Tales of Integrity
Max Anders tells the following story…
“A number of years ago, Cleveland Stroud, coach of the Bulldogs of Conyers, Georgia, led his team to a championship season with a record of 21-5. In their final game in March, they won a dramatic, come-from-behind win that gave them a state championship. But a short time later, a confession was made that stripped them of the trophy. It was not a revelation of wrongdoing but a revelation of right-doing.
“In the first of the school’s post-season games, an ineligible player had played 45 seconds of one game. No one knew at the time that he was ineligible. When it was discovered, the coach voluntarily reported it to the Georgia High School Athletic Association, which deprived them of their trophy. Coach Stroud was widely quoted when he said:
“’We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time; we didn’t know it until a few weeks ago. Some people said we should have just kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and the player wasn’t even an impact player. But you’ve got to do what’s honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget scores of basketball games; they don’t ever forget what you’re made of.’”
Here’s another story about integrity, or the lack thereof…
Bill Hendricks encountered an illustration of this principle [of integrity] in the real estate market of the 1980s. He met a developer who claimed to have woven what he called “biblical principles of business” into his deals. But when the market went south, he skipped town and left his investors to pick up the pieces… and the debts. (Boa)
One more from Pat Morley…
A man sitting next to me on a plane ordered a drink – a bourbon and Coke. The busy flight attendant said she would come back to collect his money, which he lift lying on this tray table. She passed up and down the aisle several times. It became obvious the flight attendant had forgotten about his money. After she made a half dozen trips past us, my aisle-mate reached over, picked up his money, and slipped it back into his coat pocket. Integrity – what’s the price? Sold for a $6 drink.
Can you relate to those stories? Maybe you’ve witnessed incredible acts of godly integrity by people you know. Or, maybe you’ve seen acts of bankrupt integrity from those you know as well.
Integrity! While the word may not appear many times throughout the Bible, it’s still a dominant theme that runs from Genesis to Revelation. So, what does integrity mean? Well… it has a couple of meanings that relate to one another.
But before I define what it means, I want to give you an illustration from Scripture of its opposite. Have you ever felt that your life was falling apart… that all the pieces of your life just weren’t fitting together? That’s a feeling of DIS-integration. It’s a feeling of being undone or not whole.
In Isaiah 6, we find the prophet Isaiah standing before a vision of the holiness and majesty of God, in God’s throne room. As he stood before a perfect, righteous, and holy God, Scripture tells us that Isaiah began to feel undone. Here are three translations of how Isaiah responded to this vision, to this experience:
“Woe is me! For I am lost;” (ESV)
“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined…” (NIV)
“Woe is me, for I am undone…” (NKJV)
Each is communicating Isaiah’s feeling of falling apart, coming undone, disintegrating.
Integrity: Definition 1
And so, the first definition of integrity is that we are integrated. That is, we’re undivided, whole, complete. A building or bridge is said to have structural integrity when everything fits together… when everything is where it’s supposed to be and works the way it’s supposed to work.
Integrity: Definition 2
The second definition is related to the first one. Earl Palmer puts it this way…
Integrity of behavior and actions… As the dictionary puts it, ‘soundness of moral principle; the character of uncorrupted virtue, especially in relation to truth and fair dealing; uprightness, honesty, sincerity.’
What does all that mean for us? The Bible calls us to be same person, no matter who we are with, where we are, and no matter the circumstances.
What does the Bible call us if we act one way with one group of people… and another way with a different group of people? Hypocrites. My son Grant asked what I was preaching on this morning. I told him, “integrity” and told him what it meant as well as what the opposite meant.
He then told me about a boy in the movie, Wonder. He said there was a boy who was a big bully and picked on the other kids. But in front of adults he was super well-behaved, a perfect angel. I told him that’s exactly what I’m talking about. For those of you who are older, we know such a person from the TV show, Leave It To Beaver – Eddie Haskell.
Scripture gives us a picture of hypocrisy, featuring the Apostle Peter. Peter was in Antioch, enjoying fellowship with the Gentile Christians. He knew what the Gospel was, for it had been affirmed and confirmed at the counsel of Jerusalem with Paul, James, and the other Apostles. He knew that no extra works of the law were required to be saved, to be justified, to have a right relationship with God. He knew this and so he enjoyed fellowship with his Gentile brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, the Judaizers arrived, those Jewish Christians who believed that to be properly Christian, one had to first be circumcised and then practice other parts of the Law of Moses. This pressure was too much for Peter, and thus he recoiled from the Gentiles. Out of fear of the Judaizers, this great stalwart of the faith buckled and joined the Judaizers. This hypocrisy of Peter’s was contagious, for not only did other Jewish Christians do the same, so did Barnabas. Peter was rightfully called out on this publicly by Paul.
One writer said,
“Biblical integrity is not just doing the right thing; it’s a matter of having the right heart and allowing the person you are on the inside to match the person you are on the outside.” Boa
Peter wasn’t single-mindedness between these two groups. He lacked integrity. He was not consistent in who he was and what he believed. He was, to quote James 1:8, “double-minded.” He was of two opinions, depending on whom he was with.
A Look in the Mirror
But we don’t have to pick on Peter, do we? Can you spot some of this in yourself? Here are some questions to ask yourself…
· Are you the same person at home with your family as you are at church?
· Are you the same person with church friends as you are with work friends?
· Are you the same person when you’re with your friends at school that you are in your small group or Bible study?
· Are you the same person with your family as you are sitting alone in front of the computer or television screen?
· Are you the same person on a business trip as you are at home?
· How radically different is your thought-life from your public persona?
Jesus attacked this very thing in the lives of the Pharisees. Quoting Isaiah, Jesus said in Matthew 15:8,
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” (NIV)
Elsewhere he called them whitewashed tombs, which looked beautiful and ornate on the outside, but on the inside they were full of dead men’s bones. That’s hypocrisy!
The Gaps Between Is and Ought
A mentor of mine said many times, “I know the better course to take, but too often I take the lesser.” We all do, don’t we? We know what we ought to do, but we don’t always do it. Or, we know what we ought not do, but we do it anyway.
We can think of our integrity like this: How far is the gap between your OUGHT and your IS? In other words, how far is the distance between what you know you ought to do, and what is actually the case about your life? Can you relate to this?
Have you have ever heard the words, or said them yourself… Do as I say, not as I do? You may be doing great in some areas of your life, while other areas need some help. The gaps between what you ought to do and what you are doing, need to close.
Think about all the different areas of your life.
· Private life
· Employee or Employer
· Church member
As you move from relationship to relationship, circumstance to circumstance, role to role, how varied are the gaps? Do they change much, depending on who you’re with, where you are, and according to the circumstance? Our goal is to close the gaps in our lives. To be whole people. To be consistent. To be the same person with the same mind, no matter where we are… or who we’re with.
Closing the Gaps
So how do we close the gaps in our lives? Well, we need a constant standard and we need a power source in our lives.
Think of yourself as a planet. In our solar system, the planets orbit around the sun. My question for you is this: What does your life orbit around? And how do you know when you’re drifting away from where your need to be? How can you tell?
When Jesus Christ is our Lord, and therefore, the center of our lives, we orbit around him. And through his Spirit and his Word, we’ll know when we’re in the right place and when we’re not.
And when we’re not, not only will we be able to spot the drift, but we’ll be able to make the turn and move back in a Christward direction. But if anyone or anything other than Christ is at the center of our lives, then we may not be able to tell when we’re drifting, at first.
For a season, we may be able to fool ourselves and others. But as Christ and our other standard move further and further apart, we’ll begin to experience a breakdown in our integrity.
Think about the performer in a circus who stands on two horses as they gallop around the ring, one foot on each horse. The performer is safe, as long as those horses stay close to one another. But if they ever begin to move apart, the performer will have to make a decision or else be in some real trouble.
Christ is calling us to make that decision today, before there’s an integrity crisis in our lives. He wants us to follow him. He wants to be the center of our lives so we can safely orbit around him and be where he wants us to be.
But we have blind spots, don’t we? Or, we have gaps we’re aware of, but we’re struggling with them.
The good news is that, because of Jesus Christ, we can make the turn back to Christ, and by his grace and power, we can return to him and live a fruitful life of godly integrity. Let me encourage you to dig into and remain in God’s Word. Surround yourself with other godly people who will love you, encourage, you, pray for you, and hold you accountable in your pursuit of godly integrity. Don’t try to live a life of integrity on your own.
God is so good and so patient. He’s waiting for us to close those gaps in our lives by returning to him. Let me encourage you to make that turn today.