Several years ago, in Long Beach, California, a fellow went into a fried chicken place and bought a couple of chicken dinners for himself and his date late one afternoon. The young woman at the counter inadvertently gave him the proceeds from the day - a whole bag of money (much of it cash) instead of fried chicken. After driving to their picnic site, the two of them sat down to open the meal and enjoy some chicken together. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken - over $800!
But he was unusual. He quickly put the money back in the bag. They got back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then the manager was frantic. The guy with the bag of money looked the manager in the eye and said, "I want you to know I came by to get a couple of chicken dinners and wound up with all this money. Here."
Well, the manager was thrilled to death. He said, "Oh, great, let me call the newspaper. I'm gonna have your picture put in the local newspaper. You're the most honest man I've heard of." To which they guy quickly responded, "Oh no, no, don't do that!" Then he leaned closer and whispered, "You see, the woman I'm with is not my wife... She's uh, somebody else's wife."
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “integrity” can be defined in three ways: first, in terms of incorruptibility, as a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values; second, in terms of soundness, as an unimpaired condition; and/or third, in terms of completeness, as the quality or state of being complete or undivided.
Given these, the man in Swindoll’s story fails the test of integrity on at least the first and third counts. But he is far from alone. In truth, integrity is a rare commodity in the modern world; for we all struggle with issues of integrity far more than we wish to admit.
Solomon understood this well. In the Old Testament Book of Proverbs (chapter 11, verse 3), he gives us the following admonition: “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity.” This simple truth is then played out in the lives of multiple individuals on the pages of Holy Scripture.
One such tragic case is that of Gehazi, the servant of the famed Old Testament Prophet Elisha. After Elisha heals the Aramean Official, Naaman, and then refuses to accept payment for being a conduit of God’s blessings in the man’s life, Gehazi secretly tries to capitalize on the situation. In the Old Testament Book of II Kings (chapter 5, verses 19-27), we read what happened:
After Naaman had traveled some distance, 20Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, “My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the Lord lives, I will run after him and get something from him.”
21So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. “Is everything all right?” he asked. 22“Everything is all right,” Gehazi answered. “My master sent me to say, ‘Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.’”
23“By all means, take two talents,” said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi. 24When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left.
25When he went in and stood before his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?” “Your servant didn’t go anywhere,” Gehazi answered. 26But Elisha said to him, “Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money or to accept clothes - or olive groves and vineyards, or flocks and herds, or male and female slaves? 27Naaman’s leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.” Then Gehazi went from Elisha’s presence and his skin was leprous - it had become as white as snow.
As the servant of no less a Prophet than Elisha, Gehazi surely knew right from wrong. Nevertheless, he chose to compromise his integrity; and, in so doing, to use Solomon’s terms, he was destroyed by his own duplicity!
May we each learn from Gehazi’s example! As a result, may we then, to the best of our ability, practice integrity! And may we do so consistently, both for the glory of God and the benefit of all those we encounter.
Charles Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life: Truths for Becoming Strong in the Faith (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing, 1986), pp.159-60.