What Does It Mean to Be Honest?
TO BE honest means to be truthful and free of fraud. Honesty requires you to be fair in dealing with others—straightforward, honorable, not deceptive or misleading. An honest person is a man of integrity. Being always trustworthy, he will never cheat his fellowman. All of us would like to be treated that way, would we not? So can honesty ever become out-of-date?
The Christian immediately sees in the above definitions why anyone professing to be a true worshiper must be an honest person. (John 4:24) He worships “Jehovah the God of truth.” (Psalm 31:5; Titus 1:2) Reasonably, only “truthful men” qualify to represent him.—Exodus 18:21, New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote.
Honesty affects many aspects of our lives, so it is understandable that the apostle Paul said: “We wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” That includes in speech, at work, in family matters, in business dealings, and in responding to whatever legal requirements governments impose on us.—Hebrews 13:18.
In What We Say
There are many ways—though often viewed as innocent and acceptable—in which people do not speak truth. They falsify reports on hours of work, get children to tell untruths to callers, give inaccurate statements to insurance agents, and lie about being sick to get off from work, to mention a few.
Sometimes what we have to say to another has to be put in writing. For some reason, individuals who would never lie orally feel that it is a different matter when reporting income for taxes or writing an itemized declaration for customs agents at an international border. This cheating costs all taxpayers. Is that real love of neighbor? Besides, do not Christians have an obligation to “pay back Caesar’s things to Caesar”?—Luke 20:25; 10:27; see also Romans 13:1, 2, 7, 8.
In what we speak, we certainly want to imitate “the God of truth,” not “the father of the lie.” (Psalm 31:5; John 8:44) Unscrupulous men may resort to doubletalk to misrepresent and deceive. But lying to our neighbor is not loving him. Besides, liars have no real future.—Ephesians 4:25; Revelation 21:27; 22:15.
On the Job
Doing an honest day’s work for wages received is a reasonable and Scriptural requirement. (Colossians 3:22-24) Yet, there are many thousands of time thieves who waste company time on extended breaks, come to work late and leave early, spend much time grooming themselves after arriving at work, use the company phone for long unauthorized personal calls, operate their own businesses on company time, and even take naps. Their stealing escalates costs for everybody.
Other forms of theft on the job include taking supplies and equipment for personal use. Some claim that this is nothing more than making up for inadequate salaries, as if they are evening up things with a stingy employer! But if taking things is without the knowledge and permission of the owner or employer, it is really a form of stealing.
In all these situations, the true Christian will apply the inspired counsel: “Let the stealer steal no more, but rather let him do . . . with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.”—Ephesians 4:28; Acts 20:35.
Yet, what if your employer asks you to perform a dishonest or an illegal act and threatens to dismiss you if you do not comply? Some examples: Charge a customer for replacement of auto parts that were never put on the vehicle; place less expensive, inferior merchandise in boxes so customers can be charged higher rates; write new, “marked down” prices on goods, when the original prices were the same or lower. Many employees would view this as the employer’s responsibility, not the worker’s. What have Jehovah’s Witnesses done when faced with such a situation? Daryl J—— relates:
“While working as a produce manager in a grocery store, I was approached by management and asked to increase the profit margin without raising any of the prices. Suggestions to accomplish this were: Exaggerate the weight of certain products, and submit ‘dummy’ credit notes to a supplier. Common practices but dishonest.”
Daryl refused to misrepresent and cheat. (Proverbs 20:23) A few weeks later he was laid off. Was he unwise to subject his family to the effects of his unemployment? Did he regret having been honest? No, because when a fellow Witness heard what had happened, he provided employment. Daryl says: “In three to four weeks, I was back supporting myself and my family by honest means. I count it a privilege to be blessed by Jehovah for keeping my integrity to him.”
On the other hand, you might get a job because you are honest. An agent for a well-known international insurance company advised the owner of a successful store in downtown Toronto, Canada, to end his problems with employee theft by hiring Jehovah’s Witnesses. The agent explained: ‘When I was in another city receiving my insurance training, I found out that among their clients was a large supermarket chain that hired only Witnesses to restock the grocery shelves at night. They had had some bad experiences with other workers but had not lost a thing since they had given keys to the Witnesses to come in after hours to do the restocking.’
Other Ways to Be Honest
At the time of borrowing money, the borrower often reflects humility and respect, and he expresses reassuring words about repayment and gratitude for help. But when the time arrives to pay off the debt, an amazing Jekyll-and-Hyde change in attitude comes over some borrowers. It is common then to note anger, hostility, complaints of being harassed for repayment, and claims that the lender lacks mercy. In the borrower’s eyes, the generous lender has been transformed into a monster! The Bible, though, says that ‘the borrower who does not pay back is wicked.’ (Psalm 37:21; Romans 13:8) This would especially be the case where the borrower makes no effort to pay even modest amounts to demonstrate good faith, perhaps making no effort even to communicate with the lender.
In family life, honesty is called for in many matters: The head of the house ought to be truthful with his wife about his income and financial matters; the wife should be honest with him about how she spends family funds; both need to be persons of integrity, including limiting their sex interests to each other; the children do well to be truthful and obedient as respects their associations and forms of entertainment, consistent with their parents’ stated wishes.—Ephesians 5:33; 6:1-3.
From all that has been said, it ought to be clear that a genuine Christian must “renounce unrighteousness”—the wicked works and bad fruitage that accompany dishonesty, lying, deceiving, cheating, and moral corruption.—2 Timothy 2:19; Romans 2:21-24.
Rewards and Benefits
Fairness and straightforwardness, truthful dealings with others, promote honesty. A climate of trust and confidence thus develops, leading to healthy attitudes and relationships. Honesty also provides an atmosphere for confident living, free of time- and energy-consuming defensiveness bred by suspicions, doubts, and fears about others.—Compare Isaiah 35:8-10.
Honesty contributes to our having a clean conscience, which is essential if we are acceptably to “render sacred service to the living God.” (Hebrews 9:14; 1 Timothy 1:19) It gives peace of mind, leading to a good night’s sleep. You can face others without embarrassment. Being honest eliminates the gnawing fear of being caught in wrongdoing. In this way we maintain human dignity and self-respect. How could that ever be out-of-date or impractical?
Thus, there are many present rewards and benefits that will flow to us and others if we are honest persons. Yet, more than anything else, we should want to be honest not just because it is the best policy or because we are commanded to be honest but because we love our Father Jehovah. We want to maintain our precious relationship with him and have his approval. We also want to be honest because we thereby express love of neighbor. So, simply put, being a true Christian means being honest.—Matthew 22:36-39.
The psalmist says: “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. . . . To his companion he has done nothing bad.” (Psalm 15:1-3) If we lead honest lives as worshipers of Jehovah, then when he justly ends the present unrighteous system and when “the tent of God is with mankind,” we will be among those who enjoy eternal blessings as his “guest.” Then we will never be out-of-date!—Revelation 21:1-5.
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Can You Deal With the Challenge to Your Honesty?
The world we live in challenges our convictions and our determination to do what is right. It is structured to emphasize putting ourselves first, even at the expense of others.
Is it your sincerely held view that honesty is still the best policy? Are your convictions strong enough to keep you honest when pressures put you to the test? For example, what would you do if:
□ After you have been unemployed for many months, you find a large sum of money that would cover your bills and give you funds to spare?
□ Cheating on an important examination in your school was the only way you could get the grade that could determine your economic future?
□ Finding recognition as a scientist would require you to “adjust” the data from your research so that your report would be published?
□ On your vacation to another country, you buy an expensive item at a very good price but to declare it at the border would mean paying a high duty?
[Box on page 6]
Acts of Honesty Not Out-Of-Date
Do people still care about their fellowman? Yes, even though newspapers report acts of honesty as if they were the exception and hence newsworthy.
The police in Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S.A., tried to lure thieves by placing an expensive TV set in an unlocked car. They watched for several weeks to see what would happen. “What we found was people would walk by the car, look in and see the TV, open the door, push the lock button down, close the door and walk on by.” By so doing they showed honesty.
Canadian newspaper headlines tell about the return of lost cash because of the beneficial effect of Bible teaching:
“Good Samaritans save holiday.”—The Windsor Star
“Honest Pat turns in $421.”—The Spectator
“Return of missing $983 restores merchant’s faith.”—The Toronto Star
In these cases, those returning the lost cash were Jehovah’s Witnesses. In the first, two young Witnesses sharing in the door-to-door ministry found and returned a purse to a woman. She said: “I think those boys are one in a million. . . . You know, that really does restore your faith in human nature.” Since she was from out of town, it would have been easy for the youths to have kept the money, but they said: “It was nothing. We were just doing something good for someone else.”
The second report also had to do with a traveler. “But temptation left no question in [the finder’s] mind,” the paper reported. The finder explained that he was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, “and we believe strongly in honesty.”
In the third case, the person who lost the cash “confessed he had almost lost his faith in humanity.” The husband of the Witness who found the brown paper bag of cash told a reporter that being guided by the Bible was the key: “That made it easy for my wife” to turn it in.
In another case, two Witnesses working from house to house found a lost pay envelope. When they took it to the local police station, the sergeant on duty said that there had been no report of lost money. The Witness suggested announcing the find on the local radio station. The policeman looked rather puzzled. He said: “You’re making a lot of effort to return this money. What religion do you belong to anyway?” When the Witness replied, the sergeant said: “I thought so, because you’re the only ones who are honest enough to make such efforts.”
Making house-to-house calls, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses, W. K , was met with a most unusual request. The man of the house and his wife were quite ill but had to have a bank transaction made that day. They asked if the Witness would do it. Upon agreeing, he was given $2,000 in cash to take to the bank. Returning from the bank, he could not resist asking: “How could you trust me without even knowing me?” The answer: “We know, and everyone knows, that Jehovah’s Witnesses are the only ones to trust.”
Though there certainly are honest people to be found in all lands, in addition to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it seems that they are sufficiently rare to merit special note. How thankful we can be that the Bible’s teaching on honesty produces beneficial and practical results!