The integrity of the upright will guide them, But the perversity of the unfaithful will destroy them.Proverbs 11:3 NKJV
In a poll of random acquaintances, I asked the question, “When you hear the term manhood, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?” I tallied the responses in the hope of identifying characteristics of manhood that are written in hearts, not what has been taught us in school or portrayed by the media. (See Man Alive: What is Manhood?) Responses covered so far include:
Ranking Number 7 in the poll is “Integrity.” It’s possible that this could be grouped with “Responsibility,” but it’s so important I felt it needed a section of its own. Indeed, Proverbs tells us that if we have integrity, it will guide us. How many decisions can be made simpler if we just learn to follow integrity?
Most of us have a sense of what it means when someone says, “He’s a man of integrity.” I might immediately think that he’s honest, doesn’t cheat people in business, that sort of thing. A quick check of Wikipedia tells us “Integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.” That seems right.
The Hebrew word translated “integrity” in the verse above is “tom.” The concordance tells us that the base meaning is “completeness.” It has to do with being whole. Used by engineers, it describes the soundness and stability of a structure. After an earthquake the engineers come in to check buildings to see if they can stand up under a load. Even to carry their own weight they need “structural integrity.” In mathematics, an integer is a number that is not divided – it is whole, no fractions allowed. A man of integrity is whole, sound, stable, inside and out. What you see on the outside reflects what is real on the inside.
Occasionally we can learn about a thing by inspecting its opposite. In this case, our verse in Proverbs tells us that integrity is opposed to “perversity.” Perversity is defined as distortion, particularly distortion with vicious intent. Proverbs 15:4 says, “A wholesome tongue is a tree of life, But perverseness in it breaks the spirit” Perverse words are distortions of truth used with harmful intent to cause damage. Perverse thinking twists the truth to fit its own desires, forward its own cause, or to reflect badly on an opponent. By contrast, integrity is straightforward in communication and innocent in motivation.
Putting all these thoughts together, integrity has to do with wholeness, innocence, and a lack of evil intent. It refers to a man whose words and actions reflect the goodness that is in his heart. King David asked the question, “LORD, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? (Psalms 15:1 NKJV)” The answer to that question begins in the next verse with a beautiful description of the man of integrity: “He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; (Psalms 15:2 NKJV)” A man of integrity lives a life reflective of the condition of his heart. He is not living a religious façade but expressing the work of God in his heart through words and actions. Integrity puts the right thing before the easy thing. That is a rare thing.
In Psalm 15, David goes on to describe this man who walks uprightly, does the right thing, and speaks truth that comes from the heart. Let’s take a look at God’s description of the man of integrity:
- Integrity Characteristic #1: A loyal friend
He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend;Psalms 15:3 NKJV
Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends.Psalm 15:3 NLT
As with so many things of the Spirit, the tongue is a key factor in defining integrity. The tongue of the man of integrity is never weaponized against those he calls friends. Backbiting means to speak evil of someone behind their back. This means that even if I know something bad about someone I should keep it to myself. Unless I’m involved in attempting a process of restoration for a fallen brother, I have no need to share his failings with others, even in the guise of “we need to pray for so and so.” Gossip clothed in spiritual garb is still gossip.
Integrity reflects itself in our treatment of those who regularly share our life-space. They are our “neighbors.” In our time, this may include a number of people on social media. Integrity doesn’t do or say things that will harm a neighbor, digital or physical. Paul said, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10 NKJV)” Being unkind is still a sin, even if you do it under an online pseudonym. This kind of integrity includes not sharing things you are told in confidence. The man of integrity keeps the confidences of those who share their personal lives with him. It is an honor to be trusted.
One thing I’ve learned in more than 50 years of listening to people’s tales of woe: There is always more to the story. Whether in the group therapy session, the counseling room, the Pastor’s office, or over coffee after church, it’s always wise to listen without agreement or amazement to tales of bad behavior. Wait until you have facts and opinions from all sides before assigning blame for anything. Borrowed indignation, taking up a reproach, is one of the hallmarks of our modern age. We hear something about someone, or read about it on Twitter, and we charge off with another, “ain’t it awful” story. Integrity waits for clarity, then, if appropriate, plans action designed to help a victim, correct a wrong-doer, or defend one who is falsely accused.
So, here’s the synopsis: Integrity treats people well, especially friends and neighbors. It does not seek revenge. It doesn’t repeat damaging stories, true or false. When It hears a negative story, it seeks truth, then restoration. Integrity keeps a confidence.
- Every time you find yourself speaking evil of someone behind their back, make a note and stop yourself.
- Take your list from #2 and ask this question: “What was my motive in evil-speaking about my friend?” Were you trying to impress the person you were with? What did you hope to accomplish? How could you respond when someone starts that sort of conversation?
- If you have a social media account, review your posts for the last week. Are they encouraging and edifying? Have you been outraged and angry over a story you read? Did you take the time to check the facts before you responded?
- In reading this section, is there anything you would like to change in how you use your tongue? If so, how do you propose to make the change?
- Integrity Characteristic #2: Holy heroes.
In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the LORD.Psalm 15:4a NKJV
I struggled with the term “despised” in this verse until I looked it up in my concordance and found it means to place less value on something. David was simply saying that the man of integrity recognizes the value of the godly life over the worldly one. Integrity doesn’t hate the ungodly, but it doesn’t glorify or envy them either. I meet a lot of Christian men who seem to envy the lifestyle of men in the media who flaunt their wealth, their sexual exploits, or their physical prowess. In fact, much of our secular culture is based on the worship of fame for its own sake.
One of the most popular TV franchises of the last 20 years was entitled, “American Idol.” The name comes from a common phrase used to describe very popular singers or celebrities, people we greatly admire or who we think bear imitation. The term is too accurate for comfort. The word originally meant a statue or image of a god used in worship. As Christians, I suppose we shouldn’t have “idols” of any kind, but we certainly should have people who we look to as examples, whose lives we speak of as models of Christlikeness. Choosing these people well is a mark of integrity.
Integrity chooses to esteem and commend those whose lives reflect godliness. How do I do that? First, I am careful about who I speak of in an admiring way, especially around children and young believers. They need to know what qualities are worthy of respect. Secondly, I make lifestyle choices that reflect the values I espouse. That would include clothing, entertainment, and language. Although I may have social or business contacts who are not Christians, I must be aware that my presence at some gatherings sends a message to the observer. I suppose you could ask yourself, “If someone were watching my life, who would they think are my idols?”
For anyone in leadership, whether in business or ministry, this is a very important concept. We are always tempted to hire or promote people based on their talents. Talent is certainly one consideration, but many a disaster could have been prevented by putting character first, then talent. For many jobs, I can train someone who is faithful, loyal, honest, and of normal intelligence. In the long run a talented but dishonest or disloyal employee (or friend!) will cause more trouble than blessing. Value the truly valuable.
- Who are your favorite entertainers or sports stars? What do you admire about them?
- What popular behaviors do you see in our culture that come from the world of entertainment (including sports)? Do these things reflect your values? Do they represent values or behaviors you want to teach your children?
- Are there places you go or activities you engage in that you would not want your pastor to know about? What are they and why do you think Pastor wouldn’t approve?
- Can you name three people you believe would be good role models for you and for your kids? What characteristics led you to make those choices?
- How would the people around you know what you admire in other people
- Integrity Characteristic #3: Promise keepers.
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;Psalms 15:4b NKJV
For some reason, this half a verse has stuck with me from early on in my Christian life. I remember hearing it in the teaching of Kenneth Hagin, “the mark of the true spiritual pilgrim… he sweareth to his own hurt and changeth not.” For some reason that just made sense to me. A man of God, a person of integrity, will keep his word. Period.
Keeping his own word is the foundational characteristic of a man of integrity. I believe that most of us know this on an instinctual level. Back in 1990 an organization for men was formed called “Promise Keepers.” It really exploded, filling stadiums across the land with men hungry for genuine manhood. That hunger still exists, maybe even more so in a culture gone completely mad in the areas of sexual identity and purity. The idea of a manhood based on keeping our promises still stirs our hearts. In my heart, I know that integrity demands that I keep my commitments.
In the New Testament we find repeated injunctions to “let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.” (Matthew 5:33-37; James 5:12) Each of these passages encourages believers not to swear oaths, but to simply say yes or no. The point is that the word of a believer should be enough. No oath is required for a man of integrity. Sometimes we get bogged down in the debate over the mechanics of taking oaths or not taking oaths and we miss the point: Keep your word!
Learning to keep promises begins in small ways. If you make an appointment, get there on time. I know that seems trivial, but an appointment is a promise. Keep it. If traffic is heavy, your car is unreliable, or the phone rings at the last second, do whatever you have to do to make sure your word is good. Leave early enough to account for unexpected delays. Tell your girlfriend you’ll have to call her back. Keep your word. If you can’t keep promises on a small scale, how can you expect to keep the weightier promises to your covenant bride, to your covenant church family, and to the God who bids you “come?”
One key to keeping promises is being prudent in making them. Don’t make commitments you can’t keep. Before you say, “yes,” think about what you are saying. Can I do this? Do I need to check with my wife? My calendar? Often our desire to please people causes us to lie by agreeing to what we know we can’t do. If you can’t do it, be honest. This will take practice. Start small. If someone asks you to pray for them, do it. Don’t just smile, nod, and lie. Do it! If someone asks you to attend a function, don’t say, “yes” if you have no reasonable expectation of actually attending. An RSVP is your word. Keep it!
Now you may be ready to start Looking at your larger commitments. How about your promises to your employer? He pays you to do a job. If you don’t do it, don’t take the money. What are your commitments to your church? If you have a responsibility on Sunday, but decide to stay out late on Saturday, your exhaustion is an excuse, not a reason. Don’t lie to God or His people. Keep your word.
Let’s take it a step further. What are your commitments to your wife? What did you stand up and promise on your wedding day? Most of us included God in the ceremony, asking His blessing on our vows, and that He be witness to our covenant. If you promised her you would love her, then do it. Put her needs before your own. If you promised her you would honor her, then value her with your words and your actions. Watch what you say to her and about her. Treat her as if she has value to you. If you promised to be faithful, then keep your word. Your feelings and her performance are not excuses for lying to her and to God.
- For the next week, keep notes on everything you agree to do. At the end of the week, look at your list. What did you lie about? Why did you make a commitment you weren’t going to keep? How can you adjust to be more truthful in making commitments?
- Review the commitments you failed to keep in the last week. What can you do to make that right? Do you need to ask forgiveness? Can you “catch up” by doing it today? Don’t just pretend it didn’t happen and hope for the best. Hold yourself accountable for your word.
- Are you married? If you have a copy of the vows you took, get it out and read it. If you don’t have a copy, see if your wife does. Review what you promised and ask forgiveness for the promises you have not kept. What one thing can you do today to start keeping your wedding vows?
- If you have found anything about yourself in this section that you would like to change, write a plan for how you will do it.
- Integrity Characteristic #4: God over mammon.
He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.Psalms 15:5 NKJV
Financial integrity is a big issue, especially in the business of the church. Paul addressed the need for accountability and transparency with finances in 2 Corinthians 8. An offering was raised to go to Jerusalem, but Paul makes it clear that he is taking along another person of recognized character to give no room for questioning or accusation concerning how the gift is handled. “We are traveling together to guard against any criticism for the way we are handling this generous gift. We are careful to be honorable before the Lord, but we also want everyone else to see that we are honorable.” (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 NLT) If Paul needed a witness, so do we.
Money is a huge Bible subject. If we take all the “money” verses out, The Book gets significantly smaller. The temptation to ignore integrity in finances can be very subtle, the pressures of need and greed can blind even the most honest among us. In the world and in the church, scandals rooted in avarice and deceit are common. Funds are mishandled, diverted from their intended purpose to personal use or more pressing needs. Vendors sell products knowing they are harmful to the user. Our verse in Psalm 15:5 tells us that the godly man doesn’t take advantage of others to make money, nor does he alter his behavior toward them for mere financial gain. The core issue is motivation. Jesus said it best. “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. (Matthew 6:24 NLT)”
In making life’s decisions integrity demands that the will of God, not financial gain, be our primary motivation. In choosing a job, money is not the first consideration. There are some jobs I can’t take because they encourage sinful behaviors. Others are ruled out because the schedule interferes with my commitments to church and family. When praying about a move to another town, the first question is, “What church will God have us be part of?” The big issue is always, “Who do I serve?” not, “What’s in it for me?”
Taking this a step further, when deciding how to spend money, the tithe comes first. It’s God’s, not mine. If I have made commitments to give regularly to other things, such as a building fund or a mission project, that commitment comes before any of my personal whims. My family responsibilities come next. Once I have taken care of my obligations to God, family and creditors, then I can consider my own needs and desires. Money cannot determine whether I obey God or not. I cannot serve God and money. Jesus said so.
Another, sometimes overlooked, aspect of financial integrity concerns how I view other people. James was very direct on this issue. He said that if we treat rich people better than we treat the poor, we have evil motives. (James 2:1-4) He says that to show partiality based on social or financial status is a sin. (James 2:9) Every human being has exactly the same worth to God: the shed blood of His only Son. No matter how stately or how humble, every person’s price is the same. To adjust our attentions or care based on money is a sin.
- How do you decide where to spend your money? If you’re married, do you have a decision-making process that includes your spouse? Are you spending money in ways you don’t want your spouse to know about? How can you become more accountable in your financial habits? (Romans 12:17; 1 Peter 2:12)
- Keep a record of everything you spend for the next week. At the end of the week, go over your record. Are there any surprises? What are they? (Proverbs 27:23024)
- What are your priorities in determining how to spend money? Do you honor God first? If not, why not? What needs to change? (Proverbs 3:9-12; Matthew 6:24-34)
- Are there attitudes or behaviors you would like to change in dealing with money? If so, what can you do differently today to start in that direction?
- Read James 2:1-9. Are there attitudes and behaviors you need to adjust in order to obey this passage?
If you are lacking integrity in any area of your life and you would like to make a change, let’s apply the change process from Man Alive: Change Gonna Come
- Admit you need it. You can’t change something you won’t admit. 1 John 1:8-9
- Find scriptures that tell you what God thinks about it. Review these passages daily. Say them out loud. Psalm 19:7-11
- Go to the Lord and ask Him to help you make this change. Psalm 121:1-2
- Commit to a process of learning to listen and obey. God will guide you if you take a moment to listen. There is a place in your heart that knows what to do when you need to do it. Romans 8:14-16
- Address the root, not just the behavior. Trade in your ideas and values and prejudices for the thoughts of God. He is God. He’s always right. Get your mind in line with His. Romans 12:1-8
- Make a very specific plan for change and begin walking in that direction. What are you going to do and when are you going to do it? Write it down! Habakkuk 2:1-4
- Find someone you can trust and talk with them. Share the problem, share the plan, ask for input. Pray together and stay in contact to report your progress. James 5:16
- If you screw up, get up. One step in the right direction is one more than you made before. Process the lesson and take another step. Romans 8:31-37
OK, let’s do this! It’s the right thing!