What Is the Bible’s View?
Honesty in Business—Can You Afford It?
TO THE timeworn proverb, “Honesty pays,” the modern cynic retorts, “But not enough!” Echoing this view, the book The Importance of Lying asserts that honesty “may be a noble ideal, but it has little value in the life-and-death struggle for survival and security. Man has little choice in the matter. He must lie to live.”
Do you believe that? Many businessmen do. So common is dishonesty that ‘You can do anything as long as you don’t get caught’ is the advertising appeal for a “family game” about operating businesses. But dishonesty is not a “game” for those using it in business. They often rationalize: “You can’t afford not to.”
As for conscience, Daniel Drew, an unscrupulous financier of the last century, said this: “We didn’t split hairs about trifles . . . A prickly conscience would be like a white silk apron for a blacksmith. Sometimes you’ve got to get your hands dirty.”
Is it really true that you have to suppress conscience to be successful in business? Can a businessman not afford to be honest? Since conscience is involved, the Bible’s view is valuable. It puts honesty in proper perspective, showing up dishonest practices for what they truly are.
One of the requirements for responsible ones in the Christian congregation is that they are not to be “greedy of dishonest gain.” (1 Tim. 3:8; Titus 1:7) Greed for quick or easy money drives one to sacrifice an honest conscience. “He that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.”—Prov. 28:20.
Yet there are those who justify dishonesty by saying, “That’s business.” They try to put the responsibility on the consumer, saying “Caveat emptor,” “Let the buyer beware.” But is dishonesty under the cloak of “business” somehow more legitimate? Can a thief say, “Let my victims beware,” to shed responsibility for his theft? The Bible puts business dishonesty and outright theft in the same category. The Mosaic law says: “You must not steal nor deal deceitfully or fraudulently with your neighbour. . . . You must not exploit or rob your neighbour.”—Lev. 19:11, 13, The Jerusalem Bible; compare Jeremiah 21:12; Psalm 62:10; Leviticus 6:2-5.
Consistent with this, Jesus called “robbers” those who were changing money and selling sacrificial animals at the temple in Jerusalem. (Matt. 21:12, 13) Why? They had a “captive audience” and charged exorbitant prices. The practice is even reported unfavorably in the Jewish Mishnah. Jesus apparently viewed such business dealings as a form of extortion or “robbery.”
Businessmen certainly do not consider themselves in the same class as thieves. Yet the Bible exposes those who get profit by deceptive methods as just that—thieves. Misleading advertising, use of substandard materials, charging for unnecessary work or parts never installed, hiding defects in used merchandise, cheating on income tax, accepting or giving bribes—these are just a few dishonest practices employed by some to “steal” what does not rightfully belong to them. The Bible’s command to thieves of all kinds is: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work.” (Eph. 4:28) Yes, honesty in business may require more time and “hard work,” and the monetary return may not be as great, but the more satisfying gain from “good work” far exceeds that from dishonesty.
Is this view realistic? Can you afford to follow it? Many Christians do, with good results. A grocer in Portugal benefited from following the counsel: “Two sorts of weights are something detestable to Jehovah, and a cheating pair of scales is not good.” (Prov. 20:23) When he became a dedicated Christian, his business greatly increased. The report notes that “everyone in the neighborhood says he will not cheat and rob as other merchants do because now he is one of Jehovah’s witnesses, and they are honest people.”
Many still appreciate doing business with honest tradesmen. But what if the circumstances are such that one does not gain? What if he even loses business? He still must remember that a much greater loss comes from dishonesty: “Do you not know that unrighteous persons will not inherit God’s kingdom? . . . Neither fornicators . . . nor thieves, nor greedy persons . . . nor extortioners.”—1 Cor. 6:9, 10.
Where does an employee stand if he finds that his employer or other employees are doing things that disturb his conscience? Should he quit his job? The Bible shows that an employee is responsible to exhibit good fidelity to the full in whatever he does himself. (Titus 2:10) But that does not necessarily make him responsible for what all those around him do. “Otherwise,” as Paul says, he “would actually have to get out of the world.” (1 Cor. 5:10) So, depending on the extent to which his conscience is grieved, a Christian may choose to remain if the employer does not require him to do dishonest things. The employer may come to value him as trusted above his other employees.
When pressured by an Orthodox clergyman to dismiss an employee because she was one of Jehovah’s witnesses, a shopkeeper in Greece told the priest: “I have another 25 Orthodox girls, and all of them are stealing various objects. In her alone do I have confidence, and have even assigned her the task of making a bodily search of all of them.” Rather than dismissing her, he increased her salary.
So, honesty in business, whether as employer or employed, is something you can afford. God’s promise is: “There is one who is walking in continual righteousness and speaking what is upright, who is rejecting the unjust gain from frauds, who is shaking his hands clear from taking hold on a bribe . . . His own bread will certainly be given him; his water supply will be unfailing.”—Isa. 33:15, 16.
Notice, there is no promise of quick or easy wealth from doing business the honest way, but there is promise of sufficiency. However, you do gain the deeper satisfaction that comes from having self-respect and the respect of others; from fulfilling your obligations to your fellowman; from having an “honest conscience” before the law and, most important, before God. All these things are truly “a means of great gain.” (Heb. 13:18; 1 Tim. 6:6-10) So when honesty in business is examined from the perspective of God’s Word, the real question is: Honesty in business—can you afford not to have it?
“He that is walking in integrity will walk in security, but he that is making his ways crooked will make himself known.” “Those crooked at heart are something detestable to Jehovah, but the ones blameless in their way are a pleasure to him.”—Prov. 10:9; 11:20.