Written by Dr. Lowell C. Cooper, former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists.

Summary: What is integrity and what are some behaviors that demonstrate that one is a person of integrity? Read this thoughtful and insightful article to find out.

The apostle Paul seemed to attract controversy wherever he went. When his opponents could not find success in attacking his logic and theology they began to raise questions about his character and qualifications.

Three doubts in particular seemed to circulate about Paul. First, he was not one of the twelve who had been with Jesus; therefore he did not possess the necessary qualifications for such a leadership role among the believers. Second, he was unreliable—having gone to Troas to preach and then suddenly packing up and heading for Macedonia. Third, some expressed doubts about his honesty. He claimed to be collecting money for the poor in Jerusalem but perhaps he himself was using some of the funds.

Integrity—a value judgment made by others

So it is not surprising that Paul should address the question of integrity in leadership. The challenging thing about integrity is that one cannot possess it in the same way as one may possess a watch, a car, a new hairstyle or an education. Integrity is a value judgment that others make about a person. The actual judgment may be correct or incorrect. It is assessed by others in spite of what we may actually be like.

In reference to human character, integrity is the perceived alignment of observable behavior with internal controlling purposes which may be temporarily invisible. It is assumed that one’s internal purposes are shaped by high moral and ethical values. Unfortunately such assumptions are not always correct. There are times and situations in which we are governed by less than noble motivations. When this occurs in the life of a leader the impact is multiplied.

A crooked stick casts a crooked shadow

Progress in society depends on citizens of character, but society itself can do little to create them.... Humanity’s deepest motivations, its strongest virtues and blackest vices, lie outside the control of government. Any government! Advances in technology have gone far beyond ethical advances in human nature. The greatest danger confronting society today is from individuals who can employ technology for widespread effects while they reject the moral value structure that necessarily needs to accompany the use of power.

It is entirely possible then for observable behavior to obscure a person’s real intentions—at least for the short term. One may pursue a course of action for personal benefit while all the time portraying the action as necessary and right for the organization he/she serves. However, over the course of time controlling purposes will become evident despite our attempts to mask them. The old proverb was right: ?A crooked stick casts a crooked shadow.?

Understanding the relation between behavior and internal purpose is vital. The truth of human nature is that we act from the inside out. Behavior grows out of purpose and not vice-versa. When a lady screams and jumps at seeing a mouse, she does so because she is afraid. Escaping danger becomes her controlling purpose. She does not become afraid because she screamed and jumped. When she is no longer afraid of mice, she will no longer jump and scream at the sight of one. Consequently when talking about integrity one must address a person’s controlling ideas.

?We try to live in such a way?

Internal controlling purposes are not always self-centered or shameful. One can have the best of intentions and yet be misjudged as one who lacks integrity. Apparently this was the situation in which the Apostle Paul found himself. People, for whatever reason, did not always attach good interpretations to his actions. Therefore Paul writes about the alignment of his actions with his motivations.

For Paul the complexities of ethical and moral decision-making were governed by the overwhelming awareness that he was called by God. Through God’s mercy he had been given a work to do. This conviction became his central reference point. ?We try to live in such a way that no one will ever be offended or kept back from finding the Lord by the way we act, so that no one can find fault with us and blame it on the Lord?(2Cor 6:3).

Paul realized that a spiritual leader needs to demonstrate congruence in his values, words, and actions. Paul sees himself as a steward of a most important message—the life-changing power of the gospel. As a leader and steward he asserts that when a Christian jealously guards his secret life with God, his public life will take care of itself.

Characteristics of a person of integrity

So let us consider behaviors that, over the course of time, contribute to the assessment that one is a person of integrity.

1. Choosing a primary reference value for ethical and moral decisions. ?Let the seeking man reach a place where life and lips join to say continually, ?Be thou exalted,’ and a thousand minor problems will be solved at once. His Christian life ceases to be the complicated thing it had been before and becomes the very essence of simplicity? (A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God).

2. Keeping commitments. One of the most common reasons that people give when describing why someone is not a person of integrity is that ?he doesn’t keep his word.? Keeping promises, even oral ones, is a critical element that enables society to function. Imagine what life would be like if no one could be trusted. Jesus gave important cautions about making promises (see Mt 5:33-37). Basically He is saying that we should not promise more than we can and intend to perform. How easy it is to say to someone having a problem, ?I’ll be praying for you.? But do we really mean it and intend to do so? Integrity diminishes when people perceive that we don’t really mean what we promise.

3. Practicing openness, honesty and transparency. In building relationships with people, words are like windows—they permit others to see into our innermost being. Leaders are seen to have integrity when they communicate with objectivity and fairness about their own actions or those of others. Admitting mistakes, acknowledging that one does not have all the answers, sharing the bad news along with the good contributes to a sense of integrity.

4. Building healthy relationships. Practices that build good interpersonal relationships also build a perception of integrity. People of integrity affirm the value of others and care deeply about their well-being. The simple act of listening indicates respect for others, their views and personhood.

5. Demonstrating principle-based convictions in moments of crisis. Ps 15 describes the kind of person who can stand in the presence of God. One of the characteristics is that he ?swears to his own hurt and does not change? (Ps 15:4 NKJV). Moments of crisis do not develop character, they only reveal it. The person who is able to subject emotions to objectivity and reason, even under adverse pressure, displays an important element of integrity.

Despite its importance in private and public life, integrity seems to be in short supply. Entire professions are associated with the preservation of personal power or the accumulation of personal wealth at the expense of the public welfare. Obviously there are people of integrity in every profession and a few unscrupulous individuals can spoil the reputation of an entire group. There is nothing to fear about an oversupply of integrity. Even the best of people will admit that the quest for integrity is lifelong. One can never be seen as having too much.

Dr. Lowell C. Cooper

Dr. Lowell C. Cooper was former vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists,