Integrity – the Prerequisite to Worship
by Shane Scott
When I was a little boy I was fascinated by my granddad’s preparation to go to church. My Pop was bald except for three strands of hair on top of his head. Every Sunday I would watch as he meticulously combed them into place and then applied copious amounts of hairspray to keep them in place. I often teased him and told him to just shave them off and be done with it, but he held onto them his whole life. I guess Pop wanted everything to look its “Sunday best” as we headed to worship, even his three strands of hair!
Psalm 15 is a song about preparing to worship, but it doesn’t say anything about how you look on the outside. The focus of Psalm 15 is what you look like on the inside – a certain sort of character.
O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?
Who shall dwell on your holy hill?
He who walks blamelessly and does what is right
and speaks truth in his heart (Psalm 15:1-2).
Who can come into God’s presence? The one who walks “blamelessly” (ESV), or as the NASB puts it, “with integrity.” It is the person whose entire life – in word and deed, reflects constancy of character.
Think about the root of the word “integrity,” integrate. Some of you remember the cruel days of segregation, when races were kept separate. Integration brought that which was separated back together. A person of integrity “speaks truth in his heart.” How he walks, what he does, and the way he speaks is not segregated from his heart, but reflects his heart. What he does externally is integrated with how he thinks internally.
That’s why you sometimes see integrity defined as “doing the right thing even when no one is watching.” A person who is not integrated, whose outward actions do not reflect his inward heart, will only pretend to be holy when they think other people are watching. But an integrated person, who does outwardly what he believes inwardly, is consistent. The whole person is a holy person. The sort of person they are at worship is not radically different from the sort of person they are the rest of the week.
Psalm 15 goes on to define four areas of integrity:
A person of integrity is loyal to friends.
who does not slander with his tongue
and does no evil to his neighbor,
nor takes up a reproach against his friend (Psalm 15:3).
To pretend to be a friend to someone while savaging them through gossip reflects a profound disintegration in a person’s character.
A person of integrity honors the honorable.
in whose eyes a vile person is despised,
but who honors those who fear the Lord (Psalm 15:4a).
The “vile person” (“reprobate,” NASB) is someone whom God has rejected for sinfulness. We can’t claim in our heart to love God and His word while at the same time celebrating that which He condemns. This doesn’t mean that we are hateful toward sinners who need the gospel, but it does mean that our values should be gauged by what God thinks.
A person of integrity keeps commitments.
who swears to his own hurt and does not change (Psalm 15:4b).
In no area of my life is my heart segregated from my outward actions more than in keeping commitments. I often have good intentions, but I frequently don’t follow through with them. But an integrated person keeps commitments, even if it hurts. And this is crucial, because once we start feeling comfortable with making promises we don’t keep, we become numb to the inconsistency of our inner and outer life, and that is the path to hypocrisy.
A person of integrity shows justice to the poor.
who does not put out his money at interest
and does not take a bribe against the innocent (Psalm 15:5a).
It is very tempting to lay integrity aside for a few dollars. The Law of Moses was clear that Israelites were not to loan money at interest (Leviticus 25:35-38), that they were not to exploit the poor (Exodus 23:6-8). We can’t say that we love God who is just and righteous and generous and yet treat others with injustice, exploitation, and stinginess.
The first and greatest command is to love God with our entire being (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This psalm pictures what the unity of heart, soul, and might looks like in practical terms. God doesn’t want disjointed worshipers. He wants to be worshiped by those who give themselves completely to Him. And the blessing that God promises is His unshaken fellowship.
He who does these things shall never be moved (Psalm 15:5b).
When a bridge lacks structural integrity it will eventually collapse under pressure. Similarly, a person who lacks spiritual integrity is inherently unstable, and will collapse under the weight of the world. But a person who is integrated, who does the will of God from the heart, will withstand the chaotic circumstances of life because those shifting fortunes don’t affect who she is on the inside.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling (Psalm 46:1-3).
My Pop was not always a person whose life reflected the integrity described in this psalm. I am so thankful that toward the end of his life he determined to be the man God wanted him to be. As a carpenter, Pop knew how important a building’s integrity was to its lasting value. But more importantly, he knew how important spiritual integrity was to his soul, and to all of us who seek the presence of God.