education and healthcare; crime and unemployment because leaders have drained the public coffers.
Throughout the world, the last two years have shown us that politicians, media, so-called experts and the health industries are corrupt on many levels, with scientists, doctors and safety councils being bought off just as easily as politicians. No wonder trust of authority is at an all time low. People know they’ve been lied to and they’re weary of broken promises.
But the Bible tells Christians not to conform to our culture. We are God’s distinctive people, called out of the city of man “so that we will not share in her sins, so that we will not receive any of her plagues” (Rev 18:4).
Where our society has normalized lying, bribery, kickbacks, censorship, conflicts of interest and collusion, God’s Word tells believers to draw a clear line in the sand. As citizens of the city of God, we are called to be fanatical about honesty! Psalm 15 gives us some practical standards to determine how we are doing as Christians as we enter a fresh year.
1 Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?
Who may live on your holy mountain?
2 The one whose walk is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart;
3 whose tongue utters no slander,
who does no wrong to a neighbor,
and casts no slur on others;
4 who despises a vile person
but honors those who fear the Lord;
who keeps an oath even when it hurts,
and does not change their mind;
5 who lends money to the poor without interest;
who does not accept a bribe against the innocent.
Whoever does these things
will never be shaken. (Ps 15)
Who may dwell in your sacred tent?
King David presents an important question, “Who can come before God?” He ends on an assuring note: “He who does these things will never be shaken.”
In one sense, it is a figurative question because David may have wished to live in the house of God (the tabernacle), but it was impossible for him. David was not a priest and he was a sinner. No one can come before a holy God unless they are perfectly blameless.
Yet, in another sense, David is also asking, “Who may be received as a guest into God’s tent, enjoying all the benefits and protections of his hospitality? Who may live as a citizen of his holy kingdom? What is the character of the one who walks in fellowship with God, whose heart, mind and actions are in sync with God’s character?”
David wrote a thousand years before Jesus, from an Old Covenant perspective. The New Covenant gives us the hindsight of the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. If we have put our faith in Jesus, He has declared us blameless. This imputed righteousness is the basis by which we come before God. There is no other way to approach God and live in fellowship with Him.
Nonetheless, David’s Psalm is still applicable today, because it tells us that the conduct of our lives is a reflection of our fellowship with God. A righteous life is the result of fellowship with God, based on faith in Christ. The same God, now living amongst his people by his Holy Spirit, says that our bodies are His ‘temple’ or ‘sacred tent’. And so, all of life is worship.
This Psalm tells us that worship is about down-to-earth behaviour, rather than a religious gathering or an emotional experience. It’s not what we claim to be nor how sincere our intentions are. It’s what we actually do and say on an daily basis that demonstrates we are people of integrity. In Psalm 15, authentic worship is marked by seven habits:
Seven habits of a true worshipper.
- Speak truth;
- Resist slander;
- Despise evil people;
- Honour good people;
- Resist bribes;
- Give generously,
- Keep our promises (even when it hurts).
These seven marks of integrity apply every day of the week– in business, at home, in online activities, church and Bible study, at school and university, in politics and everywhere. They apply irrespective of our age, race, culture or social standing. Let’s think through the implications of some of these ‘rules of life.’
Speak the truth.
God’s character and standards haven’t changed since King David’s day. Lying lips are still “an abomination to the Lord, but they who deal truly are his delight” (Prov 12:22). “A false witness will perish, but a careful listener will testify successfully” (Prov 21:28). God has not changed.
The New Testament teaches that a righteous life is known by the way a person uses their tongue. Christ himself said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt 12:34). He taught that we need to say a simple “Yes” or “No”, and mean it. Anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matt 5:37). Oath or no oath, simply speak the truth and stick by it. There are no grey areas in being truthful.
But “speaking the truth from our heart” goes beyond not telling outright lies. It is about living a life of integrity, where there is consistency between what we believe, what we say, and what we do. How we treat our neighbour is a measure of our integrity.
Integrity in all things, big and small, is the distinguishing mark of a believer in Christ. (Eph 4:17-25). A believer learns the truth (Eph 4:20-25); lives the truth (Eph 4:22) and loves the truth (Eph 4:25). The new self is created to be “like God in true righteousness and holiness…therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour” (Eph 4:25).
So let’s get to where the rubber hits the road!
Speaking the truth requires that we never plagiarise or steal another person’s words, ideas or invention, but always acknowledge our sources. We don’t pretend to be smarter than we are by inflating our CV or creating a false persona. Instead, we align ourselves with reality: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you” (Rom 12:3).
Speaking the truth means that we don’t invent or listen to propaganda, because propaganda is a twisted form of speech that misleads people with half truths. It means that we do not suppress or hide the truth with word play or by ignoring empirical facts, even if we think censorship is for the ‘greater good’. Truth lovers support transparency and free debate. They are careful not to manipulate data or build a straw man in order to demolish another person’s arguments.
A truth speaker speaks the truth even when it’s awkward. This may come at great personal cost. Speaking the truth at work may require us to expose sexual harassment or theft in our organisation, or it may lead us to write an open letter to expose injustice and demand accountability. It may require us to explain the gospel clearly or answer a hard question at a dinner party of atheists. Proclaiming truth from the rooftops has never been a popular activity, but that is what Christ calls us to do (Matt 10:27).
Speaking the truth may require us to be a whistleblower or to advocate for voiceless victims. It may mean that we engage in civil disobedience when laws are unjust. Speaking truth to power is the duty of a Christ follower in whatever small sphere of influence we have.
The midwives did it in Egypt; Daniel and his friends did it in Babylon; the Prophets confronted Israel’s corrupt leaders; Esther risked her life to approach King Xerxes and expose Haman’s plot to exterminate the Jews. Jocabed hid her baby son Moses in a basket boat to resist the genocidal edict of the Pharoah. The Magi quietly disobeyed a murderous king, while John the Baptist confronted Herod about his immorality. We have plenty of examples of believers who drew a line in the sand and acted with integrity.
Speaking the truth means keeping our promises, even when it hurts. We must be known as people of our word, trustworthy and dependable. And so, a Christian is serious about their marriage vows; their Hippocratic or judicial oath; their testimony and their agreements, verbal or written. But a Christian is equally serious about everyday words, commitments and silences. Simply let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matt 5:37).
Our tongues must utter no slander or slur which harms our neighbour. Therefore, a Christian cannot join cancel culture in discrediting, silencing, demonizing, isolating or smearing someone’s reputation. It is an affront to Christ to use insulting epithets to describe people or to remain silent when others do so. Instead of ad hominem attacks, a Christian should engage respectfully with ideas, arguments and evidence.
Sometimes our faith demands courage. There are too many people being robbed of their good names simply for being honest, instead of parroting the accepted narrative. I’ve heard few Christians speak up about this slander. But righteousness is expressed in the way we treat one another and defend our neighbour. Is it not possible for our silence to violate the ninth commandment, “Do not give false testimony against your neighbour?” (Ex 20:16).
Human nature hasn’t changed since David’s day, because the problems of rebellion and sin are deep-seated. The hearts of men and women haven’t evolved beyond greed, envy, deceit and the desire to control and destroy others. As virtuous and caring as our culture may appear, contemporary humanity pays no attention to God’s laws. But as citizens of the city of God, we must love God’s laws and resist everything that is crooked.
God still hates all forms of extortion and inducements, and the Bible has plenty to say about the gravy train! (Eccl 7:7) We would be naïve to assume that our children innately understand the implications of dishonest gain when it is so commonplace in our society. The lines might be blurred for them.
So, we have a duty to teach our kids not to chase unearned gifts and rewards. They should be taught to flee from inducements of any kind. Think of how even the godly prophet Samuel and the high Priest Eli failed to teach their sons, and so the next generation abused their power and the people under their care.
“But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:3).
Here are five biblical marks of bribery:
1.Bribery is cleverly disguised deception: “Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds those who see and twists the words of the innocent. (Exodus 23:8)
2. Bribery is an act of oppression and a perversion of justice. No matter how secret, it is always seen by God. “The wicked accept bribes in secret to pervert the course of justice.” (Proverbs 17:23). “For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. There are those who oppress the innocent and take bribes and deprive the poor of justice in the courts” (Deut 16:19).
3. Bribery is an act of theft, which leads the most vulnerable to suffer: “Your rulers are rebels,
partners with thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts.
They do not defend the cause of the fatherless, the widow’s case does not come before them. (Isa 1:23)
4. Bribery corrupts the heart of the giver and the recipient: “Extortion turns a wise person into a fool, and a bribe corrupts the heart” (Eccl 7:7).
5. Bribery leads to God’s judgment and consequences which affect whole families and generations to come: “For the company of the godless will be barren,
and fire will consume the tents of those who love bribes” (Job 15:34)
A fanatically honest man.
If you recognize your own dishonesty or regret that you’ve been involved in collusion or ill-gotten gain, take heart. If we are honest with ourselves, we should all see that we fail to live lives of integrity on many fronts.
Zacchaeus was once a dishonest tax collector who robbed his own people to enrich himself. He was a sell- out and an extortionist. He worked in an industry where state-sanctioned theft was the norm. But when he met Jesus, Zacchaeus was convicted. He repented of his own corruption and became an honest man. Instead of being a cheat, he repaid his victims four times over and generously gave to the poor. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” (Luke 19:8-10).
Zacchaeus was lost in his corruption until the day he met Jesus and made Christ the Lord of his life. He expressed his new faith and forgiveness by becoming a fanatically honest man. Christ is willing and able to help each of us to do the same.
Listen to Matt Papa’s song, His Mercy is More:
“The vilest sinner who truly believes
That moment from Jesus a pardon receives.”