The life of a minister is the life of his ministry.” This adage is as true now as ever. In fact, ministerial integrity is an indispensable element of any sustained credibility among a discerning people with whom we have pastoral intimacy. Such intimacy leaves us vulnerable to be known for who and what we really are in relationship to the saving truth in which we traffic. A pastor-flock relationship characterized by the biblical description in which mutual intimacy is essential (John 10:14), consistent and comprehensive integrity is imperative if one is to have a ministry that is both compelling and believable.
A short article does not permit me to identify the many categories in which this integrity ought to be jealously desired, diligently pursued, and carefully maintained. Some of these categories are addressed in the previous articles. I will touch upon three areas of paramount importance, namely, personal, domestic, and pastoral integrity.
Of supreme importance is personal integrity. Perhaps no text of Scripture captures more succinctly yet comprehensively how this is to be maintained than Acts 24:16. Paul said to Felix: “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man.” This text reveals that at the heart of integrity is the determination to live comfortably in the presence of God with a non-accusing conscience. In the secret chambers of our thoughts, the murky waters of our motives, in our imaginations and fantasies, to maintain a conscience void of offense. It is to come away from any time before our computers or our TVs with a healthy and uncondemned conscience. If conscience has been violated it is to run quickly to the fountain open for sin and uncleanness. It is to resolve with the psalmist: “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless” (Psalm 101:2–3). Such a man is no stranger to the ruthless excising of the offending eye and the merciless amputation of the offending hand. Anything that bloodies his conscience and disturbs his comfortable walk with God must go at any cost short of adding sin to sin.
Secondly, the apostle affirmed that without a good measure of domestic integrity, no man should be made an overseer in the house of God (1Tim. 3:4–5). A pastor must so walk that he holds the consciences of his family members in an iron grip by consistent integrity of life. Our wives and children should be able to say to themselves and to others “if no preacher on the face of the earth is the real thing, my husband, my dad is the real deal.” This will mean that you must be willing to own and honestly confess to your wife and children your sins of word, attitude and deed. No mumbled, grudging “I’m sorry”; rather, “I sinned” and naming the sin. “Will you forgive me as God in Christ has forgiven me?” Then, for the family members to see you bring forth fruits answering to that repentance as you make decided efforts to mortify the sin that temporarily marred your testimony and cultivate the opposite grace. This is to “walk with integrity within your house.”
Thirdly, there is ministerial integrity. This relates primarily to the two broad areas of distinct ministerial calling and responsibility, especially for those elders who “labor in preaching and teaching” (1Tim. 5:17). If we are to maintain integrity in our preaching we must pay the price connected with any sincere endeavor to comply with the injunction of 2 Timothy 2:15 to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” To produce sermons week after week, and year after year, that are exegetically accurate, theologically sound, helpfully illustrated, homiletically clean, practically applied, and suffused with the fragrance of Christ and the grand indicatives of grace, will demand work, work, and more work. Maintenance of our integrity can be realized in no other way.
Likewise, integrity in the aspects of governing and shepherding the flock of God will demand what Paul calls a kind of “birthing labor” that Christ be formed in His people (Gal. 4:19). The special aspects of this labor are intercessory prayer, personal and pointed encouragement, and admonition — even though the more you love the sheep in this way, the less you may be loved (Col. 1:28; 2 Cor. 12:15).
In his exhortation to the elders of the churches in Asia Minor, Peter highlights this crucial issue. Having charged them to “shepherd the flock of God,” he lists sinful attitudes and actions that ought never to characterize the motives or manner in which they fulfill this task. The capstone of the entire charge is the exhortation “being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1–3). Such men have their consciences bound by Paul’s injunction to Titus: “show yourself in all respects to be a model” (Titus 2:7).
Yes, it is true, that “the life of a minister is the life of his ministry.”