…though I have enough confidence in Christ to command you to do the right thing,I would rather appeal to you through love (Philemon 8b-9a, Common English Bible)
There are many definitions floating around for a good number of the words in our dictionary. Integrity is no different. Dictionary.com gives three definitions for the word. I am going to start by mentioning the two I am not going to talk about. “The state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” You might use integrity here to say, “I want to preserve the integrity of the empire” (dictionary.com’s sentence). The other says, “a sound, unimpaired, or perfect condition.” To use this in a sentence we might say, “The crew inspected the ship’s hull to insure its integrity.”
There is another definition of integrity used by Dictionary.com. It says, “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” This is the kind of integrity that jumped into my mind when I read Philemon this morning, this week’s Epistle Lesson from the Revised Common Lectionary.
I found another definition on Vocabulary.com. I found it to be both accurate and entertaining. “Integrity is a personal quality of fairness that we all aspire to — unless you’re a dishonest, immoral scoundrel, of course.”
All this talk of definitions got me to looking around a bit and I found three quotes, that at least to me are more definition really than just a quote. C.S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when nobody is watching.” Tony Dungee said, “Integrity, the choice between what is convenient and what is right.” The comic strip writer Tonya Masse has said, “Integrity: Choosing your thoughts words and actions based on what’s right rather than what’s in it for you.”
Both Dungee and Masse mention doing “what’s right.” That is why when I read Paul’s words to Philemon yesterday when Paul starts talking about Philemon doing what is right. Paul said he could command Philemon to do what is right, but he doesn’t want to do that. You see, even if we assume Paul is correct and he could order Philemon to “do what is right,” that wouldn’t allow Philemon to live out his integrity. Philemon wouldn’t be following through because he wanted to or even because he thought it the right thing to do. He would have been doing so because Paul ordered him to do so.
Paul wanted Philemon to exercise his free will and do “what is right.” It is evident to me that Paul had learned to the importance of free will for God. Paul wanted the slave Onesimus freed, but he wanted even more than Onesimus was freed because his master, Philemon choose to do so. That, is integrity on Paul’s part. And if Philemon frees Onesimus, that would be integrity on Philemon’s part.
You and I are faced with situations fairly frequently where we are caught in a position to “do the right thing” or to do something different. That different might be to make money at the expense of others. It might be to take the fast or easy way out. It might be just to seek our own pleasure. It comes down to, will we do what is right?
Former football coach turned analyst Lou Holtz has said something that I think is helpful here. “I follow three rules. Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” That sounds to me like another pretty good definition of integrity. It seems to me if we can follow Holtz’s three rules, we will be on our way.
I think of all the quotes I have read today on integrity, the one I think most important for we parents to live by is from author H. Jackson Brown Jr. saying, “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring and integrity, they think of you.”
For we who call ourselves Christian, integrity must be at the forefront of what we show the world. Our integrity is a vital part of our witness. It is essential to who we are. After all, in the words of Alan Simpson, “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.”
Seeking the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved