“You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. As for the one who wants to sue you and take away your shirt, let him have your coat as well. … Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor” and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:38-46)
Integrity may be the most precious possession you have, its violation your greatest loss. Can you be trusted? If not, all other virtues become uncertain. A lack of integrity is a fault line in character that jeopardizes all other values and undermines all relationships. It touches every aspect of Christian behavior. Even communication ultimately depends on the confidence that what the other person says is reliable, what they do is trustworthy.
Integrity points to who our authority is for right and wrong. Satan, “the father of lies” (John 8:44, NIV), came “to steal and to kill and to destroy” (John 10:10). But God is the trustworthy One, and He set forth His guidelines for integrity.
The Eighth Commandment is brief and to the point: “Do not steal” (Ex. 20:15). To steal is to take what is not rightfully mine. Most of us would not even be tempted to shoplift. But what about manipulating our tax returns? Or fudging on insurance claims? Or using copyrighted material without permission? Remember that Jesus’ interpretations of “Do not murder” and “Do not commit adultery” extended these commandments to violations of the heart (see Matt. 5:21,27). The same is true of stealing.
Jim was furious. He told me a fellow employee had backed into his motorcycle in the parking lot and knocked it down. Although I couldn’t discern a single scratch on it, he was filing an insurance claim. Imagine my astonishment when he received three thousand dollars from insurance, not a penny of which went to the motorcycle. Yet Jim claimed to be a Christ follower. So there are many ways to take what is not rightfully mine.
If you can honestly say you haven’t taken something that wasn’t rightly yours, what about being stolen from? When my car was stolen from the backyard for the second time in the same year, I felt violated. What would be next? Should I get a special lock or a guard dog? Angry and apprehensive, I wanted to set a booby trap. How do you feel when you’ve been robbed? Insecure? Angry? Violated? Threatened? Perhaps some of the emotions can be justified, but what action should a Christian take in this situation?
It’s appropriate to call the police so that the thief is held accountable and doesn’t harm others. And protecting yourself is appropriate. But the problem comes in determining where to draw the line between self-preservation and retaliation.
The apostle Paul warned against vengeful behavior: “Do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: ‘Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19). He also confronted believers in the Corinthian church who were taking legal action against one another: “Why not rather put up with injustice? Why not rather be cheated?” (1 Cor. 6:7). I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t respond in those ways very often, but I once met someone who operated on those principles.
Muriel and I stayed at the Carver Bible Institute in Atlanta for a few months. At the breakfast table one morning, the young man who sat across from me nonchalantly reported that someone had stolen his stereo during the night. “What are you going to do about it?” I demanded with sympathetic righteous indignation.
“Oh, nothing. He probably needed it more than I,” he responded.
This happened a couple of times to the same young man over the next few weeks. He was unperturbed. But one morning he was visibly upset. “Now they’ve gone too far!”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“They took my preacher suit!”
“Now what are you going to do?”
He simmered down a bit and shrugged. “Maybe I’ll add a few more bars to the window.”
There are balancing teachings in Scripture. The law itself teaches, “A thief must make full restitution” (Ex. 22:3), and Paul taught, “The thief must no longer steal” (Eph. 4:28). So Scripture supports accountability and restitution, but it clearly draws the line at vengeful retaliation motivated purely by self-interest. My sense is that most of us don’t handle being stolen from the way Jesus might.
When you think about a person of integrity, who comes to mind? Why? What does that person’s life reveal about the nature of integrity? How does a lack of integrity jeopardize other values and undermine all relationships?