Friday, November 26, 2010

Integrity: To Thine Own Self Be True

The word “integrity” comes from the word “integer,” whose primary meaning is “anything that is complete and whole within itself.” “Integrity” thus implies completeness, wholeness, and soundness. Webster’s third definition comes somewhat closer to my intention in selecting “integrity” as the expression of our most comprehensive need in experiencing the full and abundant life: “The quality or state of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.” Actually, I am attracted more to the “honesty and sincerity” ideas than to the “moral principle” one. Principle implies a standard, but I am focusing more on the unity of our being and doing that expresses itself in honest, sincere, genuine, authentic selfhood.

I have subtitled today’s post with a quote from Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true,” but that is only half of the integrity concept. We also must include the idea of being true, honest, transparent, and trustworthy in our relationships with other people. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions represent integrity when they express a continuous consistency. With integrity, our thoughts are not hidden or veiled; they are open, honest, and consistent with our words and our actions. With integrity, our words are direct, truthful, and consistent with our thoughts and actions. With integrity, our actions are true expressions of our thoughts and our avowed intentions. Inconsistency between our thoughts, words, and actions are the source of shame. Integrity is what allows us to present ourselves to God as servants who do not need to be ashamed (cf. 2 Tim. 2:15).

Jesus directed some of his harshest criticism against the “scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites,” whose lives were inconsistent with their claims. The word “hypocrite” comes from the Greek word that literally means to “judge from below,” that is, to impose a higher standard on others than we apply to ourselves. Jesus seems to have called his disciples to a higher standard, but grace was the standard he called them to apply toward others (thus, “judge not,” “condemn not,” “forgive” in Luke 6:37, KJV). People who are outraged by the behavior of others generally fail to examine the inconsistencies in their own lives.

If our ultimate goal is to become Christlike, we too will need grace as we strive for integrity. As disciples, we are seeking consistency between who we are and what we do. Only as we strive toward that consistency will we progress toward Christlikeness.

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