Priceless Integrity


Joseph B. Wirthlin
Taken from an address delivered in April 1990 general conference.
It’s literally the test of your life.

In a revelation the Lord said, “Blessed is my servant Hyrum Smith; for I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right” (D&C 124:15). I know of no higher praise that any man could receive.

Integrity means always doing what is right, regardless of the immediate consequences. It means being righteous from the very depth of our soul, not only in our actions but, more importantly, in our thoughts and in our hearts. Personal integrity implies such trustworthiness that we are incapable of being false to a trust or covenant.

We all have within us the ability to know what is right and good. Having received the Spirit of Christ to know good from evil, we should always choose the good. We need not be misled, even though fraud, deception, deceit, and duplicity often seem to be acceptable in our world. Lying, stealing, and cheating are commonplace. Integrity, a firm adherence to the highest moral and ethical standards, is essential to the life of a true Latter-day Saint.

Like Job of old, we need to say, “Till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me” (Job 27:5). Though he had lost almost everything he valued—his family, his friends, his health, his wealth—he refused to give up his integrity. In sharp contrast, many today trade away their integrity for a very small price.

A person who shoplifts for a candy bar, or makeup, or jewelry trades priceless integrity for a meager gain. A person who falsifies a tax return by not reporting income or claiming invalid deductions compromises valued integrity for a pittance of unpaid income tax. One who avoids paying bills promptly for goods or services received exchanges cherished integrity for a perceived temporary advantage. Husbands or wives who are unfaithful to their spouses trade their prized integrity for a fleeting moment of pleasure. Integrity is so precious that it is beyond price; it is invaluable.

Joseph, the son of Jacob, was a model of integrity. His integrity placed him among the greatest of our Heavenly Father’s sons. He did what was right and good; he was trustworthy and incorruptible, self-disciplined never to violate a trust.

Because of his integrity and righteousness, Joseph was favored and blessed of the Lord in every circumstance. His life is evidence that “all things work together for good to [those who] love God” (Rom. 8:28). His example is especially pertinent to us because most members of the Church have descended from his loins.

His father, Jacob, loved Joseph even from his youth. The Lord revealed future events to Joseph in dreams. However, his brothers hated him, plotted to take his life, and then sold him as a slave. When he was carried captive to Egypt, the Lord was with him there. Joseph became overseer of the house of Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s guard. When approached by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph refused and fled from her improper advances because of his personal righteousness and because he would not violate Potiphar’s trust.

This refusal and the accusations it prompted caused Joseph to be imprisoned. Again, the Lord was with him. Joseph became overseer of the prison. The Lord enabled him to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and later, Pharaoh’s dreams of seven fat and lean cows and of seven full and thin ears of corn. Subsequently, Joseph became ruler over all Egypt, second in rank only to Pharaoh. He directed the storage of food during the years of plenty and the dispensing of it during the years of famine.

During the famine, Joseph’s brothers, who had sold him as a slave 22 years earlier, came to Egypt to obtain food. Not recognizing him, they bowed down to him because of his high office.

In a tender, touching scene, Joseph identified himself to his brothers and forgave them. I suppose he could have retaliated for their mistreatment of him by making them slaves, having them imprisoned, or even having them put to death. But he did what was right and good. He said:

“I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt.

“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither. …

“God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity, … and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God” (Gen. 45:4–8).

Through Joseph, the Lord preserved the children of Israel and provided a place in Egypt for them to flourish and increase.

This story is well known, but I urge you to read it again, focusing your attention on the integrity of Joseph and on the blessings it brought to him. He became the birthright son in the house of Israel and received an inheritance in the lands of the Americas (see Ether 13:8). The Lord permitted him to prophesy of Moses, who would deliver the children of Israel out of Egypt (see JST, Gen. 50:27–29), and of Joseph Smith, the prophet of the restoration of the gospel in the latter days (see JST, Gen. 50:30–33; 2 Ne. 3:6–21).

A more modern life of integrity is exemplified by George Washington, first president of the United States of America. He refused any compensation, expecting the government to pay only his expenses, of which he kept an exact account. He gave 45 years of his life in the service of his country. (See David O. McKay, Secrets of a Happy Life, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1967, pages 142–44.)

The Prophet Joseph Smith is another great example of integrity. He did not waver from doing as the Lord directed, even at the peril of his life.

The Lord expects us to live lives of integrity and to be obedient to his commandments. He said, “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). On another occasion, he said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

A little lying, a little cheating, or taking a little unfair advantage are not acceptable to the Lord (see 2 Ne. 28:8). The scriptures warn that these are Satan’s ways to lead us “carefully down to [destruction]” (2 Ne. 28:21). The world desperately needs men and women of integrity. Nearly every day we hear of fraud, misapplication of funds, false advertising, or other dealings designed to obtain gain by cheating or deception. The Lord abhors such practices. If our selfish “hearts are set so much upon the things of this world” (D&C 121:35), we can easily lose our integrity.

The rewards of integrity are immeasurable. One is the indescribable inner peace and serenity that come from knowing we are doing what is right; another is an absence of the guilt and anxiety that accompany sin.

Another reward of integrity is the confidence it can give us in approaching God. When virtue garnishes our thoughts unceasingly, our confidence is strong in the presence of God (see D&C 121:45). When we are doing what is right, we will not feel timid about seeking divine direction. We will know the Lord will answer our prayers and help us in our need.

The consummate reward of integrity is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost (see D&C 121:46). The Holy Ghost does not attend us when we do evil. But when we do what is right, he can dwell with us and guide us in all we do.

Let us strive for personal, practical integrity in every endeavor, regardless of how mundane or inconsequential it may seem. The small matters accumulate to shape the direction of our lives.

What It’s Worth: A Quiz

Having integrity means being honest, even in the little things. Here’s a quiz to help you see if your integrity is beyond price. Read through each situation. Then think what you should do.

  1. 1.

    You have a test coming up. Others with the same teacher have already taken the exam. They offer to tell you what the questions are.

  2. 2.

    Some of your friends are telling jokes you find offensive.

  3. 3.

    You’ve found a dress you really like, but you know it’s immodest.

  4. 4.

    You’ve done something you think you should talk to the bishop about. But you’re afraid of what he’ll think if you tell him.

  5. 5.

    You feel unworthy to take the sacrament, but you’re afraid people will notice if you don’t.

Answers:

[photos] Photography by Welden Andersen and Matt Reier

The correct response to each situation can be found by responding to this question: “What would I do if the Savior were here?”