Honesty - Does Truth Matter?
Howard Coles, Coleford, England
It should be clear to all that for a society to function effectively, relations must be based on truth. Indeed, society has formed customs and laws to enforce truthful or honest behaviour in particular circumstances. We only need to think of a court of law where a witness is placed under oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Any deviation from this is perjury.
Examples of dishonesty
Illustrations of the erosion of truthful relations in the public arena readily spring to mind. Students, not just from prestigious institutions such as Oxford University but from less eminent ones, have been known to cheat in examinations. Newspapers print concocted stories purported to be truth. Presidents, politicians and people of high public standing have been found to be lying. Governments in different parts of the world lie to save face.
Dishonesty has many faces; some of these are: having another person take an examination on your behalf; a salesman exaggerating to gain an order; a shopper being given too much change and keeping it; a shopkeeper who deliberately short changes customers; a child lying to his parents about some exam results; presenting fake exam results in order to impress or procure employment; and athletes who take performance-enhancing chemicals.
Clearly, many dishonest acts go undetected. Can we say then that dishonesty has paid? To provide the answer to this question is one of my intentions.
Sign of the times
The breakdown in the general consensus of honesty and truthfulness in society is ‘a sign of the times’. Paul teaches, ‘This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be . . . truce breakers, false accusers’, 2 Tim. 3. 3. We would expect a higher standard from those in religious circles, but this is not the case for, ‘in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron’, 1 Tim. 4. 1-2.
The source of lies
We may ask what is the source of these lies? We know that man is fallen and in the beginning he was deceived by the devil, whom the Lord Jesus describes as a ‘murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it’, John 8. 44. Those who lie speak the same language as the devil for he is the source of all lying.
Personal integrity is a very demanding requirement
God’s revelation is not just for the believers but for all men everywhere. He tells us in His word how He wants us to live consistent and honest lives, not wanting us to be hypocrites. The Lord had the most scathing criticism for the Scribes and Pharisees of His day, ‘This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me’, Matt. 15. 8. He denounced them as hypocrites again and again, ‘Woe unto you, Scribes, Pharisees, hypocrites’, Matt. 23. 13-15, 27, 29.
The repentant king David wrote, ‘Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts’, Ps. 51. 6, thus showing that God wants us to be truthful, not only in our external dealings shown as honesty, but also as an intrinsic quality within ourselves. It is God’s desire for us and being so shows that truthfulness is one of the necessary attributes that we should possess to live godly lives. By living in an honest and truthful way, we are being what we are. By not doing this, we are being what we should not be, Heb. 10. 16; 8. 10; Jer. 31. 33.
In all our communications, we should be simple, straightforward and truthful. The Lord said, ‘Let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil’, Matt. 5. 37.
James adds that we should not try to add credence to anything we say by reference to anything external to ourselves, ‘Swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation’, Jas. 5. 12.
With rapid communications such as emails, text-messages and the internet it is so easy to forward anything we receive to others. We should consider that, if in doing so, we are acting in a dishonest and untruthful way. Passing on anything that is unproven can be very dangerous, see 2 Tim. 3. 3; Titus 2. 3 NIV.
Honesty in society
1. Amongst our peers
In our dealings with others, we are expected to be truthful and just. We are not to say anything that is false about anyone in the way of a report. We are not to align ourselves with those who do evil. We are not to pervert the course of justice by going along with the crowd. We are to stand up for what is true and just. Among things that are an abomination to the Lord are ‘a lying tongue . . . and a heart that deviseth wicked imaginations . . . a false witness that speaketh lies’, Prov. 6. 17-19.
2. In business
We are to be honest in all aspects of our business transactions. We are not to ‘short change’ people in any respect. ‘A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight’, Prov. 11. 1. This is not just for the shopkeeper or market stallholder, it is for us all. If we are paid to work for one hour, we should work for one hour. Equally, for the businessman, his profit must be achieved by honest means, Ezek. 22. 12-13. Dishonest business dealings have, at their centre, the love of money which is the root of all evil, 1 Tim. 6. 10. Dishonest actions are not a part of the ethics of the kingdom of God.
We need to question ourselves if we are trying to lay up treasure here on this earth when it is not our home. Abraham, we are told, ‘looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God’, Heb. 11. 10. After all, any treasures in this world are prone to corruption and decay, Matt 6. 20.
God sees what is going on
With the divine requirement for honesty and truth in all areas of life, we need to remember that God sees all that is going on in this world, ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good’, Prov 15. 3. Those who have been dishonest or untruthful in any way and think they have gone unseen are plain wrong, see Luke 12. 2-3.
We may take encouragement from a psalm of Asaph where he describes how he was almost beguiled at the apparent success of the wicked who ignore God and His ways. It was not until, as he puts it, ‘I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end’, Ps. 73. 17. Those who do not put their trust in the Lord Jesus will be judged for their sins.
There is a price to be paid when you lie
A person who lies or is dishonest has not become a better person; he has become a lesser person. He is the real loser and is damaging his own self, even his soul. In being untruthful in whatever way, he is denying the truthfulness of God. It does not matter what one may gain by telling lies or being dishonest, it is not worth it. The price is too high. It was the Lord Jesus who posed the very serious rhetorical question, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ Mark 8. 36.