Integrity – Part 1

Integrity ranks top of the list of important human endeavors. I use the word “endeavor” because integrity is a lifelong pursuit, it is not something to be gained and then put on the mantle for display along with other accomplishments. Because we will not arrive at perfection this side of heaven, integrity is an on-going quest. However, our faithful Lord looks for this growing quality in His redeemed people, especially leaders.

The term itself comes from the root word “integer” meaning “a complete unit or entity.” Integrity is the capacity for one to be complete, whole—for all parts of a person’s character, thought and behavior to fit together in harmony.  One might contrast it with the opposite concept, duplicity, where a person’s behavior disconnects from his words.

Integrity undergirds everything. It gives purity to our quest for holiness, regularity to our being truthful, consistency to our faithfulness and clarity to our transparency. Without integrity we are only sometimes holy, sometimes truthful, sometimes faithful, sometimes transparent, sometimes ___________ (fill in the blank). Just a small amount of dog manure defiles a culinary delight.

In order to strive for integrity, we must constantly remind ourselves what it looks like to be a whole person. For this, we don’t look to man’s standards, but God’s. Many have recognized in Psalm 15 eleven characteristics that can be labeled “The traits of a man of integrity.” These provide a good picture of what we can aim for.

Connecting with God through Integrity

While the word integrity does not specifically occur in this psalm, two questions at the start invite the reader to consider, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?” (Ps. 15:1 NIV).

Obviously this speaks of more than just entering the earthly tabernacle. The high priest alone could do that, and then only once a year—no one else. Even then, only through the most strenuous rationalization could one say the priest “lived” or “dwelled” there.

Rather, all are invited to apply for access into the presence of God, who for Israel was pictured as being in the earthly tabernacle. This has to do with being welcome, of being “at home” — to experience the fullness of God’s hospitality. Since the Lord is a complete unity, He is the epitome of integrity. God defines it by His existence and His character.  Unity repels duplicity. There is no duplicity or contradiction in God in any sense or at any level. For anyone to comfortably dwell in His presence requires integrity.

According to the psalm writer, those who pursue the following eleven traits, behaviors or attitudes are pursuing the completeness of life and character that exists in God himself. The question of who may have this access is not a matter of who by name, but who by description(Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible). This dwelling is not an entitlement, so the question naturally arises, who qualifies?

Certainly as New Testament Christians, we have access through the grace of Christ (Heb. 4:15-16). But, in Psalm 15, our standing in grace is not in question, but rather our experience of fellowship (i.e. “dwelling”). This is similar to what the apostle Peter writes, “… be all the more eager to make certain about His calling and election. For if you do these things [i.e. supply moral excellence, etc.], you never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Psalm 15 gives us tangible examples of where and how integrity is seen in the realities of daily living. We will now look at the first two descriptions of a man of integrity.

“He who walks with integrity” (15:2a NASB)

The NASB uses the word “integrity,” which is our main focus. The NIV translates the word as “blameless.” Both translations comes from the Hebrew word tamim, which means complete, sincere, or perfect, virtually identical to our English word Integrity. A blameless person is one who lives in unity with truth. “His activities are in harmony with God’s standards” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).  Further, this person’s walk matches his talk – and therefore will feel comfortable in God’s presence. He is not, as James says, just, “a hearer of the word” only, but also a “doer of the word” (James 1:23-25). It would seem that integrity would be the most natural thing for a creature formed by the supremely integral God of all there is.

The challenge for us mere humans is our constant struggle against our own hypocrisy, especially we Christians. The anatomy of the Christian struggle is this:

First, as renewed creatures of God (2 Cor. 5:17) and those committed to his Word (2 Tim. 3:16), we hold to an extremely high standard. We take seriously admonitions such as, “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).

Second, we expect Christians should live up to that standard.

Third, we are painfully aware (when we are honest) that we ourselves fail to live up to that standard (Rom. 7).

That is what we call sin, or better yet, the sin nature. We have fallen from the integrity with which we were created, the wholeness, the completeness of being in harmony with ourselves, with each other and with God. Even with the help of the Spirit who indwells us, we still fall short.

Sometimes we justify ourselves, “Yes, that is true, but we are not as hypocritical as the unsaved are.” But, that is beggardly thinking. Indeed Paul rejoices that the solution is not our perfection but our having no condemnation in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). Yet the spirit in us compels us to strive for integrity, not to just sit back lazily on our justification.

We elders, preachers, teachers and writers are most in danger of failing the standard, for we are the ones who most emphatically and systematically proclaim it. Therefore, we are held to a stricter judgment (James 3:1)—we set ourselves up for it! We took on that mantle of responsibility when we said “yes” to the Lord in becoming an elder (or preacher, teacher or writer).

What does that mean in the daily life of an elder?  We must be vigilant to put into practice that which we teach or expect of others. For example, just exhorting the believers to love and care for one another is not enough. We need to be sacrificing our Saturday morning golf game in order to help a brother repair his roof. Or buy a less expensive car, in order to help a brother just have one to get to work and back. We need to share our faith, not just challenge people to do it. We ought to be the first to confess our offense against someone, rather than just calling people to it. The ones we shepherd need to see the integrity of our putting into practice the very things we are calling others to.

On the one hand, we cannot set up ourselves as the epitome of perfection, but there needs to be a sincere effort to match our walk with our talk and a good measure of progress. Nothing will undermine an elder’s effectiveness more readily than failure in this. On the other hand, the elder who pursues a walk that is blameless will feel at home in God’s presence. Even in his failure to do this perfectly, his wholeness compels him to own up to his failure and will motivate him to reach higher. That is why David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way”  (Ps. 139:23).

“He who… works righteousness” (15:2b)

The person who is comfortable in God’s presence goes beyond the absence of duplicity, and actively seeks that which is just. We are faced every day with decisions between right and wrong. Even in the “small” areas of life, choosing that which is less than right is tantamount to spitting in God’s face.

We Christians, even elders, can become more concerned about how we look than what we really are. Therefore, we can easily justify unrighteous behavior. With great theological erudition, we can assert, “Well, our justification is in Christ alone!” Yes, that is true, but Psalm 15 starkly rejoins that the one who doeswhat is righteous will be right at home with God. Again, we are talking about fellowship, not eternal standing.

In practical terms, the right choice might be to confront the strong-willed elder and stop being passive. On the other hand the righteous thing may mean my confessing a “pugnacious” attitude (1 Tim. 3:3) and a controlling attitude, praying for the Lord’s strength to change – and setting your mind to making the change. It means taking the high road of grace and peace.

These two characteristics of the man who is at home in God’s presence are foundational to building integrity. We will continue next article with more from Psalm 15.