When we hear about integrity – especially the lack of it – what comes to mind? Many of us would think first of politicians. On both sides of the aisle. Neither side has cornered the market on this dismal deficiency. We also hear of scandals in the business world, so we’d have to add top executives to the list. Sadly, some members of the law enforcement profession get failing grades when it comes to integrity. This list could go on, but clearly, integrity should appear prominently on the endangered species list.
The question is, what is integrity? Consulting the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I found several definitions: 1) “Firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values.” 2) “An unimpaired condition.” 3) “The quality or state of being complete or undivided.”
I have no quarrel with any of those definitions, and have also appreciated this very practical perspective on integrity: “Who you are – and what you do – when no one is looking.” Recently, however, I heard a definition that hits home when we consider the depths to which everyday integrity has fallen.
As speaker and writer Dr. David Jeremiah defines it, “Integrity is keeping a commitment after the circumstances in which the commitment was made have changed.”
Getting back to politicians, it seems we see this in action every day. They make bold campaign promises, yet once in office renege on their commitments. Either they never intended to keep those promises, or circumstances have changed so they feel free to disavow or compromise on their commitments.
In the work world, we see this as well: Commitments are made to secure a sale or win a contract, or assurances for professional advancement are given, yet later those commitments are forgotten – after circumstances have changed.
But integrity isn’t a matter that applies only to people responsible for major decisions. Our own integrity hangs in the balance every day.
A simple example is what happens on the wedding day. A man and woman vow their love and eternal devotion to each other – before God, attendees at the wedding, and everyone who views their beautiful video capturing the special moment. And yet, statistically half of all marriages end in divorce, even among professed followers of Christ. Why? One big reason is simply that circumstances have changed. “Yes, we said, ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, richer or poorer,’ but we didn’t know it would get this worse!”
A parent promises to take Johnny or Joanie on a much-anticipated outing, but when the day finally arrives, they cancel because a pressing matter has come up. Then they further damage their integrity in the child’s mind by making another commitment they probably won’t keep.
Someone asks us for help over the weekend and we promise to do so. Or someone asks us to meet them for lunch and we agree, setting the time and place. When asked, we had nothing conflicting. Then a better, more appealing opportunity comes about and we beg off the commitment with an excuse – we’re not feeling well, we forgot we had made a prior commitment, or some other rationalization.
We’re approached to give financial support, perhaps to a missionary or an important church project, and make a promise to give. Later, however, circumstances change so we either cancel the commitment or drastically reduce it.
We see a powerful example of the latter in the book of Acts, when a couple named Ananias and Sapphira committed to sell property they had and give all the proceeds to support followers of Christ in their city. “With his wife’s full knowledge, [Ananias] kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2).
The passage doesn’t explain why they did that. Maybe the property sold for more than they anticipated. Ananias and Sapphira reasoned they would still give what they had promised and keep the surplus for themselves. No one would be the wiser, right? The problem was, God knew. His response was drastic and dramatic. He took their lives, not because they hadn’t given the property’s full value, but because they had lied about giving the full amount.
Even in the early days of the Church, the Lord was underscoring the high importance of integrity. As Proverbs 11:3 declares, “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.”
God demands that we be truthful and wholehearted in our commitments. Jesus said, as one translation expressed Matthew 5:37, “But let your word 'yes be 'yes,' and your 'no be 'no.' Anything more than this is from the evil one.” In other words, He’s saying, “If you’re not willing to keep a commitment, don’t make it in the first place. But if you make a vow or a promise, I expect you to fulfill it – even if the conditions in which you made it have changed.”
As we’re tempted to condemn politicians, business leaders, entertainers and others for their lack of integrity, maybe we need to take an honest look in the mirror. We can’t control the integrity of their actions, but we are responsible for our own.
Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.