Honesty Is The Best Policy

Mike Willis
Bowling Green, Kentucky

An English proverb says, "Honesty is the best policy." Another says, "Honesty pays," as one considers the long-lasting fruits of honesty in life. Another quipped, "Honesty pays, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to suit a lot of people" (Kin Hubbard, The New Book of Unusual Quotations, p. 162b).

What is "honesty"? Webster defines the word as follows:

1. Originally, (a) honorable; held in respect; (b) respectable, creditable, commendable, seemly, etc.: a generalized epithet of commendation.

2. That will not lie, cheat, or steal; truthful; trustworthy.

3. (a) As showing fairness and sincerity; straightforward; free from deceit... (b) gained or earned by fair methods, not by cheating, lying, or stealing.

Honesty is a character trait which is repeatedly emphasized in the book of Proverbs.

Honesty Will Guide and Deliver You

The wise man wrote, "The integrity of the upright shall guide them . . . The righteous of the perfect shall direct his way" (Prov. 11:3,5). These verses indicate that integrity will direct and guide one in life. How does this occur? If a man will decide to only do what is right, to be honest and fair with his fellow man and before God, many decisions which face him in life will already be answered. Should anyone seek to persuade him to become involved in crooked business deals, he has no trouble making his decision. His decision to be honest guides him in that decision and directs his path. Hence, honesty will guide you.

Later the wise man added, "The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them" (Prov. 11:6). Here righteousness is said to deliver one from harm. There are many problems in life which come to those who are dishonest and crooked: some are arrested for shady business deals, some have conflict with their neighbors because of their lying and stealing, etc. Heartache comes from walking in the path of wickedness. The man who resolves to be honest is delivered from these pains and heartaches.

Honesty Is A Blessing Passed Down To One's Children

A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children. . . (Prov. 13:22).

The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him (Prov. 20:7).

The fate of all men is to pass into oblivion. Millions of people who once inhabited this earth have passed on and no one remembers their name. My fate will be to die and be forgotten by those who live after. About the most that one can hope for, from a strictly temporal point of view, is that his name will be remembered among the just (Prov. 10:7). When I am gone, may my name be remembered alongside that of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Paul, Peter, Mines, and John; let it not be mentioned alongside of Ahab, Jezebel, Judas, Adolf Hitler, and Jesse James.

I can pass down to my children a good name - a name synonymous with honesty, integrity, righteousness, holiness, etc. By living righteously, I can provide a good example for my children and grandchildren to emulate. I can guide the moral training of my children.

Areas In Which Dishonesty Is Common

1. Business. Business is renown for dishonest practices. "Buyer beware" warns of the danger of dishonest merchants. The proverbs say, "A false balance is abomination to the Lord" (Prov. 11:1; 16:11; 20:10). The balance was the means of weighing goods for buying and selling. By using false weights, a trader could cheat those from whom he bought and sold. We can be thankful that we live in a country where weights and measures are closely regulated by civil law to protect us from dishonesty in business.

Usury is another form of dishonesty in business condemned in Proverbs (28:8). Usury is charging excessive interest rates on money. The rich abused the poor, taking advantage of them, by charging excessive rates of interest on loans. Our government regulates the lending institutions to protect men from such abuses.

Get-rich-quick schemes have been a temptation to men of all ages. Men want to be rich without earning their money. In get-rich-quick schemes, the natural process of labor is circumvented and the desire to be rich causes one to compromise principles of honorable business. The quality of materials is reduced and descriptions of what the product can do are exaggerated. Fraud is committed. "He that maketh haste to be rich shall not be innocent . . . He that hasteth to be rich hath an evil eye" (Prov. 28:20,22).

Taking advantage of the poor is another form of dishonesty condemned in the Proverbs (cf. 22:16,22). When some see a man in extreme circumstances, they see his unfortunate condition as a means of making an easy dollar. Widows, orphans, and poor people are the victims of the wealthy.

One of the first lessons to learn about dishonesty in business is that it will bring unhappiness (Prov. 20:17). "Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; but afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel." Though one might win a temporary advantage, soon his business tactics become known and men shun doing business with him. You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. The end result is that dishonesty hurts the man committing it.

The proverbs exalt the value of honesty in business when they teach that poverty with integrity is better than riches with dishonesty (Prov. 16:8; 19:22; 22:1; 28:6). Not everyone believes this. The man who submits his life to the direction of God's word believes this and lives his life in compliance with the demands of honesty.

Some of the areas in which many are dishonest in business today include the following: misrepresenting the product they are selling (e.g., a person who rolls back the odometer on a car which he is selling); padding expense accounts, labor charges, or material costs; accepting kickbacks; paying bribes; refusing to pay one's just bills (cf. Rom. 13:8).

As Christians, we must bend over backwards to be sure that we are honest in business. We need not only to obey the demands of the law of God, but also to provide things honest in the sight of all men (Rom. 12:17; 2 Cor. 8:21).

2. Speech. Our speech should manifest that we are honest. Some of the ways in which men show dishonesty in speech are: (a) Lying (Prov. 12:22); (b) Being two-faced (Prov. 10: 18; 23:6-8); (c) Bearing false witness (Prov. 14:5,25). A man's word should be his bond.

3. Stealing. The Scriptures condemn stealing (Eph. 4:28 - "Let him that stole steal no more. . ."). One test of a man's honesty is whether or not he will steal. His honesty is not demonstrated by the fact that he will not steal when someone is watching. "The thief who finds no opportunity to steal thinks himself an honest man" (Talmud). However, he is not an honest man; he simply has not had an opportunity to steal.

Our society is plagued with thieves. Some rob the neighborhood convenience store; some shoplift; some steal hubcaps, tires, etc. Among teenagers, cheating on tests is a common form of stealing. One person will steal the answers from another's paper; others become accomplices in stealing by helping a friend steal answers. Some people tamper with cable television devices in order to receive pay channels without paying for them.

Another area in which dishonesty is rampant is stealing from the government on income tax returns. Some misrepresent their income; others misrepresent their deductions. In both ways, men steal from the government by failing to pay their legislated taxes.

Fruits of Dishonesty

Dishonesty brings its own reward. The law of retribution ("whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap") cannot be escaped. Dishonesty will cause a man to have a bad reputation in the community in which he lives. His neighbors will not want to have anything to do with him and will not respect him.

Many times dishonesty will lead to violation of the civil law. In such cases, dishonesty can lead to fines and imprisonment (e.g. in stealing, fraud, etc.).

Whether or not one's dishonesty is ever known by his friends or neighbors and whether or not one's dishonesty brings civil fines and imprisonment, it will bring eternal damnation from the hands of a just God. Lying, stealing, and cheating are sins before God which will keep a person out of heaven and cause him to suffer the torments of hell.


"Honesty is the best policy." When my life is over, may it be said of me, "Every man has his fault, and honesty is his" Burns wrote, "An honest man's the noblest work of God" (The Cotter's Saturday Night via The Pocket Book of Quotations, p. 137).

Guardian of Truth XXX: 20, pp. 610, 632-633
October 16, 1986