In the eighth chapter of an often forgotten book of the Bible (Ezra) we find an incredible story of thorough and purposeful integrity for the glory of God. It is an amazing passage, especially in light of all that God’s people had been doing under His guiding hand.
In summary, “God stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation” (1:1) allowing 50,000 Jews to return to Jerusalem for the purpose of rebuilding the Temple with his complete financial, political, military blessing and support. The success of this project is recorded in Ezra 6:14-15:
“And the elders of the Jews build and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by the decree of the God of Israel and by the decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artexerxes king of Persia; and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king.”
Those two verses are packed with meaning but they bridge the gap from the rule of Darius to the rule of Arexerxes sixty years later when Ezra was “a scribe, skilled in the Law of Moses” (7:6) and under the favor of the king. Ezra “had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (7:10). He was granted opportunity to return to Jerusalem to continue the exercise of the Temple and to continue to teach the Law of God to God’s people. In an act of complete divine providence Artexerxes decreed (cf. 6:14 above) that treasures of gold and silver should be gathered and sent with Ezra on his journey.
In Ezra 8:24-34 Ezra records a summary of those events in which we see this incredible purposeful integrity taking place…
 Then I set apart twelve of the leading priests: Sherebiah, Hashabiah, and ten of their kinsmen with them.  And I weighed out to them the silver and the gold and the vessels, the offering for the house of our God that the king and his counselors and his lords and all Israel there present had offered.  I weighed out into their hand 650 talents of silver, and silver vessels worth 200 talents, and 100 talents of gold,  20 bowls of gold worth 1,000 darics, and two vessels of fine bright bronze as precious as gold.  And I said to them, “You are holy to the LORD, and the vessels are holy, and the silver and the gold are a freewill offering to the LORD, the God of your fathers.  Guard them and keep them until you weigh them before the chief priests and the Levites and the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel at Jerusalem, within the chambers of the house of the LORD.”  So the priests and the Levites took over the weight of the silver and the gold and the vessels, to bring them to Jerusalem, to the house of our God.
 Then we departed from the river Ahava on the twelfth day of the first month, to go to Jerusalem. The hand of our God was on us, and he delivered us from the hand of the enemy and from ambushes by the way.  We came to Jerusalem, and there we remained three days.  On the fourth day, within the house of our God, the silver and the gold and the vessels were weighed into the hands of Meremoth the priest, son of Uriah, and with him was Eleazar the son of Phinehas, and with them were the Levites, Jozabad the son of Jeshua and Noadiah the son of Binnui.  The whole was counted and weighed, and the weight of everything was recorded. (Ezra 8:24-34 ESV)
First, I want you to notice the numbers:
- 650 Talents of silver + vessels worth 200 talents = 33 Tons = 66000 lbs = 2112000009.312 oz
- Current price of silver per ounce = $27 x 2112000009.31 = $57,024,000,298.64
- 100 Talents of gold + 20 vessels = 4 Tons = 8000 lbs = 256000001.128 oz
- Current price of gold per ounce = $1403 x 256000001.128 = $359,168,001,753.47
That’s a total of value of $416,192,002,052.11. In words that number is four hundred sixteen billion one hundred ninety-two million two thousand fifty-two dollars and eleven cents!!! That’s an amount our present government would love to get their hands on. When you think about what is going on this number is staggering.
Next, notice the accounting:
How can you be sure that all that gold and silver will get to its destination? How can you be sure that one of the 1500 men travelling with Ezra (add women and children and It’s about 7000 people) won’t pilfer a vessel here and a talent there? Certainly this was an impossible task!
What was needed was integrity, and an integrity that took extra time and effort to be sure that it was a sound integrity. Ezra had 12 priests lead the counting and weighing of all the gold and silver while impressing upon them the sacredness of their role and the finances under their care. All of this was done in three days! They were both “set apart/holy” and when they arrived at their destination (vs. 34) “the whole was counted and weighed, and the weight of everything was recorded.” It took 900 miles of travel with 37 tons of gold and silver as well as personal items. Due to Ezra’s holy shame they had no military escort and encountered the presence of enemies and ambushes on the way, but because God’s hand was on them He delivered them. This was quite a task, a great responsibility, but one that would demonstrate the power and integrity of the God of Israel reflected in the faith and integrity of the people of God.
Now all this got me thinking. What are some of the areas where we as God’s church must be people of integrity? Here are a few of my musings…
- Integrity in our Philosophy of Ministry – How is the church to be organized? What methodologies should be used to “reach people”? What does it mean to “meet people’s needs”? Should a church use what “works” because people are attending or they are liked in their community? These questions, and many more, have at their core an attitude to what God says in His Word and what we believe to be true. When we are consumed with “Church Growth”, and the church in America is, we will embrace the gimmickry of human methodologies (i.e. surveys, talks, marketing, excessive programs, entertainment, social club mentality, etc.) as superior to the clear teaching of Scripture. The resulting effect is that we will succumb to building an organization (not a church) based on worldly methodologies much like what it takes to run a business. In order to do this we must disregard clear Scriptural teaching on the above mentioned subjects: Plurality of Elders, Faithful Expository preaching, man’s sinfulness and need of the true Gospel (that shares the bad news of sin and separation with the good news of reconciliation that comes only by Christ through the cross according to the good will of God the Father), idolatry in the heart which can only be overcome by the ongoing pursuit of Christ-likeness, etc. When we lead our churches based on human strategies we fail at being people of integrity and we should be ashamed.
- Integrity in Theology – The church in America has, by and large, drifted away from precision and carefulness in the area of Theology. The common saying of St. Augustine that John Wesley liked to quote is, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” has rightly been championed. The problem, however, is that there has been a drift to move doctrine from the category of “essential” to the category of “non-essential.” For example, is Scripture wholly (verbally, plenary) inspired by God? Well, some would agree with the inspiration of Scripture but strangely would deny that Scripture is also sufficient. This is simply a capitulation to an intimidating psychologized culture. Where once the church would say that Scripture is the final authority for faith and practice, the word “final” is now beginning to be understood as the “last” authority. In other words, after you view science, psychology, bla, bla, bla, you can now look at Scripture. It is the “final” analysis. Certainly there will be differences in points of theology, but when we adjust our theology because we want it to fit our “man-made methodologies” we are no longer churches with theological integrity. We are being dishonest with what God’s Word teaches and we should be ashamed.
- Integrity in Preaching/Teaching – As a pastor this is an area that hits home to me. There is always a temptation in my weak heart to hold back with God’s truth because I want to be liked, or I don’t want certain people to leave the church, stop giving or serving. Each week I must beat into submission the pressure to preach in a way so that people will “like” me. What is important is that I am faithful to clearly and boldly represent God and His Word to His church and any unbelievers who may be in attendance. I am responsible to say the hard stuff. I am duty bound to deal with topics that are uncomfortable. I must be faithful to preach the whole counsel of God…not just the Pollyanna sections that people want to hear so that they can walk away with the warm fuzzies and without conviction. It is so easy to want to entertain, to tell that great joke, to talk about myself, to champion my own sports teams or to talk about anything so that I don’t have to deal with the boldness of God’s Word. When I have done that, I have been a preacher without integrity and I am ashamed of those times when I have given in to my own stroking lusts rather than fight the good fight of faith.
- Integrity in Qualifications for Church Leadership – It is becoming more common to see churches set aside the Scriptures or rationalize them away, so that church leadership can more easily fit the culture. This is particularly true in three areas: Pastor/Teacher, Eldership & the role of women in ministry. I remember years ago while preparing for ministry that the idea of going off to Seminary was considered “going to cemetery.” Now, I know where the thinking came from, but it had a net effect on young men looking down on a necessary aspect of training for the Pastorate. Sadly, the qualifications of ordination and seminary training are brushed aside as being non-essentials for ministry. Yet, with that attitude there often comes a watered down view of preaching, theological precision, the gospel, philosophy of ministry and the seriousness of the role of the Pastor/Teacher in the life of the church. I would encourage any man considering ministry embracing the hardship of seminary as well as the ministry calling and affirmation that comes with ordination. Also, too often men are put into positions of leadership not because they are qualified, but because they are generally good guys and respected in the church rather than trained theologically careful and conscientious men of God. Looking back I am ashamed to admit that I did not exercise due diligence as I should have and because of that I have contributed to unqualified men serving in a church leadership capacity when they are clearly novices and atheological, thus susceptible to the blowing fads of Christian culture. God has liberated the role of women in society through the Gospel and thus through the church. However, to place them in positions of leadership above men clearly contradicts Scripture and places them in an arena for which they are not spiritually gifted or called. We are asking them to serve God by being disobedient to Him. That is to our shame and when we do any of the above we are not people of integrity.
- Integrity in the Sharing of Information – Lots of information is shared among believers and Scripture is replete with warnings drawing our attention to the fact that we so easily sin in this area – the tongue. We gossip…sharing true facts with people who do not need to know and usually so that we can feel good about being the one in the know. We slander…sharing information (true or false) for the purpose of tearing them down. We share half truths for the purpose of leading people to believe one thing when in fact the story is quite different. And the list can go on. We must not be like the “spin” machines we hear over and over on the political analysis shows day after day. We must be people of integrity, withholding information when people don’t need to know it, sharing only information that will build another up and being clear about what we are saying so that people’s lives are not tainted by our words. When we fail in these areas we are no longer people of integrity and we should be ashamed.
- Integrity in the Church Finances – Of course, the natural outflow of this text is to consider the arena of church finances. I know of a pastor in the Bay Area where I live who was one of the main signers of checks in the church. In other words, if he felt Fred Bloggs (fictional name) needed $1345 to pay his rent he could go over to the checkbook and write him a check. Friends, that is simply not healthy or wise practice on the part of any pastor. Building a hedge between you and the finances is critically important for integrity to be maintained. Our churches should not be laundry centers for the ministries that we champion. There must be financial integrity in the church, and when there is not we should be ashamed.
- Integrity in Relationships – Immediately our minds go to the great need for men and women to love one another in a Christ-like manner which means being careful to protect themselves as well as the reputation of the body of Christ. One example from my recent pastorate was my desire for the door in my office to be changed to be a full window door so that if I were in discussion with a lady there were no questions. That may be extreme to some of you reading, but it was what I felt was necessary to ensure integrity in this matter. Pride would say, “You are just being too fearful…nothing will happen.” Also, how we relate to one another is important. Are we building relationships simply because we want to approach someone later to consider buying insurance, Avon products, or participate in some other business endeavor? Are we seeking to “get people to do something for us”, in other words, using people to get the ministry done? What are our motives? Who are we trying to serve? We must be people of integrity in our relationships…which leads us to the last area…
- Integrity in our Allegiances – So often we place our loyalties behind a person or a group of people. The Apostle Paul deals with this in 1 Corinthians 1:12 where some were saying, “’I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’” Later in chapter 11:17-18 Paul says,
“But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse. For, in the first place, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.”
In other words, Paul understood that divisions of loyalties were a problem. He had the sense not to believe everything he was hearing, but he believed it “in part.” There was truth in what was being shared. When our allegiance is to a man rather than to God and His Word we fail to be people of integrity.
What was it that helped Ezra to be a man of integrity and what is it that gives us pressure to pursue a thorough purposeful integrity? The answer to that question is a “godly shame”. Let me explain. Later in the Ezra 8 account we find this recorded by Ezra…
“For I was ashamed to ask the king for a band of soldiers and horsemen to protect us against the enemy on our way, since we had told the king, “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him, and the power of his wrath is against all who forsake him.”
What was Ezra struggling with? He was struggling with the difficulty of being a man of integrity. To act on what you say you believe. If the God of Israel was his protector, then why should he need an military escort. Wouldn’t God provide and protect them regardless of the booty (gold and silver) they were taking with them on this dangerous journey.
Do we really believe in the God we say we believe in? Do we really believe the Word of God we say we believe in? Do we really believe that the Word of God is to be trusted and obeyed? We say a lot of things, don’t we? What we need have is a godly shame. The integrity to act and behave in such away that it becomes (old English for “suits”, “matches”, “looks good on”) the Church of Christ and the Sovereign God we serve and represent.
Don’t be…no, “do be” ashamed (with Godly shame) to be people of integrity!!