Personal Integrity in an Age of Corruption1
Both leading up to the election and in its wake, we have heard countless voices complaining about corruption and deceit. Regardless of which candidate you preferred, there is no escaping the fact that corruption and dishonesty and self-serving deceitfulness are rampant in our world. But does it matter? Is it all that big of a deal? The psalmist answers:
“O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved” (Psalm 15:1-5).
Be assured that the psalmist is not talking about how to be forgiven of your sins and reconciled to God! David is not describing the means by which to be saved but rather what it means to be saved. These moral declarations are not conditions for acceptance with God. They are the consequence of it. Thus, David is not talking about requirements for entrance into the kingdom on the part of those outside, but about enjoyment of the King on the part of those on the inside.
The question David is asking, then, is this: “Who will enjoy God's fellowship? Who will commune with God? Who will dwell with him on his holy hill” (v. 1)? God cannot and will not abide in the presence of nor bless moral corruption (see Psalm 5:4-7).
David lists ten characteristics of the person who will “abide” in God's tent and “dwell” on his holy hill.
First, this person walks with integrity (NAS; or “blamelessly”, ESV; 15:2). This word is something of a summary of all that follows. Integrity here does not mean sinless, but it does describe a person who by God's grace “sins less”. It refers to one who is whole, complete, sound.
Second, this individual does what is right (15:2). The emphasis here is on doing what is righteous, rather than merely talking about it. Doing what is right and lawful and good and honest is eminently pleasing to God, whether it be in private or public, in the church or in the office.
Let me get specific about what this means. Proverbs 11:1 declares that “a false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” The same thought is found in Proverbs 20:10, “Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord” (cf. 20:23). What is it that is so horrible that God would regard it as “abominable”?
The writer is referring to an ancient practice among unscrupulous merchants. If you wanted to purchase, let’s say, five pounds of sugar, the merchant would place on one side of the balance scale a stone supposedly weighing five pounds. He would then pour sugar onto the other side until the scales weighed evenly. In point of fact, the stone might weigh only four pounds. The customer is thereby cheated, having paid for a pound of sugar he does not receive. If a dishonest person were himself making the purchase, he might use a six-pound stone that is labeled as five. In either case, such deceitfulness is an abomination to the Lord. One cannot easily pass it off as shrewd bargaining or rationalize it by insisting that “everyone else does it.” It is, quite simply, abominable to the Lord.
God is concerned with the little things no less than with the big ones. It’s stunning to think that God views everything we do or think in life as either an abomination or a delight! We must ask this question: Do we regard minor misrepresentations in business or shopping or speaking as only part of the game everyone plays, or do we regard them as an abomination to God?
Third, he speaks truth in his heart (15:2). That is to say, there is a correspondence between what he thinks on the inside and what he says on the outside. This person doesn’t resort to hypocrisy, feigned praise, or flattery. This doesn't mean we are to speak everything in our hearts (cf. Eph. 4:29 and numerous Proverbs). It does mean that when you speak, you speak the truth.
Fourth, he does not slander with his tongue (15:3). The word “slander” literally means “to spy out”, in the sense that one goes looking for things in the life of another to use against them.
The fifth and sixth characteristics are related. He does no evil to his neighbor (15:3). Neither does he take up a reproach against his friend (15:3). Here he refers to both initiating and rejoicing in gossip. His point is that the person of integrity will neither contribute to slander nor tolerate it. Spurgeon said, "If there were no gratified hearers of ill-reports, there would be an end of the trade of speaking them” (Treasury of David, I:A:177).
Seventh, this person is one in whose eyes a vile person is despised but who honors those who fear the Lord (15:4). The “reprobate” (NAS) is someone known for evil; someone hardened in perversity; someone unrepentant and proud of his/her sin. Whom do you admire? Whom do you praise? Try to envision what society (not to mention the church!) would be like if we all suddenly ceased to praise, honor, reward, show deference or grant special privileges to the reprobates of our world, particularly those in Hollywood, the sports world, and in politics.
Eighth, he swears to his own hurt and does not change (15:4). The NIV renders this, “He keeps his oath even when it hurts!” In other words, his honor is more important than his wallet. For this person, integrity has no price tag. He’s willing to make material and physical sacrifices to be honest. Often, if there is no risk of loss or painful consequences, one will never know if one has integrity. One will never know if what motivates you is moral conviction or moral convenience until you are forced to suffer loss for standing your ground or keeping your word.
Ninth, he does not put out his money at interest (15:5; see Ex. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-38; Dt. 23:19-20). The primary aim of this OT legislation was to protect the poor. In other words, it was motivated by compassion. The purpose for making loans in today's world is to make money, to develop industry, to expand capital, etc. But for an Israelite to charge interest on loans made to a fellow-Israelite would aggravate the crisis that had produced the need for obtaining the loan in the first place, driving him yet deeper into debt.
Finally, he does not take a bribe against the innocent (15:5). Often the poor were taken to court and exploited by the rich who could easily afford to pay a bribe to thwart justice (Deut. 16:19-20.
And what profit is there in integrity? David's answer is “He who does these things shall never be moved” (15:5). Moved from what? Most likely, the promise is that this individual will never cease to “sojourn” in God’s “tent” (v. 1) or fail to “dwell” on God’s “holy hill” (v. 1). Well, what do you know . . . honesty does pay after all!
Of what, then, does integrity consist? I've listed below what I regard as the ten foundational characteristics of a person with integrity. There may well be more than ten, but I can’t conceive of any less than ten.
1. A person of integrity fulfills his/her promises. Being true to one's word, especially when doing so is costly (in terms of money, convenience, physical welfare, etc.) is a core characteristic of integrity.
2. A person of integrity speaks the truth, is honest, and does not lie.
3. A person of integrity is a person of sincerity. That is to say, a person of integrity hates hypocrisy.
4. A person of integrity manifests a wholeness of character, including kindness, compassion, mercy, and gentleness.
5. A person of integrity is committed to the pursuit and maintenance of justice and fairness.
6. A person of integrity loves as, when, and what God loves.
7. A person of integrity is humble. He/she shuns pride and haughtiness.
8. A person of integrity is law-abiding. He/she plays by the rules, both in the Bible and the law of the land.
9. A person of integrity is fundamentally altruistic. That is to say, they are committed not simply to laws and rules but to people. Could a selfish person have much integrity? What about someone who is honest, law-abiding, and fulfills his/her promises but is self-absorbed and egocentric? Does the latter eliminate the possibility of integrity?
10. A person of integrity manifests a high degree of consistency. That is to say, he/she is not always changing the principles on the basis of which they live, unless compelled to do so by the Bible or rational persuasion.