The Honest Poet

By Mark S. Krause

Is there anyone on earth today like Job, a person who is recognized as “blameless and upright” (Job 2:3)? One who “fears God and shuns evil”? A person of unblemished integrity? As we read daily about persons of influence caught in scandals, sometimes we wonder if there are any persons of integrity left on the earth.

The book of Psalms is a rich source of insights for the person concerned about integrity. Although the newest psalm is more than 2,000 years old, the central issues of integrity have not changed. And while we do not readily turn to poetry as a textbook on integrity, Psalms has much to offer.

Let’s look at some lessons on integrity from Psalms, teachings that can still guide us today.

Psalm 15: Integrity Defined and Maintained

King David, described in the Bible as a man with a heart like God’s (Acts 13:22), often devoted his poetic attentions to matters of integrity. For example, Psalm 15 is a simple pondering of this issue. David begins by asking who may have intimate fellowship with the Lord (pictured as dwelling with him, Psalm 15:1). David then describes the person of ideal integrity, listing 12 characteristics.

1. Blameless. This has to do with a person’s reputation. A blameless person is not followed by rumors or doubts. False accusations do not stick to the person of integrity. No one questions this person’s motives or agendas. Integrity does not happily coexist with a bad reputation.

2. Righteous. In this context, to be righteous is to do the right thing. It is to do the actions of justice, clearly discerning right from wrong. It is refusing to live in the gray areas of life, cutting moral corners, or settling for moral ambiguity. The person of integrity knows right from wrong and wisely chooses to do right.

3. Speaking truth. David describes this as coming from the heart, the core being of the person. When a person of integrity speaks or writes, those who know him trust his or her words. The person of integrity always tells the truth. If we cannot tell the truth, we say nothing. We do not make things up. We do not say what we think others want to hear. There is no quicker way to destroy one’s integrity than to be caught in a lie.

4. Avoiding slander. This is speaking truth when it comes to talking about others. When conflict arises, it is always tempting to vanquish opponents by personal attack. The person of integrity rises above this, refusing to win by destroying those in his way.

5. Respecting neighbors. Living in community is filled with daily challenges. The person of integrity is recognized for being a good neighbor, willing to help, ready to respond. Good neighbors develop positive relationships. They are not the ones whom the neighborhood wishes would leave. The person of integrity contributes to stable community life.

6. Spurning slurs. Some folks today believe we have too much speech policing, that offensive expressions with a long history should have an unlimited and unrestricted future. Maybe so, but the person of integrity avoids offensive speech. Slurs, whether racial, sexual, or ethnic, are integrity destroyers because they reveal a side of a person that is not like the heart of God.

7. Despising vileness. Coarseness and cruelty in speech and actions are tolerated today, even celebrated. Our social media culture seems to have lost all sense of propriety and shame. Still, integrity demands that we do not tolerate crudeness in our lives, and that we do not willingly accept it in others. The person of integrity exalts the beautiful things of life, not the vile.

8. Honoring God-fearers. Fear of the Lord is more than worry about our eventual judgment. It is ongoing respect for the ways of God, the desire to be holy as he is holy. The person of integrity rises above fixation of the foibles and flaws of others to honor those who truly seek to live according to God’s will.

9. Keeping oaths. There is nothing more central to integrity than keeping one’s word. A theme throughout the Bible is that God always keeps his promises (see Genesis 28:15). The person of integrity wants to be like God in this respect: his or her word is to be trusted. David says this must be done “even when it hurts.” Integrity does not allow personal costs to influence hard decisions.

10. Maintaining purpose and direction. David phrases this as not “changing one’s mind.” This does not mean a person of integrity never changes. After all, repentance is admission of wrong and a changing of one’s mind in regard to this wrongdoing. But the person of integrity will not change course based on personal advantage. Admitting mistakes is not denial of purpose or promise. Trust by others is contingent upon a steady, reliable character, another aspect of integrity.

11. Caring for the poor. David frames this in term of the prohibition against “usury,” predatory money lending to poor people. The person of integrity has a deep concern for the less fortunate, and this must be more than lip service. To show integrity, this concern must include personal help for the poor as well as denouncing activities that oppress the poor and perpetuate their poverty. The person of integrity backs up professed concern with action.

12. Accepting no bribes. The perversion of justice through bribery and corruption is recognized as one of the most pernicious and pervasive social problems in our world today. The person of integrity’s honor and decisions are never for sale. Truth may have a cost, but it is never determined by the highest bidder. The person of integrity is without fault in any financial dealings.

This amazing list of the characteristics of integrity is summed up by this statement: “Whoever does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15:5). The person of integrity must not allow the trials of daily living to tumble his or her principles into chaos. The life of integrity walks a clear path determined by God’s principles, not the situations or circumstances we encounter. We maintain integrity by always embracing and enacting truth and justice in our lives.

Psalm 51: Integrity Lost and Restored

David, whose understanding of integrity in Psalm 15 is dazzling, is also the author of Psalm 51, a spectacular witness to David’s personal struggles in this area.

10_Krause_JNThe backdrop for Psalm 51 is David’s notorious affair with Bathsheba. As David gets older, there comes a time when the king lays aside his warrior persona and lets his armies go to battle without him. He stays in Jerusalem, living in a magnificent palace while his men are on the deadly front lines.

We can imagine many of the city’s women are missing their husbands during the season of war. One of these, a beautiful woman named Bathsheba, tempts David by taking her bath outdoors where the king could see her. David, overcome by simple lust, has Bathsheba brought to his chambers, and the outcome is her pregnancy.

This is a most difficult test of integrity on several levels. How can a king expect his soldiers to fight for him if they suspect he is having sex with their wives while they are gone? Trust evaporates quickly when adultery is disclosed. The king the soldiers are supposedly defending is as much a threat to their well-being as the foreign army.

David’s attempts to cover up his grievous sin show additional lack of integrity. He summons Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back to Jerusalem from the battlefield, but is unsuccessful in tempting the loyal soldier to sleep with his wife and thereby avert suspicion for the pregnancy from David. Finally, in a monstrous breach of integrity, David engineers Uriah’s death on the battlefield, seemingly eliminating the one who could witness against the king. (This story is in 2 Samuel 11.)

Adultery, covering up sin, murder. There is no reconciling these things with standards of integrity. David’s sins and his hypocrisy are revealed by Nathan the prophet in a stunning announcement, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7), the man who has stolen another man’s wife and tried to keep it secret.

Integrity hides no secrets. Hypocrisy is the enemy of integrity, and the person of integrity cannot exist in the same skin as the hypocrite. David learns this the hardest way, by public disgrace and humiliation. He has violated many of the standards he extolled in Psalm 15. He is not blameless, righteous, truthful, or a keeper of loyal oaths.

This loss of integrity hits King David hard, for a lifetime of integrity can be obliterated in a few minutes. David finds an outlet in his poetry, and the result is Psalm 51, one of the most emotional passages in all of Scripture. In it, we discern some principles we can embrace when there is a need to restore one’s integrity.

First, restoration of integrity begins with restoration of one’s relationship with God. We cannot begin to repair the damage our failures have caused until we turn to God and seek forgiveness. “Have mercy on me” David says (v. 1), for he knows the wrath of God has been stirred by his sins. He must approach his maker with a “broken and contrite heart” (v. 17). The one who seeks restoration should seek out God first. This includes acknowledgement of sins (v. 3) and recognition that our actions have offended God (v. 4).

Second, David recognizes his reputation and his soul must be repaired by God. “Cleanse me from my sin,” David asks (v. 2). “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (v. 7). “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (v. 10). We may never be able to fix all the damage our lapses of integrity have caused, but God can fix us and “restore [us] to the joy of [his] salvation” (v. 12).

Until we experience rightness with God, we will not begin to act with full integrity, because our relationship with our creator will be hypocritical. We are hypocrites to act as if we are renewed and cleansed when we are not. This cannot stand in a person who seeks integrity.

Third, our restoration takes hold when we begin to serve God again. We do this by admitting our sin and teaching others from our failures, hoping thereby to bring them to restoration (v. 13). We do this by beginning to worship again with a restored and pure heart (v. 15). We do this when we again welcome the presence of God’s Holy Spirit in our lives (v. 11).

Integrity is not passive and is not served by inaction. If we are truly restored, we will move beyond the damage to our reputation and simply serve God without pretense. This may not silence our critics, for people have long memories for breeches of integrity. But if we are right with God, we can serve him with joy, gladness, and peace. We can serve with a “willing spirit,” focusing on God, not the lingering disapproval of others (v. 12).

Mark Krause serves as academic dean and professor of Bible with Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and Crossroads College, Rochester, Minnesota.

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Psalms of Integrity for Further Study

Psalm 18: Celebrates David’s deliverance from King Saul and other enemies. In verses 20-24, David affirms that the Lord has delivered him according to his “righteousness,” and lists several characteristics of a person of integrity.

Psalm 25: Has the memorable idea that integrity is a protection (v. 21). It looks at the “ways of the Lord” as the path that people of integrity should choose.

Psalm 26: Makes the claim of a “blameless life” (v. 1), and goes on to describe this, a life of integrity.

Psalm 101: Promises to conduct life with a “blameless heart” (v. 2), and lists many characteristics of integrity that are similar to Psalm 15.

—M.K.

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2 Comments

  1. David Cole
    October 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

    “Chased” is the most often used adjective to describe God in the Bible. Chased, often translated “loving kindness” means “faithfulness to keep covenant.” It is at the core of God’s character, Christlikeness and the primary term of our covenant with God. A person of “Integrity” would have chased to keep all of his covenants, primarily his covenants with God. Add “faithfulness to keep covenant” to the top of the list and Krause will have nailed it.

  2. Mark Krause
    October 8, 2015 at 11:03 am

    Thanks for the observation, David. You are correct that Chesed is certainly an important Hebrew term, perhaps the most important theological word in the Old Testament. It doesn’t make this article, though, because it does not occur in Psalm 15 as far as I can tell.

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