We continue to focus on one of the most important attributes in a leader—integrity, based on Psalm 15. One can never trust an elder if he cannot be sure the elder’s words and actions are consistent with the real person inside. Without integrity nothing else has much substance. Integrity cannot be compartmentalized, it affects the whole person. It is a window into the soul. Lack of integrity in one area is casts a shadow over the whole of a person’s life.
This article looks at two more applications of integrity, which might, on first look, seem easy to implement.
“Nor does evil to his neighbor” (15:3b NASB)
All would quickly assent that no Christian should engage in evil at all, calling to mind the seminal statements of our Lord, “Turn the other cheek” and “Love your enemies.” The love chapter (1 Cor. 13) adds that love is kind and does not act unbecomingly (vs. 4-5). Peter writes that our Lord, “… while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23). Pretty straightforward, eh?
Why would this be uniquely important for elders to understand and embrace? Elders of all people are sometimes in the firing line, being the target of criticism and discontent. When things go wrong, often it is the elders who take the hit, as is true for leaders in most organizations. Satan would love to entice an elder into retaliating. This retaliation can be in either an aggressive or a passive way. By passive, I refer to the subtle ways of penalizing people by using the elders’ position to unjustly limit them or their ministries in some way. By active, I mean publicly or privately denouncing or criticizing in return.
I think of David who resisted pressure from his generals to punish Shimei who had cursed the king. His integrity is seen in his response, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the Lord has told him, ‘Curse David,’ then who shall say, ‘Why have you done so?’…Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” (2 Sam. 16:10, 12). David’s trust in the Lord permeated him thoroughly even in the face of severe adversity. His own reputation was not something he would take into his hand, foreshadowing our Lord Jesus’ attitude on the cross. David really meant it when he said things like, “The Lord is my Shepherd,” “He is my rock,” “My fortress.” To be sure these were all statements of faith, but integrity is demonstrated when beliefs stand true even when being insulted with cursing. Remember, integrity means “wholeness, singleness,” that is, everything works consistently in a person’s life. David was a man of wholeness, that is, a man of integrity, even in the most basic area of whether he would do evil in response to evil.
As elders we are on display, modeling Christ-like behavior. There is no place for false humility here, saying, “Don’t look to me as an example, I’m just a sinner like everyone else.” Children look to parents as models to follow. Students look to teachers. And Christians look to their spiritual leaders as models.
Brothers, we must model integrity in how we respond to adversaries—not returning evil for evil. People are watching and learning from our behavior. Lack of robustness in our faith in the face of our detractors will cast a shadow on every other area of our ministries. People will have a growing sense that our faith doesn’t run very deep, despite our best efforts to give the appearance of faithfulness.
So elders need to nurture integrity in how we respond to people who stand against us. The next characteristic follows on this one.
“Nor takes up a reproach against his friend” (15:3c)
An illustration here will serve us well. I remember being with a very friendly person, gregarious and charismatic in personality. He was an elder in a church. Everyone responded positively to him—I was a bit envious of the ease with which he conversed with others and made them smile. As we were riding in a car, he stopped to talk through the window with an acquaintance, carrying on a jovial interaction. As we pulled away, he turned to me and began to speak of that acquaintance with acid sarcasm. It was a reproach behind that acquaintance’s back. From that point on, I found it difficult to believe his friendliness toward me or anyone else was genuine. He essentially had taken up a reproach against a man whom he treated on the surface as a friend. How did I know he wasn’t doing the same thing to me behind my back. Lack of integrity, the dichotomy between what he was on the surface and what he was inside was glaring in this situation.
However, there is another way to look at this verse. To take up a reproach can also have the sense of attacking a person’s reputation. The worth of a man’s good name is important to him and it is a serious offense to take that away from him, no matter what justification one might consider for doing so.
As Matthew Henry says in his commentary, the man of Psalm 15, “… makes not others’ faults the subject of his common talk, much less of his sport and ridicule, nor speaks of them with pleasure, nor at all but for edification. He makes the best of everybody, and the worst of nobody. He does not take up a reproach,that is, he neither raises it nor receives it; he gives no credit nor countenance to a calumny, but frowns upon a backbiting tongue, and so silences it.”
When people know that an elder will guard their reputation and good name, they will trust him with other areas of their life. If a man will guard what he says about another’s reputation and name when that person is not present, then I can trust that he will likewise guard my reputation and name. This tells me the person is a man of integrity and I can trust him in other areas of my life.
A godly man of integrity is one who, then, does not do evil to those around him and does not take up a reproach against them—this is consistent with the outworking of his faith and trust in the Lord. And when others see this in an elder, they are willing to trust him as he leads and ministers to them in the church.