I was raised surrounded by a strong sense of purpose: to present our best side to “the world” so we may perhaps win them over to faith in Jesus Christ. My parents were quite strict in guarding the way we spoke, the music we listened to, what we watched on TV (when we finally got a TV when I was in grade 7), how we dressed or had our hair cut, and what manners we displayed in public.
This was the public image we needed to display, as Christians, because we well knew the verse (although we learned it from the King James Bible):
Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. (Colossians 4:5 TNIV)
But in our private life, we made jokes at the expense of the “unsaved” and laughed at other Christians who “didn’t get it.” (We made a lot of fun of the Baptists especially, singing songs like “I’ve got the belief that baffles Bible Baptists down in my heart”). We found amusement in the antics of “lost” people and we were—dare I say it—quite arrogant in thinking that we were better than they simply because we were on the “inside” and they weren’t.
I must clarify that this was my perception as a child/teenager and, looking back with an adult perspective, my parents weren’t intentionally training us to see things in this way; this was a deduction I made from information I was receiving into my young mind at the time through undeveloped filters and an incongruent paradigm (love big words!)
But this does cause me to continually question my own perspectives, heart attitudes and motives today.
Am I exhibiting integrity in the way I look at those different than me? Is how I interact with them to their face the same way I interact about them when they’re not present? Is the way I behave around them not in keeping with the thoughts I have towards them? Am I using “us” terminology when I am around such folk and then reverting to “us and them” when they are absent? (Um . . . these questions are tough!)
Relational integrity means that when I am present with someone, I act the same way, use the same words, have the same attitude towards them as when I am absent from them. I need more of this in my life. It’s too easy for me to behave with civility towards someone and then blacken their reputation behind their back. It’s also far easier to be kind to someone I don’t agree with than to think kind and generous thoughts about them.
In our quest to build the kingdom of God, we must learn and grow in the kind and gracious way of Jesus, following his command to love one another as he loved us. Yes, we will have moments of dishonesty and hypocrisy. Yes, we will have moments when we are tested by the best “grace growers” God can bring across our path.
I know it won’t be easy—kingdom stuff rarely is. But it’s part of what this journey is all about. Awareness. Growth. Change. Integrity.