First take the plank out of your own eye

Political leaders in the Western World, and those who aspire to office, face a relentless scrutiny of their personal lives. The press and media investigate their past and present conduct and often reveal potentially damaging facts about their behaviour. Usually the things revealed are viewed in the most negative way possible in order to damage the person’s credibility. Did they behave well when they were students? Have they paid all the tax they owe? Have they had illicit sexual relationships? Do they tick all the boxes of the present “political correctness”?

It is legitimate for those who will hold high office, and the power that goes with it, to be scrutinised. It is appropriate for the actions of our leaders in major events of national and international significance to be examined, as has been done by Sir John Chilcot’s inquiry into the Iraq War. The key issue, however, is not whether someone has ever done something wrong but their personal integrity and honesty.

The Bible honestly reveals the flaws in some of the greatest leaders. Abraham, the Father of faith, lied about his wife Sarah. David, Israel’s greatest King, committed adultery with the wife of one of his bravest soldiers and arranged the death of the man to hide his own sin. Peter, one of the leading apostles, denied that he knew Jesus despite having promised that, if necessary, he would be willing to die for him. The truth is that all of us are flawed. All of us have done things that we deeply regret and of which we are ashamed.

Jesus taught that, before we begin pointing out the faults of others, we should honestly examine ourselves. “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

The Bible also teaches the wonder of God’s grace. When we fall into sin, as we all do, we can confess it to God and experience forgiveness and restoration. God’s promise is, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.“

Peace with God

Easter is a special time for Christians all over the world as we remember the death and resurrection of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We know that the death of Jesus, on a Roman cross, has reconciled us to God, and his resurrection, on the third day, has given us a sure hope for the future. The message of Easter speaks to our sad and troubled world as much as it ever has. Every day evil people perpetrate their wicked deeds. Personal integrity is at a low ebb in every part of society. Millions of people face a very uncertain future. We all need to experience forgiveness and to find hope for the future.

Jesus died when it seemed his popularity was at its height. Just a few days before he died, thousands of people in Jerusalem hailed him as their King. It was the culmination of his remarkable ministry. For three years he had travelled throughout Israel teaching the people, healing the sick, casting out evil spirits and raising the dead. He had transformed the lives of many people. Yet his life ended in rejection and seeming disgrace. The fickle crowd turned against him because he had not fulfilled their hopes for a military and political leader. However, his death was not a defeat but a glorious triumph.

Jesus, the eternal Son of God, came from heaven to deal with our biggest problem – our sin. On the Cross he paid the price of our sins when he suffered the punishment we deserve. Through the centuries people had offered animal sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins. Hundreds of thousands of sacrifices had been made. Jesus came to offer one final sacrifice. On the Cross he became “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” Down through history people from every nation have found forgiveness and peace with God through Jesus.

In Jesus we can all find forgiveness for our sins, whatever we have done. When we face up to the truth that we have broken God’s laws and need his forgiveness, there is always hope. A man, who was crucified on the same day as Jesus, found forgiveness even as he was dying. He knew that he was being justly punished and was getting what his deeds deserved. He also knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. So he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It’s not cricket!

Moral standards are changing. There was a clear example of this in the first Ashes Test between England and Australia. The match was at a critical stage when Stuart Broad edged the ball and was caught by a slip fielder. The umpire did not see the ball hit Stuart’s bat and said he was not out. Stuart knew he had hit the ball, but stood his ground and continued batting, to the dismay of the Australian team.

In the past it would have been accepted practice for a batsman who hit the ball and was caught, even though the umpire did not see it, to declare himself out. This kind of integrity gave rise to the phrase, “It’s not cricket”, which describes unacceptable behaviour, something which is just not done. When the television pundits discussed the incident, many did not condemn Stuart’s action. Their reasons were that the umpire’s decision is final; other teams do it; or other team members would frown on any action which jeopardised their chances of winning the match. As it happens, the extra runs scored by Stuart and his partner after the controversial incident did mean that England won the match.

The Ten Commandments set out God’s moral principles. They are commands, not good advice, and form the essential moral basis for all human society. One of those commands is, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” Truthfulness matters to God, who sees and knows all things. Stuart’s actions were witnessed by tens of thousands of spectators and millions of people who watched the endless television replays and analysis. He knows, and so do we, that he acted dishonestly. In the heat of the moment he did the wrong thing.

It is easy, however, to stand in judgement on others and not to face our own personal responsibility for what we do. How should we respond when we do wrong things? We must never try to justify our wrong actions and certainly not try to change the rules so that what was wrong is now right. The way to put things right is to acknowledge our sin, to seek God’s forgiveness and, with his help, to promise never to do it again. The Bible says, “If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”

Love your neighbour as yourself

Does it really matter what we believe about God? Is there a link between what we believe and how we live? Can private morality and public morality be separated? These are important questions in our increasingly secular society. Recent events have raised the question of integrity in the BBC and in the lives of public figures in politics and entertainment. There is an understandable expectation that those who influence the lives of so many people should act with integrity both in their public and private lives. Sadly, it seems, this has not always been the case.

Yet this raises an important question. What is the foundation for integrity in both our public and private lives? Is it based on our sense of duty to society or to our fellow human beings? Is it something we can teach children in our schools and so ensure that they become good citizens? There are countries in the world which seek to inculcate a spirit of obedience and duty in their citizens, but this is usually imposed by a regime of strict laws and very little personal freedom.

The history of the USA has been shaped by Christians who believed the Bible. Their faith in God and in Jesus Christ provided the framework for both their private and public lives. Whilst they held their own beliefs firmly they did not seek to impose these beliefs on others. They maintained the freedom of all people to practice their religion. The Pilgrim Fathers left England and established a new colony in North America because they were seeking religious freedom. Their convictions have shaped the history and values of the USA.

Jesus taught that there are two great commandments which cannot be separated. They are the essential basis for both moral integrity and personal freedom. The first is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” The second is, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Because he loved God William Wilberforce fought for the abolition of slavery. Lord Shaftesbury fought for better working conditions and schools for children from poorer homes. Elizabeth Fry campaigned for better conditions for women in prison. Florence Nightingale, out of her experience in the Crimea War, became the founder of modern nursing. For each of these people their experience of God’s love in Jesus inspired in them a love for those around them and a determination to do them good.

The Importance of Personal Integrity

A number of prominent people have been in the news recently because of allegations against them of immoral or criminal behaviour. This has led to a discussion about whether what a person does in his private life really matters as long as he is competent in fulfilling his public duties. The idea is that in his personal life a man may tell lies, be unfaithful to his wife or be dishonest in personal financial matters, but can still be a suitable person to hold office in business or government. As long as a man has the ability to do the job then his character doesn’t matter.

It is important to avoid hypocrisy by pretending that we ourselves are perfect and without fault. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pointing the finger at someone else can be a cover for facing up to the serious failings in our own lives. The Apostle Paul wrote, “If you think you are standing strong, be careful, for you, too, may fall into the same sin. But remember that the temptations that come into your life are no different from what others experience.” The Bible and our own personal experience teach us that we are all very fallible people. Some of the great men and women in the Bible committed serious sins.

However, the idea that our lives can be divided into two watertight compartments called “private” and “public” is a great mistake. Our essential character will reveal itself in every part of our life. Good character does matter. Being “economical with the truth” and acting immorally corrupts both the individuals who do it and the governments and businesses to which they belong. Sadly it has become an accepted part of life today. The greatest sin is not doing what is wrong, but being found out!

True integrity, for each of us, begins with being honest with ourselves and being honest before God. Many of us are practical atheists. We need to look into the mirror of God’s Word in the Bible. “For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.”