When we think of ministry, preaching and oratorical skills are relatively important. You preach the Word but minister your spirit and character. We worship the Lord in Spirit and in truth. The truth is the right information, and the Spirit is having the right attitude toward that information. If the character of the preacher is not right, it eventually will be irrelevant how great a grasp he has on truth, because it will be presented in such a way that will create Pharisees rather than disciples.
A Code of Conduct
Proverbs 20:7 says, “The just man walketh in his integrity.” Before you understand what integrity is, you must understand what it is not. Integrity is not a code of conduct, but it will lead to one. You can have the right code of conduct but no integrity. Integrity is not how you treat others, but if you have integrity, you will treat others right. For a season of time, you can discipline your conduct and attitude to where they are appropriate, but you still might not be a person of integrity.
The Hebrew word for “integrity” in Proverbs 20:7 speaks of personal innocence or purity of character. Proverbs 23:7 states, “For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he.” This parallels with Luke 6:45, which says that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. The Greek word speak means “to put forth or give out.” Everything we do must originate from a righteous character and integrity, or the ministry will eventually reveal itself as an empty shell.
Job suffered the loss of wealth, children and health. His wife posited the question to him, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity?” The word integrity means to be cleaned morally, spiritually, mentally and physically in such a way that it dictates your actions and your code of conduct. It stems from core principles that a man or woman establishes in their life that do not waver. Integrity, therefore, is not a situational thing. Situations may be affected by your emotions or even your thinking for a while, but true integrity is unaffected by situations or circumstances. It is who you are. There is never a question on how people of real character are going to conduct themselves because it doesn’t matter what the situation is. They will be the same all the time. It has nothing to do with what people know or think about you. It has to do with core values and principles that override every single aspect of your life. Matthew 6:21 says, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Your heart is the core of your person and dictates your thought, conduct and longings.
In Ephesians 4:17-19, Paul makes the appeal to not walk as Gentiles, who are past feeling and work all uncleanness. He says the principle reason this happens is when people walk in the vanity of their mind. The Greek word for vanity is “transient.” A transient is a hobo or wanderer who has no fixed living or dwelling place. They wander here and there. People get in trouble when their minds become transient. They don’t have fixed principles. There is not a core set of values that will override every other circumstance or situation in their life.
The Cost of Character
If you don’t have these core principles, you will operate under situational ethics and do what is most advantageous for you. The problem with situational ethics in ministry, as in real life, is that doing the right thing is not always going to be the best thing for you. It will not always advance your person or purpose the most or bring the most accolades. There will be seasons of time that being a person of integrity and operating with core principles and fixed values will be expensive. It might cost you financially or the esteem of others. The cornerstone of integrity has fixed principles that are unaffected by circumstance, people, profit or situation. These fixed principles are founded on the Word of God. Psalm 119:11 states, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
The Natural Man
The life of David reveals integrity. It didn’t matter what was done against him, the Word was hidden in his heart and dictated his conduct. Proverbs 16:25 says, “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.” The translated word man speaks of the natural or carnal side of a person. When you are operating in the physical side of a man, you cannot help but operate in situational ethics. It is dictated by the circumstance you find yourself in. It will seem right to you. Absent integrity and core principles, the natural man will always be able to find a way to justify itself. This is how Pharisees were created. As Matthew 15:8, 9 states, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth . . . But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” They took their prejudices, opinions and ideals and put their convictions on an equal standing with the eternal Word of God.
In the spiritual realm, we are subject to certain weaknesses. When God deals with us, He gives us convictions, and they are very powerful experiences. We have to be very careful not to equate them with doctrine. When the Word of God speaks, you cannot have an opinion. Jesus took a walk through the life of the rich young ruler and found something relative to materialism, prompting Jesus to tell him to sell all he had. For most of us, God will find something that will be an impediment to our spiritual growth, and we will have to lay it aside. It takes a lot of integrity and character to realize that your conviction does not necessarily apply to everyone.
The Temptation to Trade
In Abraham’s day, God looked for a righteous man, not a talented or educated one. When you enter the ministry, you must understand that God does not and never will commit to talent or ability. God commits to character. If God had to choose, He would choose a righteous man over a holy man. A holy man can be bought but not a righteous man. Holiness involves conduct, but righteousness involves character. It is possible to be holy and not be righteous, but not the other way around. The story of Joseph and the temptation of Potiphar’s wife illustrates this perfectly. Who would know if Joseph gave in? Joseph would know, and he was the only one that really mattered. He had core principles. The outcome was not really about him, but that didn’t sway his decision. An unethical man will take the eternal and trade it for the temporal. When David pled with the Lord to create in him a clean heart, he was pleading with God to restore right character within him. David did all the right things after he was found out, but he was still an adulterer and a murderer. His conduct was now holy but his character was not righteous. So he pled with God to create within him character. Proverbs 4:23 says that out of our heart are the issues of life. The translated word issues means to allow. Therefore, you will ultimately do whatever your core principles will allow you to do. The highest standard that you will answer to is your own conscience because despite what the Bible says, you will eventually do whatever your conscience allows you to do.
A Sacrifice for Integrity
Danger occurs when recognition and honor become your objective. In our world, wars have been fought over honor and dishonor. When people begin to crave honor and recognition, they will sacrifice integrity. Honor comes from without, but integrity and character is the product of your own heart. Honor has to do with what men think you are; integrity is what you know you are. It is possible to have honor and integrity, but it is not possible to pursue both honor and integrity. It is very sad because there are many men who are more enamored with honor than integrity. This will breed the philosophy in you and others under you that it doesn’t matter if you are right or wrong but only what others think is right or wrong.
A Lasting Legacy
Deuteronomy 6:4 states the first and greatest commandment but it doesn’t stop there. Following in verse 7, it states, “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children.” Because of the commission that God gave us, when you become more intrigued with the world, you impart the value system to your children that it is more important to save face and have the esteem of peers than it is to be right with God. There will be seasons where if you are going to be right with God, it will cost you the respect of someone. We don’t always do everything right. The translation of blessed is to be right or honest. It’s when you really are a person of integrity. The lasting thing you impart to your children is a spirit of righteousness and honesty. This is the most incredible legacy that could ever be left.
Galatians 4:19 talks about Christ being formed in us. True integrity is when we open ourselves up to the principles of God’s Word and allow the Holy Ghost to so firmly affix those things in us that they become core values, regardless of the situation or authority over us. The wonderful thing is you never have to worry about what is coming your way because you already know how you will act. The story of the Good Samaritan is told in Luke 10. Two holy men passed by, but a righteous man got down in the ditch and sat with him through the night. If he was going somewhere that would get him recognition, he lost it. Sometimes integrity can be expensive. There were many times where it would be more beneficial to give up integrity. The legacy a righteous man leaves behind is a blessed one.
Ron Mullings is the Bishop of Truth Tabernacle in Bakersfield, Calif. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree from International Seminary and is known for his passionate preaching and wise counsel. He was the District Superintendent of the Western District UPCI for 12 years, overseeing more than 150 churches in California and Nevada. He continues to hold leadership positions within the UPCI and is an honorary general board member for life. He spends much of his time preaching and teaching at conferences nationwide. He is the author of the witty and inspirational book, People are Pitiful…and We’re All People.