The Company You Keep: Insights on Integrity
If I asked, “What’s the most recent scandal you’ve heard or read about in the news?” you could probably think of something within seconds. There’s never any shortage of such things. And as the whiff of scandal becomes the stench of corruption, the aftermath of blaming and avoiding blame soon follows.
Scandal and corruption have plagued governments, institutions of higher learning, businesses and even the church for a very long time. In reality, it isn’t institutions or organizations that become corrupt, but people. And while many are ready to weigh in on whatever the most recent scandal or cover up may be, few are ready to talk about the underlying reason for it: the sinfulness of the human heart. That problem has been with us from the beginning.
Here is a major problem we need to grapple with: how do we select and train leaders for our organizations and institutions? We tend to focus on core competencies, the ability to do the job at hand, while a person’s character is too often presumed. Yet it is character that matters most when it comes to people in general and leaders in particular.
A leader’s character, and especially a leader’s integrity, is the best defense against the failures that end up in scandal and the often-resulting cover-up. Such integrity is not learned through books; it is developed over time. Still, it helps to have a depth of understanding of what the word means.
“Integrity” comes from the Latin word integer (wholeness), meaning complete or entire, undivided. In other words, you are on the inside how you appear on the outside. In the Bible, the word for integrity (tam in Hebrew, teleios in Greek) is also translated “blameless” or “perfect,” a tall order indeed for any human being.
Of course, no one apart from our Messiah Jesus is perfect or without blame. But we have integrity when we are unified in our heart to fully seek after Him. Our inward disposition matches our outward commitments to be with God, to be in His presence, and to please Him in every respect.
The Psalmist twice asks the question,
“Who may abide in your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?”; and “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place?” (Psalm15:1; 24:3).
The answer is the one who walks with integrity. The rest of those two passages from the Psalms then describe what that integrity looks like. I’d like to point out a few things about the description of integrity from Psalm 15.
Integrity begins as an internal reality when we speak truth in our hearts. The outworking of that integrity shows in how we treat others, as well as in our willingness to turn from what is wrong and take a stand for what is right. And integrity requires us to keep our commitments, even when it costs us a great deal to do so. All of these things are difficult, especially in our relativistic society. But it is well worth it to live a life of integrity, worth it to be in the Lord’s presence.
Do you remember the story of when Peter and John were arrested by the Sanhedrin in the Temple? Neither of these two men possessed an impressive level of education or standing in the community. Nevertheless, this body of Jewish leadership recognized something very different about Peter and John. The Bible says they “marveled, and they realized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
There is something about continually being in God’s presence that helps us avoid sin and keeps us active in our pursuit of godly character. The best way to learn and practice integrity is to be in His presence and in the presence of those who likewise are pursuing Him with their whole hearts.
In the very beginning of His ministry, when Jesus invited the disciples to follow Him they asked, “‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see'” (John 1:38b-39a). Jesus’ accessibility and His transparency helped these uneducated fishermen to become a marvel to the Jewish leaders of Israel. The disciples learned integrity through meeting with Yeshua (Jesus), learning from Him and modeling their lives after Him.
Early on in my ministry, our Jews for Jesus founder, Moishe Rosen, invited me to stay in his home for nearly a month. During that time he gave me a lot. Each day, early in the morning we would sit at his kitchen table talking, reading the Bible, praying and writing thank-you postcards to donors. I will always treasure that time with Moishe. Though there wasn’t any specific program of learning that he imparted to me, he did impart a great deal as he lived his life in my presence and I in his.
I have tried to follow that example in training new leaders in Jews for Jesus. The more time we can spend together—not necessarily in a programmatic training but in an exchange of life experience—the more I think I am able to help and encourage them in their leadership. It is an effort, but also a huge blessing.
In my own personal life, I find that “doing life together” with a small group of men consecrated to serving God helps me in my own integrity before God. As we check in with one another weekly, pray for each other, share our struggles and, from time to time, go backpacking together in the Sierra mountains, my ability to resist the temptations of the world and follow the Lord increases.
It’s all about the company you keep—first, being in the presence of God through time spent in prayer and in the Word, but also spending time with those who are committed to following Him. Indeed, that is exactly what God intends for all who would follow Him.
To ascend God’s holy hill, to dwell in His tent with Him, means living a life of integrity that makes us different than the life we would live on our own. The company we keep won’t guarantee a life free of sin, or even a life that avoids failure or scandal, but it will strengthen us toward a life lived with integrity; to live as Jesus did, to live in His presence each and every day as people who reflect the life of the Savior.
As a result, we not only please God and enjoy fellowship with Him and one another, but we also have something to offer those who don’t yet know Him. We can’t help but bring something of Yeshua’s presence into our relationship with others. We can’t help talking about what He means to us.
C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity:
“The Church exists for nothing else but to draw [people] into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”
And with integrity, we live for that same purpose as well.
Click here to read more of David’s reflections on integrity and faithfulness in an article that concludes with an extremely cool story.
Executive Director, Missionary
David Brickner is executive director of Jews for Jesus. David oversees the world-wide ministry from its headquarters in San Francisco. David received his Master’s degree in Missiology with a concentration in Jewish Evangelism and Judaic Studies from the Fuller School of World Mission. He has authored several books, and has been interviewed on national television shows such as Larry King Live. David’s daughter, Ilana is a recent graduate of Biola. His son, Isaac is on the missionary staff of Jews for Jesus. Isaac and his wife, Shaina, have one daughter, Nora, which makes David part of the grandparent club, a membership he is very proud of. See more here.