Editor’s Note: The following post is based on short talks by two of our Associates, Jim Crooks and Martyn Dunning, delivered at Pastoral Refreshment At Home in February 2021. They have been adapted by Richard Collins.
Tall Poppy Integrity – Martyn Dunning
It’s only recently that I came across Tall Poppy Syndrome, a phrase more common in Australia. You’ll have noticed that poppies in a field usually grow to approximately the same height. If one is taller, it might easily be blown over. Why? Because it stands out! Tall Poppy Syndrome is a way to describe those who stand out. Several Australian management studies have explored whether, because of their principles, certain people are cut down to size by their colleagues. How? By being ostracised, gossiped about, or becoming the target of ridicule and derision.
It’s those with integrity, those who are sincere, who are the “tall poppies.” These studies call to mind the experience of Job in the Bible. Having listened to the accusations of his three friends, Job responds, “I will not deny my integrity . . . my conscience will not reproach me as long as I live.” (Job 27.5-6)
Margaret Thorsborne is managing director of Transformative Justice, Australia. She once wrote about the “Big Three” of Leadership – Integrity, Truth and Honesty. She surveyed employees across a broad range of organisations and came to some enlightening conclusions about what it means to be a person of integrity.
Respondents described their co-workers who exhibited integrity as follows:
Steadfast and resolute
Doing what they’d promised
Authentic and straightforward
Clear understanding of right and wrong
The Bible teacher, Jonathan Lamb, draws our attention to Thorsborne’s description of Sarah, a middle manager in the public sector. “Sarah is one of two people I can name who possess (a serious amount of) integrity,” says Thorsborne. “She takes great care of people. Utterly reliable. She’s regularly called in to fix things . . . her commitment to staff wellbeing is enormous, often at some personal cost. She’s reliable and trustworthy. Her increasingly high profile means she’s been subjected to Tall Poppy Syndrome . . . by walking her talk, she’s shamed other, less principled, colleagues, who’ve taken opportunities to punish her. Snide remarks and open hostility have hurt her very much. Despite this, she refuses to deviate from her work of transforming soured workplace relationships.” Brilliantly, Thorsborne concludes, “Sarah is a quietly committed Christian; this obviously plays a significant role in her values.”
The Reformer John Calvin observed that it’s a basic strategy of Satan “to seek some misconduct on the part of ministers which may tend to the dishonour of the gospel.” The need for tall poppies – for integrity – arises because, as Jonathan Lamb says, “Christian leaders have been called by a faithful God, whose character is steadfast love and faithfulness, grace and truth, love and light.” The Greek of 1 John 2.6 is clear. The apostle’s concern is that those who claim to abide, or remain, in Jesus “walk as He walked.”
Such challenging words.
The cost of integrity is high, but perhaps the cost of failing to live honestly and faithfully is even higher. The way of the cross is Jesus’ way. He understood the cost and paid it; he calls us to do the same. It’s worth remembering that Jesus’ most intense ire was reserved for hypocritical Pharisees. Saying one thing and doing another repelled him. Perhaps today as you read this, there is some area of your life which requires examination. Praise God that his mercy and grace extend even to the hypocrite, to the person struggling with guilt and shame.
Now Jim Crooks . . . he writes,
In 2 Corinthians, St. Paul says,
For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. (2 Cor 1.12)
Simplicity: ἁπλότης haplotēs. AV (8) - simplicity 3, singleness 2, liberality 1, bountifulness 1, liberty 1; the virtue of one who is free from pretence and hypocrisy
Sincerity: εἰλικρίνεια eilikrineia. clearness, i.e. (by implication) purity (figuratively): — sincerity. AV (3) - sincerity 3
I have just completed an essay for Edinburgh Theological Seminary on the Simplicity of God. In spite of the title, it’s a really difficult concept to express. In this attribute, we attempt to describe something that belongs uniquely to God. By it we mean that God is identical with each of His attributes. One theologian says it is easier to explain this by saying what God is not. “The perfections of God are not like a pie, as if we sliced up the pie into different pieces, love being 10%, holiness 15%, omnipotence 7% and so on.” I suppose I have to conclude with Isaiah, “To whom then will you compare me, that I should be like him? says the Holy One.”
St. Paul’s desire for simplicity appears to be a desire for consistency. He wants to be free from pretence, and he wants to be free of hypocrisy. He wants the reputation of “what you see is what you get.” But it’s not just consistency he is seeking, because he could be consistently obnoxious or consistently hard and unforgiving. Instead, what he seeks is to be consistently pure in his whole life. The word is only used three times in the New Testament; it’s always used by Paul, and it’s only used with reference to Corinth as a church.
Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Cor. 5.8)
Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God. (2 Cor. 2.17)
The message is clear, isn’t it? The root word in eilikrineia (sincerity) is εἵλη heilē which means the sun's ray. The idea is that we’re judged by the sunlight. This is like holding up our washing in front of an open window on a sunny day. As the light passes through, we catch sight of the remaining dirt, the imperfections.
St. Paul aspires to live in the sunlight. He wants to be found consistently pure and transparent in all his dealings. I think we should join him. It’s a good aspiration.
Let me finish with a story. I once offered someone a sincere compliment on their moustache – suddenly she wasn’t my friend anymore! So it’s not just sincerity we’re after, but godly sincerity. We aspire to be like him in the expression of our sincerity.
I find myself challenged by these two messages from Martyn and Jim.
Two applications spring to mind.
First, the simplicity, sincerity and integrity of Jesus. He never ceases to amaze me. He walks off the page and into my life, but in so doing, he doesn’t leave me as I am. The second application is, of course, the awareness of my inadequacy, my falling short. Aspirations are all well and good, but unless there is a means by which to reach them, then they remain frustratingly remote.
The beauty of the gospel is that God isn’t just interested in saving people for the future, but transforming them right now. The integrity we seek, the sincerity to which we aspire, the simplicity we long for, are character traits formed in us by our God, through the work of his Spirit.
Heaven is here right now in the wonder of God’s transforming Spirit, who lives and breathes, who challenges and changes us, who calls us into new life.
A life of simplicity, sincerity, and integrity.