I still remember the scene like it was yesterday, even though it happened quite a while ago. It was my first year working in a large public high school and I was off to a rough start as the new Leadership teacher. On this particular day, I stood in the classroom watching out the window as a group of students crowded boisterously around a soda machine just outside. The bell rang and as my Student Government kids began trickling in, most of them were grinning and holding frosty cans of soda. One turned to me and explained with glee, “That soda machine outside is broken and the door is open. Everyone’s getting free sodas!”
I turned to the student and said simply, “Hand me that can and go collect them from everyone else.” My tone of voice told him not to question me. As the students began to protest the confiscation, I spoke up, “Can someone tell me who owns the soda machine?”
I met eyes with a few of the kids and they looked away. One spoke up hesitantly, “Uh, I guess the school does.”
I continued, “That’s right. And do you remember seeing a line item on our Student Government Budget that says ‘Soda Commissions?’ Can someone tell me who gets that money?”
Another student raised her hand sheepishly, “Um, our school athletics programs and the Student Government get the money.”
I nodded and continued, “So, when you’re taking those sodas out of the machine, are they free, or are you stealing them?”
Now, I had everyone looking wide-eyed at me. One boy tried to defend their actions. “Well, when you put it that way, I guess we’re stealing them from ourselves and the other students. But the machine was open, so it’s not our fault if people are taking them.”
Barely able to contain my anger, I responded with a measured tone of voice, “You are student leaders and if you see something like that happening, it is your responsibility to lead by example. Rather than joining in what was happening, one of you should have stood by the machine and someone else should have gotten an adult to help. You set the tone at this school and I expect you to act with integrity.”
Another hand shot up, “Uh, Mrs. McCullum, I don’t even know what that word means and I’m pretty sure no one else does either.”
I answered simply, “Integrity is doing the right thing whether anyone is watching or not. It is being a person with a consistent character who chooses to do what is right because it is right and for no other reason.” I paused and thought for a moment before continuing, “I think we’re going to spend some time learning about what a true leader is, even if it means we plan a few less activities this year.”
Since that eye-opening day, I’ve realized that the quality of integrity is rarely discussed and poorly understood by our culture. So, when I saw Kelly Minter touch on it in Week 6, Day 3 of our study, I wanted to stand up and cheer.
Whether we’re discussing teenagers in the twenty first century or Levites in 444 BC, integrity is a crucial characteristic that is in short supply in our world. Nehemiah talks about it in two different instances in his story. The first is when he chooses leaders for the city after the wall is built:
“I put in charge of Jerusalem my brother Hanani, along with Hananiah the commander of the citadel, because he was a man of integrity and feared God more than most people do.” -Nehemiah 7:2
The second time is when he returns to Jerusalem later and makes some final reforms after the people stray from the agreement they made to care for the temple and the Levites. Nehemiah lists his choice of leaders and explains his decision:
“I put Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and a Levite named Pedaiah in charge of the storerooms and made Hanan son of Zakkur, the son of Mattaniah, their assistant, because they were considered trustworthy. They were made responsible for distributing the supplies to their fellow Levites.” -Nehemiah 13:13
Minter explains: “The world doesn’t need more wealth, strength, power, or skill as much as it desperately needs trustworthy people. My heart is never more at rest, my soul never more at peace than when I am in the presence of a person of integrity. I find relational serenity in never having to second-guess what the person really meant, not having to dodge gossip or duck drama. When I have the assurance that a person’s word is true, motives pure, and intents just, I have found a rare treasure indeed…the names we just read through [in Nehemiah 13:13] don’t carry a lot of meaning, but they represent faithful and loyal people Nehemiah could count on. Our world could be no more in need of such trustworthy souls today.” (Nehemiah, A Heart Can Break pp. 153-4)
Many people have a “public self” and a “private self.” The “public self” shows well and says the right things. The “private self”, however, is where the truth resides. It is where authentic thoughts, feelings and attitudes reveal themselves. Usually, it is also where some of the less appealing aspects of our characters exist: the secret struggles with sin, hidden addictions, quiet judgments of others, critical thoughts, self-pity, entitlement, impatience. We may not like to admit it, but we all have those things inside us to varying degrees.
God values integrity and if we are serious about wanting to follow Him, then we need to start removing the façade of our “public selves” and relinquishing our “private selves” for Him to do a little house cleaning. We need to show consistency of character, even when God is the only one who notices.
Here are a few questions to consider as you evaluate where you need to let God refine your character and build a firm foundation of integrity in you:
-Do I say what I mean?
-Do I mean what I say?
-Do I have ulterior motives when I want to get involved in an activity, with a group or with a person?
-Do I treat things people tell me in confidence as sacred secrets not to be shared?
-Do I adapt how I am around certain people in order to fit in?
-Do I roll my eyes or make derogatory comments about people after interacting with them?
-Do I talk about people behind their backs?
-Does my language change based on who I’m with?
-Do I say “yes” to things I really don’t want to do?
-Do I participate in activities or behaviors that I know aren’t pleasing to God?
-Do I ever drop hints, make subtle comments or make digs to let my opinion be known instead of just saying it clearly?
-Am I beyond reproach in how I handle my finances?
-Do I take advantage of people and situations for personal or financial gain?
-Do I justify “white lies” as okay in certain circumstances?
-Am I teaching my children or grandchildren the importance of integrity and demonstrating it in my own actions?
-Do I tell “half truths” or omit certain pieces of information to cover up a wrongdoing or to get something I want?
-Do I turn a blind eye to things I know are wrong happening within my sphere of influence?
-Do I cover up my mistakes or admit them?
-Do I compromise what is right to save myself money, time or inconvenience?
-Do I intentionally conceal things from my spouse?
-Would my behavior, thoughts and attitudes be pleasing to Jesus?
-Do I keep my word?
-Do I follow through on commitments?
-Do I base my decisions on what others are doing or on what is the right thing to do?
-Does what I say I believe match with how I live my life daily?
-Do I speak up when an error is made in my favor?
-Do I take action to right a wrong even if it is inconvenient or costly to me in some way?
-Do people consider me authentic and sincere?
If any of these questions caught your attention, take time to stop, pray and ask God to reveal where your life needs a fresh infusion of integrity. You don’t have to do this on your own strength. He will supply what you need when you humbly admit your need to Him. Sometimes this means retraining ourselves to respond differently to a situation instead of letting our “default mode” take over. Other times it involves breaking unhealthy habits, patterns or cycles. Trust God to help you take the steps needed to make the situation right, no matter how difficult it is.
Integrity Matters to God
Integrity should matter to us because it matters to God. Here are a few of the many verses that discuss it:
“I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.” -1 Chronicles 29:17
“May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.” –Psalm 25:21
“Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever.” –Psalm 41:12
“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” –Proverbs 10:9
“Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.” –Proverbs 13:6
Integrity Affects Our Impact on Others
Integrity also matters to others. If we claim to be Christians but lack integrity, our witness is ruined. Our actions often speak so loudly that people can’t hear the words we say.
“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” –Titus 2:7-8
Let God Supply Your Integrity
If you are feeling convicted or overwhelmed, keep in mind that even Paul had to rely on God’s grace to supply the integrity he needed to minister effectively:
“Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.” -2 Corinthians 1:12
I’ll borrow Kelly Minter’s words as my closing prayer in this quest for integrity:
“May we seek to be people that God and others can trust, people whose deeds do not change whether we are in the dark or the light, whether we’ve been entrusted with little or much.” (p. 154)
Click on the link below to hear Francesca Battistelli’s song “It’s Your Life.” Think about how the words apply to being a person of integrity.