Integrity in the Small Things

One of the themes that came out of the Generosity Conference I went to was integrity. Integrity can be defined as ‘the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles’, but to be honest I far prefer the definition offered by Andres Panasiuk, who works with Compass Latin America:


“Who we are in our secret lives is who we truly are.”


Who are you when no one is looking? This has been on my heart lately because it’s a question I sometimes hesitate to answer. There are times when who I am when no one is looking is someone I wouldn’t want others to see. I’m not writing this post as an expert on integrity or as someone who always has it. I write these posts on the things I myself am wrestling with and aspiring towards, in the hope that I may encourage others also.


Is there anyone out there who acts with integrity 100% of the time? If there is, I’d like to meet him or her. But I doubt it. I reckon integrity is one of those lifelong pursuits, something you can excel in at times but fall short of at others. It’s something that no matter how much of it you do, you can always do more of it.


One person I know of who showed a great deal of integrity is a man we can read about in the book of Genesis, chapter 39. That man was Joseph, and I admire him so much, and this trait in particular, that I chose his as the middle name for my son.


Although I will focus mostly on chapter 39 in this post, I will start in chapter 37, because I think we see glimpses of Joseph’s integrity early on. When God gave him two dreams about his family bowing down to him he wasn’t afraid to speak it out and share it with others. Usually this is construed as an act of arrogance, seeking to put his brothers down and trade off his father’s favouritism. Maybe it was. Or maybe there’s another way of looking at it. You see, Joseph only ever described the contents of the dream, he made no attempt to interpret it or apply it to their family life there and then. He just shared what God had given him. Maybe he could have done it a bit more sensitively, maybe he was a little bit naïve about how his brothers would react, but I think it shows integrity to be who God made you to be, and not to try to hide it out of a desire to keep everyone else happy. We as Christians today should speak out the truth of the Gospel, despite knowing it might not win us many friends in today’s secular society.


Now, as most of us know, Joseph’s honest, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve approach to life landed him in trouble – his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. That might have been enough for some people to change who they are and abandon who God has called them to be. Much easier to stay out of trouble by sitting on the fence or pleasing the others around you instead of God. But Joseph continued to show integrity in each and every situation he found himself in.


Instead of being resentful about his captivity, he worked hard and gave his best to his new duties. “When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant.” (v.3-4). Having earned his master’s favour and come to the attention of Potiphar’s wife as well, Joseph refused to give in to temptation and indulge in what others in the same situation might have seen as the perks of the job. Again, perhaps he was a little naïve about how the spurned would-be adulteress would take his rejection, but it is clear from the following words that he was determined to keep his integrity as a man of God:


“My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (v. 9)


His continued integrity earned him more suffering, this time losing his job and his freedom and winding up in prison. But again Joseph refused to wallow in self-pity or regret the moral firmness he had shown. He could have been forgiven for thinking, ‘look where honouring God has got me…if this is what doing the right thing gets me, I might as well be bad.’ This is where most people’s integrity would have vanished, cast aside in a dank prison cell.


But Joseph kept doing the right thing. In his secret life he held fast to God and God’s ways. It surely didn’t matter now what he did or didn’t do, there was nothing to be gained and no one worthwhile to note how he conducted himself, but that’s not how integrity works. Integrity means staying the same whoever’s around, being the same person in dark solitude as in the crowded light of day. So he continued to live for God, and because of that God gave him an opportunity.


The trust given to Joseph by the prison warden shows that he served with the same diligence and trustworthiness as he had in Potiphar’s house. Joseph acted the same in whatever situation he found himself. He wasn’t a social chameleon, changing according to what would best suit the circumstances. He just kept serving God any way he could, even if that was helping to run a prison full of unlovely people.


Because of his integrity, God raised him up by bringing him to the notice of the right people. Joseph’s dream-interpretation skills took him from prison to Pharaoh’s throne-room, and from there to a palace of his own as the vice-regent or prime minister of Egypt. But did he change? Did power go to his head? No, he kept his integrity and continued to honour God. He was in a more elevated position now, but his values and work-ethic were the same. The same conscientiousness he had shown as a serving slave he now showed in government, using skilled administration and foresight to dispense justice, ward off famine and ensure prosperity.


I’m sure his experiences changed him a lot. No one can go through such changes of fortune without them leaving their mark. But in the important ways Joseph stayed the same. He never lost sight of his love of God and the need to live in a way pleasing to Him. In the palace or the prison, it made no difference, he would live for God. None of his later opportunities and prosperity would have come if he hadn’t shown integrity in the small things. In that sense the story of Joseph is an allegory of the principle shown by Jesus in the Parable of the Talents: faithfulness in the small things is always rewarded with bigger things (Matthew 25:14-40).


Integrity always wins in the long run. It may entail sacrifice and suffering along the way, but those who live with integrity for God will end up enjoying His reward. So yes, integrity involves honesty and trustworthiness; yes, integrity means being the same even when it’s inconvenient; but integrity also means being who God made you to be. Don’t be one of those who miss out on the fullness of what God has for them by choosing to compromise on integrity. Resolve to keep doing what’s right even when no one’s watching. Even when there’s only One who sees.

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