In my integrity You uphold me and set me in Your presence forever. (Psalm 41:12 BSB)
Psalm 41 is one of those prayers of David where he cries out to God because of his enemies. Let us not forget that David was in a unique position, and as king he was surrounded by those who sought favors, and if not granted wished and perhaps schemed for his downfall. Always in this world, earthly places of power are filled with scheming and corrupt people. And even in the church these realities exist, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every evil practice” (James 3:16).
The Peace of God amidst Conflict
Most of us do not have as many hateful enemies as David had, and to always think that we do can turn us into narcissistic paranoids. Most of us are not on the minds of others all the time, or the foci of their hatred and jealousy. But we all have someone(s) who wish us ill-will, or at least we are familiar with the feeling. It is impossible to go through life without having some conflict with others.
David’s example of taking these to God in prayer, of admitting plainly his own sins to God – “O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against You” (Psa. 41:4) – and putting these accusers before Lord, asking for His protection, is a wonderful pattern for all of us to follow. If the friction is due to our own sins against them, or our unkindness or our silence that has perpetuated the division, then we should take every step we can to span this chasm and make peace with them. Christ said that even in the act of worship, if we know that our brother has something against us, we should leave our gift there and go and be reconciled to our brother first, and then come and offer our gift (Matt. 5:24-26).
If you and I have people who are troublesome to us, and we cannot seem to make peace with them, then we should take them to the Lord in prayer and give them to Him. And if we do not, then the words of James convict us, “You have not because you ask not” (James 4:2). We should let God be our protector and our avenger, as the scripture says: “Do not avenge yourselves, beloved, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, says the Lord'” (Rom. 12:19).
But the verse above is David affirming that God upholds him in his integrity. Integrity is not the same as sinlessness, for David has already confessed his sins. Rather David is describing the sincerity of his heart toward God. “Integrity” in English comes from the word “integer” meaning a whole number. It fundamentally means wholeness or completeness. The word in Hebrew, tom, means the same. It is the opposite from a conflicted or divided heart.
It was used twenty-four times in the Hebrew Old Testament and always meant wholeness, fullness, uprightness, or integrity. For examples:
“He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out” (Prov 10:9).
“The way of the LORD is a refuge to the upright” (Prov. 10:29).
“I will ponder the way that is blameless … I will walk in my house with integrity of heart” (Psalm 101:2).
Someone with integrity remains committed to the work of God in his heart and life. He (or she) is quick to confess his sins when he disobeys the Lord, whether the disobedience is in thought or in words or in action.
David also instructs us at the beginning of this psalm that Christian integrity is not neutral or defensive in nature, but it has a positive force of going out into the world and seeking to do good. His psalm starts out: “Blessed is he who cares for the poor; the LORD will deliver him in the day of trouble” (Psalm 41:1). Not even the king would be right to pray that God sustains him simply because he was the king. No. Integrity means faithfulness in heart toward the calling of God, and in sincere service to that calling.
Struggles with Integrity
There is not a one of us who does not struggle in some way with this issue of whole-hearted commitment to the will of God. Even when doing the “big things” in the fulfillment of our Christian calling, we can be tripped up with impatience in “little things.” We can become irritable and impatient with others with minor failings, or who merely seem to make our way a bit harder to walk. But this is the standard of God and we find no other lessor standard. As often as we fail, we must pick ourselves up from the ashes and let the Spirit instruct us on what we need to do differently, confessing our sins and receiving God’s cleansing, and continue on in following Christ.
To do the right thing (God’s will) in the right way (God’s graciousness) and for the right reason (God’s glory) is the Christian’s integrity. And there is peace and protection in doing so. Do not make the indicator of your success as a Christian to be such things a holding positions in church or in a Christian organization. Wherever selfish ambition rears its ugly head it can do harm to the work of God. Rather keep your eyes on Christ and do what He commands you to do in your heart. God will notice and use you and reward you in His way and in His time.