I am fascinated by words. I guess that’s not surprising, for someone who likes to write. In particular, I find that exploring the etymology (origins) of a word often gives me a much richer understanding of shades of meaning that are not obvious at first glance.
Take the word integrity for example. It comes from the Latin word integer, a term that is still used in mathematics and computing science to refer to an unfragmented number – a number that can only be whole (no decimals, no fractions). The word integrity stems from a root that means not touched. As well as referring to moral soundness and honesty, it is also used to refer to the quality of data (data integrity), the soundness of a structure (the integrity of a ship’s hull), and so forth.
One of my goals in life is to be a man of integrity. In pursuit of this goal, recently I took some time to return to the ancient wisdom of the book of Proverbs. I was reminded of the following words which a wise man spoke to his sons many years ago.
The author of this pearl of wisdom was Solomon, the King of Israel and author of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, renowned as the wisest man of his day. Solomon told his sons that he himself had been given this same advice by his own father, David, when he was still a little boy and the only child of his mother.
Solomon’s mother, of course, was Bathsheba – with whom Solomon’s father David had committed adultery in the greatest failure of his kingship, a scandal that had huge repercussions. So when David told Solomon to guard his heart, he knew what he was talking about. David, to his credit, was never one to hide his sins. When he erred, he was quick to humble himself, admit his fault and turn back to God in repentance. And so, not many years after his sin of adultery with Bathsheba, David – probably recognizing that it was pride and presumption that had led to his own downfall – impressed upon Solomon the importance of keeping his heart surrendered to God in single-minded devotion.
At first it seemed that Solomon was getting the message. As a young man he showed great humility. When God appeared to him in a dream early in his kingship, offering him any gift he might desire, Solomon — recognizing his inexperience and his need of God’s help to be a good ruler — asked above all for wisdom. Tragically, later in life he didn’t follow his own advice. His heart became divided and he allowed his pagan wives to lead him astray, worshipping their gods as well as the Holy One of Israel – with disastrous results.
Farther along in the book of Proverbs, Solomon wrote that the integrity of upright people guides their choices, but that people who practice duplicity (deceit) end up being destroyed by it. Solomon discovered the truth of these words to his own cost. His own duplicity – his breach of faith with God, and therefore with the people he served – led to the destruction of all that he had laboured to build.
Self-deception is the easiest thing in the world, a malady from which none of us is immune. We are all capable of convincing ourselves that something is right when it is what we want to do.
That is one of the reasons why accountability relationships are so important. My friend and mentor Larry Kreider, who is the international director of a family of churches and ministries, considers this so important that he has submitted himself not only to an apostolic council with whom he shares the leadership of DCFI, but also to a team of leaders from other streams in the Body of Christ. He has learned the value of a yielded heart.
Recently Marion and I felt directed by God to seek out a new church affiliation. (If you’re interested in knowing why, read my previous post). To us, this is a big decision, not a small one. We want to bring a blessing to our new church, and help it to be effective. We are hungry for genuine Biblical community, because we understand its power to transform lives. It’s our heartfelt desire to leave an imprint, to influence the next generation with the values of the Kingdom. For this to happen in an age of cynicism, we need to demonstrate that we are credible by living transparent lives. We find that many people are looking for someone they can trust, someone who is believable. To be trusted, we need to demonstrate that we are believable people.
This does not happen overnight. Trust can only be gained over time, but it can be lost in an instant. Trustworthiness is a quality of character, the fruit of a lifetime of turning away from self-deception and cynicism, and choosing instead the way of humility and integrity. It’s about the daily choice to run into God’s arms instead of running away when we’ve stumbled, the choice to run towards community instead of into isolation when we’ve been hurt or have failed in some way. To have a believable testimony we need to be people who live without pretense.
For this reason I am very grateful that one of the elders at my new church has agreed to keep me accountable by reading my personal journal. It’s in a protected blog, but I’ve given him access whenever he wants it. Why would I do this? Because life is too short for religious games. I want reality, and the only way to get it is through honesty. If my brother sees something in my journal that he is concerned about, he can ask me about it any time he wants. I want my heart to be an open book before him. The only protection I want is the protection that comes from walking in the light. That’s the only way to have genuine Biblical community – the kind of community that produces people of integrity who are prepared to be worldchangers.