One biblical character that demonstrates personal integrity at work is Daniel. Along with other promising Jewish young men, Daniel was taken from his home city of Jerusalem to the foreign city of Babylon. It was king Nebuchadnezzar’s plan to train the Jewish nation’s brightest and best to work in his opulent palace. A three year, fast track work training program was put in place for Daniel, including the best educational tutors and a training table fit for the king. After this raining course, Daniel’s hiring would come down to a personal interview with King Nebuchadnezzar.
For such a young man, Daniel’s career opportunity was truly extraordinary, yet almost immediately he faced a big workplace challenge that tested his personal integrity. While many would view a training table with every imaginable food and wine a coveted palace perk, Daniel’s kosher conscience saw it as a violation of his personal integrity. In Daniel 1:8 we read, “But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself.” The courage Daniel exhibited in the workplace is truly remarkable and sets off a chain reaction of high-stakes drama. Daniel’s boss looks on Daniel with favor but finds himself in a very tight spot. If he grants Daniel special circumstances, it will potentially affect the moral of the rest of his trainees, and worse of all, if any of his trainees show a lack of vibrant health and physical well-being, it will reflect negatively on his own supervisory responsibilities. Daniel’s boss minces no words with his work trainee: withholding the king’s food might very well mean not just the loss of his job but the loss of his head.
Recognizing the difficult situation they are both in, Daniel does not intractably dig in his ethical heels. Rather, he wisely proposes a win-win solution. Daniel proposes a ten-day dietary test for himself and his three friends. This will allow Daniel to maintain his personal integrity as well as address his boss’s legitimate and heart felt concern. Daniel 1:12-13, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” Amazingly, Daniel’s boss agrees to the test.
At the end of ten days, Daniel and his friends display greater physical health and vitality than those who had been indulging in the king’s diet. Daniel and his friends are then given the green light to continue their kosher diet, allowing their personal integrity to remain intact. At the end of the three year training program, Daniel and his friends are at the top of their class. With flying colors they pass the final interview with Nebuchadnezzar and are entrusted with jobs of great importance and influence. Daniel 1 ends with these words, “And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.” The biblical writer does not want us to miss that for over sixty years Daniel had a distinguished government career where he served his God and his king with impeccable personal integrity. We are told later on in the book of Daniel that when Daniel is unfairly targeted by his jealous peers, they cannot find any political or moral dirt on him at all. Daniel is morally and ethically untarnished (Dan. 6:3-5).
In contrast to the scandalous headlines we all too often read in our time, the remarkable story of Daniel serves as a true inspiration for maintaining our personal integrity in the marketplace. God’s gracious favor clearly rested on Daniel’s life. Yet we must not miss that Daniel’s distinguished government career and his faithful service before several kings pivoted on a courageous decision he made early on in his career. As a young man, Daniel made a commitment to maintain his personal integrity in the workplace. Daniel “resolved that he would not defile himself.”
Your personal integrity is the most important asset you bring to your workplace. If your personal integrity is compromised at work, your life is inevitably compromised. The pressure to compromise our core beliefs and ethical values as Christians is a regular temptation in many workplaces today. You may be told to look away and pretend that nothing ever happened. You may be asked to fudge a bid or a sales number. You may feel pressure to ignore a worker’s immigration papers, to sleep with your boss, to put a good spin on a financial statement, to spy on a competitor, or to overlook a shoddy product. You may be handsomely rewarded for doing so, and you may be severely punished for not complying, but you must make up your mind ahead of time what workplace boundaries you simply cannot cross as a disciple of Jesus, making a commitment to do what is right no matter the cost or the consequences.
Maintaining personal integrity in the workplace requires ongoing vigilance at the heart level. Like an iceberg, which may seem small floating on the water but is truly measured by what is below the waterline, the true weight of personal integrity is much more about what is really below the surface of our lives. It is defined by the unseen places in our lives where our true motives lurk and our ethical decisions are made. The writer of Proverbs looks below the waterline and wisely calls us to diligent self-reflection in those unseen places of the soul: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23). Watching over our hearts in the workplace will require a growing self-awareness of what is below the waterline of our lives and an increased sensitivity to the ever-present danger of cutting corners and making small ethical compromise.