Truth and Integrity
“...I am the truth…” -Jesus
In 2005, Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary was inundated with people who were searching for a word that was missing in the lives of numerous leaders. WorldCom’s president Bernie Ebber had defrauded his employees and stockholders of $11 billion; John Rigas, head of cable giant Adelphia Communications had committed fraud and conspiracy; Dennis Kozlowski, CEO of Tyco was sitting in a maximum-security prison; and even the trusted brand of Martha Stewart was tarnished when she was found guilty of lying about a stock sale. These notable leaders highlighted a leadership characteristic that needs clarity and careful consideration. It was the #1 searched word on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary. The word was “integrity”. The scandals and trials of Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco had brought the issue of integrity to a crescendo and people were seeking a definition of the word from a trusted source. Men and women need their leaders to be a living definition of integrity.
It is the character trait that is often the difference between sustained and failed leadership. This is as true today as it was two thousand years ago. Integrity may have been the most searched for term in Jesus’ era as well (see Mark DeMoss, The Little Red Book of Wisdom, Chapter 15).
One of Jesus’ teammates, the apostle John, highlighted a word that Jesus used quite a bit when he communicated—truth. Truth is the foundation of integrity. Integrity comes from the root word for a complete, undivided, whole number called “an integer”. Integrity is complete and undivided truth.
Jesus lived that kind of life. John, who was most personally connected with Jesus of all his teammates, is the only writer to record the twenty-five examples of Jesus saying, “truly, truly”. It is experienced in leaders who live with no divided messages—their actions and their words are in complete alignment. It was a phrase he used to underscore and assure those who were following him, that his words were totally true.
Jesus had not rushed into the public forum, but the public had rushed toward him, and the demand for his words and actions to align was now under public scrutiny. Leaders are watched. They are watched by their children, their colleagues and any community that is being impacted by their leadership. Jesus was in the training period of his team’s leadership development and it was an intentional period of his team watching, learning and repeating what they observed in his life. He had spent two years masterfully developing trusted relationships with them and they were at a point where they knew that his words and actions aligned. His cadre was in a position to accept his outrageous claims that He was God and his demand of their full devotion. His claims (“I am”) drew out great passion and were challenged by the general public and were dismissed by the religious leaders. The influence that he was gaining threatened the religious leaders’ hegemony as power brokers, and as a result these Pharisees began to challenge his integrity. They were seeking to catch him in any kind of misalignment. They were attempting to play “caught ya” with him. Jesus knew that his life needed to align with the truth in all matters, for the future sake of his organization’s credibility and impact.
This period of Jesus’ integrity being challenged was during the season of mounting success and momentum for him. The pressure of sustained success often increases incrementally. Every quarter the pressure to perform increases and so do the pressures to conform. Small but sure steps may be taken to fudge numbers, to paint less than the “whole picture”, or to overlook small acts that don’t align with corporate guidelines. Integrity is built and lost incrementally. The apostle John noted that not only were the crowds making capacious demands on Jesus, but his team and family members were as well. They wanted him to make more public appearances in large markets like Jerusalem rather than the rural area of Galilee and to “show [himself] to the world”. However Jesus was prepared for this kind of pressure. He was aligned with the Father. John records this season in chapters seven and eight.
Jesus went “privately” to Jerusalem to face the pressure-filled environment of a festival season where he was the center of conversation. With the attention directed toward Him he deflected it toward God the Father. He stated, “I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me…. I always do what pleases Him” (8:28). He treated everyone as though they were all created in God’s image. Those who challenged his authority were not minimized; an adulterous lady was offered grace at a time when it was greatly needed; and to those who believed in Him he offered this insight—“if you remain (“to reflect and respond”) in my teaching then you will know the truth (integrity) and it will set you free!” A few months later he said to his team “I am the truth” and it shocked none of them. It was a topic that was raised at other times as well. It was too bold to ignore, too clear to be confused, yet not one teammate protested or contested the veracity of “I am the truth.” Why?
Jesus had lived his life in front of them for nearly forty months with such integrity that the essence of his character was truthful. His words and actions aligned. His character had thirty years of preparation to meet the tests of integrity. He was examined by both peers and priests and met these challenges with daily deliberate decisions to reflect and respond to his Father’s teaching. For Jesus his integrity was based on aligning with his Father. For leaders who are Christ followers, integrity is measured by alignment with Jesus (For more insight, read and respond to John, Chapters 7, 8 and 14).
Our peers believe that truth is relative, based on one’s own experience. As a result, identifying the source of truth is critical. As Christians, the measurement of our integrity is not an alignment with one another, but with Jesus. Our lives are distorted and depraved. Jesus came to earth to redeem us and to model for us how to live a life that is completely true to God’s original design. The Apostle Paul called Jesus the “second Adam.” We can be confident from both historical and scripture records that Jesus was and is who He claimed to be—the Truth.
We live in a turbulent and confusing time. The truth is not being completely lived out in our culture. There is an absence of integrity. Some of our best-known companies have become ensnared in questionable and, at times, clearly unethical conduct. At the heart of these dilemmas are leaders who made decisions that, over time, incrementally led them to disasters that affected thousands of employees and investors. William C. Ferguson, former Chairman and CIO of NYNEX Corporation, noted that the “shadow of the leader” is the most important asset that shapes integrity for a corporate culture (Ronald R. Sims, Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility: Why Giants Fall). If we wish to cast a shadow of integrity then it must be the cornerstone of our personal and corporate behavior. Our colleagues, friends, family and our Lord must all know the same person. We must reflect and respond to the truth of God’s written word.
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