Majoring in Life
The dividends of living a life of integrity—honesty in the little things—plus some case studies about the lost art of integrity.
Scripture passages in this lesson are linked to this page for easy access.
Lesson 21: “Living Above the Little Sins”
(Recovering the lost art of integrity)
Text written and copyrighted © 2002 by Manfred Koehler. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
The Mexican drug lord hardly knew what was going on inside of him. I had taught him God's Word weekly in his home for over a year. Jesus Christ was becoming a real person to him, someone he wanted to trust. When you're a marijuana marketer, there are not too many people you can trust.
He and his wife had just eaten in a small restaurant. The waitress came back with the change, and they stepped outside, heading for their truck. Counting the money in his hand, the drug lord stopped in his tracks.
"Honey, this change is off. That girl gave us more money than I handed her to start with."
They looked at each other, pondering their good fortune. Then my Mexican friend shook his head. "I've gotta take this back and get it right." He spun on the heel of his ostrich-skin cowboy boot and returned to the restaurant.
The waitress couldn't believe it.
Neither could my Mexican brother and his wife. "Did I just do that?" he asked her, stepping back outside. She smiled, lifted her eyebrows, and nodded. They walked to the truck, very aware that Jesus was doing something in their hearts. With time, Christ would give them the courage to walk away from the whole drug scene.
They had learned a lesson in integrity.
Never Heard of the Word
Integrity has become such an old-fashioned concept that most people don't even know what it means. Webster's defines it as "firm adherence to a code of moral values." I prefer to look at integrity in simpler terms: "honesty in the little things—even after dark."
Though integrity was once a cherished character trait, it has been eclipsed by another value, "success at any cost." Honesty for honesty's sake is no longer cool. Most people are now honest only to the degree that they know someone is looking over their shoulder. If they think they can get away with something, they will. We're talking zero integrity.
The Dividends of Integrity
As believers—if we're wise—we realize that Someone is always looking over our shoulder (Psalm 139:1-12). Integrity should be hugely valuable to us, just as it is to God. We're foolish if it isn't.
Though integrity may cost you—like having to give back a bundle of undeserved change—it might help to understand that integrity also pays. Consider the following benefits of an honest life in the little things:
(Psalm 25:21). There are times when a reputation for meticulous honesty can save your skin. Satan is always trying to get Christians into more trouble than they deserve. A shady lifestyle, even on a few small points, makes it easy for the devil to build a huge, ugly case. But true integrity leaves the devil with no handhold to grab.
Check out how Daniel's integrity stood firm when he was faced with the conspiracies of corrupt government officials; the only case they could build against him was based on his relationship with God (Daniel 6:1-5).
(Psalm 41:12). There's nothing so weak-kneed as a conscience loaded with the guilt of a thousand small compromises. Learn integrity. Then you'll have no unnecessary baggage when tough times hit. God himself will gladly hold you up.
(Proverbs 11:3). A life of little dishonesties makes for complicated thinking. Should I cover this with another lie, or do I have to come clean before this gets too hairy? Is anyone watching? Do they have any clue about the last time I fudged this? All that illicit worry is hard on the system—and God wants no part of it. You're on your own.
In contrast, integrity provides a moral compass that makes for lighthearted, no-hassle decisions. This is the honest thing to do, so the decision is a no-brainer. Integrity makes life simple. Moreover, you don't need a good memory if you always tell the truth. And Jesus is right there, rooting for you the whole way.
Choosing integrity definitely pays a whole lot more than it costs.
Case Studies in Integrity
The opportunity to exercise integrity shows up in many situations. Give these some thought:
- You bought a term paper over the Internet for "research" purposes, but never quite got around to writing that paper yourself. Now you're out of time. You approach the professor's desk, the plagiarized paper in hand. Will you toss it in the garbage and ask for an extension, even though it costs you a grade?
- You're given a cool CD, only to discover it's been pirated. Do you give it back, saying you can't accept it, risking the awkwardness?
- You're writing an exam when you're handed a cheat sheet to pass down the line. Do you pass it back to the person who handed it to you, ready to face the coming heat?
- You promise to share your testimony at a small Bible study, but something more "interesting" comes up an hour before. Do you turn the new opportunity down and stick with the plan, knowing that keeping your word can sometimes hurt (Psalm 15:4)?
- The pop machine malfunctions, giving a free soda to anyone who wants it. Do you settle for water and report the problem to the office?
- You really need that job, but you lack experience. Your friend suggests an "enhancement" on your resume, insisting everyone does it, and employers expect it. Do you refrain, leaving your need for work in God's hands?
- You're on the yearbook staff, and "it's understood" that the photocopier is available for more than just yearbook work. Do you walk away from the temptation to do "a few personal copies—within reason, of course"?
- You've ordered from Lands' End, and you love the new clothes that came in the mail. But for some strange reason, eight months later the check you sent still isn't cashed. Do you call them up and let them know?
- You see a sign: Keep off the grass. Do you walk around?
- You work evenings in a bakery, only to discover that the whole crew knocks off an hour before the shift truly ends. Do you grab a broom and keep your hands busy, willing to face the coming ridicule, ready to tell them why?
- You find a wallet with no ID and a fistful of money. Before claiming the cash, do you make an honest effort to identify the owner?
- You've got eighty miles to go and one hour to get there, but the speed limit is only 55. How fast do you drive?
- You're the treasurer of a campus club—and short on cash. But a $1,000 check is coming to you in the mail. A temporary "loan" to yourself would make life easy. Do you take the hard road?
- You've broken a school rule. Do you confess it to the proper authorities?
- The soccer fullback has just clipped your shin for the third time without drawing a foul. Do you swallow the desire to take a dive?
- You sense that what you're hearing is pure gossip. Do you calmly but courageously say so?
- You crack a small vase in your friend's bathroom. Do you tell her and offer to pay for it?
- The story is good, but it could be even better. Do you say no to exaggeration and tell it like it happened?
One Last Question
She was bereaved and bitter, but Job's wife asked a most important question which applies to us all: "Are you still holding on to your integrity?" (Job 2:9). If we're honest—there's that word again—we'll have to admit to having areas where we still need to find integrity before we can hold on to it.
And once it's yours, hold on. Keep enjoying and obeying.