Does Legal Equal Integrity?

Does Legal Equal Integrity? Have you ever asked God whether or not He thinks you are acting with integrity in your finances? Integrity means “adherence to moral and ethical principles or soundness of moral character and honesty.” Although we frequently use “integrity” to describe a sexually moral individual, we need to expand the definition to every area of life, including finances.

"Isn’t God calling Christians to a higher standard?"

I have had many conversations with people in the church and in the workplace about financial integrity and whether or not certain courses of action are financially appropriate. Too often I have heard people, even Christian people, use “legality” and “integrity” interchangeably. In other words, the only question asked about a certain course of action is this: Is it legal? However, in the rush to be legal, how often do we forget to ask, “Is it ethical or moral?" Businesses and organizations usually believe themselves to be acting with integrity as long as they are acting within the law. But isn’t God calling Christians to a higher standard? Just because something is legal does not automatically make it moral or ethical.

I think that integrity is a higher code and as stewards of Kingdom resources we are called to a higher standard. Financial integrity looks at each situation and makes a moral and ethical assessment of the right course of action. Law, by its nature, has to be a “one–size-fits-all” approach and as such often caters to the lowest common denominator. However, is it really right for a Christian to shoot for the minimum standard in their dealings with others?

THE HIGHER CALL OF GRACE

Jesus took the entire Law of Moses and distilled it into two commandments that essentially mean, “Live with grace towards one another”. Grace 
is a higher code than law and to live by this code creates freedom because mercy triumphs over judgment. To show mercy toward someone creates freedom for them. Paul wrote, “Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the Law...” I do not believe that a Christian exhibits integrity until he acts with love and mercy in financial dealings.

"you make either a positive or a negative contribution to the world"

If you are moral and ethical, which means that you act with love and mercy, you will not only fulfil the law, but when you choose to act with grace toward another, especially in financial dealings, it creates freedom for them and fulfils the Law.

“Money, money, money, must be funny, it’s a rich man’s world...” Or so the lyric goes from the 70’s super group, Abba. Except that it’s not a rich man’s world. It belongs to all of us, and you make either a positive or a negative contribution to the world based on what you believe. Does what you believe determine whether or not you steward the money you have with integrity?

GREED CREATES PAIN

Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” (1 Timothy 6:10 NKJV) This scripture is misquoted probably more than any other to say, “Money is the root of all evil.” However, Paul is really talking about greed drawing people away from their faith and bringing pain into their lives.

I recently read a newspaper article quoting billionaires Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger: “The pain many financial institutions are feeling because of the credit crunch is well deserved... Financial institutions acted with stupidity and overreached to improve earnings in recent years.” Buffett said that the current financial crisis is a by product of a system that encouraged executives to “paint pretty pictures.” Why are company executives encouraged to paint pretty pictures to investors about a company’s financial status? Executives are not the only ones to blame. Greediness for higher and higher returns on our investments drives decision-making. In order to achieve higher returns, investors must take higher risks. Even the person who has no investments contributes to the problem by wanting cheaper and cheaper prices. This puts pressure on a company to show a higher profit margin. As greed increases, so do questionable practices and the inevitable fruit is pain for everyone.

MY MONEY, MY HEART

The change that creates impact always starts with us; and at the end of the day, every man will give an account before God for his actions. This current credit crunch may seem to be way outside of our realm of influence; but in truth, every single individual can have impact.

"Do you still make choices with integrity when you are under financial pressure?"

Right now national economies are facing financial pressures because their citizens are greedy. That greed has permeated the society and is having an impact where it hurts the most, in people’s wallets. This pressure squeezes the family budget and touches us at a deep emotional level even dividing families by creating marital discord. Financial pressure reveals what is really in your heart, because what you truly believe comes out and affects your behaviour when you are under pressure (Luke 6). Pressure of this magnitude can cause us to make choices that we would not normally make.

Do you still make choices with integrity when you are under financial pressure? Everyone manages a business. For some it can be a multi-billion dollar enterprise; while for others, it is the family budget. In either case, the pressure is very real and what a person does under pressure reveals what is in their heart.

THE INTEGRITY TEST

Ever since I was a young boy in youth group I have heard the question asked, “Would you do that if Jesus was in the room with you?” This is a very good question and probably one I need to ask myself more than I do now. As a Christian, you have the supreme moral compass, the Holy Spirit, living inside you. If you are willing to listen to His voice, He can guide your financial decisions.

"Accountability is a very valuable safety net"

Ask yourself, “Would I be willing to have Jesus sign that check? Would you be comfortable with Jesus signing that tax declaration? Would you say that with Jesus sitting beside you?” If the answer is “no” then there is a high probability that you are not acting with integrity. Accountability is a very valuable safety net and can save you pain and anguish. We are all tempted by the possibility of saving some cash. I have yet to meet a person that doesn’t want more of it. Therefore, we need to be careful about the motives behind what we say and do.

Given the pressure people are under to make ends meet or deliver a financial result, it makes perfect sense to have an accountability structure in place. Corporations have this accountability legislated, but individuals do not. Ask a friend or accountant to be a part of your financial decisions, give them permission to ask questions, to challenge your decisions. It will keep you honest. Ask yourself, am I willing to be open or do I want to keep something hidden? This is a test of your heart.

YOUR INFLUENCE

Financial integrity goes beyond what you do with your own personal finances. An employer’s decision not only affects him, but also those he employs, provides goods or services to and those he receives goods and services from. This is why the Bible says, “To whom much is given, much from him will be required.” (Luke 12:48 NKJV). Are you paying your bills or are you placing someone to whom you owe money at the risk of financial ruin by robbing them of the ability to pay their bills?

"Would someone describe the way you handle what God has entrusted to you as 'gracious'?"

God calls us to be good stewards of what we have been given (Matthew 25). Being a good steward means acting with integrity. And to act with integrity means to subscribe to a higher code than the law. It means to be gracious. Would someone describe the way you handle what God has entrusted to you as 'gracious' or would 'selfish' or 'ruthless' be more accurate?

I believe that acting with financial integrity will bring freedom to your finances; but greediness will bring pain and bondage. Don’t let the pressure of making ends meet tempt you to compromise your integrity. Your heavenly Father is watching. Choose freedom.