Jonathan Gallagher, United Nations Liaison and Associate Director of Department of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, General Conference
Summary: Integrity is a devalued commodity today. But, by the grace of God, we can possess it! True integrity is looking, not for reward or praise, but doing right because it is right, following God’s principles written in our hearts.
Integrity is a devalued commodity today. As so many incidents have shown, most place value on gaining whatever they can for themselves, at any cost to others. Whether it’s the exploitation of company pension funds or insider trading or ?creative accounting,? such scandals are only the more extreme form of today’s work ethic—exploit your position for yourself.
What price, integrity? Whether it’s shoplifting or some massive financial scam, today’s society places minimum value on concepts of honesty and integrity. Most are quite happy to sell their self-worth for a ?mess of pottage.? But it all adds up. Shoplifting costs stores $10 billion annually, exceeded only by employee theft at $15 billion.
Not to say that
And this applies in all sectors of life. If you cannot trust your spouse, what then? If there is no integrity in the marriage relationship, then it is a hollow mockery of what God intended. The whole point of integrity is to be someone who can be trusted and who will act from a position of truth and right. Lose that, and you lose who you are. As Tom Peters has commented, ?There is no such thing as a minor lapse of integrity.?
Loss of self-worth
Think of how the word is used. Like some science fiction television show, when the first officer shouts out ?hull integrity compromised.? In other words, the ship is breaking up—for the structure cannot stand the stresses any more. Loss of integrity means you fall apart, losing your self-worth.
Or when we say, ?this is an integral part of the project.? In other words, an essential component. If you are integral to the company’s success, you’re not likely to be fired! Integrity then is a fundamental, essential part of who we are. Lose integrity, and we find we don’t value ourselves much.
Jesus often spoke on value and integrity. Of course, His values were often at odds with those of His contemporaries. Re-read the Beatitudes and you see Jesus turning the values of the world upside-down. He speaks of those who are ?blessed,? and the list doesn’t include the rich and famous by this world’s values. In fact He targets the false integrity of those who claimed to be religious: ?For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven? (Mt 5:20).
Image and perception as supreme
Why? Because theirs was an outside ?integrity,? one that considered image and perception as supreme. They based their values on how others saw them, rather than on who they truly were. So Jesus says:
?Be careful not to do your ?acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So, when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full?. And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men? (Mt 6:1-2, 5).
In fact Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for these integrity-poor integrity-claimers:
?Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness? (Mt 23:27, 28).
To some, this may seem strong language! But Jesus was most concerned. Why? Because with such a false view of integrity, He could not help them. Which is why God says He hates pride and arrogance (Pv 8:13); because with such an attitude, He can do nothing to save such people.
Integrity is all about reality and truth. It is about a realistic perspective on yourself, of a true value of your worth. It is about seeing that truth is all-important, and how important it is not to live in self-denial. In the words of a Latin proverb, ?Integrity is the noblest possession.?
Most of all, integrity recognizes that God’s way of truth and right is the only way to live, even if there were no reward, no ?pie-in-the-sky-by-and-by.? Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And if must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Refusing personal gain
Being true to yourself means you are in a position to see your great need of God in your life, to want to follow His way, to refuse to compromise principle for some personal gain.
Remember it was Lucifer who was willing to lie, deceive, and bring down the whole universe if he could, just so he could fulfill his ambitious pride. ?I, I, I? has always been his motto. Those with God-given integrity will seek to do what is right, and look to the needs of others rather than to pleasing themselves.
Jesus concludes: ?I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me? (Mt 25:40).
Now that’s true integrity—looking not for reward or praise, but doing right because it is right, following God’s principles written in our hearts.