What It Means to Be Honest
THE Alitalia jet plane had just landed in Vienna after making a nonstop flight from New York city. From it disembarked more than a hundred passengers, Christian ministers intent on attending a convention already in progress at the Wiener Stadthalle. The ministers were all ushered into the customs inspection room, where only a few inspectors were to be seen and they did not seem to be in any great haste. Some of the passengers, eager to get to the Stadthalle, started wondering, At this rate how long will customs inspection take?
Then the inspectors requested two of the ministers to come forward and open their luggage. Most carefully the inspectors examined the contents. Fully satisfied, they waved the more than a hundred others through without further ado. But suppose one of these two who had her baggage examined had been trying to smuggle something into the country? Then what? It would not only have meant a great delay for all the rest as each one had his luggage examined, but it would have meant a bad reputation for the Bible society sponsoring this convention.
This true-life story underscores a few of the many reasons why Christian ministers should be honest. They owe it to their God, they owe it to their Christian neighbors and they owe it to themselves.
What does it mean to be honest? To be honest, the dictionary says, means to be “characterized by integrity and straightforwardness in conduct, thought, speech, etc.; free from fraud.” It “implies a refusal to lie, steal or deceive in any way. Genuine, open, frank, upright.”
The Bible shows that the Creator, Jehovah God, is “the God of truth.” He is perfectly honest, just: “All his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness, with whom there is no injustice; righteous and upright is he.” Yes, “it is impossible for God to lie.”—Ps. 31:5; Deut. 32:4; Heb. 6:18.
Today this God of truth, Jehovah, is largely ignored, and with what results? There is a glaring lack of honesty in every sphere of human endeavor, in every aspect of human relationship, social, economic and political. Stores are robbed of hundreds of millions of dollars annually by shoplifters. Employees rob their employers in many and various ways. Insured persons rob insurance companies by making false claims. Thus the claims bureau of the American Insurance Association estimates that 75 percent of all insurance claims are to some degree fraudulent, resulting in a loss of $350 million annually.
Cheating by students, it has been reported, is taken for granted by many of them. Citizens are dishonest with their governments, failing to pay taxes or claiming deductions to which they are not entitled, or smuggling goods into their country. And what about the governments themselves? Especially as regards the United States there is what has come to be called the “creditability gap.” By this is meant that there is a large gap between what the government gives out as facts and what actually turns out to be facts or is believable. Thus the New York Times, April 18, 1968, told of a committee of the American Society of Newspaper Editors reporting that, as regards the United States government, “the creditability gap yawns wider than ever before.” In fact, the committee reported that the United States government news channels had gotten so used to telling falsehoods that “official deceit is being practiced both when there is need of it,” as with regard to military secrets, “and when there is not.”
And what dishonesty there is among those professing to be Christians, both those in the pulpits and those in the pews! Thus the Cleveland, Ohio, Plain Dealer, February 21, 1968, told that a poll of 3,000 Protestant clergymen revealed that the majority of those under forty years of age did not accept most Biblical concepts, meaning that they did not believe that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible, that Jesus had a virgin birth and was miraculously raised from the dead, and so forth. In short, they do not believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. And yet these men profess to be Christian ministers, followers of Jesus Christ, who said of God’s Word the Bible: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17) And the Louisville, Kentucky, Times, February 10, 1968, told of the complaints that youths lodge against organized religion. Among other things, it stated: “There was one word that kept cropping up in letter after letter, Hypocrisy.”
With such bad examples all about them, what are true Christians going to do? Be dishonest because ‘everybody’s doing it’? Are they going to treat the matter lightly, and “make a derision of guilt”? (Prov. 14:9) Will they imitate the world and thus prove themselves a part of it, or will they keep themselves “without spot from the world”?—Jas. 1:27.
BE HONEST IN SPEECH
To be honest means, among other things, to be truthful in one’s speech. In the strongest of terms the Bible condemns the practice of lying. Thus Satan the Devil is shown to be the original liar. (John 8:44) How seriously God views lying can be seen from what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. They were immediately stricken dead by God’s power because they lied to the apostle Peter, a member of the Christian congregation’s governing body. Their punishment would seem to indicate that Jehovah views especially seriously any lying or misrepresentation practiced toward those having the right to know the facts because of having positions of oversight in the Christian congregation, such as the traveling representatives of the governing body today.—Acts 5:1-11.
One may think that what Ananias and Sapphira did was not such a bad thing. They did not cause any loss to come to others by reason of their lying; it was not as if they had covered up a theft with lies. Neither had they deprived others of what was due them. What was their sin, their fault? Dishonesty! Hypocrisy!
Yes, they wanted to appear better than they really were. They wanted to have a fine reputation among God’s people, as being among the generous souls who sold their property and then gave all the proceeds to help their Christian brothers, although really keeping back some of it. The lesson that Christian ministers of today can take from this incident is that they must be 100-percent honest in reporting their Christian activity. The servants in the congregation must likewise be scrupulously honest when it comes to reporting on what purports to be the condition of the congregation to a traveling representative of the governing body of Jehovah’s people. What is being reported should not be ‘window dressing,’ just done for the occasion of the visit of the traveling representative who acts as an inspector, but the facts should be presented as they truly are 365 days of the year.
Here the apostle Paul set Christians today a fine example, for he could write that “in every way we recommend ourselves as God’s ministers, . . . by love free from hypocrisy, by truthful speech.” (2 Cor. 6:4, 6, 7) Most fittingly he and the apostle Peter admonish Christians to be truthful, honest in speech: “Wherefore, now that you have put away falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” “Do not be lying to one another.” “He that would love life and see good days, let him restrain his tongue from what is bad and his lips from speaking deception.”—Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9; 1 Pet. 3:10.
A Christian may think it is showing love to hide the truth, even from someone who has the right to know, in order to protect another from disciplinary action. But such a course is not true, principled, agápe love, but a form of selfishness, or at best a mistaken kindness. Thus a mother kept the facts of her daughter’s conduct from her husband so that the father would not get angry and discipline his daughter. But when the daughter got pregnant, because of keeping company with the kind of youths her father did not approve of, the mother could no longer hide the facts from the father, who was greatly shocked. But the mother had no reason to be, for she could have known to what her daughter’s course of action might lead. Similarly, a Christian should not withhold facts bearing on keeping the Christian congregation clean from those having the oversight of it, simply to prevent a wrongdoer from being disciplined.
REPAY WHAT YOU BORROW
To be honest also means to give back what you borrow. It means never to assume debts that you do not have good reason to believe that you can repay. And once having incurred debts, it means to be punctual in repaying them according to the agreement. Borrowing from others and not paying back causes one to become blameworthy as well as a burden to others. Here also the apostle Paul was most exemplary, even as he wrote the Christians at Thessalonica. He labored and toiled night and day “so as not to put an expensive burden upon any one of” them. “You are witnesses, God is also,” he said, “how loyal and righteous and unblamable we proved to be to you believers.” Yes, Paul did not use the fact that he was an apostle and a Christian missionary as an excuse or justification to burden others or to become blameworthy in any such way as by incurring debts and then not paying them off.—1 Thess. 2:9, 10.
All Christians, and especially all full-time preachers, do well to examine themselves as to whether they are coming short in this respect or not. Some professed Christians have failed to follow Paul’s example, and this has resulted in reproach being heaped upon Jehovah’s name and organization. In doing this they have further failed to heed Paul’s counsel in this matter, for he also wrote: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing, except to love one another.” Not to pay back what one owes is dishonest, whether one owes much or little, whether one owes a Christian brother who has been kind enough to make a loan or owes a mercantile establishment for things he has purchased.—Rom. 13:8.
In fact, to borrow and not to pay back puts one in the class of the wicked, even as the psalmist David wrote: “The wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back.” And especially is he blameworthy if he delays paying back when he is able to do so, for, as the writer of Proverbs put it: “Do not hold back good from those to whom it is owing, when it happens to be in the power of your hand to do it. Do not say to your fellow man: ‘Go, and come back and tomorrow I shall give,’ when there is something with you.”—Ps. 37:21; Prov. 3:27, 28.
BE HONEST WITHIN THE FAMILY CIRCLE
Honesty is also required within the family circle. In money matters and in the use of one’s time there is often the temptation for marriage mates to be dishonest. Wives may misrepresent how much they spend on groceries so as to have money for something that their husbands may consider a luxury.
Then there is the matter of being honest in sex interest. It is not honest for marriage mates to show romantic interest in another aside from one’s marriage mate. Dishonesty in little things, such as flirting, hurts the other and could well lead to more serious things, such as an infatuation, which, in turn, might result in adultery and disfellowshiping from the Christian congregation.—Prov. 5:15-23.
Then, again, parents must be honest with their children. This includes their practicing what they preach in the way of adhering to Bible principles. Do parents tell their children not to lie, and then lie with regard to their tax reports? Do they tell children not to steal, and then take towels from a motel? Do they tell their children to be law-abiding, and they themselves violate traffic laws?
On the other hand, children must be honest with their parents. Their parents have the right to know what they are doing, who their friends are and how they are spending their time, money, and so forth. Practicing dishonesty in little things early in life may well set a pattern for becoming a criminal while one is still a teen-ager. All such is included in the Scriptural command for children to honor their parents.—Prov. 6:20-23; Eph. 6:1-3.
BE HONEST TOWARD OUTSIDERS
Christians have the obligation also to be honest in all their dealings with outsiders, those outside the Christian congregation and the family circle. For one thing, they must be exemplary taxpayers, wholly honest in this regard, for they have clear Scriptural injunctions to this effect. When the subject of paying taxes was brought to the attention of Jesus Christ, he said: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” And to the same import the apostle Paul counseled: “Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax.” Of course, this includes paying duty on things brought into one’s country.—Matt. 22:21; Rom. 13:7.
Christians should also be honest in their relations with their employers. They should not tell falsehoods to be excused from work or take advantage of circumstances to idle during work time. They are to work, “not with acts of eye-service, as men pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, with fear of Jehovah. Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah, and not to men.” Yes, as wise King Solomon put it: “All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power.”—Col. 3:22, 23; Eccl. 9:10.
BEING HONEST IS REWARDED
A person should not be honest only because it pays. Those who are honest only because “honesty is the best policy” put policy ahead of honesty, and may find at times that honesty may not seem to be the best policy and so be tempted to be dishonest. However, since being honest is a Scriptural requirement, it is to be expected that good results will follow, in view of the Scriptural principle that “whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Gal. 6:7.
Honesty brings a Christian the approval of God: “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent? Who will reside in your holy mountain? He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness and speaking the truth in his heart.” Yes, “the devious [dishonest] person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones.”—Ps. 15:1, 2; Prov. 3:32.
Further, honesty works for a good conscience and so makes it easy to live with oneself. Christians repeatedly are commanded to have a good conscience, and is not being honest imperative to having one? (Rom. 13:5; 1 Tim. 1:5, 19; 1 Pet. 3:16) All should strive to be able to say as did Paul: “Brothers, I have behaved before God with a perfectly clear conscience down to this day.” What a reward, what a satisfaction, to be able to say that!—Acts 23:1.
Then, again, he who is honest will not be stumbling others. Jesus warned of this offense, saying that it would be better for one to have a millstone tied to one’s neck and thrown into the sea than for one to stumble one of his followers. (Luke 17:2) Here again Paul set a good example: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.” And he prayed that the Christians at Philippi might “not be stumbling others.”—2 Cor. 6:3; Phil. 1:9, 10.
And still another reward that comes from being honest is the good name that it gives Jehovah’s people. For example, in Spain a number of Witnesses are in prison because of their conscientious scruples. There the director of one prison asked the one in charge of the carpenter shop why he always put one of the Witnesses in charge of his equipment storage room, and he was told: “The Witnesses are the only reliable and honest persons in the prison. They don’t fight with others or gamble, nor do they sneak liquor into the prison against regulations.” A similar report comes from Hungary. There in one village the new police chief was quite hostile to Jehovah’s witnesses. Then one day a Witness brought to the police station a portfolio she had found and which contained a considerable sum of money. This caused him to change his mind about the Witnesses, as became evident by what he said at a party when he heard abusive remarks made about the Witnesses: “These people should not be abused in this way, because they are truly honest, the best of all people. If only all were Jehovah’s witnesses! I never have any trouble with them.”—1968 Yearbook of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Is not that the way it should be? As Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount: “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your fine works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.” Truly, there are many fine rewards for being honest!—Matt. 5:16.