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A pastor who was boarding a bus one Monday morning paid his fare to the driver, who gave him too much change. So the pastor went back to the driver and said, “Excuse me, sir. You gave me back too much change.”
The driver replied, “No, Pastor, I didn’t give you too much change. I was at your church yesterday. You preached on honesty, so I just thought I would put you to the test.”
There are a lot of tests in life to see if we have character, or integrity. Character is what you are when you are all alone, what you do when there is no one around to impress. It has been said that the measure of someone’s character is what they would do if they never would be found out.
That seems to be the motivation for a lot of things in life. Why do we not do this or that? Why do we not speed? Because we don’t want to get pulled over by the highway patrol.
Integrity comes in where the fear of being caught leaves off. Fear is a fine deterrent, and it has its place. But a better motive is wanting to do what is right.
D.L. Moody defined character as what you are in the dark. It comes down to what you think about when you are all alone. What television programs are on your list to record? What websites do you visit? What would these things say about you?
What makes you sad? What makes you mad? What makes you laugh? What makes you angry? A German proverb says, “A man shows his character by what he laughs at.” Everyone has character of some kind.
Character is simply a long habit continued. It has been said, “Sow a thought, reap an act; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.”
As a pastor, I am sometimes asked the question, “Is it OK for a Christian to do …?” Is it all right to listen to this? Is it all right to go to that? These are not always easy questions to answer. But I have a little test that can be applied the next time you come to one of those so-called “gray areas”:
One, does it build you up spiritually? There are things that, if you do them, are not necessarily outright sins, but they can begin to tear you down spiritually. They can weaken your resolve and dull your hunger for spiritual things or for spending time with people of God.
Two, does it bring you under its power? The apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any” (1 Corinthians 6:12 NKJV). For me, here is what it comes down to: I don’t want to be under the power of anything or anyone apart from Jesus Christ. And if I need that particular thing every single day, or if I can’t get through my day without it, then something is wrong. That is coming under the power of someone or something else.
Three, do I have an uneasy conscience about it? Someone else may be doing a certain thing that isn’t bringing them down spiritually, but if you were to do it, it would be a violation of your conscience. It is like having different metabolisms. I know someone who can eat anything he wants and doesn’t seem to ever put on a pound. I tell him, “One of these days your metabolism is going to change.” It happened to me. When I was younger, I could eat anything I wanted, when I wanted, and I was as thin as I could be. One of my favorite things was called a Macho Combo Burrito. If I were to eat one today, I probably would need to check in to a hospital. The same can be true for us spiritually. What may be OK for another person to do might be a violation of conscience for you.
Four, could it cause someone else to stumble in their faith? If you want to live a life of integrity, you can’t say, “I don’t care what other people think. I will do whatever I want.” Again, Paul wrote, “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19 NLT). Your decisions affect others. You have to factor that in.
Every day, we are faced with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of decisions about doing either the right or the wrong thing. If you do a certain thing, you will get there before anybody else does. … If you lie just a little bit, you can cut this corner. … If you cheat just a little bit, you can pass this test. … There always will be those temptations to take the shortcut, the easy path, instead of doing what is right and what is honorable before God.
The evening of a life is determined by the morning of it. The end is determined by the beginning. The decisions you make today will play out tomorrow.
I can think of friends I knew who started out with so much promise. What great dedication they had. But they made little compromises with their lives. And with the passing of time, little things became big things. Little problems became big problems.
You can compile an impressive and long list of accomplishments in life, but if you don’t have integrity, it doesn’t really matter. If you don’t have character, it undermines all the other things that you do.
So how are you doing on your resolutions for 2011 so far? To be a man or woman of character should be at the top of your list. Because the stand you make today will determine what kind of stand you make tomorrow.