Be Honest in Everything
THOSE who want to please God take to heart the Christian standard of honesty. They realize that “the devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones.”—Prov. 3:32.
At first glance, honesty may appear to be no problem to many. They may feel that they do not deliberately scheme and practice dishonest things such as lying, cheating or stealing. However, there is more to it than that. A person may feel he is living up to high Christian standards of honesty, but at the same time may be engaged in activities that are really not honest at all. Hence, it would be well for each one to reexamine his position in this matter, in the light of what follows, to determine whether his thinking and acting need adjusting to harmonize with Christian honesty.
HONESTY TOWARD GOVERNMENTS
Some kinds of dishonesty are more obvious, such as outright stealing or lying. But others are more subtle and must be guarded against even more carefully.
One such area for caution is in regard to the relationship a Christian has with civil authorities. He must honestly render the government its dues, even though that same government may not be honest with him. Jesus Christ said to “pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar.” (Matt. 22:21) Does the government assess its citizenry with various taxes? Then the Christian should not cheat the civil authority out of these taxes. For example, he should not falsify his income tax by claiming more deductions than he is entitled to, or by saying he has contributed to a charitable organization when he has not, or by inflating the volume of such contributions beyond what he has actually donated.
One might try to justify cheating on taxes by saying the government takes too much anyway, but this is not the Christian’s right. Caesar violates none of God’s laws by asking for just taxes. If governments overtax, or misuse the taxes they collect, then they will answer to God for it. But the Christian is not the judge in these matters. He is under obligation, not just to the government, but to God, to pay exactly what is required. The Christian apostle Paul said: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities . . . Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.”—Rom. 13:1, 7.
Related to this is the practice of smuggling, buying things in a neighboring country and then sneaking them across the border to avoid paying import tax or duty. While this may be a common practice in some lands, it should not be practiced by Christians, because it denies the government what it lawfully requires. The civil authority is entitled to set up duties if it wants. Since their doing so does not conflict with God’s laws, it must be complied with. The Christian who smuggles is acting dishonestly and can be held accountable, not only by the police, but also by the Christian congregation.
Some may not consider themselves smugglers, but from time to time when they do make a trip abroad and return, do they fill out the customs declaration in an honest way? Do they declare everything that is required by law, or do they try to figure out how to get things in free when they should be paying duty on them? It does not matter whether the item is small or large, or whether the person considers it insignificant. The only consideration where honesty is concerned is, Does the government tell me that I should pay duty on this item? If so, the Christian must pay that duty. To avoid doing so is being dishonest.
Governments also lay down rules for traffic to promote public safety. In many countries a red light means to come to a full stop, as does a stop sign. But does one slow down at stop signals only to check to be sure no policeman is in sight, and then drive on? And what about the speed limits? Are they exceeded just because no one is watching? These things are dishonest practices. Why? Because they are not obeying the “superior authorities.” One may scoff at traffic rules not to his liking, but “foolish are those who make a derision of guilt.” (Prov. 14:9) It is Caesar’s right to determine what the traffic laws will be, and it is for the protection of the people. Since this regulating does not break God’s laws, the Christian must obey as unto God.
Business firms, too, have regulations. A person may feel he would never steal money or merchandise from his employer, because that would be dishonest. But does he take company postage stamps, stationery and other goods for personal use? Yes, even taking a pencil or paper clips would be dishonest if it is not authorized by the company, since these things are company property.
Also, there is the matter of using company telephones for personal calls. When the company rules against it, then to do so is dishonest, regardless of how many others may do it. The Christian is obligated to pay for personal calls he makes, since he is using facilities not his own. A similar dishonest practice involves the use, in any one of a number of ways, of telephone services without paying for them. But this amounts to stealing, because a person withholds the money he would normally be required to pay for the telephone call. And if you think dodging payment for a telephone call is not really dishonest, then test your theory by asking the telephone company how they feel about it!
At times, stores allow their employees to purchase goods at reduced rates for personal use only. Some employees feel they can resell this merchandise at the reduced price to friends or relatives to help them save money. However, this is not honest, because it is not complying with the arrangement specified by the company. They have the right to set the rules. The Christian must comply.
Some have an expense account in connection with their secular work. Here the Christian exercises care not to round off figures to the next higher one, or include items that are really personal and not meant to be covered by the company. The Christian includes on his expense account only what he has actually spent and only what the company allows for, nothing more.
Consider, too, the matter of lying to one’s employer to get time off from work. What same persons may consider a good reason for lying still cannot be justified by God’s standard of honesty. Perhaps they think it would be all right if they wanted to attend a Christian assembly and did not think their employer would give them time off. But how could the Christian justify lying to an employer to attend an assembly where God’s Word is taught and Christian conduct, including honesty, promoted? Such reasoning is inconsistent, even hypocritical. In most cases an employer will respect your honesty in regard to wanting time off for an assembly. But even if it results in the loss of your job because you seek first the Kingdom, God is not going to forsake you when you do what is right.—Matt. 6:33.
Often, Christians are employed in domestic work, doing housecleaning, cooking and other chores in a home. While they may know it is wrong to take clothing, dishes, silverware, and other such items, do they realize that it is just as wrong to take things that may not be as readily missed? Taking flour, sugar, fruits or vegetables is just as much stealing, is just as dishonest, as if one walked off with a more valuable item. If the employer specifically gives his employee some of these items, that is different. But one must be careful not to interpret an employer’s generosity on an occasion or two to mean that pilfering is justified. It is not.
HONESTY IN ALL THINGS
There are many other ways in which honesty is displayed. It is involved even when borrowing things from others. You should return what you borrow at the time specified, or before. It may be a small item and you may not consider keeping it to be of any consequence, but what would happen if you tried borrowing even a little money from a bank and not paying it back on time?—Ps. 37:21.
In the Christian congregations there are certain ones assigned to handle monies needed for paying expenses. Using any of this money for oneself, however briefly, would be dishonest. Even if a person is completely without funds he must never consider using money that does not belong to him without the owner’s consent. It is no small matter. Judas Iscariot misused money entrusted to him and was branded “a thief.” (John 12:6) He met an untimely death out of God’s favor.
Sometimes a person does a thing of which he is ashamed. He feels others would look down on him if they knew about it. While we certainly are not under obligation to divulge the private affairs of our life to everyone, the Christian still is not free to lie to save face if a matter comes before the congregation judicial committee and he is requested to tell the truth.
Appreciate that dishonesty in little things leads to dishonesty in big things. The process starts small, ends up big. The mind is gradually conditioned for larger transgressions each time smaller ones are not resisted. Jesus said: “The person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much. Therefore, if you have not proved yourselves faithful in connection with the unrighteous riches, who will entrust you with what is true? And if you have not proved yourselves faithful in connection with what is another’s, who will give you what is for yourselves?”—Luke 16:10-12.
If you love God, if you want to live in his righteous new order of things, you will want to be honest and do what is right. “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception, but let him turn away from what is bad and do what is good.”—1 Pet. 3:10, 11.
Yes, be honest in everything. Then you, too, will be able to say as did the apostle Paul: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”—Heb. 13:18.