We are called to integrity and its demands

Published: October 13, 2018

This is the ninth column in a 10-part series.

By Cackie Upchurch
Director of Little Rock Scripture Study

En Español

A foundational theme throughout the Bible is the call to live an integrated life where one’s beliefs and actions go hand in glove, and individual and community priorities are those of God. In other words, the Bible teaches us the value of integrity, as a standard of moral behavior and as a call to wholeness.

From the beginning verses of the Bible, we are introduced to God the Creator who makes us in the divine image and who knows best what makes us whole. God’s command that humans care for creation (Gen 1:27-30) is not a burden but an invitation to discover our connections with all things that God fashioned. It is not about superiority over creation but about responsibility. These are first steps in the way of integrity.

The Israelites learn in their desert wandering that God desires a relationship with them, one that will bind them to each other as well. Like the commands given to Adam and Eve, those given to Moses on Sinai also are not intended to be burdens (Exod 20:1-17).

Rather, they outline a way of life that will produce integrity, that is, moral living and wholeness. The first three commands deal with the love and respect that is due to God, something woven into our very nature as God’s creatures.

The final seven commands deal with the love and respect we are to show to one another. Who better than the God who creates and liberates to know that we need God and each other? Who better to bring order out of chaos?

When Israel settled in the land of Canaan and establishes its tribal lands, and eventually its monarchy, the priority within the community is to incorporate the commands of God into the pattern of daily interactions. Living in right relationship with God, exercising good judgment and justice in relationships with others, and showing mercy to those in need are the proscribed ways of ordering daily life for those in covenant with God.

While it takes time for those same values to penetrate relationships with people outside of God’s covenant, the Israelite’s good intentions often deteriorate even within their own community. It is the role of God’s prophets to issue the clear call to return to God, and to live in such a way that God is glorified by lives of integrity. The prophets insist it is not possible to worship God and to dabble in other religions (see Hosea 4:1-14); it is not possible to worship God and to neglect those in need (see Amos 2:6-8; Jer 7:3-7).

The prophet Zechariah (7:9-10) sums it up this way: “Thus says the LORD of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts.”

These same priorities are found in the words and mission of Jesus. When challenged by the Pharisees who were known to be scrupulous in obedience (Mark 7:6), Jesus quotes the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

He chastises the Jewish religious leaders who make a display of their religion but neglect the widows and orphans (Luke 20:46-47) and, in a lengthy collection of teachings (Matt 23), Jesus calls out the leaders of his own tradition for their hypocrisy. They profess one thing and live another; they lack integrity.

The term hypocrisy comes from the Greek word “hupokrisis,” which means to act out a theatrical part as on the stage. It is this type of “play-acting” that Jesus criticizes most harshly. Hypocrisy destroys the integrity, or wholeness, of the human person. It allows us to be tricked into thinking we can compartmentalize our lives, believing and acting in opposite ways. Ultimately it damages our communities and our witness to God in this world.

The Bible gives testimony to the value of a life that prizes the things of God above all else. When we profess belief in God, we are offering more than our intellectual assent. We are trusting in God who knows best what will make us whole, individually and as a community. May we pray for the courage and integrity to live, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:1, “in a manner worthy of the call” we have received.

Study Questions

  • What are some current events that have drawn your attention to the absence of integrity in our culture? What events have shown you the value of integrity?
  • Some think of integrity only in terms of knowing right from wrong and doing what is right and being honest. How is your understanding stretched by thinking of integrity as an integrated or whole life? What does God have to do with any of this?
  • Read through Matthew 23 and allow yourself to experience the clarity of Jesus’ criticisms of hypocrisy. What might Jesus identify as hypocrisy in our lives today?
  • What stories in Scripture demonstrate to you the power of living with integrity?

This article was originally published in Arkansas Catholic Oct. 13, 2018. Copyright Diocese of Little Rock. All rights reserved. This article may be copied or redistributed with acknowledgement and permission of the publisher.