What is Integrity?

If you’ve been watching the news, you’ve heard of the … ahem … improprieties … of the Secret Service. We’re not usually interested in what current news is, but what we can learn from it. What caused this problem?

Simply put, a lack of integrity, which begs the question …

What is Integrity?

The dictionary defines integrity as “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty”, but that doesn’t help much. I prefer a much simpler definition:

Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.

Do you act one way, and then another?

  • Does a student cheat when the teacher isn’t looking?
  • Does an employee slack off when the boss isn’t around?
  • Does a married person engage in an affair if they can keep it hidden?
  • Does a politician make promises he has no intention of keeping?
  • Do people say one thing … and then do another?

From the President to Congress, politicians say one thing, then do something else. Why? A lack of integrity. For most of Washington, it’s about power and elections, not integrity (or honesty, truth, or reality, but we digress). If they tell the truth at all, it’s not because it’s right, but because it’s a means to an end — election.

And we wonder why the country is a mess? When the highest offices in the land are filled with corruption, scandal, and dishonesty? Why then wonder if that attitude flows down to the Secret Service? After all, they see all the behind-the-scenes garbage.

God’s View

The Bible remains clear on integrity.

Who may worship in your sanctuary, LORD? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill. Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to gossip or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise flagrant sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the LORD, and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who lend money without charging interest, and who cannot be bribed to lie about the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever. (Psalm 15, NLT)

Keep their promises even when it hurts? That’s so old-fashioned! Today it’s see you in court, as I’ve got more hired guns lawyers than you do, and more $$$ to fight with.

Consider two examples in the Bible of integrity.

  • Joseph in Egyptian captivity. When his boss’ wife proposed an affair with him, he refused (Genesis 39), even though the morals he was holding to weren’t those of Egypt.
  • Daniel in chapter 1 of Daniel as he refused the king’s food, as he “purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank”. Once again, nobody would care what he ate — but Daniel held to a higher morality.

Those two men held to their standards even if nobody cared, or noticed. That’s integrity.

The Secret Service guys got into trouble for a simple reason — they thought nobody was looking. I’m sure if they knew what they did would become known, they would have thought twice about it. From the President to Congress and more, the country suffers from a lack of integrity — people who know they’re doing the wrong thing, but trying to avoid detection (or get re-elected in spite of a lack of integrity).

Integrity doesn’t mean being perfect, as we all mess up every day. It means trying to do the moral thing all the time.

Integrity — what you do when nobody is around.

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