The Life of Integrity

Better is a poor person who walks in his integrity
    than one who is crooked in speech and is a fool.
Desire without knowledge is not good,
    and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.
When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin,
    his heart rages against the Lord.
Wealth brings many new friends,
    but a poor man is deserted by his friend.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will not escape.
Many seek the favor of a generous man,
    and everyone is a friend to a man who gives gifts.
All a poor man’s brothers hate him;
    how much more do his friends go far from him!
He pursues them with words, but does not have them.
Whoever gets sense loves his own soul;
    he who keeps understanding will discover good.
A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and he who breathes out lies will perish.
10 It is not fitting for a fool to live in luxury,
    much less for a slave to rule over princes.
11 Good sense makes one slow to anger,
    and it is his glory to overlook an offense.
12 A king’s wrath is like the growling of a lion,
    but his favor is like dew on the grass.
13 A foolish son is ruin to his father,
    and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain.
14 House and wealth are inherited from fathers,
    but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
15 Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep,
    and an idle person will suffer hunger.
16 Whoever keeps the commandment keeps his life;
    he who despises his ways will die.
– Proverbs 19:1-16 ESV

What does a person of integrity look like? Our modern culture has diluted integrity down to a one-dimensional idea of honesty. If you tell the truth or keep your word, you’re referred to as a man of integrity. But the biblical view of integrity is so much deeper, fuller, and all-inclusive. And the Proverbs help us see what the life of a person of integrity looks like. Using comparisons and contrasts, it paints simple word pictures of what the person of integrity does and doesn’t do.

The biblical concept of integrity carries the idea of wholeness or completeness. A person of integrity is sound in mind, body, and spirit. Their life is well-integrated and non-compartmentalized, and lived entirely for God, with no parts held back. To live a life of integrity is to give God every aspect of my life, not just the convenient parts. And it is allowing God to transform every area of my life, including my speech, attitudes, and actions.

Solomon tells us over and over again that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. God is the source of all we need to live a godly, whole, and complete life. The person who refuses to acknowledge this reality is designated as a fool in the Proverbs, and a fool is simply one who actively spurns the ways and the will of God. The fool says there is no God or lives his life as if there were no God, in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And the fool is one who hears God’s call but refuses to listen. As a result, his or her life is incomplete and lacking in wholeness. It exhibits a glaring lack of spiritual vitality and soundness.

According to Solomon, even a poor man can display integrity because it has little to do with material possessions or one’s position within society. Wealth can’t buy integrity. Power and prominence don’t naturally come equipped with integrity.

Wealth brings many new friends,
    but a poor man is deserted by his friend. – Proverbs 19:4 ESV

Money can buy a lot of friends, but when it runs out, so do they. And wealth is a poor substitute for integrity. The man who “has it all” may appear to be sound and whole, lacking in nothing, but without integrity, he is operating at a serious deficit.

Simply put, integrity is righteousness lived out. It is godliness made visible and tangible. When the wisdom, knowledge, and understanding we receive from God begin to influence our behavior and speech, others can see it and be influenced by it. Integrity makes us willing to do the right thing and suffer loss rather than lie in order to get ahead (Proverbs 19:1).

Without integrity, we tend to rush headlong into decisions, letting our enthusiasm drive our choices rather than wisdom.

Desire without knowledge is not good,
    and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. – Proverbs 19:2 ESV

People of integrity still make mistakes, but when they do they refuse to blame God for the consequences. But “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord (Proverbs 19:3 ESV). Those without integrity or wholeness tend to make unhealthy choices and then refuse to take responsibility for the unpleasant outcomes they encounter.

People with integrity don’t practice “fake” friendships, pursuing relationships purely for what they can get out of them.

Many seek favors from a ruler;
    everyone is the friend of a person who gives gifts!

The relatives of the poor despise them;
    how much more will their friends avoid them!
Though the poor plead with them,
    their friends are gone. – Proverbs 19:6, 7 NLT

Instead, they view others through God’s eyes, loving the helpless and hopeless the same way He does.

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord
    and he will repay you!
Proverbs 19:17 NLT

The integral life is marked by honesty and truth-telling at all times and at any cost.

A false witness will not go unpunished,
    nor will a liar escape. – Proverbs 19:5 NLT

A false witness will not go unpunished,
    and a liar will be destroyed. – Proverbs 15:9 NLT

A life of integrity is the only acceptable form of self-love because it ends up rewarding those who practice it with great benefits.

To acquire wisdom is to love yourself;
    people who cherish understanding will prosper. – Proverbs 19:8 NLT

A person of integrity lives their entire life for God, so they are less likely to get angry when offended or when things don’t go their way. They have a greater capacity to overlook a wrong committed because they understand the fallen nature of man. This God-given patience provides them with respect and protects them from harm.

Sensible people control their temper;
    they earn respect by overlooking wrongs.

The king’s anger is like a lion’s roar,
    but his favor is like dew on the grass. – Proverbs 19:11-12 NLT

Hot-tempered people must pay the penalty.
    If you rescue them once, you will have to do it again. – Proverbs 19:19 NLT

Integrity understands that God is sovereign and in control of all the affairs of life and, ultimately, His sees that His will is done.

Fathers can give their sons an inheritance of houses and wealth,
    but only the Lord can give an understanding wife. – Proverbs 19:14 NLT.

The integral life is marked by obedience to God, hard work, the constant pursuit of wisdom, and a fear of the Lord (Proverbs 19:15, 16, 20, 23, 24). Integrity encourages parents to create an atmosphere in their home where instruction is God-centered, and discipline is practiced in order to raise children who are God-fearing (Proverbs 19:18, 25, 26, 27, 29.

In the very first chapter of this book, Solomon provides his reason for compiling and cataloging all these words of wisdom.

Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline,
    to help them understand the insights of the wise.
Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives,
    to help them do what is right, just, and fair. – Proverbs 1:2-3 NLT

But then he adds, “Fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge” (Proverbs 19:7 NLT). It all starts with God. We must understand that only He can provide us the wisdom, insight, understanding, and discipline we need to live lives of integrity. We can’t manufacture these things on our own. No amount of money can buy them. They don’t come with success or social prominence. No, they are the byproducts of an integral or well-rounded life. Solomon was interested in helping people do what is right, just, and fair. But he knew that good behavior was impossible without a healthy reverence for God. He alone can provide the wisdom and discipline necessary to transform a person from the inside out. And when God transforms the heart, it shows up in tangible expressions of righteousness and godliness. When we put Him first and allow Him to guide and direct our lives, others will see the change taking place within us as it flows out from us. Our integrity will be visible to all those around us.

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