Christians Should Lead Honest Lives
Is it possible to be honest today? How can a Christian maintain a good conscience?
DO YOU recall the days when you could leave home with your family for a few days without double-locking the door? Do you remember when you could make a purchase and put the change in your pocket without feeling you ought to count it first? If these things are still in your memory, then no doubt you are at least approaching middle age, for in most places those days disappeared some time ago.
Thievery, lying and cheating have become almost as commonplace as eating and sleeping. The thief is now taken for granted. In many places he no longer confines his ‘work’ to the hours of darkness. Rather, he often relieves his victim of his belongings in broad daylight at knife point, confident that no one will interfere. In fact, he has almost become a hero. If he gets caught it is viewed by some as a sad ending.
But you must have noticed that this indulgent attitude extends beyond the field of the common thief. By far, the vast majority of dishonest acts originate with so-called respectable people; people who go to church on Sunday, who live and work in respectable neighborhoods, who dress well and hold their heads up like fine citizens.
For example, take the international traveler who returns from a business or vacation trip, bringing with him items on which he should pay duty. He would be insulted if you called him a thief, but if he can ‘pull a few strings’ or in some way talk himself through customs inspection without paying, he will proudly tell his friends about it. The more he can get away with the better they will like it. Cheating the government is common.
But if you are a true Christian, how are you to view such practices? Can you share these common sentiments and indulge in dishonest practices? No, the Christian is commanded to turn away from people and practices that dishonor God. He is told plainly: “Let the stealer steal no more.” There are no loopholes that allow for subtleties or make excuses for environment.—Eph. 4:28.
HONESTY IN BUSINESS
It is becoming increasingly difficult to run a business on honest principles. Importation taxes may be excessive, and other businessmen may resort to contraband or deal with unscrupulous manufacturers who make false declarations as to the quality and value of their products. But may a Christian businessman resort to these practices?
No, because, above all else, a Christian desires to please Jehovah God. And the Bible says that “the devious person is a detestable thing to Jehovah, but His intimacy is with the upright ones.” (Prov. 3:32) True, it may be difficult to deal honestly and at the same time compete for business with dishonest businessmen. But even though profits may be reduced, honesty will win a Christian the confidence of others, self-respect and, above all, a good standing before God. This is of much greater value than material prosperity.
Dishonesty in business often stems from dishonest practices in government. Inspectors and auditors will hold a ‘big stick’ in one hand and stretch the other out waiting for a bribe. But bribery is not for servants of God. “You are not to accept [nor pay] a bribe,” the Bible says, “for the bribe blinds clear-sighted men and can distort the words of righteous men.” (Ex. 23:8) Paying governmental officials to close their eyes to illegal activities is breaking the law. It also contributes to the moral decay of others.
The Christian businessman has a moral responsibility to both the government authorities and his customers. It may be a common practice to have a double set of books so as to cheat the government, and a double set of scales so as to cheat the public. However, both practices meet with the disapproval of Jehovah God. His Word says: “Two sorts of weights are something detestable to Jehovah, and a cheating pair of scales is not good.”—Prov. 20:23.
Dealing honestly with employees is another obligation to be met by the Christian. The employer may be under obligation to make regular deductions from his employee’s salary for payments to health, social security or unemployment funds. However, sometimes employers fail to make these payments in certain countries, so that when the employee needs these benefits they are not available. But this is dishonest on the part of the employer! “The worker is worthy of his wages,” Jesus taught. And today these wages would include the proper disposal of deductions from the employee’s paycheck.—Luke 10:7; Lev. 19:13.
There is nothing to be gained by arguing that a particular employee is not worthy of his wages because he is lazy or steals in other ways from his employer. If he is being kept on the payroll, the employer obligates himself. The Christian is to “return evil for evil to no one.”—Rom. 12:17.
Good relations between employer and employee usually begin with the employer. If he deals with his workers on the basis of uprightness and generosity, it is likely that in time he will receive in kind from them. Jesus said: “Practice giving, and people will give to you. They will pour into your laps a fine measure, pressed down, shaken together and overflowing. For with the measure that you are measuring out, they will measure out to you in return.”—Luke 6:38.
EMPLOYEES SHOULD BE HONEST
At the same time, employees should deal honestly with their employer. But frequently today they do not. In fact, many companies calculate that they stand to lose 10 percent of their entire profits through theft from employees! Have you heard fellow employees argue that they really deserve the money they steal because of the meager wages they are paid? Of course, they fail to realize that they are merely widening the gap between their earnings and the cost of living. The employer will not be the loser; he merely raises prices to compensate for the loss.
Stealing is foolish no matter how one looks at it. And the size and amount of what is stolen is not what determines whether it is morally right or wrong. The Bible principle applies: “The person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
Does your company operate a commissary where you can make purchases at a very low rate? These benefits are usually limited to the employee and his immediate family. Therefore, would it not be dishonest to abuse the privilege by making purchases for others, or reselling items at a higher price? Some may reason that the company is not losing money on items sold there, and that it really would not mind. But have they checked with the owner of the company about this to see what the policy is? One’s own opinion or that of another employee may be distorted by personal interests.
In some places it is a common practice for employees to enter into an arrangement with their employers to include members of their families on the payroll although these family members are not actually workers. There is no financial loss to the employer, because the salary of the employee is merely divided up into smaller amounts among two, three or more members of the family. So there is no robbing of the employer. But is there a cheating of the government?
This fractioning of salaries makes it possible for each “worker” to find himself within an income bracket that does not require the paying of taxes, something that would not be the case if the entire salary were assigned only to one person. Also, each member of the family included in the payroll can now receive social security benefits. But if one is not really entitled to these benefits, is it honest for him to take advantage of them? Is it not living a lie?
THE MATTER OF CONSCIENCE
You may now be thinking of a matter in your own life that gives rise to questions. You may feel impelled to ask, ‘Is it wrong to do this or is it wrong to do that?’ Laws and regulations have so many intricacies and interpretations that you may be genuinely confused. You may not know of a Bible principle that bears directly on what you have in mind. But there are ways to find out what is right and what is wrong.
For instance, are you in doubt as to what you can take with you when traveling from one country to another? Then ask the customs authorities. Or, does the problem have to do with common practices at your place of work? Approach the owner or manager and get his viewpoint. Be straightforward. You can usually determine whether a certain practice is considered right or wrong by asking the proper authorities about the matter.
It may be, however, that the person you approach will not give you a direct answer. It is then up to you to decide what you will do. There are certain matters that simply have to be left to the conscience of the individual, and each one has to bear his own load of responsibility before God.—Gal. 6:5.
If in doubt, do not try to salve your conscience by ferreting out a favorable opinion from someone else who is not involved. It is not within the realm of one Christian’s responsibility to tell another how to run his business or settle his financial affairs with others. On one occasion a certain man wanted Jesus to use his influence in this way, but Jesus refused to become involved. His reply was: “Man, who appointed me judge or apportioner over you persons?”—Luke 12:13, 14.
Let it be remembered that the matter of holding a good conscience before God and man is not something to be treated lightly. The Bible says that because of not holding a good conscience some persons “experienced shipwreck concerning their faith.” The Bible also notes that an excessive attachment to material things is a factor that can lead to one’s ‘stabbing himself all over with many pains.’ So, the Christian course is to keep a good conscience even at the cost of material possessions.—1 Tim. 1:19; 6:10; 4:2.
BUILDING A GOOD CONSCIENCE
The Christian conscience is built up by study of God’s Word and appreciation of the principles found therein. God has not left humans in ignorance as to what practices are right and what ones are wrong. No, but he has provided his Word the Bible so that through use of it mature Christians can “have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong.”—Heb. 5:13, 14.
There are millions of persons, however, who have lived most of their lives following the norms of this present system of things, never even realizing that they were being dishonest. They have not been properly trained to distinguish right from wrong. Perhaps you are one of these persons. Recently, however, you may have begun to study God’s Word, and you are beginning to see that certain practices are disapproved by God. What will you do?
The wise decision is to act in harmony with your conscience trained by a study of God’s Word. True, in some instances, it may mean conforming to a lower material standard of living to pattern your life in harmony with Scriptural principles. But it is worth it! The pleasure of a clean conscience before both God and men is of far greater value than any material possessions.
What is required to live honest lives is genuine faith and a true love for God. Do you really believe in God’s promises to bless his servants with eternal life in his new system of things? (2 Pet. 3:13; Ps. 37:29) If you do, and you really love God, you will sincerely endeavor to be honest and do what is right in his eyes. “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.