When our son was a teenager, we picked him up from a camp–we met him in NYC. We put all his stuff in the car trunk and went to dinner before heading home. While we were eating, someone broke into our car and stole all his stuff. We felt terribly violated. And that’s what we generally think of as stealing. But I would also say, if you’re reading this, most of you are not engaged in that kind of behavior. Consider the following questions: Do you open a bag of cookies and eat a few while grocery shopping and then toss the bag aside before checkout (I mean who wants to pay for a used, open bag of cookies)? Do you shop at a department store where a friend works the register and does she help you out by not charging you for every item of clothing you bring to the check-out counter? Do you use your computer at work to check facebook, email, or follow items on ebay without your employer’s permission? If you said yes, just remember, these are just a few of the many ways people actually steal.
We’ve been looking at 10 Words that will change our lives. What many translations call the 10 commandments, the Bible literally calls “The Ten Words.” Today we’re taking a look at the eighth word that will change our lives, and it’s “INTEGRITY.” In Exodus 20:15, God commanded Israel, “You shall not steal.” In the New Testament, Paul wrote “The thief must no longer steal” (Eph 4:28).
Of course this doesn’t apply only to breaking and entering. The Bible teaches that we’re stealing if we cheat our customers (Prov 20:23; Amos 8:4-5), if we withhold from our employees (Lev 19:13), if we default on loans we’ve taken (Psa 37:21), if we deceive the government so as not to pay all our taxes (Rom 13:6-7; Matt 22:22), or if we rob God by not giving to Him at all (Mal 3:8). All these are ways that many of us steal. But, the Bible teaches that if we’re to prosper, we must prosper with integrity.
So how should we develop our income with integrity? Obviously, the first way is by working. After Paul wrote that the thief must stop stealing, his next words were that “he must do honest work with his own hands” (Eph 4:28). A friend of mine recently lost his job because of cut backs at work. Rather than say, I’ll just collect unemployment, he immediately got a job at a home improvement store. He didn’t say I have to wait for something in my field to open up or maybe this is my opportunity to have some time off. No, he said, my kids need to eat—I’ll get a job.
A second way to prosper with integrity is by saving and investing. Proverbs 13:11 says, “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.” It is remarkable in this age of consumption how little emphasis we place on saving for the future. But if we’re not to burden our children as we become elderly, saving and investing should begin when we’re young.
A third way to prosper with integrity is one that we often neglect—we need to pray. James wrote, “You do not have, because you do not ask God” (James 4:2). I have a friend who has made great sacrifices by serving God in vocational ministry. Yet, he’s always had a good and dependable vehicle. When I asked him how did he afford this he said that whenever he needed a new car, he would pray. And then, without anyone being told of his need, people would ask if they could buy him or give him a car. He didn’t acquire vehicles with car loans but with prayer.
Finally, the best way to prosper with integrity is to pursue God rather than wealth. This is what Jesus taught. He asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” (Matt 16:26)? That’s also why he reminded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you” (Matt 6:33). If we pursue wealth, we may or may not achieve financial success. But seeking God above all will produce genuine spiritual success, which is far more valuable.