Integrity – Part 4

Note: This is the fourth in the series on Integrity, based on Psalm 15.

The man of integrity is introduced to us in Psalm 15:1-2 (NASB) and described in the remaining verses. He is the one who feels at home in God’s presence! He is the one …

“In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord Lord.” (15:4)

Strong words for a godly man of integrity! One of the most difficult interpretive problems in scripture is how to understand what we call the “imprecatory” psalms.  Such portions of the Bible express extreme negative attitudes toward other humans, almost to the point of assaulting our Christian sensibilities. One of these is found in Psalm 15:4 (others include Ps. 139:19-22).  This ode to integrity contains the sharp, clear denunciation of sinners in the strongest possible terms. It says that the man who is worthy of dwelling with God (v. 1) is one “who despises a vile man.” Yet elsewhere in the Word we are told to love our enemies, not return evil for evil and patiently endure opposition from wicked men. So what gives?

We live in a world that tends to honor vile people.  An athlete who excels is honored, even though he lives a reprobate life. A movie star is honored, though she goes through multiple marriages. Worldly thinking allows a person to separate out one aspect of his life from another. That is the opposite of integrity. Yet, a man of God who stands up for righteousness is treated as an eccentric or intolerant fundamentalist. This reflects a perspective contrary to life as God designed it.

Contrary to a worldly view, the man of integrity has a consistent way of evaluating others. He sees that which is vile and repudiates it in the strongest possible way. He discerns the honorableness of a man and honors him for that. A man of integrity, since he is a unified individual (that is, what he thinks, says and does all exist in harmony) looks for integrity in others. A person who does vile things is a vile person.  A man of integrity calls it as it is! A person does vile things because he is a vile person. Therefore, to despise the vile things a person does is the same thing as despising the vile person himself. A man of  integrity does not play word games with a spiritual veneer. And he treats vileness in way that demonstrates integrity.

Now, as New Testament Christians we are called to the same sense of integrity. This does not negate loving the vile person (see John 3:16 where God’s love does not exclude such vile people). We are called upon to both despise evil people and to love them.  Our model is God himself, for God loves unbelieving people, yet at the same time unbelieving people are under his wrath and condemnation (John 3:16-18)!

The counterpart to this is to “honor those who fear the Lord.” Ironically, Christians often come way short of doing this. For we tend to see the shortcomings in others and therefore hold back the honor.  A man of integrity, however, sees with integrity—and he can recognize those who live their lives in the fear of the Lord.  Of course, the scripture means by this “fear of the Lord” a life lived with profound sense of accountability to God, following his instructions for life. While we recognize that no one is perfect in their fear of the Lord, there is a very real sense of distinction between those who do fear the Lord and those who do not fear him.

In short, a man of integrity “calls it as it is.” Or, as A. F. Kirkpatrick says, “The truthfulness of his character is shown in his estimate of men.”

He swears to his own hurt and does not change.” (15:4c)

This is reflected in the modern comment describing the man who “says what he means and means what he says.” This is one who keeps his promises, no matter the unforeseen inconvenience to himself.  Similar descriptive phrases are frequently spoken but rarely true, such as: “He’s consistent as clockwork,” or “You can count on him”, or “He’s as good as his word.” Everyone recognizes the high value of such a commitment to integrity. In practical terms, this means not finding a pretext for breaking your word when keeping it means accepting unanticipated complications or discomforts. How often do you or I as an elder leave promises unfilled, arrive late for appointments or commit to pray for someone and then “forget.”

Thirty-five years ago a visiting speaker promised to send me some follow up information about his subject. A year came and went, but the materials never arrived.  Again, he was the visiting speaker and this time addressed the subject of integrity, of all things. In the middle of his message, he noticed me sitting in the audience and stopped cold. He publically acknowledged my presence and asked me in front of everyone if I remembered the promise he made to me the previous year. When I acknowledged that I did, he went on to confess to everyone that the Lord had just convicted him of not keeping his word. Needless to say, he renewed his commitment to keep his word, even at the expense of his own “hurt” (namely, exposing himself publically for failing to live up to what he was just then preaching). To my joy, within one week, the said resources arrived in the mail. Was he a man of integrity?  Yes, as demonstrated in his public confession and in his finally following through on his promise.  Oh, that there would be more of us who would be men of our word!