Integrity and Christian Ethics
From the Roadmap series
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People with integrity are those whose words match their deeds and whose behaviors mirror their values. Their honesty and ethics can be trusted unconditionally. They honor commitments. They are dependable. They are known for doing the right things, for the right reasons, at the right times. While numerous tales of integrity take place in public settings where others can see them, often the most powerful examples occur in the quiet stillness of a private moment—when no one else is looking.—Stephen Covey1
That is similar to the line penned by William Shakespeare that is so often quoted: “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
Be truth-speakers at all times, people of integrity, people who can be counted on to deal with each other honestly, squarely, fairly, and with truth. That’s being a good example of Me‚ a good reflection of Me‚ and you will reap personal blessings for being upfront and honest.—Jesus, speaking in prophecy
Integrity might mean different things to different people, but I think most people would agree that it’s centered in maintaining clear values and beliefs, standing on Christian principles. As was just mentioned, it’s often in those moments when it’s just you and the Lord, when no one else would know, when no one else sees, that your character and integrity are tested.
Take this story, for example:
At a tennis tournament in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in January 1982, top-ranked pros Vitas Gerulaitis and Eliot Teltscher met in the semi-finals. They split the first two sets. In the eighth game of the deciding third set, Gerulaitis slashed his way to match point.
After one of their fiercest rallies, Gerulaitis hit a ball that struck the top of the net and dribbled over for what seemed a sure match winner. But Teltscher came tearing up to the net, dived at the ball and miraculously managed to loft it over Gerulaitis’s head. Stunned, Gerulaitis moved back late, pushing his shot wide.
The crowd went nuts. Teltscher had survived match point—or so it seemed. As the cheering died, Teltscher indicated that in his lunge toward the final shot, he touched the net—a violation. Never mind that the umpire hadn’t seen it or that a lot of money was at stake. For Teltscher, none of this changed the rules of the game or the gentleman’s code that is their basis. He shook Gerulaitis’s hand, nodded to the crowds and walked off the court—a winner in defeat.—Laurence Shames2
For those of you who like sports stories, here is another true story about a man of integrity.
Bobby Jones was not only a consummately skilled golfer, but he also exemplified the principles of sportsmanship and fair play. Early in his amateur career, he was in the final playoff of the 1925 U.S. Open at the Worcester Country Club. During the match, his ball ended up in the rough just off the fairway, and as he was setting up to play his shot, his iron caused a slight movement of the ball. He immediately got angry with himself, turned to the marshals, and called a penalty on himself. The marshals discussed among themselves and questioned some of the gallery if anyone had seen Jones’ ball move. Their decision was that neither they nor anyone else had witnessed any incident, so the decision was left to Jones. Bobby Jones called the two-stroke penalty on himself, not knowing that he would lose the tournament by that one stroke. When he was praised for his gesture, Jones replied, “You may as well praise a man for not robbing a bank.”
Doing what you know in your heart to be honorable, according to the principles of God’s Word and your personal conviction of right and wrong, is to live with integrity. Your conscience, what the Bible calls the Lord’s “still small voice,” is very often a reliable guide when it comes to determining right and wrong.
Gandhi put it well when he said: “The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within me.”
Now, here is a story about a single mother in California who died, leaving her eight children parentless.
The oldest daughter, who was 16 at the time that her mother died, took up the enormous challenge of raising her seven brothers and sisters. It was a tremendous struggle; she missed her mother terribly, but she managed to keep her brothers and sisters clean, well-fed, and in school.
When someone complimented her on the sacrifice she was making, saying she really didn’t have to do all that, she replied, “I can’t take credit for something I have to do.” The enquirer then challenged her, saying, “But, my dear, you don’t have to. You could get out of it.”
She paused for a moment and then replied, “Yes, that’s true. But what about the ‘have to’ that’s inside of me?”—Stephen Covey3
We all have an internal compass that directs our thoughts and decisions. And how we develop our character depends on if we’re willing to trust and respect our inner conscience, which will inevitably lead us to make hard decisions from time to time if we want to do the right thing. It’s not easy.
There’s often a way, especially in today’s society and business world, to justify little deviances from what we know to be right, and such deviances can put us on a slippery slope pretty quickly. One wrong leads to another, and pretty soon our convictions wane, we excuse ourselves, and that’s when we run the risk of our character being weakened, damaging our integrity, tarnishing our reputation, coming to the point where we devalue the bond of our word and allow our personal happiness and peace of mind to come under attack through condemnation, regret, and embarrassment.
I think everyone wants to live without regret. But how do you do that? By making decisions that are based on your personal conviction, your personal Christian code of ethics.
Regardless of whether a person is a Christian or not, there are characteristics, attitudes, and actions that will hinder your success and hurt your reputation.—Behaviors such as lying, gossiping, having prejudices, not keeping your word, not following through on your commitments, not being dependable to do quality work, or not making your deadlines.
There are practical approaches to living a Christian, principle-centered life, one that you’ll be proud of. Let’s check out some advice of several outstanding men in the field of leadership.
John C. Maxwell, called America’s expert on leadership, is a New York Times bestselling author who has sold more than 19 million books, some of which have been translated into more than 50 languages. He is a Christian. His book, Ethics 101, puts forth the concept that a person can live a life of integrity by following the Golden Rule: “Do onto others as you would have others do onto you.”
So ask yourself the question, “How would I like to be treated in this situation?” Doing this is an integrity guideline for any situation.
Let’s take a minute to talk about the Golden Rule. There are times that I think we are so familiar with this term that we altogether miss its powerful meaning. An interesting fact about the Golden Rule is that a rendering of it is found in most of the widespread belief systems. The Golden Rule is a guideline of life in almost every culture I know of. It may surprise you to know how similarly the world’s religions view this concept. Let’s look at a few of these:
Confucianism states: “Do not do to others what you would not like yourself.”
Zoroastrians are advised that “if you do not wish to be mistreated by others, do not mistreat anyone yourself.”
Muslims are taught no one is a true believer “until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.”
Hinduism warns never to behave “towards others in a way which is disagreeable to oneself.”
The Torah says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”—Jon Huntsman4
It is interesting that so many other faiths have this fundamental value as a tenet of their religious conviction. That shows clearly just how important and valuable the words of Jesus are: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Take a moment to meditate on those words. Do you truly live them?
If you need a little more practical application of this Golden Rule approach to integrity, consider what you’re thinking about your decisions, what your “self-talk” is saying.
Rationalizing an unethical decision, such as by justifying or minimizing the potential impact of your actions, can distort your thinking. To see if you are rationalizing, ask yourself these questions:
If you were on the receiving end of this action, how would you feel?
Would you want a loved one to be on the receiving end?
If your action was covered on the evening news, how would you feel?
Would you want your child to emulate this action?
How would you feel if your mother, father, or someone you greatly admire knew about this?—Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver5
In Ethics 101, Maxwell also explains that people make poor ethical decisions, or actively choose an unethical path, for three reasons:
First, they do what comes easily to them rather than what they know is right.
Second, they think they have to act unethically to get ahead.
Third, they let themselves be guided by situational ethics, doing what seems right in specific situations rather than adhering to a consistent code of behavior.
It’s worth our while to reflect on these three traps to see if we are either guilty of such behavior, or tottering on the brink and about to slip into poor ethical behavior.
Of course, it’s not easy to make the right decisions all the time. There will be times when it will cost us to make those hard calls, and you might even wonder if it’s that big a deal, really, in the overall scope of life. This is when it’s important to remember that good character can’t be developed quickly. You build it over years of conscious ethical choices. So if you want to be a person of great character, it’s those difficult daily decisions that make the difference, and if you choose the easy path, you might never reach your desired destination.—John C. Maxwell6
Okay, what about the idea that you have to step outside your personal belief system or code of ethics as a Christian to get ahead. Is that true? I’m sure plenty of people would have you believe that, and might even actively try to win you to that school of thought, possibly in an effort to justify their own flawed thinking. But this is when it’s important to remember the “God factor.” God is all-seeing, all-knowing. He loves us and He wants us to be happy, and He’s eager for us to have what we and our families need. He is not a stingy, hard-line, long-faced taskmaster who wants us to suffer or live in squalor and poverty. He is a generous, loving God, who wants to provide what we need. So to think that we would have to step outside of the Golden Rule in order to get ahead is an insult to God. It’s like a slap in the face, telling Him that He’s not making good on His promises.
I will help to engineer things so that you will be happy, you will have your needs met, and I will even do extra things for you to reward you. You will forget about the sacrifices, because I will pay you back abundantly. And remember that when I pay you back to the point where you don’t feel that you’ve made a sacrifice, that’s where it has only reached one percent of your reward. My promise is to repay one hundredfold, so there’s much, much, much more yet to come!—Jesus, speaking in prophecy
Roadmap was a video series created by TFI for young adults. Originally published in 2010. Adapted and republished on Anchor March 2017. Read by Simon Peterson.
1 Stephen Covey, Everyday Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
3 Stephen Covey, Everyday Greatness (Thomas Nelson, 2009).
4 Jon Huntsman, Winners Never Cheat (Pearson FT Press, 2009).
5 Ronald A. Howard and Clinton D. Korver, Ethics for the Real World—Creating a Personal Code to Guide Decisions in Work and Life (Harvard Business Press, 2008).
6 John C. Maxwell, Ethics 101 (Center Street, 2005).