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The Power of Integrity

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by John MacArthur


What is the most important quality leaders can demonstrate? Intelligence, a forceful personality, glibness, diligence, vision, administrative skills, decisiveness, courage, humor, tact, or any other similar natural attribute? Those all play a part, but the most desirable quality for any leader is integrity.


While integrity is most desirable in secular leadership, its absence is fatal to spiritual leadership. Underlining this, John Stott writes,


Communication is by symbol as well as speech. For “a man cannot only preach, he must also live. And the life that he lives, with all its little peculiarities, is one of two things: either it emasculates his preaching or it gives it flesh and blood.”[1] We cannot hide what we are. Indeed, what we are speaks as plainly as what we say. When these two voices blend, the impact of the message is doubled. But when they contradict each other, the positive witness of the one is negated by the other. This was the case with the man Spurgeon describes as a good preacher but a bad Christian: he “preached so well and lived so badly, that when he was in the pulpit everybody said he ought never to come out again, and when he was out of it they all declared he never ought to enter it again.”[2] It is at this point that a practical problem presents itself to us. Pastors are told to be models of Christian maturity.[3]


All leadership seeks to accomplish one goal: influence. Leaders seek to influence people to achieve their objectives. Influence is a direct result of teaching and example. Teaching sets the nails into the mind, but example is the hammer that drives them in deep.


Not surprisingly, Scripture has much to say about the power of example to influence behavior, both for good and for evil. In Leviticus 18:3 God warned Israel not to follow the example of their pagan neighbors:


You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes.


Deuteronomy 18:9 repeats that warning: “When you enter the land which the Lord your God gives you, you shall not learn to imitate the detestable things of those nations.”


Proverbs 22:24–25 warns, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man, lest you learn his ways and find a snare for yourself.” The power of an evil ruler to influence his subordinates is seen in Proverbs 29:12: “If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, all his ministers become wicked.” Hosea echoed that warning: “And it will be, like people, like priest; so I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds” (Hosea 4:9).


Our Lord gave this indictment of the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1–3:


Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things, and do not do them.”


The Bible also encourages us to follow godly examples. Paul commended the Thessalonians for becoming “imitators of us and of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). To the Philippians he wrote, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things” (Philippians 4:9). He encouraged both Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12) and Titus (Titus 2:7) to be good examples for their people to follow. Hebrews 13:7 exhorts us to follow the example of godly leaders, while James 5:10 points us to the example of the prophets. Peter admonishes elders to be examples to their flocks (1 Peter 5:3).


It is not enough for a leader in the church to teach the truth, he must also model it. Richard Baxter writes,


It is not likely that the people will much regard the doctrine of such men, when they see that they do not live as they preach. They will think that he doth not mean as he speaks, if he do [sic] not live as he speaks. They will hardly believe a man that seemeth not to believe himself.[4]


Integrity is living what you teach and preach. That’s why Paul describes the moral character at the heart of the pastoral qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:4-7.


He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.


That is not the typical list a corporate analyst might come up with, because the issue is not merely leadership skills but spiritual example. One who would lead people to Christlikeness must live out a pattern of godly behavior for his people to follow.


Next time, we’ll look at what that pattern ought to look like.

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