Integrity. Everyone ought to possess it, but a leader undergoes greater public scrutiny to see if he has it, and he suffers greater consequences when he does not. Even if there is no legal fallout, the damage to his reputation is real. Even more serious is the soul disease that violations of integrity reveal.

 

A politician may lose credibility with his supporters, but an under-shepherd that exhibits flaws in his integrity jeopardizes the health of God's flock and clouds the honor of his Lord. In so doing, he brings into question whether or not he belongs in the pastoral ministry at all.

 

It can be difficult to create and maintain in our minds a concrete concept of integrity. Yet those who prize personal integrity find themselves under frequent pressure to violate it. Constant vigilance is the price of integrity. Unfortunately, we are usually far more sensitive to a failure of integrity in others than in ourselves. And the tragic consequences that result from lost integrity seem much like those terrible car accidents reported in the newspaper: tragedies that happen to people other than ourselves.

 

In our moments of clearer thinking, we recognize the naiveté of such self-confidence. Unlike the physical loss in those highway crashes, the loss of integrity usually occurs almost imperceptibly and by degrees. How can we maintain integrity in the face of so many enemies to it? The answer requires an understanding of what integrity is, where it is forged, and how it is demonstrated.

 

"Integrity" means "a rigid adherence to a code of behavior" according to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. But the word comes from the Latin integritas, meaning "completeness, purity." The word "integer" (a whole number) is from the same root. The point is this: a person of true integrity possesses a unity of life and character. The Scriptures always connect behavior to character.

 

The man of integrity does what he does because he is what he is. He is the same in public or in private, during times of relative ease or of great pressure. He does not pretend to be something he is not-ever. There is a powerful simplicity to that kind of life and the ministry that springs from it.

 

The Old Testament's word for integrity (tummah) captures this simplicity or innocence of life, along with completeness or fullness. Both the Old and New Testaments underscore the reality that no human being but Jesus Christ is sinless, so integrity for the believer does not mean sinlessness, but sincere and single-hearted devotion.

 

In Psalm 25:21 David prays, "Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee." The preceding verses weave together a tapestry of intimate trust, humble repentance, and holy desire. In Psalm 26:1-3 David catalogs the ways he has displayed his integrity, but he starts at the root of it: his heart relationship to God. "Judge [vindicate] me, O LORD; for I have walked in mine integrity: I have trusted also in the LORD; therefore I shall not slide. Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart. For thy lovingkindness is before mine eyes: and I have walked in thy truth." Integrity must reside in the heart, the home, the marketplace, and the pulpit.