A Matter of Integrity
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Imagine for a moment that you needed to take a trip out of town for a few days and that you would need a car at your destination. If you were going only a few hours from home, you would automatically plan to drive your own car. Unless you knew your car had a weakness, that is; your brakes occasionally fail and you can’t stop, which could cause a major accident. You might make the trip without any problems, but maybe not, because you never know whether the brakes will fail. Most people would agree your car is unreliable, even unsafe, and would refuse to drive or ride in it.
Stopping is a critically important function you expect a car to perform. Its inability to stop when needed makes its powerful engine, plush interior and pristine paint job virtually irrelevant. We might define your car’s purpose as reliably transporting you wherever you want to go in comfort, safety and style. You expect every system in a car to support its overall purpose and a failure by any part can put the entire car’s usefulness in jeopardy. Basically, this is a matter of your car’s integrity, whether all of its parts do their job without creating problems and work together so it can perform its duty.
Integrity is a concept we normally apply to people, although it is relevant to virtually any system containing more than a single part. The words “integrity” and “integrate” are related and imply a strong sense of wholeness or completeness. A system with integrity has all of its components integrated. It is undivided and unimpaired by its parts, and they all work together to support the whole. All of this implies reliability and trustworthiness.
The same concept applies to people. Someone with integrity has a strict code of behavior and a purpose from which they will not deviate, and this is especially significant when they are experiencing a test or are in danger of being distracted from their purpose.
As they do with other virtues, people exhibit varying degrees of integrity. If you continue to cling to sinful ways of thinking, you will not have absolute integrity but will always have a flaw somewhere that interferes with your performance or commitment. That is the nature of flesh–it perverts, it divides, it opposes. Not only does fleshly desire divide one person from another, it also divides a person internally, causing you to have conflicting desires and motivations. An example that immediately comes to mind is Paul’s statements about his own internal conflict:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it (Rom. 7:15-20, NIV).
Virtually the entire New Testament requires you to get rid of attitudes and behaviors that oppose your godly nature. It encourages you to put off your sinful ways and put on those of a godly nature, to make your attitudes conform to God’s, to become like him, to get rid of anything that interferes with God’s purpose and to develop the character traits that enable you to do his will.
Simply put, the New Testament strongly urges you to develop integrity. It challenges you to integrate all of your being and commit to a single purpose, eliminating everything that interferes with God’s purpose for your life.
Like a muscle that cramps and makes you stop whatever you are doing to care for it, self-centeredness will repeatedly insist that you gratify yourself, watch out for your own interests or protect yourself from harm. How many times has someone asked you to help and you declined simply because you didn’t feel like doing it and even offered some lame excuse? Your old sinful attitudes are inherently self-centered and opposed to your godly nature, which is humble and serves others. This means you naturally lack integrity, because the sinful ways you learned before you became a Christian always conflict with those of your new nature.
Because we recognize flaws in human nature, we build protective measures into all of our systems. We know that everyone has limitations and we can only rely on them to a certain point. A person may be highly respected and have an excellent reputation, but when they let their guard down momentarily, they fail. It has been said that everyone has a price and that they will eventually compromise if the personal benefit becomes great enough, which is one reason our government has checks and balances. Or why a church usher should never count the offering alone, or why someone with financial problems should never even be an usher. Or why we are alert to compromising situations of all kinds. We know that everyone’s integrity is limited and at some point they might compromise. While we might not want to believe this is true of Christians, it is. Which is precisely why the New Testament puts such emphasis on repenting–changing the way you think.
I own a book that is a farcical account of life in corporate America. It gives many examples of how to make the corporate system work to your advantage while doing as little actual work as possible. Most of the examples are both funny and sad. They are funny because they include ingenious ways to make the business environment do things it was never intended to do, and sad because they show the extreme measures people will use to derive all the benefits while avoiding their basic responsibility: earning their pay. Such activities demonstrate a pathetic absence of integrity.
Integrity is an attitude that motivates certain behavior. It will cause you to show up for work on time every day, even when you know no one will notice whether you are late. It will cause you to take care of personal matters on personal time, rather than at work. For example, using your office computer for personal email may be a violation of your integrity as well as company policy. Consider the company time you spend reading and writing personal messages; that time is equivalent to stealing money from your company, payroll money for the company time you spend doing personal business. If your company specifically allows you to do personal business on company time, this does not apply to you. Otherwise, such behavior reveals a lack of integrity.
Maybe this sounds like nothing more than legalism to you. But I suggest that the degree to which you struggle with issues like this is evidence that you have more than one standard of performance, more than one purpose, or more than one person you are serving. If you struggle between what is expected of you and what you want to do, you have conflicting allegiances. And that, by definition, is a lack of integrity.
Proverbs says the “integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Prov. 11:3). There are two contrasts in this verse: integrity versus duplicity, and the upright versus the unfaithful. The usual interpretation of the first portion of the verse suggests that a person’s high moral standards will cause them to make honorable decisions. While integrity includes high personal standards (moral integrity), that is only part of its meaning. In the broader sense, integrity is a unity of all your resources and efforts, a complete focus, a combined effort to accomplish a goal.
Consider an example of two people who are starting a business together. If they are serious about their business, they will invest their own money in it, and maybe lots of it. Especially in the beginning, they will put in endless hours of work to get the business going. They will seem almost obsessed with the business, and certainly preoccupied. Why? Because starting a business is tough and it requires every effort you can give it, and maybe more.
What if they started their company on borrowed money and then used a sizeable chunk of company funds to buy themselves a luxury “company car”? Then after a month of work, they took a three-week vacation? You would conclude they were not very serious about running their business, that they had divided loyalties. The real problem is a lack of integrity: they claim they want to start a business, but they are focusing on personal benefits rather than business goals. We know that starting a business requires hard work and sacrifices to succeed. It requires total commitment and we expect that of new business owners.
Now imagine that the owners have integrity, apply Proverbs 11:3 and let their integrity guide them. If they must do a lot of business driving and they are fully committed to making their business succeed, how will their commitment influence their transportation choices? They will be more likely to subsidize their company by using their own vehicles and taking a personal tax credit for mileage. Or if they in fact need a company vehicle, they will protect the solvency and profitability of their business when they select one. That is, their commitment to making their company succeed will help them make wise business decisions. It is a matter of integrity.
Integrity motivates you to focus all your effort and use all your resources to adhere to a standard or achieve a goal. As a Christian, you will find your standards continuously changing to become more like God’s and your goals becoming increasingly like his. This is a natural result of becoming more like him, but can only occur as you transform your mind (repent). Once you have begun that process, you will immediately experience a conflict between those standards and your previous sinful ones. Then you will see the need for integrity–commitment to serving God rather than yourself, and the ability to stick to God’s standards.