“Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than he who is perverse in speech and is a fool.” (Prov. 19:1; NASB)
A number of years ago, Ted Engstrom told this story in his book Integrity:
For Coach Cleveland Stroud and the Bulldogs of Rockdale County High School [Conyers, Georgia], it was their championship season: 21 wins and 5 losses on the way to the Georgia boys’ basketball tournament last March, then a dramatic come-from-behind victory in the state finals.
But now the new glass trophy case outside the high school gymnasium is bare. Earlier this month the Georgia High School Association deprived Rockdale County of the championship after school officials said that a player who was scholastically ineligible had played 45 seconds in the first of the school’s five postseason games.
“We didn’t know he was ineligible at the time; we didn’t know it until a few weeks ago,” Mr. Stroud said. “Some people have said we should have kept quiet about it, that it was just 45 seconds and the player wasn’t an impact player. But you’ve got to do what’s honest and right and what the rules say. I told my team that people forget the scores of basketball games; the don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”
And with that action of integrity, Coach Stroud proved right a tenet of Mark Twain: “Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
Many are astonished by such basic acts of obedient integrity. But we should not be — at least not in the church. For integrity is a fundamental product of a walk with God.
Integrity is that which pleases God and allows us to have fellowship with Him. When David asked the question, “Who can live in fellowship with God; what are the actions of one who walks with God?” (Ps. 15:1), his first answer was this: “He who walks with integrity.”
And what does it mean to live with integrity? David also answers that. It means to do righteous (right) acts. It means to speak truthfully, not only to others, but to ourselves about the nature of our own heart condition.
Integrity is also usually demonstrated in the small things of life rather than in a “high-profile, lay-your-life-down-as-a-martyr issue.” It is revealed when we are given $1.00 too much change at the grocery store and we go back into the store to return it. It is revealed when your spouse asks you, “Are you ok,” and you answer honestly, even if it means a long discussion will ensue. It is revealed when we are scrupulous to tell the truth even in the minute details of a story (like the real size of the fish we caught over the weekend), being careful to avoid exaggeration.
Having integrity is not an issue of being rich or poor, male or female, being a social climber or a social outcast. Integrity is a matter of the heart. By our actions, we not only demonstrate whether or not we understand what is right, but we also demonstrate what we believe in our hearts about what is right.
Jonathan Edwards gave evidence that he understood the importance of integrity when he penned his resolutions: “Resolved first that every man should do right. Resolved second that I will do right whether every man or anyone else on earth does or does not.”