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Walking Together: Integrity

Date: 12/02/2023/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Walking Together: Integrity
Matthew 5:27-37
12 February 2023

As we seek to walk each other towards growth and wholeness in Christ, we know that firstly, the glue that holds all relationships together is trust. And trust is based on integrity. Without integrity, there is no trust.

Question 1 (Word Cloud)
What is integrity?

What words come to mind when you think about ‘integrity’?

Matthew 5:27-37 (NRSVue)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin,[e] tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.[f] 

30 And if your right hand causes you to sin,[g] cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.[h]

Concerning Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 

32 But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Concerning Oaths

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 

34 But I say to you: Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”

Wow, how do we make sense of these verses? Are we meant to be taking them literally or was Jesus employing a figure of speech called “hyperbole,” which means “an obvious exaggeration in order to make a point?” Well, we know Jewish rabbis often employ this kind of extreme hyperbolic speech in order to emphasize a point, so we would not be wrong to think Jesus was also doing the same thing here.

But even if Jesus was using exaggerated speech, how are we to make sense of these strong words or warnings? What was Jesus trying to say here? 

In trying to understand Jesus’ words here, I think we must first go back to the nature of God, and understand what God desires of us as a community of believers. Let’s go back to the big picture. 

We know that God loves us all and cares profoundly about human dignity.

As Debi Thomas says, “If we read Jesus’s words about murder, anger, reconciliation, adultery, lust, divorce, and oath-making in this more communal context — if we read them as instructions given in the hope of building and sustaining a community that is both blessed and commissioned to bless — what version of God might emerge?

A God who takes our relationships with each other very seriously, and wants us to treat each other — not with a bare minimum of civility and morality — but with the deepest respect, integrity, and love.”

A God who wants us to treat each other with the deepest respect, integrity, and love.

That is what these verses are about.

If you look at Jesus’s teaching on adultery, he says, “You have heard that you shall not commit adultery. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman or man with lust has already committed adultery with them in their heart.” What Jesus is saying is that refraining from sleeping with another person’s spouse or partner is just the bare minimum in a Christ-centered community. 

Jesus is urging us to go one step further. Perhaps we can honor human dignity by refusing in any way to cheapen or objectify other people for our own pleasure. Or we can help each each other to succeed in our marriages and relationships, instead of making those vows even harder to fulfil.

And what Jesus says about divorce is really interesting.

“But I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” (Matt 5:32)

Who does Jesus say is committing adultery or causing someone to commit adultery in this verse?
The one who divorces his wife
The one who marries a divorced woman

Notice the power differences here. In Jesus’ time, only the man can declare a marriage over, and it was very easy for a man to divorce his wife for any reason or no reason. But women didn’t have the same right to divorce their husbands. This is why Jesus says it is the man who causes his wife to commit adultery if her divorces her. And the man who marries a divorced woman also commits adultery.

Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t mention the woman and her responsibility here! In a world where the woman is usually blamed and shamed, Jesus is saying something quite revolutionary. He’s making men responsible for what they do with their sexuality, and not just blame the women.

Not that women should not be responsible for what they do with their own sexuality. We all should! Equally with men. It’s more that in a patriarchal, heteronormative world, women have often been shamed and blamed for how men act out sexually. This is true even today.

So Jesus was really targeting cultural norms and human nature even as he was saying all this about divorce and adultery. He wants each of us, regardless of whether you’re straight, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, etc. to take responsibility for our own sexuality, and to ask ourselves, “Are you willing to go one step further to honour human dignity by refusing to cheapen or objectify other people for your own pleasure?”

He’s saying the one who has more power in a relationship has more responsibility to make sure you are taking care of the other person. Whether the person is younger or in a position of less power, you are to take care of them. Even when a relationship has come to an end, you should be doing it with care and concern for the other person.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” -Spiderman/Voltaire

In Jesus’ day, women had no way to survive on their own. When their husbands divorced them, they were often left to starve because they had no financial resources. They may not be welcomed back into their parent’s homes, and the social stigma around divorce was very severe.

So Jesus was basically saying, “You can’t casually hand your wife a certificate of divorce as if you have no further obligation to a fellow human being. Consider the power differential between you and her, and make sure you’re taking care of her dignity.”

When we look at the big picture, we see the care and attentiveness of God through Jesus’ words. God wants us to treat each other well. God cares a lot about our dignity. God doesn’t want us to settle for bare minimums in our faith communities. God wants us to relate with each other in ways that reflect the fullness of divine love, grace, mercy and generosity.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” -Matthew 5:48 (MSG)

In our passage today, the big picture message is this:

God is more interested in us living whole/undivided lives of integrity than just following the rules blindly. Living whole lives of integrity means we increasingly align our words and behaviour (exterior) with our hearts and values (interior).

Question 2 (Word Cloud)

In what areas of your life have you found it difficult aligning your inner values with your outer behaviour?

Jesus is basically saying we cannot live divided and fragmented lives. To the extent that we are divided within ourselves, we are also separated from God and each other.

So why I asked you this question is because integrity requires clarity:

Inner clarity of our true values and motivations – honesty with ourselves

Clarity of areas in our lives where our inner values are not aligned with our outer behavior

Clarity in communicating our thoughts, needs, perspectives, struggles, differences of opinion with the other person in the midst of hurts, misunderstandings, and conflicts.

Notice I said, “with the other person” and not with many others. Sometimes in community, we share about our hurts and disappointments with everyone else except the actual person that is involved. Integrity means we are careful to share with the person who is directly involved, and not triangulate others into the situation.

When one has integrity, their actions are in sync with the values, beliefs, and principles they claim to hold.

And the important thing to note is: No one is born with integrity – or without it. It’s a behavior-based virtue that anyone can develop over time. So it’s something we can all work on, and we can get better at it over time — to become more whole, with God’s help.

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” -Brene Brown

And one area we can all practice our values is what Matthew 5:37 says, “Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no.”

Jesus reminds us of the need to have deep integrity in all that we say and do.

A few years ago, I was reading Dare to Lead by Brene Brown, and this phrase really struck me.

“Clear Is Kind.” Unclear is unkind.

And this is something I’ve been sharing with our leaders, even as I personally try to grow and get better at it.

“Clear Is Kind.” What does it mean concretely?

Feeding people half-truths or bullshit to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind.

Not getting clear with a colleague about your expectations because it feels too hard, yet holding them accountable or blaming them for not delivering is unkind.

Talking about people rather than to them is unkind.

She says, “When we have to show up for a hard conversation we call it “a rumble.” A rumble is a discussion, conversation, or meeting defined by a commitment to lean into vulnerability, to stay curious and generous, to stick with the messy middle of problem identification and solving, to take a break and circle back when necessary, to be fearless in owning our parts, and, as psychologist Harriet Lerner teaches, to listen with the same passion with which we want to be heard.

When someone says, “Let’s rumble,” it cues me to show up with an open heart and mind so we can serve the work and each other, not our egos. Armouring up and protecting our egos rarely leads to productive, kind, and respectful conversations.”

I must admit being clear was something I wasn’t very good at. In the past, I’ve been told that sometimes it’s hard to know what my opinion is in a situation. This is especially so when I am mediating conflicts in church. What I am good at is understanding all the different perspectives of the various parties, staying objective, and trying to help people understand where each other is coming from.

But people want to know what I think about the issue, and they want me to address the situation and behaviors of the people involved head-on. Some have told me honestly that it’s sometimes hard to trust me when they don’t know what I am thinking. I reflected on that feedback, and realized that it’s true. I understood why they said that and appreciated their honesty in order to help me grow as a leader, and as a person.

So over the past few years, I’ve been working hard at being clearer because clear is kind, and unclear is unkind. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be clear previously. I just process my own thoughts and feelings quite slowly. The funny thing is I’m really fast at sensing and understanding other people’s feelings, but I’m much slower at processing and sensing my own.

So I worked on becoming clearer within myself about what I was thinking and feeling in the moment, and I also worked on being more forthcoming in verbalizing my thoughts and feelings with other people.

At the same time, I learnt to be less conflict avoidant. This means having to initiate and take on uncomfortable conversations, and expressing things that may be difficult to say because I fear it might hurt the other person or lead to explosive reactions. And I’m still learning and trying to improve in this area.

Question 3 (Open)
In what ways would you like to be clearer and kinder?

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” -Brene Brown

God is more interested in us living whole/undivided lives of integrity than just following the rules blindly. Living whole lives of integrity means we increasingly align our words and behaviour (exterior) with our hearts and values (interior).

And this is my prayer for you and me – that we may grow towards living whole/undivided lives of integrity where our words and behaviour increasingly align with our hearts and values, as the Spirit of God moves within us and amongst us. Amen.