The integrity of the upright guides them, but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them. (Prov. 11:3, RSV)
For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life? (Matt. 16:26, RSV)
At the start of the Korean War, the American commander Gen. William Dean was captured while leading his troops in withdrawal before the initial North Korean onslaught. He spent three years as a prisoner of war. At one point, he expected to die and was given the opportunity to write a final letter to his wife. In it, he sent a message for his son, William Jr., saying, “Tell Bill the word is integrity.” If you have but one word to share with your son, that is a good one.
This week, we lost another man of integrity, one who also was a hero and an abused prisoner of war, Senator John McCain. Throughout his public life, he demonstrated integrity. Although he made mistakes, which he has admitted, and we may not agree with all of his political philosophies and positions, we cannot help but admire his integrity and the ways he demonstrated it in his life and at his death. Two examples suffice to illustrate the importance to him of living with integrity, even when it made things more difficult for him. His father and grandfather were four-star admirals in the U.S. Navy; when his Vietnamese captors learned this, they offered to release McCain, but he refused unless the other prisoners were released also. They were a unit. McCain wouldn’t trade his integrity for his freedom.
As a candidate for President, running against Barrack Obama, a woman at a campaign in support of McCain stopped and ranted against Obama, claiming he was “an Arab.” McCain responded that Obama was not an Arab but was a “a decent family man [and] citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues, and that’s what the campaign’s all about.” This willingness to defend an opponent against untrue charges illustrates McCain’s integrity. He respected an opponent and refused to demonize him.
Jesus in his ministry also acted with absolute integrity. At his temptation, he refused the opportunity to achieve goals by illegitimate means. And the tempter left him for a “more opportune time.” That time came three years later when Jesus faced the cross. With great integrity, in the Garden he prayed, “Not my will, but thine be done.” The integrity of Jesus stood in marked contrast to the religious leaders who condoned perjury to convict Jesus and to Pilate who lacked courage to stand for right against the mob.
When times of trial come to each of us, may we remember that “the word is integrity” and not sell out for something less.
Prayer: Lord, when we are tempted to take moral shortcuts, let the examples of people of integrity strengthen us to maintain our integrity. In the name of Christ, amen.
Ministry and Mission Coach