As it is written: There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God... Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips... Romans 3:10-13
Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others...” Matthew 5:13
Every time I read those first words (lifted, of course, straight out of the Book of Psalms), I feel like saying, “Hang on a minute, Paul, isn’t this a bit over the top! Surely human nature, even fallen human nature, isn’t that bad!”
But a recent experience has led me to be less sceptical. Let me introduce it with an illustration...
Do you remember, perhaps on holiday as a child, when you were playing on the beach?
The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the sea is murmuring quietly onto the shore. Everything is perfect. You notice a specially nice pebble, really big, smooth and flat. For no particular reason you lift it and turn it over, and - aaargh!
There’s a whole dark, damp, murky world down there, populated by all sort of nasty creepy-crawlies, who seem to be going busily about urgent, sinister business. You quickly slap that lovely pebble back down. And you never see that beach in quite the same way again.
Well, it’s been a bit like that for my wife and me. Why?
Because we have recently embarked on an activity which, you would think, must be one of the most innocent in the world: selling our house. Yes, we have entered the friendly, smiling, benign world of estate agents.
And we have discovered a busy under-side of dishonesty, sharp practice and cut-throat rivalry. Phone calls from agents we have never even heard of, wanting (of course) to know how you are, Mr Sedgwick, but then wanting us to know that they really would like to help us in the event of having difficulty selling. Phone calls which are repeated three or four times a week, in spite of us asking (with increasingly diminished politeness) to be left alone.
We are told that in our interests (of course) they feel it necessary to be “proactive” in approaching us in this way. The other day we had a business card through the letter-box with a scribbled message: “We have a buyer for your property.” Which was, as I knew very well as soon as I read it, simply an out-and-out lie.
Don’t worry, I don’t really have it in for estate agents! - many of whom, I am sure, are as honest as the day is long (like the ones we’re with). But my impression is that such are the exception rather than the rule.
And I am well aware too that the kind of nastiness we are experiencing is simply nothing compared to the abuses, the cruelties, the sheer horrors many people in our world are experiencing. But this experience has prompted the question, Does anybody today stick scrupulously to the truth? Are dodgy practices accepted as the norm?
A few other pebbles have been turned over recently, haven’t they? Doping in professional cycling... Newspapers involved in phone-hacking... MPs’ expenses... Horrible goings-on in the entertainment world... Betting syndicates controlling big-time cricket... Not to mention, sadly, corruption of various kinds in the church...
So where am I going with this? This isn’t (promise!) a case of grumpy-old-man-in-what’s-the-world-coming-to mode. No; something far more positive, I hope. And it’s this...
In a world awash with lies, what a perfect opportunity we have, as people committed to truth, to stand out as light in the darkness, as Jesus told us to. Not, of course, in a sanctimonious, self-righteous way; but quietly and consistently in our everyday living. The fact is that people respect integrity even when they’re not particular about practicing it themselves.
I could, of course, lift a pebble that gives a reasonably pleasant outside appearance to my own life and personality, and you’d see some pretty ugly stuff underneath. We all know what it’s like to take an honest look down into the dingy well of our own souls. But if it’s true that we are being daily transformed into the likeness of Christ, hopefully there are moments when that likeness will shine through.
Whatever area of life we move in - business, sport, politics, just routine daily existence, you name it - what a wonderful challenge it is: to be people of cast-iron, rock-solid, Christlike integrity! So may God be glorified even in us!
Lord God, help me to be a person of unshakeable honesty in every aspect of my life. Amen.