One evening I received a phone call I will never forget. It was from Allen Hitchcock. “You won’t believe what just happened to me!” he said. “I went to my local gas station and pumped $20 worth of gas. When I asked for a receipt, the attendant made the receipt for $25. When I pointed out this mistake, the attendant replied, ‘Oh, just turn in the receipt to your company, and you’ll make a fast five bucks. After all, a lot of the mailmen do that.’”
Like Allen, all of us—the executive, the employee and the homemaker—have to make daily decisions about whether or not to handle money honestly. Do you tell the cashier at the grocery store when you receive too much change? Have you ever tried to sell something and been tempted not to tell the whole truth because you might lose a sale?
Honesty in Society
These decisions are made more difficult because everyone around us seems to be dishonest. For example, employee theft in the workplace is approaching $1 billion a week.
Byron was reading the morning paper while his wife, Peggy, prepared breakfast. “Well, would you look at this. Another politician got caught with his hand in the cookie jar,” he said. “I’ll bet there isn’t an honest one in the entire country. What a bunch of crooks!”
Just a few moments later Byron was smirking as he told Peggy how he planned to pad his expense account in such a way that he would get more money from his employer than he was entitled to receive. Byron was not aware of the incongruity between his own behavior and his disgust with dishonesty in others. As he told Peggy, “The way the economy is going, you’ve got to be shrewd just to survive. The company doesn’t need it, and besides, everyone does it.”
We live in an age of “relative honesty” in which people formulate their own standards of honesty which change with the circumstances. The Bible speaks of a similar time which was a turbulent period in Israel’s history. “Everyone did whatever he wanted to—whatever seemed right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, TLB ).
Honesty in the Bible
Relative honesty contrasts sharply with the standard we find in Scripture. God demands absolute honesty. Proverbs 20:23 reads, “The Lord loathes all cheating and dishonesty” (TLB). And Proverbs 12:22 states, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord.” Leviticus 19:11 says, “You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.”
Study this comparison between what the Scriptures teach and what our society practices concerning honesty.
Standard of honesty
God’s concern about honesty
He demands honesty
There is no God
The decision to be honest or dishonest is based upon
Faith in the invisible, living God
Only the facts that can be seen
Question usually asked deciding whether to be honest
Will it please God?
Will I get away with it?
The God of Truth
Truthfulness is one of God’s attributes. “I am . . . the truth” (John 14:6). Moreover, He commands us to reflect His honest and holy character. “Be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
God’s nature is in stark contrast to Satan’s nature. John 8:44 describes the devil’s character: “[The devil] . . . does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature; for he is a liar, and the father of lies.” The Lord wants us to become conformed to His honest character rather than to the dishonest nature of the devil.
Why Does God Demand Absolute Honesty?
God has imposed the standard of absolute honesty for five reasons.
1. We cannot practice dishonesty and love God.
When we practice dishonesty, we are acting as if the living God does not exist, and it is impossible to love God if He doesn’t exist. Stop and think about what we are saying when we make a decision to be dishonest:
God is not able to provide exactly what I need—even though He has promised to do so (Matthew 6:33). I will take things into my own hands and do them my own dishonest way.
God is incapable of discovering my dishonesty.
God is powerless to discipline me.
If we really believed that God would discipline us, then we would not consider acting dishonestly.
Honest behavior is an issue of faith. An honest decision may look foolish in light of the circumstances we can observe. However, a godly person has mastered the art of considering another factor which is valid, even though invisible: the person of Jesus Christ. Every honest decision strengthens our faith in the living God. However, if we choose to be dishonest, we essentially deny the existence of the Lord. The Bible declares that those who practice dishonesty hate God: “He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord, but he who is crooked in his ways despises Him” (Proverbs 14:2).
2. We cannot practice dishonesty and love our neighbor.
The Lord demands absolute honesty because dishonest behavior violates the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, NIV). Romans 13:9-10 reads, “If you love your neighbor as much as you love yourself you will not want to harm or cheat him . . . or steal from him . . .Love does no wrong to anyone” (TLB).
When we act dishonestly, we are stealing from another person. We may fool ourselves into thinking it is a business or the government or an insurance company that is suffering loss, but if we look at the bottom line, it is the business owners or fellow taxpayers or policyholders from whom we are stealing. It is just as if we took the money from their wallets. We need to remember that dishonesty always injures people.
3. Honesty creates credibility for evangelism.
Our Lord demands that we be absolutely honest in order to demonstrate the reality of Jesus Christ to those who do not yet know Him. Our actions speak louder than our words. Scripture says to “prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15).
Robert Newsome had been trying to sell an old pickup truck for months. Finally, an interested buyer decided to purchase the truck, but at the last moment he told Robert, “I’ll buy the truck only if you don’t report it to the state so I won’t have to pay sales tax.”
Robert was tempted, but he knew it would be wrong. He responded, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that because Jesus Christ is my Lord.”
“You should have seen the buyer’s face,” Robert said a few days later. “He almost went into shock. Then an interesting thing happened. He purchased the truck, and his attitude completely changed. He became very open to the truth of knowing Jesus Christ in a personal way.” Honest behavior confirms to those who do not yet know Him that we serve a holy God.
4. Honesty confirms God’s direction.
Proverbs 4:24-26 reads, “Put away from you a deceitful mouth, and put devious lips far from you. Let your eyes look directly ahead . . . Watch the path of your feet, and all your ways will be established.”
What a tremendous principle! As you are absolutely honest, “all your ways will be established.” Choosing to walk the narrow path of honesty eliminates the many possible avenues of dishonesty. Decision-making becomes simpler because the honest path is a clear path.
“If only I’d understood this,” Raymond said as tears streamed down his cheeks.
“Donna and I wanted that house so much. It was our dream home, but our debts were so large that we couldn’t qualify for the mortgage. The only way we could buy the house was to hide some of our debts from the lender. It was the worst decision of our lives. Almost immediately we were unable to meet the mortgage payment and pay our other debts too. The pressure built. It was almost more than Donna could stand. Our dream house ended up causing a family nightmare. I not only lost the home, but I nearly lost my wife.”
Had Raymond and Donna been honest, the lender would not have approved the loan. They would not have been able to purchase that particular home. If they had prayed and waited, perhaps the Lord would have brought them something more affordable, thus avoiding the pressure that almost ended their marriage. Honesty helps confirm God’s direction.
5. Even the small act of dishonesty is devastating.
God requires us to be absolutely honest because even the smallest act of dishonesty is sin. Even the smallest “white lie” can harden our hearts and make our consciences increasingly insensitive to sin. This can deafen our ears to the still, small voice of the Lord. A single cancer cell of small dishonesty can multiply and spread to greater dishonesty. “Whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much” (Luke 16-10, NIV).
An event in Abraham’s life has challenged me to be honest in small matters. The king of Sodom offered Abraham all the goods Abraham recovered when he returned from successfully rescuing the people of Sodom. Abraham answered the king, “I have sworn to the Lord . . . that I will not take a thread or a sandal thong or anything that is yours” (Genesis 14:22-23).
Just as Abraham was unwilling to take so much as a thread or a sandal thong, I challenge you to make a similar commitment in this area of honesty. Promise (or make a covenant) not to steal a stamp, or a photocopy, or a paper clip, or a penny from your employer, the government or anyone else.
The people of God must be honest in even the smallest, seemingly inconsequential matters.
How Do We Escape the Temptation of Dishonesty?
Unless we deny ourselves and live our lives yielded to the Holy Spirit, all of us will be dishonest. “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16, NIV). The desire of our human nature is to act dishonestly. “Out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts . . . theft . . . deceit” (Mark 7:21-22, NIV). The desire of the Spirit is for us to be absolutely honest. I can’t overemphasize that the life of absolute honesty is supernatural. We must submit ourselves entirely to Christ as Lord and allow Him to live His life through us. The most challenging book I have read on yielding to the Holy Spirit is Humility by Andrew Murray. I heartily recommend it to you.
By a Healthy Fear of the Lord
Proverbs 16:6 reads, “By the fear of the Lord one keeps away from evil.” A “healthy fear” of the Lord does not mean that we have to view God as a big bully just waiting for the opportunity to punish us; rather, He is a loving Father who, out of infinite love, disciplines His children for their benefit. “He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).
I once shared a motel room with a friend during a business trip. As we were leaving, he slipped one of the motel’s drinking glasses into his pocket and walked to the car. Suddenly I was overwhelmed by the fear of the Lord. It is difficult to explain the feeling. The closest description I’ve found is in Daniel 5:6, which records the Babylonian king’s reaction to the handwriting on the wall: “The king’s . . . thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another” (KJV).
There I was with my knees knocking as I thought of Hebrews 12:11, “All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful.” Discipline hurts! Given the choice, I would rather “share His holiness” out of obedience to His Word than to make a deliberate decision that would prompt my loving Father to discipline me. I can’t tell you how relieved I was when my friend returned the glass after I pleaded with him to do so!
By a Loss of Property
I believe that our heavenly Father will not allow us to keep anything we have acquired dishonestly. Proverbs 13:11 reads, “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles.”
Linda purchased four azalea plants, but the checkout clerk had only charged her for one. She knew it, but she left the store anyway without paying for the other three. She said it was simply miraculous how quickly three of those four plants died.
Think about this for a moment: If you are a parent and your child steals something, do you allow the child to keep it? Of course not. You require its return because the child’s character would be damaged if he kept the stolen property. Not only do you insist upon its return, but you probably want the child to experience enough discomfort to produce a lasting impression. For example, you might have the child confess the theft and ask forgiveness from the store manager. When our heavenly Father lovingly disciplines us, it usually is done in such a way that we will not forget.
What Should We Do When We Have Been Dishonest?
Unfortunately, all of us are dishonest from time to time. Once we recognize that we have acted dishonestly, we need to do three things:
1. Restore our fellowship with God.
Anytime we sin, our fellowship with the Lord is broken. This needs to be restored. In 1 John 1:9 we read how: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We must agree with God that our dishonesty is sin and then accept His gracious forgiveness so we can again enjoy His fellowship.
2. Restore our fellowship with people.
We need to confess our dishonesty to the person we offended. “Confess your sins to one another” (James 5:16). This has been difficult for me. After years of avoiding this step, I have started confessing my dishonesty to others. A person’s lack of financial prosperity may be a consequence of violating this principle. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Proverbs 28:13).
3. Restore any dishonestly acquired property.
If we have acquired anything dishonestly, we must return it to its rightful owner. “Then it shall be, when he sins and becomes guilty, that he shall restore what he took by robbery . . . or anything about which he swore falsely; he shall make restitution for it in full, and add to it one-fifth more. He shall give it to the one to whom it belongs” (Leviticus 6:4-5).
Restitution is a tangible expression of repentance and an effort to correct a wrong. If it’s not possible for restitution to be made to the injured party, then the property should be given to the Lord. Numbers 5:8 teaches, “But if the man has no relative to whom restitution may be made for the wrong, the restitution . . . must go to the Lord for the priest.”
A bribe is defined as anything given to a person to influence him to do something illegal or wrong. Taking a bribe is clearly prohibited by Scripture: “And you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the clear-sighted and subverts the cause of the just” (Exodus 23:8). Bribes are sometimes subtly disguised as a “gift” or “referral fee.” Evaluate any such offer to confirm that it is not in reality a bribe.
Blessings and Curses
Listed below are some of the blessings the Lord has promised for the honest and some of the curses reserved for the dishonest. Read these slowly and prayerfully and ask God to use His Word to motivate you to a life of honesty.
Blessings Promised for the Honest
Intimacy with the Lord. “For the crooked man is an abomination to the Lord; but He is intimate with the upright” (Proverbs 3:32).
A blessed family. “A righteous man who walks in his integrity—how blessed are his sons after him” (Proverbs 20:7).
Long life. “Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment” (Proverbs 12:19).
Prosperity. “Much wealth is in the house of the righteous, but trouble is in the income of the wicked” (Proverbs 15:6).
Curses Reserved for the Dishonest
Alienation from God. “For the crooked man is an abomination to the Lord” (Proverbs 3:32).
Family problems. “He who profits illicitly troubles his own house” (Proverbs 15:27).
Death. “The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death” (Proverbs 21:6).
Poverty. “Wealth obtained by fraud dwindles” (Proverbs 13:11).
Are you the Person the Lord Is Looking For?
I believe we seriously underestimate the impact that one honest person can have. Read Jeremiah 5:1 carefully: “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now, and take note . . . if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I [the Lord] will pardon her.” The destiny of an entire city hung in the balance. Its future depended upon there being one absolutely honest person. Will you be that person for your community? You may not receive the acclaim of the media, the business community or politicians, but in God’s economy, your commitment to honesty can have a massive influence on your city.
Society says: You can be dishonest because everyone else is.
Scripture says: The Lord demands absolute honesty in even the smallest matters.
Prayerfully review this checklist for honest behavior:
1. Do I report all income on my tax returns, and are all my tax deductions legitimate?
2. Do I care for the property of others as if it were my own?
3. Do I have the habit of telling “little white lies”?
4. Do I ever misappropriate office supplies, stamps or anything else that belongs to my employer?
5. If I am undercharged on a purchase, do I report it?
6. Do I look out for the interests of others as well as my own?
Ask God to show you any other dishonest behavior that should be changed, especially in the gray areas. Ask a close friend to encourage you and to hold you accountable to be honest.