Joel Osteen — The Rewards of Integrity
I want to talk to you today about The Rewards of Integrity. There's a lot of compromise in our society, people that think nothing about being dishonest, making underhanded deals, not keeping their word. They wonder why they can't get ahead, it's because they don't have integrity. Integrity is the foundation that a successful life is built on. You can have talent, vision, determination, but without integrity you won't reach your highest potential. And a person of integrity does the right thing, when no one is watching. They don't play it on the computer, because the boss stepped away, they don't lead people out of a commission, because they didn't know about the sale, they don't cut corners at the job site, because nobody will find out about it. They give it their best whether anyone is there or not.
When you have integrity you don't take supplies from the office to bring home to use. You don't show up late to work and have somebody clock in earlier for you. You don't spend half the day making personal phone calls at the office. "Well, they don't pay me enough anyway". Maybe not, but that's not integrity. If you'll do the right thing - God will make it up to you, he's keeping the records. Many things we face are simply tests. God is seeing, are we ready to go higher?
Maybe the bank teller gives you too much money in return are you going to have integrity go back and make things right or are you going to say thank you Jesus you did it again? That is not the answer to your prayer. Do you calling sick to work, coffeeing, sniffling, so you can take the day off and go shopping, you could win an Academy Award with that performance, but that's not integrity. Don't be surprised if you can't find anything at the store, they don't have your size, nobody will wait on you, traffic's backed up, maybe it's because there's no blessing on it. We can't deceive people and expect to have his favor. When somebody knocks on your door at home and you don't feel like visiting, do you tell your child go answer, tell him I'm not here? That works, but it's not integrity. Don't complain when your child doesn't tell the truth. We're leading by example. We can tell our children: do the right thing, stay on the high road, but if they see us compromising, they're going to do the same thing.
When you have integrity you pay your bills. You don't sweep things under the rug, you keep your commitments. Don't buy things that you know you can't pay for. "Well, Joel, I'm stretching my faith, I'm believing for increase". Stretch your faith before you sign on the dotted line. Let God bless you first, once you have the funds, then you can purchase it. But it's not integrity to make commitments, that you know you're not going to be able to keep. Don't promise people the moon, when you know you can't get to the clouds. Don't write a check and then pray for three days, hoping it'll clear. Check your balance first, be honest, be trustworthy, be a person of your word.
Your reputation is one of the most valuable things you have. Proverbs says, "A good name is worth more than great riches". You can have great wealth and be looked down on, seen as shady, but when you're a person of integrity, when people look at you and think, "I can trust them. They always do the right thing, they're honest, they're fair, they don't talk to me one way and then talk to my friends behind my back another way, they're consistent". Your name your reputation is too important to let it become tarnished by not having integrity. When you do the right thing, when you stay on the high road, that will take you much further than being dishonest, manipulating, trying to gain an unfair advantage. We can't turn in an exaggerated expense account and expect to be blessed. We can't be deceitful on taxes and expect to have God's favor.
I knew a man he tapped into the cable line behind his house and brought cable into his home without paying for it. He was so proud of it. He bragged to us for years, how he was saving $40 a month. That man never did rise out of mediocrity, constantly struggled, barely got by. He thought he was gaining an advantage. The truth is he was putting himself at a disadvantage. You may gain with people, gain some material things, but what if you lose with God? He controls the universe, he's the one that can open the windows of heaven and pour out blessings that you can't contain. I would rather have favor with God, than favor with people. That man would have been better off to pay the $40, so he could have God's blessing.
There's a lot we can get by with, hide, exaggerate, but anything we gain without integrity won't be as good as it could have been. It's better to be truthful and have less, then God's favor will take you further. But too often we're letting little compromises keep us from the big things God has in store. Instead of trying to cross the line, thinking how much can I get away with and still get by, why don't you try a different approach and see how far behind the line you can stay? Ask yourself, what is the right thing to do? If I was standing before God, what decision I make? The more integrity you have, the more God can bless you.
John chapter 1: Jesus saw man named Nathanael, coming toward him. Verse 47 says, "Jesus knew Nathaniel's thoughts, he honored him saying, 'Here comes a man in whom there is no deceit; an upright, honest man, that is free from hypocrisy and double standards'". That should be our goal, "God I want to be so aboveboard, so full of integrity, that you'll describe me, like you described Nathaniel, that there is no deceit in me. "Well, Joel, that's not me". Maybe not yet, but it can be. You can become a Nathaniel. You can make decisions that honor God. When you have integrity, you're the same in private, as you are in public. You don't treat people at work nice and kind, and then come home and be rude and harsh to your family. That's not integrity, that's hypocrisy. You should treat your family better, than you treat anyone else. Don't be kinder to strangers, then you are to your own spouse. Don't be more considerate to co-workers, than you are to the people that live in your own house. Be consistent.
Some people on Sundays is, "God bless you, great to see you". They'll wave real big, real friendly, but on Mondays if you cut them off in traffic, they'll wave with one finger in the air. That's being two-faced, that's a pretender. You have to get honest with yourself. I'm not asking you to be perfect, I'm asking you to be real. You'll never change, if you don't first acknowledge that there's some pretending going on. The next time you're tempted to switch over to the pretend you, the compromising you, the dishonest you, put your foot down, say "No, I'm not going there, that is not who I am, that's an imitation. I am kind, loving, honest, trustworthy, calm, consistent". You talk to yourself that way long enough and you'll have integrity with yourself, you'll become consistent, the same old Monday as your own Sunday, the same at work as you are at home.
This is what I saw growing up with my parents they were the same in the pulpit, as they were at home. They didn't love greatly in public and then have hateful things happen in private. And I believe, this is one reason that all of us kids, with the exception of my brother Paul, turned out okay. You can fool a lot of people, but you can't fool your children. They know when there's a double standard, they know when there's not integrity.
Our son Jonathan gave me a compliment a while back on my birthday on his Instagram post. He wrote, "My dad is one of the kindest people I know. He treats everyone he meets with respect". I didn't know that he really noticed, but people are watching. Parents, we are leading by example. And this is not to make us feel pressured, but to make us strive to excel, to be honorable, trustworthy, kind people, that stay on the high road. When you have integrity you're not making underhanded deals, hoping that nobody sees you. If you have to hide what you're doing is probably not integrity. I've heard it said, "Don't do anything, you wouldn't want to read about the next day in the newspaper".
I was at a restaurant years ago in another city. We were traveling to an event. I had brought some lemons in the car, that I wanted to cut and squeeze into an energy drink, before I spoke, but I forgot the knife. We were going straight to the meeting, didn't have much time, so I thought maybe at this restaurant I can take one of their knives. After all, I'm paying a lot for this meal, just a three dollar knife they're not gonna miss it, they're not gonna care. Started reasoning it out, trying to justify, taking a knife. I thought how am I going to get it out of here? The only way is to hide it. I thought I can't do that, I'll get Victoria to do it for me, my partner in crime. I finally came to my senses: "You're a pastor, you are not going to go out of here, hiding a piece of silverware".
I called the waiter over said, "Sir, I need a favor". Can I buy this knife? He went and talked to the manager, came back brought me a set of silverware in a bag, said, "the manager said, you can have it". I thought, "Lord, thank you kept me out of prison". But here's my point: it's much better to be open and honest. I probably could have walked out of there with some silverware hidden, they may not have seen it, but here's the problem, God would have seen it. The scripture says, "It's the little foxes, that spoil the vines". I doubt many of you have big areas where you're lacking integrity, but maybe there's some small things. And the good news is, it's not hard to correct it. Just takes a little effort, digging down deeper to do the right thing. It means getting out of ruts, where we've gotten comfortable compromising and doing things that are less, than our best.
David said in Psalm 101, "I will lead a life of integrity in my own home". He was saying, where nobody can see me, I'm going to do the right thing. When I could slack off, compromise, give in to temptation, be dishonest, instead I'm going to take the high road, I'm going to be a person of excellence, I'm going to show God, he can trust me. He went on to say, "I will not look at anything impure". Not gonna watch things, that poison me. Verse 3 says, "I will not have crooked dealings". Not going to get involved in things, that are shady and underhanded, unethical. David wasn't perfect, but he made up his mind he was going to walk in integrity starting in his own home, starting in his private life.
We can fool a lot of people in public, but what God is concerned with is what goes on the closed doors. The scripture talks about the hidden man of our heart, that's our motives, what we do in secret. How you live in private will determine how high you go in public. And people may not be watching, but God is watching. And don't take that as, something negative. "Man I'm gonna get caught, I'm in trouble". Take it as a challenge. God is watching to see, when he can promote you. He's waiting to see when you pass these tests, so he can take you to new levels. And I wonder how much higher we would go? How much more favor and promotion we'd see, if we would deal with the areas, that we know are holding us back?
Start making things right. Have an integrity in your finances, in your relationships, in how you treat people. "After all, I didn't want to hear about integrity today, I wanted to hear about prosperity". You will never have prosperity, if you don't first have integrity. The two go hand-in-hand.
I was at a music store with Jonathan, when he was 10 years old, buying some equipment for his guitar. And when I went to pay, the man told me, that Lakewood had an account there and we could put it on that account. Now I told him, that this was personal and I didn't want to do that, He gave me the bill and the tax on it was twenty dollars. He said "At least, let me put this under Lakewood's name, that way, you won't have to pay the tax. Lakewood is a church, and churches are tax-exempt". I said, "Thanks so much, but now I want to pay the tax to, this is totally personal". He looked at me so strange, kind of shook his head, like "Man, you are way overboard, nobody would know you didn't pay the tax. My company wouldn't know, the church wouldn't know, the IRS wouldn't know". What he didn't realize, is someone was watching more important, than all those that he mentioned. The Most High God sees everything we do.
These are opportunities for us to pass the test. If God can trust me to be honest with $20, maybe he can trust me to handle 20,000 or 20 million or 200 million. I would hate to think, I didn't reach my destiny, because of small things I wasn't honest in, small areas that I didn't pass the test. Sure I could have saved $20, but what is that in comparison to having the blessing and favor of the Creator of the universe. When God can trust you, when you prove to him, that you're a person of integrity, there is no limit to how high he will take you.
I saw this with my father, he was a man of great integrity. If there was the smallest question of something not being aboveboard, perfectly ethical, he wouldn't have anything to do with it. Through the years people would bring deals by, "Hey, you got that big church, all those people. You can take advantage of it, make some extra funds". But my father valued God's blessing on his life more than what any person could come up with. He taught me to have a high standard. And if you don't feel good about something, you have to talk to yourself into it, make excuses as to why it's okay, it's not worth it. You will never go wrong by taking the high road.
Short term I could have saved 20$, long-term I may not be where I am. Prove to God that he can trust you, that you'll go the extra mile to do what's right. You may have to say no to some things, that people don't understand. Not do what all your co-workers do. Maybe they're fine with slacking off, they're okay with spending company money on personal things. Don't judge them, that's not our business, but don't become like them, don't lower your standards, they're not going where you're going. You may not be able to do everything your family members do, watch what they watch, do business like they do business, there's a price to pay to become all you were created to be. If it was easy, anybody would do it. This takes people, that have a made up mind, "I'm going to honor God, not gonna compromise, take shortcuts, do things that are not ethical, not gonna push people down to get an advantage, not gonna be sloppy in my business dealings. I'm going to be a person of integrity, trustworthy honorable". That's the kind of people God rewards.
But sometimes, when we compromise and do things that are questionable, we think we're gaining an advantage with people, we're getting the upper hand, but when you walk in integrity you're gaining an advantage with God. His favor on your life will take you further, than any advantage with people. You may have made mistakes in the past, not had integrity in certain areas, that's okay, we all have. My challenge is start making things right. Let today be a new day. Don't go the next 30 years letting the same things hold you back.
When my father was in his 20s, back in the 1940s, he bought two suits on credit from a store in Fort Worth. He had good intentions, he was planning on paying them back, but he got busy and things came up, he never did. Years went by and he had forgotten about it. One day he was driving through Fort Worth and suddenly he remembered, it bothered him that he had never paid that debt. He got in the phone book, but couldn't find the name of the company. So he drove to the location, but they were closed down. The people next door said they had been out of business for many years. He could have thought, "I did my best, I tried". But he didn't stop there. He found out who the owners were, they had passed away, but he was able to track down one of their children. He called this man, he was my father's age, and explained that he owed them for two suits he didn't pay for back in the 1940s.
The man says "Sir, don't worry about it. We've been out of business, we're all doing fine". My dad thanked him for being so gracious, and said "No, I still want to pay you". He drove to his house and gave him a check with interest 40 years later. No wonder God bless my father. No wonder he took him higher and higher. It wasn't that he just had great talent, he had great integrity, he was determined to make things right.
In Genesis chapter 20, Abraham and Sarah had just moved to a new city. Sarah was very beautiful, very striking. Abraham knew, when the King saw her beauty, he would want to take her into his harem. He told Sarah, "Tell the King, that you're my sister, that way he won't kill me just to get to you". Like he thought, the King sent word for Sarah, had her come to the palace. One night the King had a dream: God said to him, "Why have you taken a married woman into your family"? The king said, "God, what do you mean? Abraham said she was his sister? She told me Abraham was her brother? In the integrity of my heart I have done this". God said in verse 6: "Yes, I know, you are innocent. Because of your integrity, I have kept you from touching her. Now return her to Abraham".
This king was about to make a mistake, get off course, step out of God's favor, but because of his integrity, because he was trustworthy, honorable, God kept him from what he couldn't see on his own. Proverbs 2 says, "God is a shield to those who walk in integrity. He guards their path and watches after them". Like this King, there are mistakes you could have, made wrong terms, compromise, but because of your integrity God stepped in and closed the door, he kept you from the trouble, he's guarding your path. Some of the temptation that you resisted, it wasn't that you were so strong, wasn't that you just decided to say no, that was God holding you back.
There is a blessing on your life that protects you, guards you, when you honor God. David talked about it, "God keeps my foot from dashing against a stone. God will not let my enemies triumph over me". When you walk in integrity God has a shield around you. He's keeping fiery darts from hitting you, he's pushing back darkness, he's not letting the temptation overtake you, he's closing doors that would be harmful. If you want to keep that shield up, keep your integrity, be trustworthy, be honorable, a person of your word, be somebody that can be counted on.
There was a very wealthy man that had a friend, that was a builder. This builder had been down on his luck and not had much business. The man felt sorry for him and decided to help him out. He gave him a set of plans with the check for $200,000. He said, "I want you to use these funds to build me a new house. You handle all the details, just call me, when you're done". He assured him, he would pay him very well, if he'd do a good job. This builder was so excited, that he finally had some work. But he got to thinking, if he would cut a few corners a little bit here, save a little here, save a little there, he could pocket some of that money, without anybody knowing about it. So he went out and found the cheapest concrete he could find, had the workers water it down, so it could go further. He saved several thousand dollars on the foundation, he bought the cheapest lumber, some of it was old, crooked, warped. He didn't care, he's gonna be behind the walls, nobody would see it. He got the cheapest plumber, cheapest electricity, on and on, right and left cutting corners, pocketing the money.
When he finished, he had saved nearly $40,000. He was so happy, he called the owner over, to look at the new house. The owner was very impressed, look beautiful on the outside, you couldn't tell he had cut corners. This builder couldn't wait to see, how much he was going to get paid. He knew the owner was a very generous man. The owner says, "You know, I don't really need a new house. I have a beautiful one, I just wanted to help you out. He handed him the keys and said, "here you just built your own house". The builder nearly passed out. He thought, "If I'd known is going to be mine, I'd built it a whole lot better".
We may not realize it, but we are building our own house. We can cut corners here, compromise there, it's not hurting anyone, except ourselves. Everything may look fine on the outside, what matters is what's happening on the inside. Are we watering down our foundation? Not being trustworthy in commitments? Slacking off at the office? What kind of materials are you putting into your house? I'm asking you to be a person of integrity, do the right thing when nobody is watching, don't let small things keep you from the big destiny God has in store. Start passing these tests be honorable, trustworthy, a person of your word. If you'll do this, I believe and declare, because you walk in integrity, God is going to have a shield around you. He's going to keep you from making major mistakes. You're not only going to be protected, but you're going to see promotion, good breaks, new levels, the fullness of your destiny in Jesus name.