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Integrity

There is perhaps no more explicit description of the ethics of integrity than that found in Psalm 15.

 

"O Lord, who may abide in Thy tent? Who may dwell on Thy holy hill (v. 1)?

 

Note well: The answer that follows says nothing about wealth, education, physical beauty, giftedness, speaking skills, church offices held, cars owned, whether one is married or single, stock portfolio, number of children, clothes that are worn, color of skin, or any such factor.

 

He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart (v. 2).

 

He does not slander with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend (v. 3);

 

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord; he swears to his own hurt, and does not change (v. 4);

 

He does not put out his money at interest, nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken (v. 5)."

 

1)         David is not talking about how to get saved. Rather, he is describing what it is to be saved. These moral declarations are not conditions for acceptance with God. They are the consequence of it. Thus, David is not talking about requirements for entrance into the kingdom on the part of those outside, but about enjoyment of the King on the part of those on the inside.

 

The questions David is asking, then, is this: "Who will enjoy God's fellowship? Who will commune with God?" God cannot and will not abide in the presence of nor bless moral corruption. See Psalm 5:4-7.

 

2)         When you hear that obedience and righteousness please God, is that good news that lifts you up or is it a discouraging burden that oppresses and depresses you? Do you get excited when you read Psalm 15?

 

These moral guidelines are oppressive and legalistic only to those who still love their sin. For example, the only reason integrity should be a burden to you is if you enjoy being dishonest. Righteous deeds will be bothersome only because you prefer unrighteous ones. Speaking the truth will hurt only because it feels good to lie.

 

3)         Obedience to the righteous commands of God is easy for those whose hearts have been gripped by grace and whose lives are empowered by grace. See Deut. 30:11; Mt. 11:29-30; 1 John 5:3.

 

Clearly, God takes great pleasure in our obedience. But his pleasure in obedience "is not like the sadistic pleasure of a heartless coach who likes to see his recruits sweat and strain under impossible conditioning exercises" (Piper, 250). In fact, in Luke 11:46 Jesus pronounces a curse on such moral taskmasters: "Woe to you teachers of the Law! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers." But God is not like that. "With every command [like those in Ps. 15], he lifts not just his finger, but all his precious promises and all his omnipotent power and puts them at the service of his child" (Piper, 250).

 

4)         God takes pleasure in your obedience because everything he commands is for your good. All of God's commands are like a doctor's prescription or a physician's therapy. They may not always be immediately pleasant, but they are intended and designed for your health and happiness. If occasionally there are painful side effects, it is because the disease is so bad that severe medication may be required. See Deut. 6:24; 10:12-13. God, our spiritual physician, takes pleasure in our obedience to his commands because the doctor really does care whether or not we get well.

 

To use another analogy, the loving parent forbids snacking before dinner not because she is a heartless killjoy but because she has labored long over a feast of food beyond your wildest culinary dreams.

 

5)         Your attitude toward the moral commands of Psalm 15 depends entirely on whether you pursue God's righteousness by works or by faith. See Rom. 9:31-32. To obey God as though it were a matter of works is to obey out of your own strength with a view to your own merit. To obey God as though it were a matter of faith is to obey out of His own strength with a view to his glory. See 1 Pt. 4:11; 2 Thess. 1:11-12.

 

But how does "faith" produce "obedience"? As Piper explains, "when you trust Christ to take care of your future ('faith is the assurance of things hoped for'), the inevitable result is that sinful strategies to gain happiness sink in the peaceful confidence that God will make a greater joy for you in his own way" (253). The reason we resist God's laws and pursue our own sinful strategies is because we believe that we can do better at securing our happiness than God can.

 

See Heb. 11:24-26. Moses' faith in what God offered produced his works. He had confidence that what Christ offers is better than the fleeting pleasures of sin. "Moses looked to the reward of God's promises, he weighed that against the rewards of unrighteousness, and he rested satisfied in God" (255).

 

David lists 10 characteristics of the person who will "abide" in God's tent and "dwell" on his holy hill.

 

1.         He who walks with integrity

 

This term is something of a summary of all that follows. Integrity here does not mean sinless, but it does describe a person who by God's grace "sins less". It refers to one who is whole, complete, sound.

 

See the book by Stephen L. Carter, Integrity (New York: Basic Books, 1996).

 

2.         He who works righteousness

 

This is the person who actually does what is righteous, rather than merely talks about it. Doing what is right and lawful and good and honest is eminently pleasing to God, whether it be in private or public, in the church or in the office.

 

Illus: "A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight" (Prov. 11:1). Let me get real specific about what this means. The same thought is found in Prov. 20:10, “Differing weights and differing measures, both of them are abominable to the Lord” (cf. 20:23). What is it that is so horrible that God would regard it as “abominable”?

 

The writer is referring to an ancient practice among unscrupulous merchants. If you wanted to purchase, let’s say, five pounds of sugar, the merchant would place on one side of the balance scale a stone supposedly weighing five pounds. He would then pour sugar onto the other side until the scales weighed evenly. In point of fact, the stone might weigh only four pounds. The customer is thereby cheated, having paid for a pound of sugar he does not receive. If a dishonest person were himself making the purchase, he might use a six-pound stone that is labelled as five. In either case, such deceitfulness is an abomination to the Lord. One cannot easily pass it off as shrewd bargaining or rationalize it by insisting that “everyone else does it.” It is, quite simply, abominable to the Lord.

 

Examples:

 

·      the young boy who purchased a Nolan Ryan rookie baseball card from an unsuspecting clerk for $12.00 rather than the actual price of $1,200; and whose father then defended his “right” to keep the proceeds

 

·      the seller of a home or a car or an item who fails to inform the prospective buyer of unseen but undeniable flaws in the product

 

·      the person who violates copyright law by duplicating rented video tapes or copyright infringement of computer software

 

·      the person who fails to report on his/her tax return that small income earned on the side that has no traceable records (cash transactions, payments, etc.)

 

·      the person who uses a "fuzz-buster" to circumvent the speeding laws

 

·      the parent who passes off her 12-year-old child as 11 in order to save $2 on a ticket at the movies ("But he only turned 12 last week!")

 

·      the person who pays for only one ticket at the movies but after one show he/she slips across the hall and views another

 

·      the person who rationalizes keeping excess change mistakenly given to you at the grocery store by saying: "Well, they're overcharging for the tomatoes, so that makes us even!"

 

God is concerned with the little things no less than with the big ones. "Is it not a solemn thought, that the eye of God marks all our common dealings of life, either as an abomination or a delight?" (Charles Bridges) We must ask this question: "Do we regard those minor misrepresentations in business or shopping or speaking as only part of the game everyone plays, or do we regard them as an abomination to God?"

 

3.         He speaks truth in his heart

 

There is a correspondence between what he thinks on the inside and what he says on the outside. This person does not resort to hypocrisy, feigned praise, or flattery. This doesn't mean we are to speak everything in our hearts (cf. Eph. 4:29 and numerous Proverbs). It does mean that when you speak, you speak the truth.

 

Illus: the professional football player who pretends to have caught the ball, deliberately deceiving the referee, in order to gain an unfair advantage for his team. Is this straining at a gnat? Is not such behavior simply assumed in advance as part of the game? Or is the person of integrity duty-bound to observe the rules of the game irrespective of other factors?

 

4.         He does not slander with his tongue

 

The word "slander" literally means "to spy out", in the sense that one goes looking for things in the life of another to use against them.

 

5.         He does no evil to his neighbor

 

6.         He does not take up a reproach against his friend

 

Here he refers to both initiating and rejoicing in gossip. His point is that the person of integrity will neither contribute to slander nor tolerate it. Spurgeon said, "If there were no gratified hearers of ill-reports, there would be an end of the trade of spreading them."

 

7.         He is one in whose eyes a reprobate is despised but who honors those who fear the Lord

 

The "reprobate" is someone known for evil; someone hardened in perversity; someone unrepentant and proud of his/her sin.

 

Whom do you admire? Whom do you praise? Try to envision what society (not to mention the church!) would be like if we all suddenly ceased to praise, honor, reward, show deference or grant special privileges to the reprobates of our world, particularly those in Hollywood, the sports world, and in politics.

 

8.         He swears to his own hurt and does not change

 

The NIV renders this, "He keeps his oath even when it hurts!" In other words, his honor is more important than his wallet. He is willing to make material and physical sacrifices to be honest.

 

Often, if there is no risk of loss or painful consequences, one will never know if one has integrity. One will never know if what motivates you is moral conviction or moral convenience until you are forced to suffer loss for standing your ground or keeping your word.

 

Illus: Someone promises money to another person or offers to make a sale at a lower price, or offers to provide a discount for services provided, only then to return a week later with the news: “I’m sorry, but God told me it was a mistake. I’m going to have withdraw my promise.” Aside from the theological question, “Would God do something like that,” what does biblical integrity require this man to do?

 

9.         He does not put out his money at interest

 

See Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-38 (Dt. 23:19-20). The primary aim of this legislation was to protect the poor. In other words, it was motivated by compassion. The purpose for making loans in today's world is to make money, to develop industry, to expand capital, etc. But for an Israelite to charge interest on loans made to a fellow-Israelite would aggravate the crisis that had produced the need for obtaining the loan in the first place, driving him yet farther into debt.

 

10.       He does not take a bribe against the innocent

 

Often the poor were taken to court and exploited by the rich who could easily afford to pay a bribe to thwart justice. See Deut. 16:19-20.

 

And what profit is there in integrity? David's answer is "He who does these things will never be shaken."

 

 

Case Studies of Integrity

 

The best way to define the essence of integrity is by responding to a variety of instances in which people were faced with ethical decisions. What constitutes integrity in each instance? Some of these cases are brief and easy to evaluate. Others are more complex.

 

1.         Does integrity demand that one declare all purchases made abroad when going through customs, even if the amount one would be required to pay is minimal?

 

2.         When I enrolled at Dallas Theological Seminary, I was required as a condition for admission to sign a pledge that I would abstain from the use of alcohol beverages for the duration of my studies there. Since this is a requirement that cannot be supported from Scripture, am I free to have a glass of wine with my dinner, if only in the summer when classes are not in session? If I should travel to France between semesters, where wine is freely imbibed, does integrity demand that I abstain even then?

 

3.         Eric Liddell, Scottish sprinter made famous in the movie Chariots of Fire, refused to run in a preliminary race in the Olympics because it was scheduled on Sunday. This would have violated the Sabbath, to the observance of which he had verbally committed himself on several occasions. Bobby Fischer, former world chess champion, also refused to play a tournament game on Saturday, his Sabbath (Fischer was a member of the Worldwide Church of God, a well-known cult group). His decision cost him several years of work in his progress to compete for the world championship. Does the fact that Liddell was a Christian and Fischer a non-Christian affect the integrity of their decisions?

 

4.         What is your opinion of the lawyer who, during cross-examination, tries to make a witness he knows is telling the truth appear to be confused or even lying in order to win his case? He is deliberately attempting to deceive the jury into disbelieving a truthful witness. On the one hand, he claims that such action is required to discharge his legal responsibility in providing his client with the best possible defense. What does integrity call for in such instances?

 

5.         Similar to the previous case, what becomes of integrity when a lawyer vigorously defends a man he knows is guilty? If the lawyer appeals to his oath by which he swore to do his best in defending his client, as well as to the fact that everyone is entitled to a competent defense, can he retain his integrity?

 

6.         The following case study is taken from Stephen Carter's book, Integrity.

 

"A man who has been married for fifty years confesses to his wife on his deathbed that he was unfaithful thirty-five years earlier. The dishonesty was killing his spirit, he says. Now he has cleared his conscience and is able to die in peace" (53).

 

Was this an act of integrity? Carter analyzes his decision:

 

"The husband has been honest -- sort of. He has certainly unburdened himself. And he has probably made his wife (soon to be his widow) miserable in the process, because even if she forgives him, she will not be able to remember him with quite the vivid image of love and loyalty that she had hoped for. Arranging his own emotional affairs to ease his transition to death, he has shifted to his wife the burden of confusion and pain, perhaps for the rest of her life. Moreover, he has attempted his honesty at the one time in his life when it carries no risk: and . . . acting in accordance with what you think is right and risking no loss in the process is a rather thin and unadmirable form of integrity.

 

Besides, even though the husband has been honest in a sense, he has now been twice unfaithful to his wife: once thirty-five years ago when he had his affair, and now a second time as, nearing death, he decides that his own peace of mind is more important than hers. In trying to be honest, he has violated his marriage vow by acting toward his wife not with love but with naked and perhaps even cruel self-interest.

 

None of this means that the husband's thirty-five-year-old affair is a moral irrelevancy as he faces death. But if he treats his marriage vow with integrity, the question he should be asking himself is not, 'Did I make full disclosure before I died?' but rather, 'Did I make up for my wrong with the way I treated my wife for the remainder of our time together?' If he can answer yes to the second, he should still be able to die in relative peace" (53-54).

 

Do you agree with Carter?

 

7.         There was a case that involved the purchase of tobacco in New Orleans at prices that were depressed because of the British blockade during the War of 1812. The buyer had evidently heard that the war was over, which meant that the price of tobacco was about to skyrocket. Communications being what they were, the seller didn't know, and the buyer was trying to take advantage of this momentary spread in the price. When the seller learned that the war was over, he took the tobacco back, and the buyer sued. The question is this: "Did the buyer have an obligation to tell the seller that the war was over?" This particular case went to the Supreme Court in 1817. It is known as Laidlaw v. Organ. In whose favor do you think the Court ruled? How would you rule?

 

8.         In 1990 the University of Colorado football team won the national championship, but only because of a victory that was tainted by a bad call by the officials. It was a call so bad that, had it been right, Colorado would have lost the game and ultimately lost the chance for the championship.

 

Colorado trailed Missouri by 4 points with only a minute left in the game. Colorado had a first down on the Missouri 3-yard line. Four times they failed to score a touchdown. Possession of the ball should have reverted to Missouri, which could easily have run out the clock (there were only two seconds left). But the officials lost count of the downs and gave Colorado a fifth opportunity to score. They did, and won the game, and the national championship.

 

Colorado coach Bill McCartney shrugged and said it wasn't his responsibility. "I feel strongly about the fact Colorado earned the victory, and do not apologize for [it]," he said. What do you think? What, if anything, would you have done as a player or coach on Colorado's team?

 

9.         How diligent and precise are you in reporting your hours at work? Does integrity require that you make adjustments on your time card even if you are late for reasons beyond your control, such as a flat tire or heavy traffic? What if you were late to work because you were witnessing to someone in the grocery store? What if you are in a job in which you are unjustifiably underpaid and being taken advantage of?

 

10.       What are the “ethics of dickering”? Is it a matter of integrity or simply the universally understood “rules of the game” when it comes to haggling over a price? E.g.: not telling the truth about the degree of your interest in the product or the amount of money you are willing to spend. I’m not talking about whether you are morally obligated to make full disclosure concerning these matters but simply whether you are morally obligated not to mislead or deceive concerning them.

 

Illus: The seller of a home says to the prospective buyer: “I can’t take a penny less than $90,000,” knowing full well that he would be willing to sell it for $85,000. The prospective buyer says to the seller: “I can’t spend a penny more than $80,000,” knowing full well that he would be willing to pay $85,000. What does integrity require of both individuals?

 

 

The Essence of Integrity

 

Of what, then, does integrity consist? I've listed below what I regard as the ten foundational characteristics of a person with integrity. There may well be more than ten, but I cannot conceive of any less than ten.

 

1.         A person of integrity fulfills his/her promises. Being true to one's word, especially when doing so is costly (in terms of money, convenience, physical welfare, etc.) is a core characteristic of integrity.

 

Questions: "What if what one promised to do is evil? Does commitment to an evil promise make one a person of integrity? What if one has made a good or righteous promise, the fulfillment of which now would require the breaking of an equally good or righteous law?"

 

2.         A person of integrity speaks the truth, is honest, and does not lie.

 

Questions: "What about speaking the truth in love? Is a person who speaks the truth with harshness and rigidity a person of integrity?"

 

3.         A person of integrity is a person of sincerity. That is to say, a person of integrity hates hypocrisy.

 

Questions: "But does merely being sincere equal integrity? What if one is sincerely wrong? What if one is sincerely evil, as was Hitler?"

 

4.         A person of integrity manifests a wholeness of character, including kindness, compassion, mercy, and gentleness.

 

Questions: "Could a person who is mean have integrity? How much emphasis should be placed on one's temperament or personality in determining integrity?"

 

5.         A person of integrity is committed to the pursuit and maintenance of justice and fairness.

 

6.         A person of integrity loves as, when, and what God loves.

 

Questions: "Does this mean that non-Christians can't have integrity? How do we account for what appears to be honesty and justice and compassion in non-believers?"

 

7.         A person of integrity is humble. He/she shuns pride and haughtiness.

 

Questions: "What if a person is proud of his/her integrity? Does that alone abolish whatever degree of integrity a person previously might have had?"

 

8.         A person of integrity is law-abiding. He/she plays by the rules, both in the Bible and the law of the land.

 

9.         A person of integrity is fundamentally altruistic. That is to say, they are committed not simply to laws and rules but to people.

 

Questions: "Could a selfish person have much integrity? What about someone who is honest, law-abiding, and fulfills his/her promises but is self-absorbed and egocentric? Does the latter eliminate the possibility of integrity?"

 

10.       A person of integrity manifests a high degree of consistency. That is to say, he/she is not always changing the principles on the basis of which they live, unless compelled to do so by the Bible or rational persuasion.

 

What additional characteristics would you suggest?