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Duty and Honor

  • Dr. R.C. Sproul Ligonier Ministries
  • 2008 7 Jul
  • COMMENTS
Duty and Honor


Today, the word honor has all but disappeared from the English language. I speak about honor because the dictionary lists the term honor as the chief synonym for the word integrity. My concern in this article is to ask: "What is the meaning of integrity?" If we use the pedestrian definitions given to us by lexicographers, such as we find in Webster's dictionary, we read several entries. In the first instance, integrity is defined as "uncompromising adherence to moral and ethical principles." Second, integrity means "soundness of character." Third, integrity means "honesty." Fourth, integrity refers to being "whole or entire." Fifth and finally, integrity means to be "unimpaired in one's character."

Now, these definitions describe persons who are almost as rare as the use of the term honor. In the first instance, integrity would describe someone whom we might call "a person of principle." The person who is a person of principle is one, as the dictionary defines, who is uncompromising. The person is not uncompromising in every negotiation or discussion of important issues, but is uncompromising with respect to moral and ethical principles. This is a person who puts principle ahead of personal gain.

We also see that integrity refers to soundness of character and of honesty. When we look to the New Testament, for example, in the epistle of James, James gives a list of virtues that are to be manifested in the Christian life. In the fifth chapter of that letter at verse 12, he writes, "But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your 'yes' be yes, and your 'no,' be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation." Here James elevates the trustworthiness of a person's word, the simple statement of yes or no, as a virtue that is "above all." What James is getting at is that integrity requires a kind of honesty that indicates that when we say we will do something, our word is our bond. We should not require sacred oaths and vows in order to be trusted. People of integrity can be trusted on the basis of what they say.

We look back to the Old Testament to the experience of the prophet Isaiah in his vision recorded in Isaiah 6 of that book. We remember that Isaiah saw the Lord high and lifted up as well as the seraphim singing the Trisagion: "Holy, Holy, Holy." In response to this epiphany, Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me," announcing a curse upon himself. He said the reason for his curse was because "I am undone" or "ruined." What Isaiah experienced in that moment was human disintegration. Prior to that vision, Isaiah was perhaps viewed as the most righteous man in the nation. He stood secure and confident in his own integrity. Everything was being held together by his virtue. He considered himself a whole, integrated person, but as soon as he saw the ultimate model and standard for integrity and virtue in the character of God, he experienced disintegration. He fell apart at the seams, realizing that his sense of integrity was at best a pretense.

Calvin indicated that this is the common lot of human beings, who as long as they keep their gaze fixed on the horizontal or terrestrial level of experience, are able to congratulate themselves and consider themselves with all flattery of being slightly less than demigods. But once they raise their gaze to heaven and consider even for a moment what kind of being God is, they stand shaking and quaking, becoming completely disavowed of any further illusion of their integrity.

The Christian is to reflect the character of God. The Christian is to be uncompromising with respect to ethical principles. The Christian is called to be a person of honor whose word can be trusted.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's Chapel in Sanford, Florida, and he is the author of the book A Taste of Heaven.
This article originally appeared in Tabletalk magazine, September 2007. ©2007 Ligonier Ministries. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. 
Ligonier Ministries - Tabletalk Magazine