In this chapter …
There are many definitions of what integrity is or should be. The world does not deny that integrity is needed for a well-run society. Doing the right thing is universally respected, but the problem comes in when we try to define what `the right thing’ is. If we want to know what true integrity is (according to God’s standards that is), we should study His character. God’s genuineness – being true; His veracity – telling the truth and His faithfulness – proving to be true – are the guidelines we should follow. If we can manage to imitate God in these areas, we will be able to walk a road of integrity.
Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. 2 Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God … 8 For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! 9 For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. 10 Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for
the light makes everything visible. Ephesians 5:1-2, 8-14
Most of us have no problem with the principle of integrity. Christians and non-Christians alike, will affirm that integrity is the basis of a well-run society. There are several definitions of integrity:
“Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching.” – Jim Stovall
“Integrity is aligning your actions with your principles.” – Larry Julian
“1. Integrity is steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code; The state of being unimpaired;
soundness; The quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.” – The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
“A person is not given integrity. It results from the relentless pursuit of honesty at all times.” – Proverb
“The most important persuasion tool you have in your entire arsenal is integrity.” – Zig Ziglar
“Winning is nice if you don’t lose your integrity in the process.” – Arnold Horshak
My favourite picture of integrity is that of a plate of food wrapped in cellophane being held upside down. Should a small tear be made in the wrapping, the integrity is compromised and the food will immediately start spilling to the ground.
The definitions above all stress the fact that integrity is related to doing “the right thing”,
“acting according to your principles,” and “adhering to a moral or ethical code.” Lets take this further with the question: What is the right thing? This seems to be an easy question to answer for a Christian, or is it? We live in a society where the right thing is fluid and varies according to cultures and philosophies that dominate certain eras.
Not so long ago, bribery was unheard of in our society. However, over the last few years it has become the way people do business. Many will say that you either bribe or you do not do business.
Let us consider what the Bible teaches.
Imitators of God
In Genesis 1 we read that we were made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). In Genesis 5, we read again about God creating man in His image, and in verse 3, we read of Adam’s son, Seth, who was begotten in Adam’s image. In Ephesians 5 we read that Paul bluntly commands the church to be imitators of God in everything they do.
We know from Scripture that God is holiness. He is in a class
of His own. So, if I want to do the right thing, the obvious next step is to study the character of God.
There are a few attributes of God that we cannot even try to imitate. God being the Almighty, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, His omnipotence, His omnipresence and His omniscience. However, there are many other attributes of God that we can imitate: His righteousness, His justice, His love, and, the focus of today’s discussion, His integrity.
Millard Erickson breaks God’s integrity into three subcategories: His genuineness – being true; His veracity – telling the truth; and His faithfulness – proving to be true. Lets see how these can be applied in our lives.
God’s genuineness, being true, means that he is a real God. Praying for His disciples, Jesus asks the Father to “make them holy by your truth; teach them your word, which is truth.” (John 17:17 – NLT) Note that Jesus is not saying that God’s word is the truth.
He says that God’s word is truth. In other words, we are here dealing not with what God says, but rather with His being – what he is, and Jesus asserts that God is that thing which we call truth. God does not only embody the qualities of truthfulness, greatness and goodness. He is those attributes One can therefore conclude that God is the ultimate measuring stick against which we can measure our own truthfulness.
We will often come across a person and after having interacted with this person we will think, “He or she is the real thing.” Sometimes we hear the opposite: “You
could immediately discern that the guy is a fake!” As Christians we are to live a life that is holy and utterly dedicated to God. Living this life will not only be a blessing for ourselves. The previous governor of Minnesota, Al Quie once said that “the most satisfying feeling in a person is to be totally honest.” If we can manage this we will also be a blessing for those around us.
Jesus taught that we are the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world.” (Matthew 5:13-14) We are to stand out as a lamp on a stand and a banner on a hill, and this we need
to do, not by saying the right things, but by being the real thing.
God’s veracity means that He represents things as they really are: What God says is accurate. We assert that God cannot lie as it is contrary to His nature. This means that what God says can always be trusted. In the same way, God commands his people to be honest in all situations.
In giving His final commands to the Israelites in preparation for entering into the promised land, God said, 13 “You must use accurate scales when you weigh out
merchandise, 14 and you must use full and honest measures. 15 Yes, always use honest weights and measures, so that you may enjoy a long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 16 All who cheat with dishonest weights and measures are detestable to the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 25:13-16 – NLT)
Similarly Paul exhorts the Corinthian church “2 We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this.” (2 Corinthians 4:2 – NLT)
We are to be honest in everything we do and say.
God’s genuineness is a matter of being true, His veracity that of telling the truth, and His faithfulness is proving to be true. God keeps His promises. Unlike humans, God has unlimited power and capability, and unlimited wisdom. He therefore cannot commit himself to do something, which He would eventually prove to be incapable of actually doing.
This characteristic of God is found all over Scripture. For me the most striking example is when Balaam says to Balak: “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?” (Numbers 23:19 – NLT)
In 1 Thessalonians 5:24, Paul says, “God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.” (NLT)
This is probably the area in which most Christians fail. Often the root of this is a fear of what people might think of us when we say, “No, I will not be able to do it.” We often over-commit and under-perform, and then we end up with a reputation of a person not keeping their word. I believe that this is one aspect of what Jesus wanted to teach in the parable of the two sons who was asked by the father to go and work in the
vineyard. The one said yes, but proved to be unfaithful to his word.
We have to keep our word.
- Genuineness, the real thing;
- Veracity, telling the truth; and
- Faithfulness, keeping our word.
When you get into a difficult situation that may compromise your integrity, consider:
- The relevant facts;
- The ethical and moral issues involved with
reference to the Bible;
- Fundamental principles involved (see session 5);
- Established internal procedures;
- Alternative courses of action;
- Seeking Godly advise;
- Documenting all discussions and decisions;
- When unresolved, withdraw or resign – BUT ALWAYS DO THE RIGHT THING!
The Bible does not play around the concept of integrity. This is a foundational
characteristic for all Christians. In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”
What Jesus is saying is: do not only talk the talk. Walk the walk!
God is my CEO: Following God’s Principles in a Bottom Line World,
Larry Julian, 2002, Adams Media Corporation;
Christian Theology, 2nd Ed, Millard Erickson, 1998, Baker Academic.
Study group questions
- How do you define integrity?
- What is the difference between morals and ethics on the one side, and integrity on the other?
- How will you measure behaviour in terms of integrity?
- Case study
You work for a large company in the Treasury division. You have an overbearing and intimidating boss who always expects exceptional performance, measured mainly by the bottom line. You are aware of a large payment that needs to be made to an overseas partner on Monday. Today is Friday. As your currency is rapidly weakening, you want to
make the payment now but this requires two signatures on the Forex draft. The
managers who are authorised to sign are both out of the office and neither are
answering their cell phones. Payment now could save the company millions. What
do you do? (source: South African Institute of Chartered Accountants – Ethics Department)