Should You Be Honest at All Times?
EVERYONE is honest some of the time; many perhaps most of the time. But how many people do you know who are striving to be honest all the time?
Today, a lack of honesty prevails in numerous facets of life. Nevertheless, God’s view of honesty is well-known. For example, most people are familiar with the words of the eighth of the Ten Commandments: “You must not steal.” (Exodus 20:15) Many, however, feel that circumstances sometimes justify stealing or other forms of dishonesty. Let us consider three examples of theft that are commonly excused.
Does Poverty Justify Stealing?
A Roman statesman once said: “Poverty is the mother of crime.” A poor individual might feel justified in stealing. Onlookers might agree. What position did Jesus take on this issue? He was very compassionate in his dealings with the needy. “He felt pity for them.” (Matthew 9:36) Yet, he never—under any circumstances—condoned stealing. What, then, should a poor person do?
God has compassion for those who sincerely try to obey him, and he will bless their efforts to obtain what is needed. (Psalm 37:25) The Bible promises: “Jehovah will not cause the soul of the righteous one to go hungry, but the craving of the wicked ones he will push away.” (Proverbs 10:3) Can a poor individual count on this? Victorine is convinced of it.
As a widow with five school-age children, Victorine does not have it easy. She lives in a developing country with limited social benefits. Daily life is spent mostly outdoors, where opportunities to steal abound. However, Victorine is not tempted to steal. Instead, she tries to make ends meet as an honest street vendor. Why does she remain honest?
“First, I believe that God is honest and that he will be honest in dealing with me if I imitate him. Second, my children can learn honesty only if they see it in me.”
How has she fared? “We have food, clothing, and shelter. Still, there have been times when I have had to ask friends for help—to pay unexpected medical expenses, for instance. I have always received what I needed. Why? Because my friends know that I have described my circumstances honestly, and I am not trying to get more than I need.
“The children are growing up to be honest. A neighbor recently saw some coins on our table and asked me if I wasn’t afraid that the children would take them. She found it hard to believe when I said that my children would never do that. Without my knowledge, she decided to test them. She secretly left two 100-franc coins in our house where the children could easily have found them. When she came by the next day, she was astonished to see that the coins were still there. Having honest children is more rewarding than having many material things.”
“Everybody Does It”
Stealing on the job is widespread. As a result, many feel, “Everybody does it, so why shouldn’t I?” In contrast, the Bible states: “You must not follow after the crowd for evil ends.” (Exodus 23:2) Victoire has heeded this admonition. Has it paid off?
When she was 19, Victoire got a job in a palm-oil processing plant. She soon noted that the 40 women employed there were using their baskets to smuggle palm kernels out of the plant. Each weekend, they sold the kernels for the equivalent of three to four days’ salary. Victoire relates: “Literally everyone was doing it. They expected me to join in, but I refused, stating that honesty is my way of life. They ridiculed me, claiming that I would be the loser.
“One day as we were filing out of the plant, the manager suddenly appeared. He searched everyone’s basket and found palm kernels in every basket except mine. All those caught were to be fired immediately or to work two weeks without salary. During those two weeks, the women became convinced that I was not the loser.”
How do you feel when you find something valuable that someone has lost? To many, this arouses immediate feelings of possession, causing them to wave aside any thought of returning it. They have a “finders keepers” philosophy. Some may feel that there is no harm done. After all, they reason, the owner has undoubtedly written it off as a loss. Others say that it is not their responsibility to seek out the owner—a chore that might entail a lot of effort.
How does God view the matter? Deuteronomy 22:1-3 shows that a finder was not simply to keep the item he finds but rather to keep it “until he [the owner] claims it, and then give it back to him.” (The New English Bible) If the finder did not make known his find, he could have been accused of stealing. (Exodus 22:9) Is this practical today? Christine is convinced that it is.
Christine is the director of a private school. One Wednesday she picked up her month’s salary in cash. In typical West African fashion, she bundled the bills and stuffed them into her bag. She then flagged down a motorcycle taxi and sped off to a meeting. On arriving, she fumbled in her bag for coins to pay the driver. In the darkness, the bundle of bills fell to the ground unnoticed.
Minutes later, 19-year-old Blaise, a stranger to the area, came down the street. He had arranged to meet a friend at the same meeting that Christine attended. He spotted the bundle of bills and put them into his pocket. At the end of the meeting, he informed his friend that he had found something outside and that anyone who had lost something could phone him and identify it.
When Christine got home that evening, she was shocked to discover that her month’s pay was missing. A week later, when she revealed the loss to her friend Josephine, she was told that a visitor at that meeting had found something. Christine phoned Blaise and identified the denominations of the bills. She was overjoyed when Blaise returned the money. What about Blaise? He had kept the money for a week, but he said, “The joy I experienced from returning the money was greater than that from keeping it.”
Why They Strive to Be Honest at All Times
Victorine, Victoire, and Blaise live in different areas and do not know one another. They do, however, have something in common. They are Jehovah’s Witnesses, who uphold what the Bible says about honesty. They await the fulfillment of God’s promise of a new world. “There are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.” All people living then will be righteous—and honest.—2 Peter 3:13.
Victorine has little hope that her financial situation will improve to any great degree until God changes things. Nevertheless, she is spiritually rich, something that money cannot buy. Her children are honest and well-mannered. Every Sunday they “bubble over” when they speak to their neighbors about God’s goodness and explain how he will satisfy “all those who call upon him in trueness” and will guard “all those loving him.”—Psalm 145:7, 18, 20.
In time, Victoire left the palm-oil processing plant. She struck out on her own and sold garri (a kind of grits made from cassava) at the market. Her honesty attracted many customers. In fact, she was soon able to reduce her time at the market and spend more time speaking to others about the prospect of living in a world free of dishonesty. She later married, and she and her husband now serve as full-time ministers.
Christine lost her money in front of a Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Blaise knew few in attendance at the meeting, but he did know that they were his Christian brothers and sisters, who try to be honest at all times.
How many people do you know who sincerely strive to be honest all the time? Just imagine being with 50, 100, or 200 persons who are. That is the happy experience of Jehovah’s Witnesses at their Kingdom Halls. Why not go there and get acquainted with them?
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“Having honest children is more rewarding than having many material things.”—VICTORINE
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Does Proverbs 6:30 Excuse Stealing?
Proverbs 6:30 states: “People do not despise a thief just because he commits thievery to fill his soul when he is hungry.” Does this statement excuse stealing? Not at all. The context shows that God still holds the thief responsible for his error. The following verse says: “But, when found, he will make it good with seven times as much; all the valuables of his house he will give.” (Proverbs 6:31) Though the thief who steals because of hunger may not be as reprehensible as the one who steals out of greed or with an intent to cause harm to his victim, he is, nonetheless, still responsible to ‘make good,’ or to repay. Those desiring God’s approval should not be guilty of thievery under any circumstances.