What happened to the integrity which once characterized so many in this land? This is a question many people are asking who remember a time when deception and fraud were not as pervasive as they are today—a time when reverence for honesty and truth was the ideal, and a person’s word was as binding as any written contract.
Even signed contracts mean little today. Landlords are notorious for failing to live up to rental agreements, and tenants show the same cavalier attitude. Professional athletes, actors and singers, idolized and imitated by millions, show their contempt for integrity by signing a contract and then demanding to “renegotiate” it long before it terminates.
In making a decision about whether to be truthful or deceptive, fair or dishonest, just or unjust, men often consider the “trade-offs” involved. One without integrity will be honest if he feels it would be to his advantage, but he will as quickly, and without hesitation, decide to be dishonest if he thinks the price of honesty is too high. Such a person is obviously highly untrustworthy, unpredictable, and without moral scruples. He could never be expected to tell the truth unless he believed it was advantageous to him. As a result, no one can ever really be sure if he is telling the truth about anything.
Motivated by selfishness and grasping greed, vast numbers in casting off integrity have set themselves on a course of self-destruction. “The integrity of the upright shall guide them; But the perverseness of the treacherous shall destroy them” (Pro. 11:3). Who can measure the loss in self-esteem and mutual trust such attitudes have caused? How can the damage be calculated for those who trade their integrity for money or power or pleasure—whatever it may be that entices them to give up that which they know to be the best and strongest and finest in exchange for that which is sleazy and shady, filthy, underhanded, and evil?
Integrity has been defined as “soundness of moral principle and character, complete honesty and uprightness with no masking of intent.” Its opposite is hypocrisy, deceit, and fraud. If a person has integrity, he does not put on a false front or wear an artificial mask, as it were. He will be openly honest and worthy of complete trust in all that he says or does, as opposed to one who is deceptive or makes false claims. It obviously excludes lying, stealing, cheating, or any form of deception. David described a person of integrity in Psalm 15:1-4:
Jehovah, who shall sojourn in thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, And speaketh truth in his heart; He that slandereth not with his tongue, Nor doeth evil to his friend, Nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbor; In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honoreth them that fear Jehovah; He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
Would it not be wonderful if we lived in a world where people practiced integrity? Of course, men being what they are, this will never be a reality this side of eternity, but it can be better than it is—much better! You and I can practice integrity. We can have a high regard for honesty, and we can be scrupulously honest. We can be just, righteous, and fair in all our dealings with others and in all that we say. Your life, and mine, can be such that deception or subterfuge or hypocrisy will never stain our lives, and others will be able to trust us fully and completely.
In a word, we can live as our Savior did when He walked on this earth. He was transparently honest. He never tried to hide anything, for there was nothing in His life about which He was ashamed. Jesus never lied to anyone or cheated a single person. He not only never resorted to verbal gymnastics, or any other kind of deception, to mislead and confuse or to cover up what He meant, but He always clearly told the truth, regardless of the consequences. He was loving, fair, just, and righteous to all men, even though it brought on Him the hatred and scorn of those in positions of power who were devoid of such qualities.
In fact, if He had not been so determined to teach and practice those traits which are marks of integrity, He probably would not have gone to the cross. On the other hand, if He had stifled and compromised those principles, He would have never fulfilled His Father’s will as foretold in the prophets (cf. Isa. 11:1-5), and His own lack of integrity would have shattered the only perfect ideal men would ever have by which they could pattern their lives.
Integrity is always expensive. It cost the Son of God His life. It so aroused the envy and hatred of the hypocrites and deceivers around Him that they hung Him on a tree. Our Lord calls on us to follow His example and stand straight—walk straight—talk straight: “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong” (1 Cor. 16:13). The cost will be high for us too, but look at the reward: “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10).