Sermon series: Godly Virtues
One of my favorite baseball stories doesn't involve big-name stars or major league baseball. It's about kids, just starting to play the game. The story appeared a few years ago in Sports Illustrated.
The game was played in Wellington, Florida. In it, a seven-year-old first baseman, Tanner Munsey, fielded a ground ball and tried to tag a runner going from first to second base.
The umpire, Laura Benson, called the runner out, but young Tanner immediately ran to her side and said, "Ma'am, I didn't tag the runner." Umpire Benson reversed herself, sent the runner to second base, and Tanner's coach gave him the game ball for his honesty.
Two weeks later, Laura Benson was again the umpire and Tanner was playing shortstop when a similar play occurred. This time Benson ruled that Tanner had missed the tag on a runner going to third base, and she called the runner safe. Tanner looked at Benson and, without saying a word, tossed the ball to the catcher and returned to his position. Benson sensed something was wrong. "Did you tag the runner?" she asked Tanner.
His reply: "Yes."
Benson then called the runner out. The opposing coaches protested until she explained what had happened two weeks earlier. "If a kid is that honest," she said, "I have to give it to him. This game is supposed to be for kids."
Will Tanner be as honest when he is thirty-seven as he is now when he is seven?
Who is honest? Where are the Tanner Munseys in our world? Does anyone tell the truth anymore?
I. The importance of honesty
Honesty is of utmost importance in human relations. Every social activity, every human experience requiring people to act in concert, is impeded when people aren't honest with one another. The honesty that I am talking about is not just informing an umpire that you did or did not tag a base runner out; it is not just truth-telling; it is truth-living.
It is the honesty that the prophet Jeremiah sought, "Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city" (Jer. 5:1 NIV).
It is the same honesty that the philosopher Diogenes sought in Athens and Corinth. "With Candle and Lanthorn, when the Sun shin'd I sought Honest Men, but none could I find."
Could Diogenes and Jeremiah find an honest person among us? Are you honest?
Did you know that the average person tells about thirteen lies per week?
Paul Ekman, professor of psychology at the University of California Medical School and author of Telling Lies, has been studying lies for twenty years. His research has revealed that we don't even realize when we're lying.
The book, When America Told the Truth, claims that 30 percent of those consulted admitted that they would "cheat on their taxes - to a point," the assumption is a huge lie is more likely to audited than a small one. A walloping 64 percent agreed with the statement, "I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn't cause any real damage." The moral and spiritual damage that lying does to the liar was apparently not pondered.
USA Today cited a report that indicated that 58.4 percent of Americans have called in sick to get a day off from work. And 76 percent of Americans consistently exceed the speed limit.
So, let me ask you again, are you honest? In the last twenty-four hours have you been completely honest?
We live in a world that values tolerance over truth. The age of relativism teaches people to not value truth as a top priority. Isn't it about time that we who call ourselves followers of Christ, the one who called himself "The Truth," become known for our honesty?
II. An example of honesty
An interesting story occurs in 2 Kings 12. Joash was King of Judah. He noticed that the temple was in need of repair. The mortar was falling out between the bricks. The walls were crumbling. Water damage was evident all around. The gold and bronze was tarnished. There was trash and debris everywhere. So he starts a fundraising program. He places a chest at the entrance door of the temple with an opening in the top so people could drop in their offerings for the temple repairs. When the chest became full the money was given to the building superintendents so they could pay the carpenters, stonemasons, quarrymen, timber dealers, and stone merchants, and to buy the needed materials.
What do you think these building superintendents did with the money? Like any profession, dishonest building superintendents given the honest superintendents a bad name. Some pocket the money. Others use the honest to pay old debts. Still others mismanage the funds trying to keep several projects going at once. But how did the Joash's building superintendents handle the money? Look at verse fifteen: "No accounting was required from the men who received the money to pay those doing the work, since they worked with integrity" (2 Kings 12:15). The NIV states, ". . . they acted with complete honesty" (2 Kings 12:15 NIV).
That's the kind of people I want if I am ever building a house? Or a church? In fact, that is the kind of people I want around me in all of my dealings? Don't you?
III. Some observations about honesty
Let me make some observations about honesty, from this story.
A. Honesty is always the best policy
Coming home from work, a woman stopped at the corner deli to buy a chicken for supper. The butcher reached into a barrel, grabbed the last chicken he had, flung it on the scales behind the counter, and told the woman its weight.
She thought for a moment. "I really need a bit more chicken than that," she said. "Do you have any larger ones?"
Without a word, the butcher put the chicken back into the barrel, groped around as though finding another, pulled the same chicken out, and placed it on the scales. "This chicken weighs one pound more," he announced.
The woman pondered her options and then said, "Okay. I'll take them both."
Honesty is still the best policy.
Four students arrived late to take a test. "And what is your excuse?" inquired the teacher.
"We had a flat tire," they all said in unison.
Without getting upset, the teacher asked the students to take their seats. "The test is but one question," said the teacher. "Which tire went flat?"
Honesty is still, and will always be, the best policy.
That is why the writer of Proverbs wrote, "Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue, only a moment" (Proverbs 12:19).
Honesty is the best policy. Next -
B. Honesty makes you complete
To be honest is to be real, genuine, authentic, and bona fide. To be dishonest is to be partly feigned, forged, fake, or fictitious. Honesty expresses a disposition to live in the light. Dishonesty seeks shade, cover, or concealment. It is a disposition to live partly in the dark.
Notice again what the text says of these building superintendents, "They worked with integrity" (2 Kings 12:15) or "They acted in complete honesty" (2 Kings 12:15 NIV). The building superintendents of Joash were completely honest and that made them complete.
We all want to be whole, complete, men and women of integrity. The words complete, whole, integrity all share a common value. Integrity comes from the word integer. And we use it in reference to numbers. An integer is a whole number. Likewise, a person of integrity is a whole person, or a complete person. And in the end that is what we want. For in the end they don't say at your funeral or write on your tombstone how much money you made or your title at work, but what kind of person you were.
In his book Integrity, Ted Engstrom tells this story. For Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School in Conyers, Georgia, it was their championship season: 21 wins and 5 losses on the way to the Georgia Boys Basketball Tournament last March, then a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the state finals.
But now the new glass trophy case outside the high school gymnasium is bare. Earlier this month the Georgia High School Association deprived Rockdale County of the championship after school officials said that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the school's five postseason games.
"We didn't know he was ineligible at the time; we didn't know it until a few weeks ago," Mr. Stroud said. "Some people have said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and the player wasn't an impact player. But you've got to do what's honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; they don't ever forget what you're made of."
Coach Cleveland Stroud, may your tribe increase.
C. Honesty pleases God
Yes, we should practice honesty because of the social ramifications. But, we should also, and more importantly, practice honesty because it pleases God. As children of the light, we should walk in the light of truthfulness and faithfulness. The Proverb says, "Lying lips are detestable to the LORD, but faithful people are His delight" (Proverbs 12:22).
As followers of Christ, we aren't honest because society tells us to be honest. Our society isn't honest. And, worse, even rewards those who get away with dishonesty. It is evident in our government, our politicians, our judicial system, our businesses, our schools. The pervasive thought is if you can get away with it, more power to you. In other words, if you don't get caught, then dishonesty is okay.
As followers of Christ, we are honesty because we abide by a different standard and a different guide. Our society says tolerance is the norm; Christianity says truth is the norm. Our society says there is no right and wrong, everything is subjective; Christianity says there is right and wrong, there are absolutes. Society reduces truth to personal preference as long as you are sincere; Christianity says truth is truth regardless of your preference; you can be sincere, but sincerely wrong.
D. Honesty is best developed when taken seriously
Honesty is best cultivated, like most virtues, when exercised and developed in harmony with the other virtues. The more honesty is exercised, the more it becomes a settled disposition. In three words: take it seriously. Take recognition of the fact that honesty is a fundamental ingredient for human exchange; it is a fundamental element for integrity; it is a fundamental requirement for followers of Christ.
I would challenge you to deliberately live an honest life for the next twenty-four hours. Would you do that? That is for the next twenty-four hours refuse to lie, deceive, or shade the truth. Say what you have to say, not what you ought to say. Make your word your bond. Match you walk with your talk. Keep the promises you make.
This effort will not be easy. It will require your total effort and concentration. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote, "Many of you have already found out, and others will find out in the course of their lives, that truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit."
Allow me to close with another story about a child and honesty. This story, as did the opening story, occurs in Florida. A young lady was soaking up the sun's rays on a Florida beach when a little boy in his swimming trunks, carrying a towel, came up to her and asked her, "Do you believe in God?"
She was surprised by the question but replied, "Why, yes, I do."
Then he asked her: "Do you go to church every Sunday?"
Again, her answer was "Yes!"
Then he asked: "Do you read your Bible and pray every day?"
Again she said, "Yes!"
But by now her curiosity was very much aroused. At last the lad sighed and said, with obvious relief, "Will you hold my quarter while I go swimming?"
Likewise, God is looking for some honest people? People in whom he can trust? People who will be honest in all their dealings? People whose walk matches their talk? People who keep the promises they make? People whose word is their bond? Will you be that person?