Watchful perseverance in love

How to stand firm in the face of opposition.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 – Be alert, stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong. Do everything in love.

A few of the final parting exhortations of Paul to the congregation at Corinth reveal some of the deepest foundations for believers in Messiah.

To be alert is vigilance, watchfulness; the idea of keeping awake when everyone else is sleeping. What is he encouraging them to be on the lookout for? If we review some other uses of this term in other letters of Paul, some of these ideas are found:

Colossians 4:2 – Devote yourselves to prayer; stay alert in it with thanksgiving.
1 Thessalonians 5:6 – So then, let us not sleep, like the rest, but let us stay awake and be self-controlled.

This idea of wakefulness as Paul uses it involves thankful prayer and being self-controlled. When we relax our guard from prayer, thanksgiving, and self-control, we can be led astray. Paul reveals this to be the case by adding to this exhortation of vigilance by saying, “Stand firm in the faith, be courageous, be strong.”

Standing firm in the faith implies persevering. One needs exhortation to persevere only when they are encountering opposition. This is a necessary element of the faith because believers, by default, can appear antagonistic to the world around them due to their opposing world views.

Psalm 37:12 – The wicked person schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.
Proverbs 29:27 – An unjust person is detestable to the righteous, and one whose way is upright is detestable to the wicked.

Paul knows from personal experience this is the case, and encourages the believers to literally “act like men.” This bravery, strength, and perseverance in the face of opposition is a necessity among believers, or the implanted word will not bear fruit. This can bring about the situation disclosed by Yeshua in his parable of the sower:

Matthew 13:20-21 – And the one sown on rocky ground ​– ​this is one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy. But he has no root and is short-lived. When distress or persecution comes because of the word, immediately he falls away.

Notice, Yeshua says “when distress or persecution comes because of the word,” not if it comes about. This is the lot of those who choose to seek out and follow the Way of God in this life, and Paul is simply ensuring those believers in Corinth are prepared.

Paul then finishes his thought on vigilance, perseverance, and courage by summing up the ultimate command for all believers: “Do everything in love.” It literally reads, “All things of you, in love, let be done.” This is the difference between the believer and the non-believer when confronting these differing world views. According to Psalm 37, the wicked person “schemes against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.” Yet, even though to the believer the way of the unrighteous is detestable, they are still commanded to do everything in love.

True vigilance protects oneself through thankful prayer and self-control, all the while extending love to those who disagree with them. This was the path Paul encouraged those believers to navigate in their context of real danger persecution. How much more should we exhibit these characteristics in our comparatively mild day and age?


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The contrast of holiness in a world of darkness

Our priorities are not the same priorities of the world around us.

Proverbs 29:27 – An unjust person is detestable to the righteous, and one whose way is upright is detestable to the wicked.

This proverb highlights the condition and the role of the righteous on the earth: to be set apart as holy and distinct. If there is a distinction being made, then the differing factions will have diverse viewpoints. Yeshua himself illustrated this point as he described how his teaching was a fulfillment of prophecy.

Matthew 10:34-37 – Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. The one who loves a father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; the one who loves a son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

Holiness by its very nature causes divergence of thoughts, opinions, and allegiances. One of the most notable features demonstrating the holiness of the teachings of Yeshua is that he was a polarizing figure; he was presenting ideas and concepts where people had to choose sides between options.

Matthew 12:30 – Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.

This was not a new or novel concept; God’s servants and messengers have always presented polarizing options in the way of holiness. Moses and Joshua did so with the nation of Israel as they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 30:16-19 – “For I am commanding you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, statutes, and ordinances, so that you may live and multiply, and the LORD your God may bless you in the land you are entering to possess. “But if your heart turns away and you do not listen and you are led astray to bow in worship to other gods and serve them, “I tell you today that you will certainly perish and will not prolong your days in the land you are entering to possess across the Jordan. “I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live…

Joshua 24:14-15 – “Therefore, fear the LORD and worship him in sincerity and truth. Get rid of the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and worship the LORD. “But if it doesn’t please you to worship the LORD, choose for yourselves today: Which will you worship ​– ​the gods your fathers worshiped beyond the Euphrates River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living? As for me and my family, we will worship the LORD.”

Holiness is in some ways, in the most profound ways, a very real burden for those who are acting in the way of the righteous, the derech ha-tzaddikim. This is the Way that holds to God’s standards above the standards of the culture and world in which we live. By abiding by his standards, we also become polarizing individuals within our family, friend, and work acquaintance circles.

However, as believers in Yeshua and followers of God’s commands, this is who we are. This is who we are meant to be. Our priorities are not the same priorities of the world around us. The burden of distinction we carry is one which has us die to ourselves, our own ambitions and desires, and to place before us the things of God instead. To others, this may appear to be a detestable path of death, when in reality this burden, our cross, is ultimately the path of life.

Matthew 10:38-39 – And whoever doesn’t take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Anyone who finds his life will lose it, and anyone who loses his life because of me will find it.


If you enjoy these daily blog posts, be sure to visit the growing archive of the Core of the Bible podcast. Each week we take a more in-depth look at one of the various topics presented in the daily blog. You can view the podcast archive at https://core-of-the-bible.simplecast.com/ or your favorite podcast streaming service. Questions or comments? Feel free to email me directly at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

Living lives of integrity by intentionally placing God’s word in our hearts

We should be so imbued with God’s word that we should act with integrity as a reflex.

Do what is right and good in the Yahweh’s sight, so all will go well with you. … For we will be counted as righteous when we obey all the commands Yahweh our God has given us.

Deuteronomy 6:18, 25

Yeshua taught that believers should demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands. The integrity of the actions we pursue and the decisions we make should come from a genuine place in our hearts, not just outward compliance.

What Yeshua was teaching the audience of his day was nothing new. Moses had urged this of the Hebrew community over a millennia earlier, and they had formed many traditions around his template to maintain a continuous recognition of the commands of God.

Hear, Israel: Yahweh is our God; Yahweh is one: and you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them for a sign on your hand, and they shall be for symbols between your eyes. You shall write them on the door posts of your house, and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The method used by Hebrew believers over the years to accomplish this doing of the commands from the heart is in the recitation of the Shema. As outlined from a popular Jewish website below, this process has become a daily declaration of their faith.

Shema Yisrael (שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל) (“Hear, O Israel”) are the first two words of a section of the Torah that is the centerpiece of the morning and evening prayer services, encapsulating the monotheistic essence of Judaism:

“Hear, O Israel: G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is one.”

In its entirety, the Shema consists of three paragraphs: Deuteronomy 6:4–9, Deuteronomy 11:13–21 and Numbers 15:37–41.

Its recitation twice daily (morning and evening) is a biblical commandment. In addition, we recite it just before retiring for the night, as well as in the Kedushah service on Shabbat.

Indeed, this succinct statement has become so central to the Jewish people that it is the climax of the final Ne’ilah prayer of Yom Kippur, and is traditionally a Jew’s last words on earth.

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/705353/jewish/The-Shema.htm

While I am not suggesting we adopt this specific Jewish tradition listed above, its method of identifying what is most important and reviewing it in an intentional way should be an example to us of the tenacity required to imbue their culture with a recognition of an obedient life, an upright and righteous life, a life of true integrity.

How diligent are we in making sure the words of God are in our hearts so we can act on them without even thinking? Like physical reflexes, we should respond to our situations and conditions in ways that honor God because his instruction is thriving in our hearts. When situations arise that demand our obedience, we shouldn’t have to seek commentaries and biblical concordances; we should be so imbued with God’s word that his Spirit can bring those insights to the forefront of our thinking, and therefore our actions, whenever needed.

Moses’ method in the commandment involves a constant, daily, repetitious routine that would saturate the culture of the people. “…you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.”

If we could find ways to incorporate this level of diligence in our daily routines for ourselves and within our families, we would not only be following the commandment, but we would also be living lives of integrity that would be clearly and intentionally patterned on God’s word.

Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

The narrow path of Yeshua is less like a wilderness hike and more of a challenging slot canyon adventure.

Core of the Bible Podcast Episode 11 – Vigilance on the Narrow Path to Life

In this episode we will be exploring the topic of vigilance necessary in a believer’s life to follow the narrow path that leads to a small entranceway of life.

Yeshua stated it this way:
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14

This narrow path analogy runs deep in religious circles. There is a general recognition of the unique nature of this path in the believers’ quest for life; it is narrow and rarely traveled compared to the broad way that leads to destruction, as Yeshua says.

The images usually used to convey this concept have to do with a narrow footpath, perhaps through a wilderness or along a mountain ridge. The idea typically put forth is that it is a path in out of the way places, away from the wider conveyances of the general population, just as a hiking path differs from an interstate highway. They are completely different ways of getting from point A to point B, and they take travelers to two different destinations.

All of this is not untrue in the context of the passage at hand, but if we dig a little deeper into some of the words Yeshua used to express this concept, we may come away with a slightly different and more profound understanding.

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers
Narrow is the way.–Literally, pressed, or hemmed in between walls or rocks, like the pathway in a mountain gorge.

This narrowness is defined by obstacles that are standing nearby, preventing movement in either direction but forward. It is also expressed as a way that is “compressed,” there is affliction and tribulation associated with this way.

To summarize this type of understanding, in the Core of the Bible paraphrase I have restated it this way: “There is a constricted entryway into life which has many obstacles standing about it. Labor fervently to stay on the difficult path that leads through the cramped passage to life along with the few others who also perceive its value and find it.” In my view, this description sharpens some of the terms in our English versions like “small gate”and “narrow path.”

A typical understanding of this verse might leave one with the picture of a small, one-person garden gate that must be entered after walking along a beautiful, winding, narrow path through meadows and forests. The sun has been shining, the birds have been singing, and beautiful flowers line the sides of the path. The way has been relatively flat and we have rarely had to exert ourselves in our protected way.

However, I would like to propose a slightly different picture, a fictional parable designed to illustrate the narrow path that Yeshua speaks of.

The way of life is to traverse the desolate high plateau of Arizona or Colorado through a narrow slot canyon which twists and turns in confusing patterns. You are never able to see more than 100 feet in front of you, and confusing side-canyons are passed from time to time. It’s where rockfalls tumble in front of you and must be climbed over; where poisonous reptiles lurk in sun-warmed hand-holds while you are consistently scraping through passages only wide enough to pass through sideways, sucking in your stomach and putting your arms out flat to ensure you have clearance to get through.

Finally, after braving the obstructions and challenges of the slot canyon, the destination is not a single-person garden gate at the end of the meadow path, but a weathered and heavy door that opens to an indiscriminate rough cave opening at the end of the canyon. To enter the darkness of the cave, you have to get down on your already-scraped and bruised knees as you move into a cramped passageway with loose rubble strewn in the way.

Ahead, the darkness gives way to some dim light peering around the bend ahead. Sweating due to the exertion of the journey, and repeatedly hitting your head on unseen obstacles hanging from the cramped cave passage, you reach forward with a dirt-stained arm to push through the rubble of the partially blocked passageway ahead to see where the light is coming from.

Okay, so this slot canyon analogy expands quite a bit on the narrow path contained in the imagery used by Yeshua. I think you might notice a slight difference between this depiction here and how that concept is typically presented.

But that’s the point. We have to look at things differently because it really isn’t all sunshine and roses and mountain meadows on the path to life.

ou see, believers have chosen a difficult option when it comes to a life path. One cannot just fall into the Kingdom of God by accidentally stumbling into it; it requires grit, intentionality, and determination to pursue the things of God.

It’s not just a sunny walk on a garden path (although it can be at times), but it’s more typically a perilous journey around obstacles and through constricted passageways, all the while wondering if you’ve heard God correctly. Then a confirmation appears on the way ahead, but only far enough to get you to the next corner or the next obstacle, and then you must continue pushing on.

Testing happens at every corner, but testing is for the purpose of strengthening. Strengthening provides stability of footing and the opportunity to grasp the hands of others whom you may encounter inside this narrow canyon and help them on the way.

Vigilance on this path means being intentional, listening for God’s direction. It includes being strengthened through testing, and looking beyond yourself to the needs of others along the way. This is the path of the disciple of Yeshua, the narrow path of vigilance that leads to the constricted entrance of life.

However, in learning about the path, it is necessary to discuss why one would even seek such a path in the first place. If someone is to go through all of the struggle and hardship mentioned previously, then it makes sense that they should have a clear understanding of the goal. Yeshua says “the way is narrow that leads to life.” What is this life he mentions?

First of all, the type of life mentioned here must be some other sort of life than just raw existence somewhere. We know he can’t just be speaking here of life as existence, because someone who is striving for a goal is already physically alive.

Looking at some perspectives from over the centuries since Yeshua spoke those words, we find different ways of viewing this concept of life.

Matthew Poole, a British theologian in the 1600’s, states what is likely a very common understanding of this passage when he writes:

The sum of what our Saviour here saith is this: There are but two ultimate ends of all men, eternal destruction and eternal life. The course that leadeth to destruction is like a broad way that is obvious to all, and many walk in that. That course of life and actions which will bring a man to heaven is strait [not straight, but as in a narrow, restricted passageway], unpleasing to flesh and blood, not at all gratifying men’s sensitive appetites, and narrow, (the Greek is, afflicted), a way wherein men will meet with many crosses and temptations; and there are but a few will find it.

John Gill, also a British theologian living a generation after Poole, in his Exposition of the Bible states a similar view:

which leadeth unto life: unto eternal life: it certainly leads thither; it never fails of bringing persons to it; believers in Christ, all that walk in Christ the way, though they are said to be “scarcely” saved, by reason of their afflictions and trials they meet with in their way to the kingdom; yet they are, and shall be certainly saved: they shall be safely brought to glory; which will be an abundant recompense for all the troubles and sorrows that have attended them in their journey.

I find it interesting that those who equate the kingdom of God with some ethereal after-life existence will typically align the term “life” with “eternal life,” as in, unending after-life as a reward for faithfulness during this temporary existence.

However, various commentators over the centuries have described this idea of “life” that Yeshua expresses here in different ways than just eternity. Some have thought of this life as more of a description of an ideal than just a state of existence.

The Expositor’s Greek Testament states it this way:

The right way… is described as narrow and contracted, and as leading to life.—, a pregnant word, true life, worth living, in which men realise the end of their being—the antithesis of [destruction].

Pulpit Commentary

That leadeth unto life. Observe, Christ does not say, “life eternal.” He only cares to emphasize the thought of life in the fullest nature of life – life as “the fulfilment of the highest idea of being: perfect truth in perfect action”

Charles Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers

Which leadeth unto life.–Noteworthy as the first passage in our Lord’s recorded teaching in which the word “life” appears as summing up all the blessedness of the kingdom. The idea is developed as we advance; the life becomes “eternal,” and finally we are taught that the eternal life consists in the true and perfect knowledge of God and Christ (John 17:2-3).

We will explore John 17 further in a little bit.

Matthew Henry straddles both the concepts of this present life and eternity when he writes:

And yet this way should invite us all; it leads to life: to present comfort in the favour of God, which is the life of the soul; to eternal bliss, the hope of which at the end of our way, should make all the difficulties of the road easy to us.

Throughout Yeshua’s teaching, he always spoke of the kingdom as being near or “at hand.” In my view, the life of the kingdom should not be relegated solely to some after-life existence or some future worldwide paradise. Life and kingdom are a reality now, as we live obediently and faithfully in our present existence.

By contrast, the way of destruction that is broad and contains many travelers is then a life without knowing God, without knowing Yeshua. That life leads to destruction or loss because the things done in that life have no lasting value.

Some other Jewish writings from the time of the New Testament state the plight of the wicked from their perspective as they realize the error of being on the wrong road:

Wisdom 5:6 So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
7 We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
8 What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?

That’s a sad commentary on a life that is recognized as having been wasted. If we were to view those on the wide road of destruction as lost from the narrow path, and not just on some inevitable  conveyer belt to damnation, we might be more inclined to reach out to them to at least show them the option of the way of life, the way of the kingdom, and to exemplify its standards. They may not be attracted to it because of the challenges it presents, but some will. 

GK Chesterton is quoted as saying, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

But even though this may be the case, we should never give up hope for others to also be drawn to this Way. Some will instinctively know it is the right way to go, regardless of the challenges. After all, we are here, and learning from each other how to move further down the canyon, and identifying which side-canyons and areas to avoid. It is possible for others to come off of the way of destruction as many of us had when we saw the alternative potential of the, albeit more challenging, way of life.

Earlier, I had mentioned in a portion of the Ellicott commentary how I liked his bringing of John 17:3 into the discussion at hand, as that verse captures this view of life that I also hold as my own:

John 17:3- And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Eternal life is knowing God and recognizing Yeshua as sent from God. This life that is stated as eternal here is expressed through the Greek word aionios. While it certainly conveys the idea of enduring, perpetual and everlasting (what we would consider eternal), it also implies that which has always been and will always be. It is typically translated as age, as in distinguishing one era of time from another.

If this eternal life is “life of the age,” what is the age that Yeshua is speaking about here? I believe he is speaking of what, to Yeshua’s listeners, would have been considered a “new” age to them; an age of life available through faith in Messiah, an age that would never end. I believe we are continuing to live in that age today.

The path of that life is narrow, constricted, and full of hardship and travail. Yet it is one that results in true life: knowledge of the only true God and his Messiah Yeshua. That is a life worth striving for.

If we are to conclude our fictional parable of journeying through the constricted passageway to life, the description might proceed as a milestone is reached, making our way toward the faint light ahead:

The final obstructions of rock tumble down a slope ahead of you as you push through the cramped passageway into a lighted cavern beyond, which opens up into a hidden paradise. A waterfall empties into a vast lake of clear, cool water. Sunlight from above, hurtful to eyes which had strained through the darkness, streams abundantly over all , nourishing the fruit trees and berry bushes lining the shores of the lake.

Tumbling headlong down the slope, you stumble wearily to the refreshing waters and drench yourself at the shore, cupping the running water coming from the waterfall and drinking liberally. You and your companions take pleasure in having reached this place of rest and refreshment along the way. The knowledge of this place reassures you that you are on the right path. On the opposite end of the lake, another canyon beckons toward the continuing journey.

The way of life is a way of vigilance, of watching for obstructions and challenges, and it is a way of grit, determination, and effort. But the reward is a knowledge of our Creator and his Messiah that enhances our every step in the here and now. He provides the refreshment and strength we need to complete the journey.

As we seek to follow Yeshua, we are drawn not only to him, but to each other. And if we have this perspective of reassurance and reward,  we can hold one another up and help each other on the way.

Well, once again, I hope I’ve been able to provide you some ideas and concepts to meditate on further. Vigilance is a challenging way of living, of keeping an eye out for the dangers around you while intently listening for God’s direction and constantly scanning and looking for the continuation of the narrow way to life.

We need to keep in mind that vigilance is one of the concepts that is integral within the core of the Bible qualities of kingdom, integrity, holiness, trust, forgiveness and compassion. It is my hope you will continue to review with me these aspects of human expression that, I believe, God expects of all people.

Have questions about todays topic, or comments or insights you would like to share about your own path? Perhaps you have found this podcast helpful or encouraging. If so, I would love to hear from you and include listener comments in future episodes, so feel free to email me at coreofthebible@gmail.com.

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True holiness stems from the presence of God, his words, living within our hearts

Those who live and abide by God’s precepts are doing so because it makes up the very essence of who they are.

Do not be afraid, Jacob, my servant, for I am with you,” says the LORD.

Jeremiah 46:28

The one thing that set ancient Israel apart from their neighboring tribes and countries was that their God was present. While other kingdoms and countries had their gods, their idols, and their temples, Israel actually had the God of the universe with them.

God allowed himself to be present within their Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that traveled with them. His presence resided in the Most Holy Place, by all accounts hovering above and within the ark of the covenant, which contained the tablets of the Ten Words, the Ten Commandments.

This covenant, these Ten Words, are what separated Israel from their neighbors. This is what made them holy; they were to abide by the actual commands of God, written with his own finger, etched eternally into stone.

There was no fanciful prophetic vision or private revelation; these words had been conveyed to the entire assembly of Israel at once as he himself spoke these words from Sinai. Everyone heard his voice, everyone felt the weight of his presence and struggled with the fear, real fear, at hearing the resounding and penetrating voice of God.

On the morning of the third day, thunder roared and lightning flashed, and a dense cloud came down on the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled.

Exodus 19:16

For they heard an awesome trumpet blast and a voice so terrible that they begged God to stop speaking. They staggered back under God’s command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” Moses himself was so frightened at the sight that he said, “I am terrified and trembling.”

Hebrews 12:19-21

Israel was born of revelation, a revelation to an entire people at once. This is what set them apart, and this was the heart of their most sacred place and artifacts that they carried with them throughout their wilderness journeys and into the land promised to them.

To this day, what sets God’s people apart is this covenant, the Ten Words. There is no equal among the religious communities of the world,

The illustration for us through what is pictured in the wilderness journeys of Israel is that just as God resided within that Most Holy Place above the ark of the covenant, God’s very presence resides within these Ten Words, the Ten Commandments. As we seek to fulfill these commands, then we are truly following in the footsteps of our Lord, the Messiah Yeshua.

“Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Matthew 5:17-19

This is the everlasting covenant that remains forever. The “new” covenant ushered in through Yeshua is a martyr’s covenant of dying to self so that the words of the everlasting covenant can be lived through us. It places this covenant in the hearts of those who would receive them, those who are called by his Name and who live and abide by its precepts because it makes up the very essence of who they are.

“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Jeremiah 31:33

This is holiness, being set apart for the purposes of God. He is present within the words of his covenant, and as the covenanted words are in our heart, he is present within us.

God is present. This sets us apart. This makes us whole. This is the essence of his kingdom on the earth.

Making the right choices every day helps keep us on the right path

Integrity or wickedness can each pull us into established patterns, for better or worse.

Righteousness keeps him who is upright in the way, and wickedness overthrows a sin offering.

Proverbs 13:6

Those who have integrity are often described with similar terms such as “upright” or “perfect.” This idea of perfection, though, is not as though one is completely without fault; it is more a concept of completeness, or wholeness.

Yeshua uses the phrase in a similar way when he encourages believers to “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” (Matt. 5:48). This is a Hebraic way of expressing that believers should be totally consistent in their lifestyle: their beliefs and what they say should match 100% with what their actions convey. This is wholeness, perfection, integrity.

In the proverb above, walking in righteousness is said to guard or “keep” one in the way of God. The more our lives demonstrate consistency, the simpler it is to stay on the correct path.

By contrast, when our lives are in disarray and when our actions are inconsistent, we struggle more to keep our focus where it needs to be. The wickedness of those who do not walk with integrity is said to “overthrow their sin offering.” This is a demonstration of how even the best of intentions can be counteracted by a pattern of inconsistent behavior.

Living a life of integrity or wickedness is a life of momentum. The weight of our everyday thoughts and actions drive a flywheel of consequence that can keep us headed in positive or negative directions based on patterns we are establishing in every decision.

When we are consistent in our actions and our speech, we establish patterns of righteousness that tend to keep us walking in the right way. Sin is less of a temptation and a distraction because we have established views and behaviors that we begin to thrive in. This encourages further righteous actions and as a result, we begin to exhibit larger measures of integrity in our interactions with others.

My eyes are on the faithful of the land, to dwell with me, Whoever is walking in a perfect way, he serves me.

Psalm 101:6

How to change the world, or at least your corner of it

Integrity has the ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance.

During the third year of King Jehoiakim’s reign in Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. … Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief of staff, to bring to the palace some of the young men of Judah’s royal family and other noble families, who had been brought to Babylon as captives. … The king assigned them a daily ration of food and wine from his own kitchens. They were to be trained for three years, and then they would enter the royal service. … But Daniel was determined not to defile himself by eating the food and wine given to them by the king. He asked the chief of staff for permission not to eat these unacceptable foods.

Daniel 1:1, 3, 5, 8

One of our admonitions from Yeshua is to demonstrate virtue and purity that exceeds those who are merely following external commands (Matt. 5:20). Sometimes these external commands take the form of direct instruction, and sometimes these “commands” come in the form of allowances or tolerations of our culture that would violate the purity of our relationship with God. We must resist both forms of this type of cultural influence.

In the case of Daniel and his friends, they were removed from their home and brought to a completely different culture under a new political regime. Even though they were favored within this new dynamic, Daniel and his friends, in their integrity, resolved not to be negatively influenced by this turn of events, and to remain loyal to God.

The Hebrew culture that Daniel had been raised in had very specific dietary requirements in order to maintain faithfulness to the Torah, or instruction, of God for his people. Given the “freedom” to eat all types of foods and meats in his new environment, Daniel was committed to remain faithful to those requirements at any cost.

Now God had given the chief of staff both respect and affection for Daniel. But he responded, “I am afraid of my lord the king, who has ordered that you eat this food and wine. If you become pale and thin compared to the other youths your age, I am afraid the king will have me beheaded.” Daniel spoke with the attendant who had been appointed by the chief of staff … “Please test us for ten days on a diet of vegetables and water,” Daniel said. … At the end of the ten days, Daniel and his three friends looked healthier and better nourished than the young men who had been eating the food assigned by the king.

Daniel 1:9-12, 15

Daniel and his friends were able to demonstrate to this chief of Nebuchadnezzar’s staff that God was able to meet their needs, even if it meant going against the cultural “mandate” of royal rations.

Integrity has this ability to influence others through maintaining a set of internal commitments that will not be shaken under any circumstance. This is a highly valued commodity among all people because it is rarely seen in common practice.

It is our obligation as believers to be so thoroughly committed to our faith that through our integrity we become the influencers of those around us, rather than allowing them to influence us.

Remaining in the Way

The Way of holiness is a definitive path leaving no doubt as to the right way to go.

And there will be a highway called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not travel it—only those who walk in the Way—and fools will not stray onto it.

Isaiah 35:8

In the time that these words were written, what was called a highway was what we would consider today a well-trodden trail. It was a definitive path that left no doubt as to the right way to go. Being on this trail brought with it a sense of confidence: all one had to do was to follow the trail to reach their destination.

The path of holiness is here called the Way. When one is on this path, one is separated from the rest of humanity that is choosing to follow its own desires.

Depending on which version of the Bible you may read, the last part of the verse can be viewed in a couple of meaningful ways. In some versions, like the Berean Study Bible quoted here, it gives the impressions that the fool will not accidentally stray onto it. This would imply that the Way is intentional; one chooses to be on it and does not fall upon it by whim or chance.

There are also versions that provide a different shade of meaning, such as “even a fool will not stray from it.” This gives the meaning that the Way is so clearly defined that even if one is foolish they have the ability to remain on the path.

In either view, the Way is something that is distinct from where the rest of the world travels. Being on the Way of holiness means one is traveling within a way of life that is intentionally set apart for God’s purposes, and this Way can keep even our foolish inclinations in check.

Following the path

We are not to rely on our own wisdom as our primary source of planning and actions.

Trust in Yahweh with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct you on pleasant paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

The word for trust in this famous passage has shades of meaning which include confidence and boldness, running to a secure place for refuge, being free of care or worry, having a steadfast hope. All of these are different ways of representing the believer’s inner reliance on Yahweh.

It is not an admonishment that we are to abandon all reason and understanding. We are simply not to have our own wisdom as the primary source of our planning and our actions. We must leave room for direction from God, maintaining a view to his kingdom and purpose in this life.

The language used here can be likened to a traveler who is trekking through a wilderness in fog. He uses his wisdom and understanding to find the path that will take him where he needs to go. However, once he is on the path, he places his confidence in the path that it will carry him to his destination, even though because of the fog he cannot see the full length of where it is heading. He is carefree from having to choose his own potentially hazardous way through the wilderness,

Our wisdom instructs us to find the path; the path is that in which we place our trust, since it has been provided by God. We have confidence the path that God provided will lead us to our destination. God promises the path will be smooth and pleasant compared to the directionless wilderness ways of our own choosing.

Get on the path, stay on the path, follow the path.