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.

 

In the heart

 

First, we must forge integrity in the heart. Doing so is impossible apart from God's redeeming grace and regenerating Spirit. A minister of the Word lives under the constant danger of becoming a professional Christian leader rather than an authentic man of God. In Matthew 15:8 Jesus quoted Isaiah 29:13: "This people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by precept of men." Greatly used servants of the Lord often stress this theme. In a letter to a gifted young man about to enter the ministry, John Newton wrote, "Beware, my friend, of mistaking the ready exercise of gifts for the exercise of grace.

 

The minister may be assisted in public for the sake of his hearers; and there is something in the nature of our public work, when surrounded by a concourse of people, that is suited to draw forth the exertion of our abilities, and to engage our attention in the outward services, when the frame of the heart may be far from being right in the sight of the Lord" ("On the Snares and Difficulties Attending the Ministry," from The Works of John Newton, Volume 1, rpt. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1988, p.164).

 

Charles Haddon Spurgeon warns his students in "The Minister's Self-Watch" (Chapter One of Lectures to My Students, p. 2): "It will be in vain for me to stock my library, or organize societies, or project schemes, if I neglect the culture of myself; for books, and agencies, and systems, are only remotely the instruments of my holy calling; my own spirit, soul, and body, are my nearest machinery for sacred service; my spiritual faculties, and my inner life, are my battle axe and weapons of war." He reminds his students in the words of Robert Murray McCheyne that "it is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God."

 

McCheyne admonishes, "Take heed to thyself. Your own soul is your first and greatest care. . . . Keep a clear conscience through the blood of the Lamb. Keep up close communion with God. Study likeness to Him in all things. Read the Bible for your own growth first, then for your people" (quoted by Horatius Bonar, Words to Winners of Souls, Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995, p. 10). When a man cultivates integrity at the level of the soul, he is ready to take on the challenges of the rest of his life. His integrity holds him to a certain code of conduct, and it shines through even when he is not consciously trying to maintain it.

 

In the home

The New Testament qualifications for pastors and deacons affirm that what we are and how we behave in our homes tell others whether we are fit for ministry. It is a good thing for a pastor to see his own family among the congregation of God's people.

 

They observe whether he really believes what he preaches by the way he lives in his unguarded moments at home. Those who know us best recognize whether we have integrity or not.

 

In the marketplace

 

According to I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, no man who does not behave himself blamelessly among the general community is qualified to shepherd other believers. If I'm rude to the clerk at the checkout, I can hardly be credible when I preach about loving one's neighbor.

 

If I do not pay my bills, I'm in no position at offering time to ask God's people to show faithfulness in their stewardship. If I'm self-absorbed in my marketplace activity, I can hardly make a case from the sanctuary pulpit for compassionate evangelism.

 

In the pulpit

 

The preaching ministry itself tests our integrity. Religious hucksters abounded in the apostles' day, just as they do in ours. Many popular models of ministry today, however sincerely motivated, lack the integrity Paul discusses in I Thessalonians 2:3-6:

 

For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

 

When a man of integrity stands to teach and preach, he is keenly aware that what he says is to be "as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11). Neglect of diligent and prayerful study; capitulation to the popular notion that relevance demands stories and jokes, not Scripture; the pressure to emphasize the pet doctrines of one's group rather than to preach the whole counsel of God-these and other threats to integrity in the pulpit drive him to his study and prayer closet.

 

The awesome prospect of answering to God for how I represent His Word and ways staggers me. It makes the pulpit not a throne, but an altar. There, self is sacrificed that God may be glorified. Let the fire fall. Integrity survives only where He reigns.


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