You may have my two fish and five loaves.
13 Everyone must submit to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. 2 So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God’s command, and those who oppose it will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have its approval. 4 For government is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, because it does not carry the sword for no reason. For government is God’s servant, an avenger that brings wrath on the one who does wrong. 5 Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience.
A 19 year old girl burst into my office sobbing. Someone had informed her that she would no longer be allowed to serve in her role at my company. Through the tears she explained to me that she loved her job and would do anything for a second chance. I asked her to sit down and listened intently as she explained how stupid her decisions were and how she would never make them again. When she ran out of excuses and had finished persuading me to change my mind, I continued to sit there in silent eye contact. Then I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and asked God to speak to me; now, in this moment, what I should say in response to the teary eyed young woman whom I had terminated merely 30 minutes ago.
15 hours earlier, I received a text message with photo evidence of a crime that had been committed by an employee at my company. Not the sort of crime that would warrant a police investigation and criminal prosecution, but a cardinal violation of a federal regulation. I spent the better half of my day tracking down the employee who had committed the crime. The same act had been reported to me in the previous week but I was unable to identify the perpetrator. You would think that after my interview with the girl now sobbing in my office, they would have stopped, but they did not.
About 1 hour prior to her arrival in my office, I had secured enough video and photo evidence to terminate both the employee who committed the crime and the supervisor who knew it was happening and said nothing to me or the employee. With the life and death of two careers in my hands, I took Solomon’s counsel that there is safety in much counsel. I called my boss and told him what I had found. He asked me to call another supervisor responsible for the oversight of the regulation that was violated and we agreed to move forward with termination because the crime put the health and safety of our community at risk and we needed to send a clear zero tolerance message to the remaining employees.
None of that mattered to the 19 year old girl sobbing in my office. For probably the first time in her life, she was being held accountable for her lack of integrity in a way that was permanent and beyond remedy. In that moment, God told me to share my testimony. I told her I was a believer and pointed to the Bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Studies and explained that I live my life for Him. I pointed to the picture of my wife and child I keep hanging on the wall above my desk. I asked her if she ever wanted to have children. She said yes. I asked her if she wanted her children to be honest. She said yes. Then I looked her in the eye and waited to speak until I had her full attention and I said, “so never forget what happened to you today. You made decisions based on the assumption that no one was watching, until the day when somebody was. Integrity is doing what you know is right, even though no one will ever know.”
I continued, telling her the story of how I was kicked out of my college and how I became the man I am today because of the choices the Dean of Students forced me to make in the fallout of my sin. I pointed again to the picture of my family and my technical certification and told her that I would not be the man I am today if I had not been held accountable for my sin, and had not gotten the counselling that I needed. I asked her to seek out her pastor and her parents and to call the number for our employee assistance program.
Why should this story matter to you? If you’re like me and you work for a living, you will eventually be faced with a decision to cut a corner or do the right thing. You will know that no one will ever find out what you chose, either for good or for evil. You may be tempted to choose the path of least resistance because no one will ever appreciate the sacrifice you made to go the extra distance to do the right thing, but know this: no one is watching until one day someone is, and the authority does not carry the sword in vain.
How many bright lights of the Gospel have been extinguished because a man or woman thought no one was watching?
Maybe you’ve succumbed to the temptation to compromise your integrity. Prayerfully with fear and trembling ask yourself this, and don’t lie to yourself like so many times before because no one will know the answer but you and the Spirit. When will my light be extinguished because I don’t think anyone is watching me?
Maybe you’re reading this and you’re already at the end of a rope because you made a choice that lacked integrity. I’ve been there, on the gallows, waiting for the hangman to pull the lever. I would encourage you to read Psalm 55:4-8 and pray the prayer that made me the man I am today, “God, I don’t care what it costs, I don’t care what I have to pay, please rescue me! I’m a dead man if you don’t. Will my bones sing your praises?”
Finally, maybe you’re a child of God with strong integrity, and as a result you’ve been put into a position of authority by people who are trusting you to protect the community and the brand. It hurts. Ending someone’s career isn’t just telling someone they can’t work for you anymore. Most of the time the person you fire has mouths to feed and a home to pay for. It sucks the life out of your soul, but strong integrity isn’t just about following the rules yourself when you have employees. Silence is affirmation, especially when your employees do something wrong in front of you, on purpose, and they know you’ve seen what they’ve done. That can be a slippery slope that can and will destroy your life and career if you don’t hold the crime accountable. As much as it may pain you, if you are to have integrity your employer can trust (and the paycheck to boot), you cannot carry the sword in vain.