Integrity: It’s About People
We typically think integrity is what we do when no one is around but God. But sometimes it is about what we do when everybody is around.
By Nick Fox
We cannot talk about integrity without considering how we treat other people. On one occasion, I was sitting in a meeting with Christians when one of the leaders in the group began to make fun of someone who was not present. Though the conversation was not intentionally hurtful, it was inappropriate and objectified the person. Some in the room laughed. I did not. It was one of those weird moments in life when I was not sure what to do. The comments bothered me, but I did not want to rock the boat and make the situation uncomfortable. I faced a choice: Would I speak up or remain quiet? Part of me wanted to point out gently that perhaps making such comments behind a person’s back was not the love Jesus modeled and called us to live out. But, like a coward, I remained quiet.
Bill Hybels, of Willow Creek Community Church in Barrington, Illinois, tells a story from his childhood. He witnessed some older kids teasing a mentally challenged child and calling him “retard.” When Hybels recounted the details to his parents and siblings at the dinner table that night, his father reacted in a way that shocked him. He became angry, scolded him, and sent him to his room. When his father came into his room to talk to him, he explained that what he witnessed was not funny; it was injustice. As Christians, he said, God calls us to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and to speak up for those who have no voice. Hybels recalls this experience as one of the most formative in his life.
We sometimes believe the lie that as long as we do not participate in the bad deeds, we are not guilty. However, there are sins of omission (a failure to do what one can and ought to do) as well as sins of commission (things we ourselves know are wrong and do anyway). James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his letter, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” (James 4:17).
According to an old adage, “All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”
It’s About People
How we treat people has a lot to say about our integrity. What we say and don’t say, whom we defend and whose persecution we ignore says a lot about our internal makeup. Jesus summed it up by saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
He also said that whatever we do for “the least of these” — or the least important people in our lives — we do for Him (Matthew 25:40). In other words, you only love God as much as the person you love the least. Whew! Read that last sentence again. In my life, this idea has wrecked me. I have come to realize that I do not love all people like I should. What follows is that I do not love God like I should. You see, I am good at convincing people how much I love God. But it cannot be true if I do not treat His creation as He desires. My love for God and my love for people are inseparable. I realize that I suffer from a love problem. It is chronic, and it will kill me if I let it continue.
You see, we typically think integrity is what we do when no one is around but God. But sometimes it is about what we do when everybody is around. Will you do the right thing when it goes against what your friends want? Will you laugh at racist jokes or take a stand for love and equality? That is the real test of integrity: Will you do the right thing even when you have something to lose?
Erwin McManus says it this way: “When we show different sides of ourselves to different people, we become two-faced at the very least. When we lack integrity, we find ourselves being several people, depending on the circumstance. We subdivide our lives and justify our differing value systems based on the context. Our character becomes a product to be sold. We become personality salesmen rather than people of substance.”1
I don’t know about you, but I can think of too many times in my life where I have fit the description of “personality salesman.”
But there is good news. We do not have to live in such a way that we are slaves to the opinions of those around us. There is a better way. It is a life of giving and a life of loving. It happens when we care more about the mission of Jesus and His call on our lives than we do about getting our way. When we lay down our right to be right, we are free to do the right thing. I will be honest, I have lived many different ways, but this is the most rewarding. When God gives you a passion for people, there are lavish blessings that come with it.
There is an idea Jewish people express using the word shalom. The English translation of this Hebrew word is typically “peace.” Yet this does not capture the full sense of the word. Shalom means peace, justice, prosperity, health, absence of strife, wholeness, justice, closeness to God, and many other things we could list. It became a greeting in Jewish culture. To wish someone shalom is to wish them all of God’s best in life. Whatever you would pray for and ask for yourself, that is what you wish for them. It is quite a word! It is the ultimate goal for all of us, isn’t it? I certainly want all those things. And I have come to find out that integrity is a necessary part of experiencing the shalom that comes from God. It all starts and ends with how I treat others. People ultimately want to give and receive love. Therefore, it is impossible to experience true peace without integrity.
I think of it as a well-built bridge. A bridge has an awesome responsibility to help people get from one side of a body of water or crevice to another. Working correctly, it is a useful, sturdy wonder of engineering. But what happens when a bridge fails — when it lacks structural integrity and crumbles down, taking everybody down with it? The results are horrifying.
It is the same with us. When we live with integrity, we remain sturdy. People who want to live a right kind of life are comfortable, even encouraged around us. We have a healthy understanding of our strengths, knowing that God gave them to us for a reason. Yet we are not prideful. We are aware of our weaknesses but don’t let them define us. Instead, we work toward making them strengths. However, if we continue to play the game by faking it, or by insisting that we are always right, or that we have to be first, or that we need to be the person our friends think we are, we crumble. As Thom Olson says, “Honesty is the ticket to recovery.”
If you cannot be honest about your struggles with God, you are still in line waiting to get a ticket. You will not move forward with what God has for you.
Like a boat navigating through the water, we all leave behind a wake.2 As we go through life, we influence people, for better or for worse. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave this world a better place. I do not want to be just a consumer who takes whatever he or she can get and dies having tried to gain the most pleasure — leaving the empty shells of people behind. Instead, I want to live as the kind of person who, when I die, Jesus says of me, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21).
I commit to living this way and using every ounce of energy God gives me to love and serve people — honoring them, and living a full life in the process.
Will you join me?
1. Erwin Raphael McManus, Uprising: A Revolution of the Soul (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson, 2003) 72.
2. Henry Cloud, Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality (New York: HarperCollins, 2008).