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The True Meaning of Integrity

  • Dr. S. M. Davis Homeschool Enrichment
  • Updated Jul 14, 2020
The True Meaning of Integrity

Upright character is an important ingredient in any person’s life. Character is the guard of your reputation and a necessity for success in any sphere of life. Without it, nations, businesses, churches, and families crumble and fall into moral disarray. However, important as character is, there is something that is even more important, and that is integrity.

The word integrity occurs sixteen times in the Bible, and is without a doubt one of the most important words in the scriptures. Throughout the Bible, there are three men who God told us specifically were men of integrity. The first of these (and with him the first mention of integrity in the Bible) is found in Genesis 20. The man was the heathen king Abimelech.

David, in 1 Kings 9:14, is the second man we find who God described as having integrity.

The third is Job, and the Bible refers to Job’s integrity four times. It was his integrity that kept Job from cursing God when he lost his children, his possessions, and his health. God acknowledged Job’s integrity to Satan in Job 2:3, and Job’s wife recognized it as well when she asked him, in verse 9, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die” (Job 2:9). Job refused, and later, in Job 27:5, he said, “Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me.”

What is Integrity?

I have found three definitions of integrity in the dictionary. First, integrity is “the condition or quality of being complete; undivided or unbroken; wholeness.” Second, integrity is “an unimpaired condition.” The third definition is, “moral soundness or uprightness.”

Several times the Hebrew word for integrity is translated uprightness. Proverbs 10:9 says, “He that walketh uprightly walketh surely.”

In Proverbs 10:29 we read, “The way of the Lord is strength to the upright.” Proverbs 28:6 says, “Better is the poor that walketh in his uprightness, than he that is perverse in his ways, though he be rich.”

Contractors and engineers refer to the integrity of steel. There are times when you can have two pieces of steel that both look great on the outside—there’s no apparent difference between them—but one of them, when it is put under stress, may not support the weight. The reason the other piece of steel does hold up under stress is because it has integrity.

Integrity and Character: What’s the Difference?

The English word character doesn’t actually appear in the Bible, but the Greek word from which we derive our English word does. Hebrews 1:3 refers to the “express image” of Jesus Christ. The Greek word there is karakter, from which we get our English word character. 

What is the difference between integrity and character? Character is a matter of doing right, over and over until it becomes a part of your life.

You teach a child to get up in the morning, make his bed, get dressed, read her Bible, do his chores, and so on. You teach children to treat adults with respect. You teach them diligence, patience, and a good work ethic. When they learn all of that and then do it without thinking about it, they are displaying character. Character, somebody said, is doing right by habit. It’s simply doing the right thing automatically.

You can train character into a child. Good character is the natural response of acting or reacting according to high standards of behavior in every situation. (Editor’s note: See “Raising Kids with Character”by Dr. S. M. Davis in the Mar/Apr ’07 issue of Home School Enrichment for more on this topic.)

Now, integrity is character, but it is also more than character. Integrity is actually more important than character. Integrity is character that truly comes from the heart. It is character that is resolute. It is character that cannot be changed or polluted.

Integrity is more likely to produce character than character is to produce integrity. In fact, integrity is the parent of character. You may find a person who doesn’t have much character, but if he has integrity, he will eventually build character.

I’ve seen young people whose parents were not Christians and had no interest in Christianity. Some of these young people got saved and allowed the Holy Spirit to work in their lives and produce integrity in them. Before long, they were saying, “I want to do right. It doesn’t matter what anybody else says or does, I’m going to do right.”

A person like that will eventually develop character. Character deficiencies are really a result of a lack of integrity.

If a man has integrity and he sees a character deficiency or a character flaw in his life, he will say, “I need to deal with that. I can’t let that character flaw stay in my life.”

Nobody is perfect; that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about steel that is sound. We’re talking about the steel of resolve on the inside of a person’s soul: the resolve to do that which is right.

Integrity is more than good habits that have been formed. I’ve seen people form good habits and then go bad. Why? Because even though they had good habits, they didn’t have the integrity to undergird and support the good habits.

Integrity is a determination of the heart. Integrity is the unwavering determination in the heart to do right no matter what. 

When I’m afraid, I must do right. When I’m not afraid, I must do right. When my emotions try to lead me the wrong way, I must have integrity. I must do right. When my emotions are doing fine, I must do right. When I’m among the heathen, I must do right. When I’m not among the heathen, I must do right. When I’m among committed Christians, I must do right. And when I’m among Christians you can hardly tell apart from the world, I must do right.

When my friends stand with me, I must do right. When my friends attack me, I must still do right. When my friends turn on me, despise me, make fun of me, and put me down, I must still maintain integrity. If my wife and children stand with me, I must do right. If my wife and children don’t stand with me, I must do right. When it’s easy, I must do right. When it’s hard, I must do right. When there’s no cost, I must do right. When the cost seems high, I must do right. When people like it, I must do right. When people don’t like it, I must do right. That’s integrity.

If there is anything that is needed in young men today, it is that kind of integrity. Young men simply need to have the resolve in their hearts and souls to say, “I will do right. I may not feel like it. I may not get any support or encouragement. But I’ve got to have integrity and I won’t let it go. I’ve got to do right!”

Integrity is that thing in a man or a woman that says, “I must and will do that which is right.” Period. No question marks.

A man of integrity tells the truth. Period. He tells the truth when he is under oath. He tells the truth when he’s not under oath. That’s what Jesus was talking about when He said,“Let your communication be yea, yea; nay, nay” (Matt. 5:37).

My wife and I taught our girls that they would get into more trouble for telling a lie than for anything else. Parents, teach that to your children. No matter what you do, no matter what it costs you—tell the truth.

A few years ago, a college sports team won a championship game. After they did, the coach discovered they had ineligible players on the team. Without anybody forcing him to do so, the coach stepped forward and relinquished the championship trophy. Without waiting to be found out, he brought the trophy and gave it back. That’s integrity.

The little phrase really is true: “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Why? Because there’s always somebody that can play a little better than I can, but anyone can excel in integrity if they will.

Holding Integrity in Your Heart

Integrity is not just what people see. Integrity is what you are.

Twice in Genesis 20, the Bible referred to the integrity of Abimelech’s heart. God said about Job, “He holdeth fast his integrity.” Job himself said, “. . . I will not remove mine integrity from me.”

One of the most important truths in the whole Bible is this: Jesus said, “Without me, ye can do nothing.” If you’ve got any integrity, it’s not just because you have it naturally. If you’ve really got it, it’s because God gave it to you.

I also want to tell you that even though God gives integrity to you, there’s also a sense in which He says, “I give you the responsibility to hold on to your integrity. I gave it to you, now you hold onto it.”

How can a person hold onto integrity? Only by having it and keeping it in the heart. If it is not in the heart, integrity is up for grabs. If it is not in your heart, then the mind will begin to rationalize and figure out a way to get around it. If your integrity is only in your hands, somebody will be able to buy it from you. If your integrity is only in your mind, somebody will talk you out of it. But if integrity is in your heart, then with God’s help, you can keep it no matter what.

Let me ask you a key question: What would you do if you knew that nobody would ever find out? If you knew you would never be caught, what would you do?

Which is stronger in your heart right now, greed or integrity? Would you steal if you knew no one would ever find it out?

Which is stronger in your heart, lust or integrity? What would you look at if you knew no one would ever find out? Where would you go if you knew no one would ever find out? What would you do if you knew that no one would ever find out?

Integrity says, “I can’t do this because I can’t live with myself if I do.” That is integrity in the heart.

Remember the story of Joseph? He was sold into slavery by his brothers and wound up in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, where Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him. What did Joseph say? “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”

Notice that Joseph wasn’t primarily worried about Potiphar finding out. People who are unfaithful to their mates are usually only worried that their mate or the other person’s mate will find out. They’re not as likely to maintain integrity as they would be if they recognized that God is always watching them and were more concerned about Him knowing what they did than someone else knowing. Psalm 111:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Joseph wasn’t just worried about Potiphar finding out. He was worried about having to live with himself, knowing that God would know what he had done.

Martin Luther said, “If I knew the world would go to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant my apple tree and pay my debts.” If no bill collector was coming after you, would you still pay your bills? If the boss is nowhere around, do you still put in eight hours’ work for eight hours’ pay? Do you work harder when the boss is watching than you do when he’s not?

I don’t know much about sports, but I’ve read that some professional athletes will sign a contract for three years. Then, if they have a really good year, they want to renegotiate after the good year. I can’t help but wonder if they’re willing to renegotiate for a lower salary if they have a bad year!

Incidentally, I wouldn’t want an athlete who would do that on my team at any price, and I wouldn’t want my children watching him play. I wouldn’t want his poster hanging up in my house, because integrity is more important than talent.

Integrity in the Home

Of all the places that integrity can manifest itself, nowhere is it more important than in the home. Psalm 101:2 says, “I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way . . . I will walk within my house with a perfect heart.” The word perfect there is the same Hebrew word translated integrity.

At the end of the book of Job, God gave Job double what he’d had originally, plus ten more children. Imagine the testimony those children heard. Imagine him telling them about everything he went through and was still able to hold on to his integrity.

When children see their parents act with integrity—when they see them do right regardless of the cost—the lessons that they learn are priceless.

Proverbs 20:7 says, “The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.”

Integrity: Your Guide and Guard

Proverbs 11:3 says, “The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.”

If you have integrity, it will serve as a guide to you, directing you in the way you ought to be going.

Psalms 25:21 says, “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me; for I wait on thee.”

It was the integrity of his heart that saved Abimelech’s life. It matters not how much talent, money, intelligence, personality, charisma, or ability a person has. If he doesn’t have integrity, his life may become worthless.

Helping our children develop not only character, but also true, heart-based integrity, is one of our greatest responsibilities as parents. With God’s help, we can raise children who will stand strong for Him no matter what may come their way. 

Dr. S. M. Davis has been the pastor of Park Meadows Baptist Church for 35 years. He and his wife, Rae Jean, have been married for 40 years and have four children and twelve grandchildren. He also speaks widely in churches and at homeschool conventions on family-related issues. For more information about his ministry, visit www.SolveFamilyProblems.com or call 800-500-8853. Editor’s Note: This article was originally preached as a sermon by Dr. S. M. Davis, and was specially edited and adapted for publication in Home School Enrichment Magazine, where it appeared in the Jan/Feb 2011 issue. Learn more at www.HomeSchoolEnrichment.com. Special thanks to Evangelist Dennis Corle of Revival Fires Magazine whose sermon on “Integrity” provided both inspiration and information for this message.