Ask most people what they understood by 'Integrity' and their answer would probably revolve around ideas such as honesty, truthfulness and moral rectitude. Nor would they be wrong, because integrity is central to many such things, but it is also one of those well-known and well-worn words whose meaning can actually prove a lot more slippery and tenuous than we might first suppose when we try to tie it down.
Integrity is not so much a misunderstood concept as one whose meaning has been over-confined an under-used for a very long time.
To rectify that deficiency, let us explore the richness, width and depth of its true meaning. One thing that can often help us truly appreciate a word's meaning is a clear understanding of its opposite - in this instance, 'disintegrity'.
Moral soundness and ethical probity are not incorrect synonyms but derive as secondary usages of integrity's primary meaning, perhaps most succinctly described by one dictionary as: "An unreduced or unbroken completeness or totality". Thus, a morally upright person is someone of 'unreduced or unbroken completeness of character'.
Hence we might describe a person of integrity as 'having it all together', whereas someone exhibiting disintegrity 'has gone to pieces'.
Integrity stems from the Middle English 'integrite' via the Middle French, itself derived from the Latin 'integritas', meaning 'soundness'.
Yet even these are derivatives from a term familiar to mathematicians: 'integer', meaning 'whole', 'complete', 'unimpaired', and 'intact'; formed from the components: 'in-', meaning 'not' and 'tegere', meaning 'touched'.
The idea of a 'person of integrity' as someone 'honourable' and 'truthful' comes from this primary concept of someone 'untouched' by corrupt or impure motives, hence its secondary moral connotations.
This explains the close association between integrity and words sharing a close etymological derivation, like: 'integrate', 'integrated', 'integral', 'integration', 'entire', 'entirety' and 'intact'; words so close in sense to integrity, they often overlap in meaning.
The very reason integrity is 'integrity' at all is because of its Latin derivation. Were it roots Anglo-Saxon it would be written 'integratedness' which, although there is no such word, provides a useful insight illustrating the fullness of what integrity actually means.
So, let us consider three characteristic behaviours popularly associated with moral integrity, which I believe most people would agree exemplify the trait, and examine whether they really fit the definition.
Firstly, 'A person of integrity never lies'.
Secondly, 'A person of integrity never breaks his word'.
Thirdly, 'A person of integrity never seeks to mislead others'.
These solid moral principles should present us with no problem. After all, if there is one certainty we can be sure of it is that all are encapsulated in God's perfect standard as expressed in his Ten Commandments. Indeed, is not the ninth of which the injunction: 'Thou shalt not lie'?
From this it is surely safe to conclude that the man or woman of integrity is one who would never entertain far less tell an untruth. Right?
On the other hand, a person of disintegrity would almost certainly be someone capable of deliberately misleading others by lying.
I suspect most Christians would agree with both of assertions in the confident expectation that theirs was an opinion shared by God, so let's examine two examples from the Holy Bible to see whether such a view stacks up against the Word of God.
The first is in Exodus 1:15-21, the second book of the Bible, which begins with the story of the plight of the children of Israel at the hands of a new Pharaoh in Egypt, famously known as 'the Slaughter of the Innocents', it says:
"Then the king of Egypt spoke to the Hebrew midwives, of whom the name of one was Shiphrah and the name of the other Puah; and he said, 'When you do the duties of a midwife for the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstools, if it is a son, then you shall kill him; but if it is a daughter, then she shall live.' But the midwives feared God, and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the male children alive. So the king of Egypt called for the midwives and said to them, 'Why have you done this thing, and saved the male children alive?'
"And the midwives said to Pharaoh, 'Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are lively and give birth before the midwives come to them.'
"Therefore God dealt well with the midwives, and the people multiplied and grew very mighty.
"And so it was, because the midwives feared God, that he provided households for them."
You might want to read that passage again, because it describes the midwives' actions in some detail. In effect they told Pharaoh what we would call 'a pack of lies'.
And how did God judge them for their lies and rebellion against authority?
"Therefore God dealt well with the midwivesAnd so it was, because the midwives feared God, that that he provided households for them."
Answers on a postcard if you can make that scripture mean anything else, but the sense I get is that God was very pleased indeed that these ladies lied to Pharaoh. Yet according to 1 Samuel 15, "rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft", so they should have been doubly culpable.
So we see God's approval where we might have expected to witness his condemnation.
'Strike One!' against traditional theology.
Nor can we retreat behind the fig leaf excuse that this was a one-off instance.
Let me introduce you to a lady many might consider lacking in moral integrity - a prostitute by trade, Rahab's story is told in Joshua 2:1-6.
"And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, 'Go view the land, even Jericho'. And they went, and came into a harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there.
"And it was told the king of Jericho, saying, 'Behold, there came men in here tonight of the children of Israel to search out the country'.
"And the king of Jericho sent unto Rahab, saying, 'Bring forth the men that are come to you, who are entered into your house: for they are come to search out all the country'.
"And the woman took the two men, and hid them, and said thus, 'There came men unto me, but I know not from where they were: And it came to pass about the time of shutting of the gate, when it was dark, that the men went out: where the men went I know not: pursue after them quickly; for you shall overtake them'.
"But she had brought them up to the roof of the house, and hid them with the stalks of flax, which she had laid in order upon the roof."
Once again, the term 'pack of lies' springs immediately to mind.
So, how did God deal with this harlot's lies and rebellion?
Check out Matthew 1:5.
"And Salmon begat Boaz of Rahab; and Boaz begat Obed of Ruth; and Obed begat Jesse".
In case you didn't recognise it, this is part of the lineage of Jesus Christ.
Yes, that 'Jesus'. And yes, the same the prostitute mentioned in Joshua 2.
And what about Hebrews 11:31; the famous 'Roll Call of the Faithful'?
"By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace."
And James 2:25.
"Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?"
I don't know about you, but if the Holy Bible said such things about me, I would be inclined to construe them as significant of God's wholehearted approval of my conduct.
Space prevents me from giving more examples but I think the point has been made. There is more to integrity than just an officious adherence to the law.
Indeed, "Thou shalt not lie!" is not the Ninth Commandment at all. That actually says: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour", which is not necessarily the same thing.
Think: Someone phones a businessman, asks to speak to the boss and his secretary says that he it out, knowing all the while that he is in. Is that a lie?
Of course it is, and one that is generally morally indefensible.
Now consider: The secretary's boss is a Jew and she knows the caller to be from the Gestapo.
Should she tell the truth and betray her employer's whereabouts to someone she knows may be seeking his life, or would she bear a truer witness and show greater integrity by lying to the Geheime Staats Polizei? Remember: they are the appointed authority of the state.
I know how I would answer; but before you do, you might want to consider what the Holy Spirit has recorded for us about a couple of Hebrew midwives and a Canaanite prostitute.
If you're still struggling, then consider that at the heart of 'DISINTEGRITY' lies 'SIN', and in the midst of 'SIN' is 'I'.
Now reflect on these words, written two thousand years ago by Jesus' half-brother, in James 2:12-13.
"So speak, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.
"For he shall have judgment without mercy, that has shown no mercy; and mercy triumphs over judgment."