“Let integrity and uprightness preserve me…” – Psalm 25:21 (NKJ)
Integrity… what is it? Simply put, integrity is the courage to do the right thing. It’s living a life of uprightness in the face of a corrupt world. And let me tell you, in today’s world that takes some courage. Normally, when we ponder the word courage, images instantly fill our minds of gallant soldiers flinging their bodies onto incoming RPG’s in order to save their comrades, or selfless teachers taking bullets to protect innocent students during school shootings. The rescuers from 9/11 displayed dauntless courage as they sprinted into the World Trade Centers that fateful morning knowing full well the buildings were about to collapse. Those are all courageous acts indeed. Thank God for the bravery of men like that. America needs more of them. But have you considered the raw courage it takes to walk with integrity? It’s not as glamorous as other heroic acts, but it’s no less important. In fact, integrity is the foundation and basis of the model man.
We hear stories or see images of Christians that died as martyrs for Christ and wonder if we would ever have the courage to do that. I do believe in those moments God grants a special grace. Yet, few of us realize that it also takes great courage to live uprightly for Christ day in and day out, to walk through the daily grind of this life with unswerving integrity, doing the right things when no one is watching, living by standards, principles, conscience, and convictions 100 percent of the time.
Today men are defined in many ways by—how much they can bench press, how many expensive toys they own, how much money they make or power they wield. You get it. But I maintain that a real man is defined by his integrity. Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than riches, to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” How are you defined? Can you be bought, bribed, or manipulated? Does your good name mean more to you than any amount of money or compromise with sin?
The word integrity itself is derived from the same root as integer, meaning a whole number, “to be whole, no part missing.” A man’s character has to be whole; his thoughts, attitudes, marriage, money, and motives. Integrity is something that we are continually developing over the course of our lives and I believe one reason God had you pick this book up. You see, a man can be great in many areas, but if one area of his character is compromised, it could be his downfall. I’ve witnessed it time and time again, men who appeared to have rock-solid success on the outside (pastors, political leaders, businessmen, husbands with wonderful marriages and families) but somewhere along the line they allowed compromise in one area and a crack was formed that weakened the integrity of their foundation. No one really noticed until suddenly there was a very public collapse of their entire structure wounding many people. What seemingly occurred overnight, in reality had been gradually mounting over time. Compromise is like that. It starts off small, but grows stealthily until “BAM!” it’s too late. If we are going to prevent the collapse of our nation we men must have the courage to walk with integrity regardless of the costs.
Everything starts with integrity.
My 95-year-old dad has described to me a time in our nation when men were defined by their word. Deals would be struck, money would be loaned, and property bought simply with a handshake and a promise. The idea of breaking their word was totally foreign to them. Men looked each other in the eye and were, in essence, saying, “I’d rather die than not repay this money or conclude this deal.” In that day, a man’s word was his bond. It was considered the highest of complements for someone to say of you, “Now he’s a man of his word.” Oh God, give us men of their word today!
The Bible says that the Lord was with Samuel and “let none of his words fall to the ground” (I Samuel 3:19). Samuel was a young man, but he was respected for the accuracy of his words. When you make a commitment to someone, it becomes the most important thing in your life to honor that commitment. Integrity is the making of promises and the keeping of those promises.
As a father, I learned that my children would hold me accountable for every promise I made to them. As a pastor, I learned that my church members would likewise hold me accountable for every announcement I made from the pulpit. Our motto at Bethany was, “If I said it, we have to do it.” Honoring your word is godly, literally “like God.” He honors His Word and His promises. So should we.
It’s important to honor our word in the little things as well as the big things. If we don’t honor our word in the small matters, we will surely compromise in the larger ones.
Make a habit of listening to yourself in conversations.
Did you just tell that person you would call him later today? How do you intend to remind yourself of that commitment so he is not waiting for your call until bedtime?
Did you just tell your wife you would be home at 5:00 for dinner? Will you have the discipline to be in your car after work at 4:30 to be sure you have enough time to honor her hard work in cooking for you? Did you just tell that customer you would make it good if the product didn’t work for them? Do you have the apparatus to serve that customer when they do call back, or do you just intend to become hard to find at that point? Billy Joe Daugherty, one of my close ministry friends, was a pastor of the large Victory Christian Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before his death from cancer several years ago. He exemplified integrity almost as much as any man I have ever known.
When Russia opened to the gospel in the early 1990s, Billy Joe went to St. Petersburg and committed to those who attended a Lester Sumrall crusade that he would return each month for eighteen months in a row for another huge crusade in a twenty-thousand-seat stadium. Like clockwork, he returned eighteen months in a row to preach on Friday night and Saturday morning, then flew home and preached in his pulpit on Sunday.
On one of those Russian crusades, he noticed something different about the handbill the crusade staff passed out. Terry Henshaw, his American assistant, informed Billy Joe that they had scheduled an additional concert for the crusade featuring an American singer on Saturday night. “Unfortunately, the singer had to cancel because of an accident,” Terry said. “We have cancelled the stadium and sound system for Saturday night, but the other events of the weekend will go on as normal.”
Billy Joe asked him how many handbills had been printed and passed out. When he learned it was one hundred thousand, he said, “We are going to have a concert!”
His assistant replied, “We have no singer and the whole venue is cancelled.”
“Terry,” Billy Joe replied, “that line on that piece of paper is our word and our integrity. You are going to sing!”
Pastor Daugherty left to go back to the States that Saturday afternoon. At great expense, Terry had to re-reserve the stadium and re-hire the sound system for the concert. When he eased his car around the back of the huge stadium, he didn’t hear a sound inside. He thought that there was no one there.
To his surprise, when he parted the stage curtains and looked out into the arena, there were eight thousand citizens of St. Petersburg sitting there. They did not get the word the concert was cancelled! Using two back-up singers, Terry sang a few songs, preached a simple message—and three hundred people came forward to accept Christ. Because of integrity.
Integrity is the foundation of the model man and truth is the foundation of integrity. Being real, authentic, genuine, and transparent builds integrity and restores it when it is broken. I have learned that people are very forgiving when I make a mistake but tend to lose confidence when they feel I am not truthful and genuine. Have you ever wondered why a court officer asks witnesses in a trial to raise their right hand and repeat after him, “Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” It’s because we have figured out so many ways to lie!
The oath should stop after the first phrase, “Do you promise to tell the truth?” Instead, the officer must ask us if we are telling the “whole” truth because we may be withholding information that would change the judgment of a juror about someone’s guilt or innocence. We call that a “half-truth.” In the same way, we are asked if we are telling “nothing but” the truth because sometimes people feel the need to embellish and dramatically exaggerate the facts in order to persuade a juror.
We could define a lie, then, as something communicated with the intent to deceive. It is possible to say absolutely nothing and still be deceptive. If I allow others to have a favorable but wrong perception of me without telling them the facts, it is a lie. If I withhold vital information that would change others’ opinion of something, that is a lie. If I inflate the capabilities of a product or exaggerate my achievements, that is a lie.
People expect certain occupations to be disposed toward “coloring” the facts in order to sell a product or gain influence. In fact, America has come to be comfortable with lying. Comedian George Carlin recently joked, “The real reason that we can't have the Ten Commandments in a courthouse: You cannot post 'Thou shalt not steal,' 'Thou shalt not commit adultery,' and 'Thou shalt not lie' in a building full of lawyers, judges, and politicians. It creates a hostile work environment!" He got a big laugh, but it’s really sad because it’s true! Studies have shown that a high percentage of people now believe that lying is a normal part of life.
May that not be true for us!
Careful, thoughtful attention to our words and the perceptions of others is how we tell the truth. And, if you happen to be married, honesty should start with your wife. Even if you know that you’ve blown it and may be embarrassed, you must never lie to your wife. The strength of your relationship should be built on mutual trust and that starts with telling each other the truth.
Check the accuracy of every word that comes from your mouth. Is that description you just gave of one of your achievements an accurate portrayal of what really happened? Have you noticed a tendency to elasticize events and stories so that others will be impressed? It’s better to have lower numbers than to be a liar. There is no embarrassment like being labeled a liar. On the job, face up to your failures and weaknesses without blaming others or manipulating to save face. “I blew that one.” There, you said it. Your boss thinks, “Finally, someone I can trust! I’m going to find a way to work him into a higher position of responsibility.” Having had many employees through the years, I can tell you that when a man admits his mistakes to me without covering up or blaming others, I make a mental note that this is a man I can trust.