Teaching Values: Honesty

by Jeff Asher

Webster defines honest as anyone "Characterized by or exhibiting truthfulness and integrity; incorruptible: not deceptive or fraudulent; marked by integrity or truth; fair or just in character and behavior, not cheating or stealing." In the Bible honesty is "probity, integrity, trustworthiness, sincerity, uprightness, decency, morality, rectitude, goodness," (II Timothy 2:1-2; II Corinthians 8:21); (Romans 12:17)."

The basic component of honesty is truth. Thus, in order to be honest one must tell the truth (Proverbs 14:25; 12:19). But honesty goes beyond truth telling and comprehends what is right and lawful (Daniel 6:12); whatever is without perversion (Matthew 22:16); is actual (Philippians 4:8) and sincere (Philippians 1:8). Ultimately; that which is honest conforms to the reality of the Word of God (John 17:17; 2 Thessalonians 2:10; I Timothy 1:10). As far as the Scriptures are concerned one is not fully honest or true who speaks or lives contrary to the Word of God (Luke 8:15; Acts 6:3; II Corinthians 8:21; I Peter 2:12; Psalm 119:118).

Bible Principles Concerning Honesty

First, one must recognize that he can never please God and be anything other than honest. God hates lying (Proverbs 6:17; 12:22; Leviticus 6:2-7; 19:11-13). He regards those that do it as an abomination and evil (Psalm 5:6; Revelation 2:2) and He will destroy all liars in hell (Psalm 5:6; Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15).

An honest man will be truthful in all his business dealings (Proverbs 11:1; 20:10). He will give what is due and more (Luke 3:13; 6:38; cf. Leviticus 19:35-36). He will be careful to pay his taxes (Luke 10:25). As an employee, he will be no purloiner, neither a thief of property nor time (Titus 2:9-10). He will be faithful whether his employer is present or not (Ephesians 6:6-8; cf. Luke 12:42-48). In all of his dealings he will do that which is expected in order to maintain his integrity and the integrity of others because it is the right thing to do (II Corinthians 8:21; Romans 12:17).

An honest man keeps his word (Proverbs 12:22'). The law of truth is in his mouth (Malachi 2:6; Psalm 15:2). He does not promise and then not perform (James 5:12; Matthew 5:37). The truly honest man will not bear false witness, slander or otherwise malign his neighbor (Psalm 15:3). He does not assume an evil motive against any man (Psalm 69:4; I Timothy 6:4). When he makes a bargain, even a bad one, he keeps his end (Psalms 15:4).

An honest man will does not steal (Ephesians 6:1-4; Leviticus 6:2-7). He recognizes that "finders keepers" is the way of the wicked (Exodus 22:9; Leviticus 6:3-4). He does not have to come face to face with a lock in order to respect another's property (Proverbs 23:10; 22:28; Deuteronomy 22:17). Neither does an honest man steal through oppression by taking unfair advantage of the weak or poor (Job 24:1-12; Psalm 62:10; Proverbs 21:7; Ezekiel 22:29).

How Children Learn Honesty

In order to teach children to be honest there must be a "no tolerance policy" at home respecting lying (Deuteronomy 19:16-21; Psalms 119:128, 163). A liar must be held in contempt (Psalm 40:4; 101:7; Proverbs 13:5). Bearing falsehood is a habit that is often acquired in youth and practiced for a lifetime (Psalm 58:3). In order to stop it, there must be a known punishment for lying (Proverbs 19:5, 9). In our home it was certain that wrongdoing would be punished, but lying about wrongdoing would bring a much more severe penalty (Proverbs 20:17).

Integrity is best taught by example. If you do not want children that are dishonest do not demonstrate dishonesty before them (Ezekiel 16:44). Too many parents believe they can exhort their children to "do as I say not as I do" (cf. Jeremiah 7:9-10). However, we must "walk within [our] house with a perfect heart," if we expect to have any real success in building a godly character in them (Psalms 101:2-8). Lying to the boss, keeping what is borrowed, cheating on taxes, stealing from the office and like acts will only teach a child that dishonesty is the expected and accepted thing.

Another way to build an honest character is through teaching life lessons. Perhaps the most important of these concerns redemption. Every one of us needs to realize that the death of Jesus for the sins of the world was necessitated because the serpent told a lie and Eve believed and acted on it (Genesis 3:1-19). This sad event in the history of our race proves that honesty is the only policy.

Another is taught by the example of Abraham. He is remembered as the "friend of God" and the "father of the faithful" (James 2:23; Romans 4:16). However, this beautiful life is marred by the record of two sins, both of which were lies (Genesis 12:11-19; 20:2-18). From him we learn that lying diminishes the character of an otherwise great man.

Another important lesson to be learned from example is that lying often leads to other sins with far graver consequences. No more horrific example of that is found than in the life of David (II Samuel 11-12). David tried to hide his adultery with another Uriah's wife by lies and deception. Being unable to succeed, he resorted to murder. A noble man lost his life in order to cover a lie.

Why Be Honest

Honesty defines character and proves that one is trustworthy (Job 31:5-6; Luke 16:10). This is important and helpful because it establishes our reputation and brings us into the confidence of men to whom we may be helpful (Proverbs 25:19). Being trustworthy we are able to develop relationships that will help us in life (Proverbs 31:11).

An honest man is a truth lover (Psalm 119:163; II Thessalonians 2:10). This love of truth helps develop a mind that recognizes truth rejecting falsehood and error. Thus, the honest man is protected from deception and delusion (II Corinthians 4:2; James 1:22). He is constantly searching for what is true and right (John 7:17; Proverbs 23:23) and only speaks what he knows is the same (Ephesians 4:25; Psalm 8:7). Thus, truth becomes a lamp unto his feet and a light for his path (Proverbs 6:23).