Monday, November 28, 2011

Bible Talk on Integrity

I've been asked to take care of the Bible talk recently and I was scratching my head to find a good topic. The Bible is full of them, but what is it that the people in my group need?

Someone suggested integrity and I liked the idea. If something needs a bit of a reminding, that would be it. It may not be as 'in your face' as sexual sin and materialism, but certainly something that we need to talk about.

So here goes...
Q? How often do you have to do team assignments or projects in college? Tell us one example of a project that went bad, and why it happened.
Q? What are the things in a team that will irritate the others?
One common problem we can hit is if someone isn't 100% honest and ends up hurting the whole team. Examples? 
  • "Ya, I did my slides for the presentation", but they're next to useless
  • "I started working on that section", and that is the introduction
  • Making excuses why they couldn't meet that objective this week
  • Copy-pasting half of a wikipedia article instead of doing actual research
What is Jesus telling us about that?
“Again, you have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not break an oath, but fulfill your vows to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not take oaths at all – not by heaven, because it is the throne of God, not by earth, because it is his footstool, and not by Jerusalem, because it is the city of the great King. Do not take an oath by your head, because you are not able to make one hair white or black. Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one. (NET, Matthew 5:33-37)
Let us slice that up a bit.
That quote is from the Old Testament. It was a commandment from Moses (Lev 19:12). It is one of those black and white things in the Bible. So let us take a step back...

What is an oath? What does it stand for?
The definition is:
"An oath [...] is either a statement of fact or a promise calling upon something or someone that the oath maker considers sacred, usually God, as a witness to the binding nature of the promise or the truth of the statement of fact. To swear is to take an oath, to make a solemn vow. Those who conscientiously object to making an oath will often make an affirmation instead.

The essence of a divine oath is an invocation of divine agency to be a guarantor of the oath taker's own honesty and integrity in the matter under question. By implication, this invokes divine displeasure if the oath taker fails in their sworn duties. It therefore implies greater care than usual in the act of the performance of one's duty, such as in testimony to the facts of the matter in a court of law."

So, the basic idea is like this: since people can't always be trusted, I'll prove to you that you can trust what I'm going to tell you. And that proof is that I'm willing to let God punish me if I don't do X.

So, if we make this kind of commitment, should we do it or not? Obviously, and the Bible is telling us we should. But then, why is Jesus telling us not to?

Now, it happened that some people were trying to make oaths, but have work-arounds. Let us see an example

“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple is bound by nothing. But whoever swears by the gold of the temple is bound by the oath.’ Blind fools! Which is greater, the gold or the temple that makes the gold sacred? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing. But if anyone swears by the gift on it he is bound by the oath.’ You are blind! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So whoever swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple swears by it and the one who dwells in it.And whoever swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and the one who sits on it. (NET, Matthew 23:16-22)
Why would anyone do this? Obviously, the goal was to give the illusion of commitment without actually committing to anything. Can you give me some examples of how people do this in 2011?
  • I'll let you know
  • Oh, I was about to start working on that
  • Oh what a nice gift... I'm sure it will match my brown shoes (which I never wear) nicely
So what is Jesus really telling us? Looking again at Mt 5:37, we do see that we are expected to be so consistently upright that people can take a 'yes' or a 'no' at face value.

How does that apply for our student lives?
  • Academic integrity: never cheating or copying; attributing sources
  • Accurate status reports to our teammates
  • Telling that you don't know when you don't
  • ...

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