"Character is what we are when no one is looking. It is not the same as reputation or what other people think of us. It is not the same as success or achievement. Character is not what we have done, but who we are." -- Bill Hybels
When I let the little twig fall into the cement mixture that day, it seemed like such a small thing. After all what difference could one little twig make?
While on a missions trip in the inner city of Kingston, Jamaica, I learned a lesson about integrity that I will not soon forget. Working in Kingston with a group of men from the church I served from upstate New York, we were digging footers for a new church building. Lacking the most in construction experience, I depended on the directions of my skilled co-laborers. After digging several yards of ditches for the foundation in the sweltering tropical heat one afternoon, we finally started to mix and pour the cement.
As I spread the muddy mixture with a rake, a twig fell from the bank and into the cement. Thinking nothing of it, I continued to spread the fast-hardening substance, when our crew chief shouted, "Get that twig out of there!" I obeyed the order but couldn't understand all the fuss over such a little twig. "Don't you know?" he asserted. "That 'little twig' would disrupt the integrity of this building."
When I asked what he meant by that word, he affirmed, "It would make the mixture impure and put a weak point or a stress point in the foundation. It wouldn't cause any noticeable problem right away, but in a year you'd see a hairline crack in the wall and, in a few years, the entire wall could collapse from it. The integrity of the foundation would be compromised; all from that 'little twig' in the cement."
The connection is worth considering.
The American College Dictionary defines integrity as: "soundness of moral principle and character; uprightness; honesty; the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished, sound, unimpaired, or in perfect condition." Our word integrity is derived from the Latin word integer. In English, integer is defined as "a whole number; a complete entity." Therefore, the essence of integrity is wholeness, sameness, oneness. Integrity, in a practical sense, includes genuinely being in private what you profess to be in public. A person of integrity is the same through and through. The "mix" is consistent.
Warren Wiersbe has said, "Two forces are at work in our world today: (1) God is putting things together, and (2) sin is tearing things apart. God wants to make integers; Satan wants to make fractions."
Relativism is the corrupting influence much of our society has swallowed and with it we have strayed far from Biblical ethics. The one thing we have been the most absolute about unfortunately is that "there are no absolutes." One might ask, But, are you "absolutely" sure? Such if-it-feels-good-how-could-it-be-so-wrong thinking has served up a generation of people who are soft on principle and sadly spiritually bankrupt. We see it all around us today in the political arena, in the business world, in sports, and even sometimes in the church. It has wisely been said, "Unless we have that within us something which is above us we will succumb to that which is around us."
Integrity is all about truly being in private what we profess to be in public. Actor Robert Redford was asked by a woman, "Are you the real Robert Redford?", to which he replied, "Only when I am alone!" In a world overcome with image, success and status, God searches for someone who will live for him not in word only but from the heart, from the soul (2 Chron. 16:9).
Commitment is the predominant quality that shows up in the life of a person with a strengthened soul. Compromise, on the other hand, is the characteristic found most consistently within the life of someone with a neglected one. Such a person, though full of good intentions, is like a well-framed house without a foundation -- on the outside they may seem to have it all together and yet, on the interior of their life, they are just one storm away from collapse.
A Man of Integrity
Daniel is a prime example of integrity. He was thrown in the lion's den, you remember, not because of doing something wrong, but because he did something right (Dan. 6:1-4). The Bible says something that reveals his secret, something about his interior characteristics. It says that he had "an extraordinary spirit (Dan. 6:3-5)."
The world around Daniel (i.e.: King Nebuchanezzar and the godless Babylonians) tried to squeeze him into its mold. They offered him a heathen name (Belteshazzar), new food and even a new god to worship. He, however, remained faithful to his God and that's what stood him a head above the lot.
The paparazzi and tabloid detectives today hound public figures in hopes of discovering something incriminating and "newsworthy." In Daniel's day his fellow administrators followed him home, spied on him, tailed him and searched his home. The trouble was... they found no skeletons in his closet. No dirt under his rug. No hanky panky. NOTHING! Daniel was a man of personal purity. They could dig all they wanted, but Daniel still came up clean.
Wouldn't you love to elect someone like that to public office? Wouldn't you enjoy supporting someone like that in public ministry? Wouldn't you like a guarantee that your children would turn out like that or marry someone like that?
Daniel's integrity was not just another part of his personality -- it was the essence of his person, the fiber of his being. It gave him direction, as well as depth, personally. "The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity (aka -- by the "twigs in the cement") (Prov. 11:3)."
I never knew what a big mistake I was making that day in Kingston when I let that "little twig" fall into the mix of cement. Thank God, someone had the concern and conviction to call me on it. The results could have been devastating.
Children today are victims of a world too full of moral "twigs." They are desperate for the emergence of the kinds of people Isaiah described as "oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor..." (Is. 61:3).