The Bible defines integrity as “moral innocence.” The dictionary defines it as “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles.” Neither definition reveals the standard to which integrity is measured. However, we know that God’s Word is the moral standard and every human will be judged according to the Word of God. God is right in everything. Humans, however, vary greatly in their understanding, and therefore in their integrity and morals - including believers.
(Proverbs 11:3 KJV) “The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.”
Every human has a conscience. The conscience is comprised of morals and values that either permit or deny our actions and words. A transgressor is a person that knows where a boundary is but crosses it any way. A person of integrity will not knowingly and purposefully violate the voice of the conscience. This is how the integrity of the upright guides from the heart. When an accurate understanding of God’s Word is in the heart of a person, that person walks with God.
Culture and tradition are extremely powerful forces that can easily override the voice of the conscience and corrupt the integrity of the heart. Jesus said it this way:
(Matthew 15:4–9 ESV) “For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Tradition and culture become the values of man that are acceptable to the majority of society. They do not necessarily have anything to do with truth. The doctrines and commandments of men are formed into every human as they grow up in any given society. Our surroundings definitely form our viewpoints on most everything. Most of child development occurs by age six. Those early formative years will shape viewpoints for a lifetime and establish much of their values. This is one reason the Bible tells us:
“Do not be conformed to this world (this age), [fashioned after and adapted to its external, superficial customs], but be transformed (changed) by the [entire] renewal of your mind [by its new ideals and its new attitude], so that you may prove [for yourselves] what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God, even the thing which is good and acceptable and perfect [in His sight for you].” (Romans 12:2 AMP)
Every human grows up with the customs and culture around them and they must be entirely changed in their thinking. A person is truly changed when their thinking changes. Thinking has changed when a person is no longer influenced by the customs and traditions they grew up with and their actions are now determined by the Word of God.
A big mistake often made is that people will add the Word of God to their thinking but they do not displace their prior thinking. The Bible calls this being double minded. They retain their customs and traditions and bring the Bible into the mix. After a crusade in India, I asked some young people if they were Christian. They responded, “Me Hindu Christian.” They had added Jesus to their collection of many gods. I realize this is a very blatant example but this process occurs on many levels.
I have been in cultures where lying is not only common but expected. Lying has become a way to deflect or avoid what might otherwise become a confrontation or a commitment that they do not want to make. In the US, we have coined a phrase, “preacher talk.” “Preacher talk” is where a preacher says they will do something when everyone knows that they are just talking and will not do what they say. It’s usually used to make people feel good and friendly. A preacher might say to another preacher, “I’m going to have you in sometime, brother.” He might mean well but will not likely follow through. In reality, that is lying, but in preacher circles it is common and accepted - or cultural. It’s a way of social interaction. However, it is a lack of integrity and a person of integrity will keep their word at all cost - even to their own hurt.
The Apostle Paul placed a very high value on integrity.
“But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going to you of his own accord. With him we are sending the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you.” (2 Corinthians 8:16–22 ESV)
A large offering for the saints in Jerusalem had been received and it was being taken to them. The churches appointed a person to travel with them as a witness of the transfer. Paul did this so that no one could blame him concerning handling of the offering. Paul purposed to be honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. In other words, Paul’s integrity demanded that he prove himself accountable for the money he was entrusted to carry. Notice that the brother they sent had been often tested and found earnest.
I suppose Paul could have thought that taking travel expenses out of the offering would have been justified - but he didn’t. I believe that Paul understood that the offerings are Holy unto the Lord and are not to be touched except for what they have been offered. Integrity in money handling is critical in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said:
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.” (Luke 12:48 KJV)
Money creates responsibility and accountability. Both require integrity. A person lacking in integrity does not qualify to handle God’s money. I have found that people that avoid being accountable have something to hide. An honest, Christian with integrity is eager to prove that integrity.
One day I sensed the Lord dealing with me to give a large sum of money from the church bank account. I was reluctant because it was a large amount. I said to the Lord, “If I give my money to (that) then I will only have (this) amount left.” All I heard in response was Jesus saying, “I thought that was MY money.” We need to realize that people give to the Lord and it is His to determine. I learned a lesson that day.
We live in a day where truth seems to be fluid. People adapt to circumstances for the purpose of a desired outcome. In these situations, truth is relative and not absolute. We are now in a political season in America and the rhetoric abounds. A politician in a difficult situation, will do what will make him look good rather than standing with what is right because looking good is what keeps him in his position - or - he will avoid the situation altogether. This seems to be the mode of operation of many preachers as well. A person of integrity will do what is right even if it costs him something. The Bible says:
(Psalms 15:4 ESV) “in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change;”
A person of integrity watches over his words so that he does what he has said he will do. Since people and situations around us change rapidly, doing this can cost us. The price can sometimes hurt, but the reward is peace with God, and, peace with yourself.
(Psalms 26:1 KJV) “Judge me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide.”
A person of integrity will ask to be judged in order to be proven right or to be corrected as necessary. That judgement will be in accordance with the Word of God and not according to anyone’s tradition or culture. When we walk in the Word, we walk in the Spirit, and we walk with God.
As ministers, we are called to speak the truth in love.
(Ephesians 4:15 ESV) “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”
Only when the truth is spoken do the saints grow up. The development and growth of the saints resides in the mouth of the ministers.
(Malachi 2:7 ESV) “For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”
The book of Malachi was specifically written to the ministers of that day, and it was a scathing rebuke for their lack of integrity. In an attempt to appease and please the people, the Levites began accepting sacrifices that the Law declared unacceptable. Their lack of integrity caught up with them.
(Malachi 2:8–9 ESV) “But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.”
When you are partial in your instruction, you don’t tell the whole truth. Most of this happens by the minister trying to not offend the people. He thinks he has their best interest at heart but he is actually hurting them. I know of pastors that are personally responsible for keeping their entire church poor because they will not teach them to tithe. I also know of ministers that constantly struggle financially because of the way they handle money - their culture completely blinds them.
I recently watched a television show about Marvel Comics. Marvel is known for their superhero characters. Here is what they said: “The power of superheroes is doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason. It’s putting yourself on the line for other people.” For me, they simply defined a person of great integrity.