Scroll Top

Good Reasons for Not Cheating / Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

Matthew 5:17-20

Therefore, whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

The question on the job application read, have you ever been arrested? The applicant printed the word No in the space. The next question was a follow-up to the first. It asked, why? Not realizing he didn’t have to answer this part, one honest applicant wrote, I guess it’s because I never got caught.

A cartoon shows a company president announcing to his staff, Gentlemen, this year the trick is honesty. From one side of the conference table, a vice president says, brilliant. Across the table, another VP mutters, but so risky!

Two cleanshaven middle aged men are sitting together in a jail cell. One turns to the other and says: All along, I thought our level of corruption fell well within community standards.

We have a crisis in our land, a crisis of honesty, integrity, ethics, morality, what the Bible calls “righteousness.” Our newspapers and magazines are filled with stories of people and corporations who have slipped and fallen. We have become a nation of cheaters. Sometimes we cheat a little. Sometimes a lot. Is it that big a deal? The answer is a resounding “Yes.” For one thing, society suffers when we cheat.

A man confessed to his pastor that he stole something, a hammer from the steel mill where he worked. Everybody was doing it, he said. No big deal. His pastor, though, told him about a report in the newspapers that thefts at this mill averaged out to a thousand dollars a week. His hammer along with what others were taking was costing the company over $50,000 a year. To make up for that loss, the factory raises the price of steel. Consequently, everyone who buys a car, or an appliance, remodels his house, etc., must pay the price for your hammer. You didn’t hurt the company, you hurt everybody in this city. And that’s true. We hurt the entire society when integrity is not maintained.

We also hurt people we love. In a 1987 U.S. news and world report/CNN poll, Americans said that the quality which they thought was most important in a friend was honesty. It was more than twice as important as sharing common interests or having a sense of humor. Think how terrible it is to have a friend, or a child, or a parent, or a husband, or a wife, whom you can’t trust.

Something else: people of integrity are usually more successful in every aspect of their lives. In the long run it pays to do the right thing. In fact, according to a 1988 “Newsweek” article more and more large American corporations are enrolling their employees in business ethics courses. These corporations realize that the success of their business depends upon the personal integrity of each of their employees.

A company in Phoenix, Arizona during the 1970’s was shut off from the Mexican market because they refused to give payoffs to Mexican government officials. Something remarkable happened. The company’s ethics when they refused making the payoffs increased its status in the eyes of some Mexican businesspeople. Impressed by an American business that was bold enough to go against the system, a group of influential Mexicans lobbied the Mexican government to allow the company to open two Mexican dealerships. They’re doing a booming business. One reason is that people know they can trust them.

What’s true on the corporate level is true on the personal level. It pays to be a person of integrity. It may not appear so at times, but just hang in there. Sooner or later time will expose the person who cheats.

Of course, there’s one more thing to consider. Integrity, or righteousness, is a big deal because it matters to God. Jesus said, “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

We’ve been talking about integrity. Righteousness is an even more important concept. It carries the idea of doing right, but also of our “rightness” with God. We are to do right always because that’s what God requires of us.

Most people believe that the Christian Commandments are intentionally a little too severe like setting a clock half an hour ahead to make sure of not being late in the morning.

Ted Turner once said that the Ten Commandments are out of date. I wonder which ones he would get rid of. Thou shalt not kill? Absurd. Or thou shalt not steal? Try stealing CNN’s signal without paying for it. Probably he had in mind, thou shalt not commit adultery. A cartoon in a national magazine showed Moses with two tablets under his arm coming down a mountain. I’ve got good news and bad news. the good news is I got Him down to ten. The bad news is adultery is still in there.

Turner has been wrong before. The Ten Commandments will never be obsolete. Adultery is just as serious now as then. And Jesus did not intentionally make His teachings a little too severe. He knew that happiness comes from living according to God’s laws. Breaking those laws, or sin, brings unhappiness and even death. The life of integrity, or righteousness, is the life God intends for us to live. So, integrity is a big deal. We hurt society and others when we don’t maintain integrity. Integrity is the key to successful living. It’s essential to a right relationship with God.

How shall we be people of integrity? How shall we have righteousness surpassing that of the Pharisees? Let me give you four very important guidelines.

One. Always be honest; if you can’t be honest, remove yourself from the situation. Remember, integrity is not a 90 percent thing, not a 95 percent thing. Either you have it, or you don’t. If you have it, it’s one hundred per cent. Always seek to do the right thing.

Centuries ago, Quakers faced imprisonment and even death because in court they would refuse to swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God. Their moral dilemma was not only in swearing to God, but in swearing to tell the truth only in the courtroom. This, they thought, suggested that outside of the courtroom truth was an option, and therein was the problem. Telling the truth is not an option. Always seek to do and say what is right.

If, however, you find yourself tempted or pressured to do the wrong thing, get out quickly. That may mean quitting a job or breaking off a relationship. Some temptations are like giants. They are almost unbeatable. In such cases, we need to flee. Some people delight in getting others to do wrong. We need to separate ourselves from those people. Always be honest; if you can’t be honest, remove yourself from the situation.

Two. Treat others the way you would like to be treated. The golden rule. Put yourself in the other person’s place and ask yourself how you would like to be treated. Would you want to be discriminated against because of the color of your skin? Would you want to be taken advantage of in a business transaction? People of integrity think about others.

Recently, ecologists at the University of Washington found that willow trees transmit a warning to other willows from as far away as two hundred feet. When caterpillars are attacking, the trees emit a chemical signal that travels on the wind. This enables distant trees to prepare their protection phenol in the leaves which is distasteful to the caterpillars. This advance warning of an attack amazes scientists: The individual trees have the ability to behave in a way that benefits not just themselves but the whole species. Are we not a higher form of species than willow trees? Treat other people as you would like to be treated.

Three. Always give your best. Integrity, or righteousness, isn’t a negative quality. It’s not simply a matter of never doing wrong. Rather it’s making your life an offering to God. It’s seeking to be a person more concerned about the quality of your life than the quality of your automobile. A person who is lazy or who doesn’t try is not a person of integrity. By being slack at any task you show blatant disrespect toward yourself, toward those affected by your slackness and, ultimately toward God. A person of integrity never shirks responsibilities; in fact, he or she often goes the extra mile. A person of integrity is the kind of person you’d want to have as an employee or a boss, a husband or a wife, a parent or a child. Always give your best.

Finally, remember the price Christ paid for our cheating. Cheating is seen for what it is in the light of the cross.

A father, who was also a doctor, spoke out against the military regime in Paraguay and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. The father responded with the most powerful protest imaginable. At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail naked, scarred from the electric shocks and cigarette burns and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. Is that not what God did at Calvary? He laid it all out there for all to see the price that must be paid for humanity’s refusal to obey God’s Law.

Does it matter whether we seek after righteousness whether we are persons of integrity, high morals, honesty, ethics? It matters to our society. It matters to people we love. Most of all, it matters to God. Always be honest. If you can’t be honest, remove yourself from the situation. Treat others as you would want them to treat you. Give of your best in everything you do. Remember the price paid for our sins.

Once there was a man who was so busy climbing the ladder of success, he forgot to watch his step. I hope that’s not our story. Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.