The ABC’s of Wisdom: Building Character with Solomon - Integrity
The Ultimate Virtue
The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.
The dictionary uses words such as whole and complete to describe what integrity means. To borrow a modern expression, a man with integrity “has his act together.” There are no loose ends that threaten his reputation.
Recently I ran across a full-page ad for an international relief organization. The picture shows a young child-perhaps from Central America or possibly Asia- writing at her desk. The ad copy contains the following sentence: “Integrity. It’s as simple as being what you say you are.” That strikes me as an excellent definition of integrity. It means being what you say you are-all the time and in every situation.
To be called a man of integrity is the highest possible compliment. Several years ago my older brother took me to visit a cemetery outside Florence, Alabama, near the remains of an antebellum mansion called Forks of Cypress. The mansion was built in the 1820s by James Jackson, an early settler of northwest Alabama. My brother and I walked among the ruins of the mansion and then crossed the country road into the dense forest on the other side. After a quarter mile we found the Jackson family cemetery. There is no sign marking the spot, only a five-foot-high stone wall surrounding about fifty graves. Inside we found a tall marker over James Jackson’s grave, with a long inscription extolling his virtues, which were many.
I walked along, my eyes fastened on the marker for one of his sons, William Moore Jackson. There was his name, the dates 1824-1891, and this simple five-word epitaph: “A man of unquestioned integrity.”
Five words to sum up an entire life. Sixty-plus years distilled into five words. But, oh, what truth they tell.
“A man of unquestioned integrity.” I cannot think of a better tribute. Then the thought came: What will they put on my tombstone?
At a recent leadership retreat, the speaker hammered away at one point: A ministry with integrity will stand the test of time. Everything else fades away-fads come and go, glitz will attract people but it won’t hold them, good programs lose their appeal, new buildings grow old, pastors stay for a while and then leave. But integrity never goes out of style. If you have it, people trust you; if you don’t, they don’t. And if you lose their trust, it’s hard to get it back.
We hear a lot these days about family values and the need to rediscover virtue in American society. The basic building blocks of virtue are actually very simple. We’ve known them all along:
Honesty, perseverance, faithfulness, determination, kindness, loyalty, self-control.
We’ve known these truths since the beginning of time. The problem isn’t in the knowing; it’s in the doing.
The mind wanders back to a forgotten tombstone and to those five simple words: “A man of unquestioned integrity.” The more you think about it, the greater it seems. Five words aren’t much to sum up a life of sixty-seven years, but those five will do nicely. In fact, you could do much worse.
I’m not sure what anyone will write on my tombstone. But I wouldn’t mind if someone felt I deserved those five words.
Lord, help me to live in such a way that integrity will be one of the first things people think of when they think of me. Amen.
What is your personal definition of integrity? How well do you live up to your own definition?
What would you like to have put on your tombstone as a summary of your life?