Honesty and Truth
Cape Coral, Florida
The subject before us has many facets. The demands of it are greater than anything else. Unless, of course, it is that of a fisherman bragging about his latest catch while not aware that God is listening or that of preparing your tax return when no one is looking but Jehovah. Honesty and truth are the heart and soul of the whole person, not merely a "Boy Scout" trait.
The Greeks had two words for "honesty"; kalos, with the ethical meaning of what is fair and right, and semnos, denoting that which is honorable. The word "truth" comes from alethes, which has a primary meaning of being unconcealed, true to fact. In our everyday conversation we are most likely to use the word "integrity" when discussing sincerity and truth. There can be no honesty without truth. It is with compliance to truth that we fulfill our obligation in "promise making" for example. Because we are honorable and true, we are "promise keepers."
It is because of belief in one's honesty that we tend to trust our brethren, though we are often disappointed. We trust God explicitly because of his absolute integrity. If God should be proven false then the basis of trust would be eliminated. So it is with man. When we can no longer depend on one another to do what we said we would do, the future becomes an undefined nightmare. The question of honesty and truth is a holy thing. "Ideas in theory and ideas in action are seldom the same. But when one follows the other, there is opportunity for change and growth" (Integrity, Engstrom & Larson). Honesty demands that we be true to our commitments, whether to God, our spouse or man in general. We certainly should expect this of our brethren ("when thou vowest a vow unto God defer not to pay it . . . Pay that which thou vowest, " Eccl. 5:4). Emerson said, "The greatest homage we can pay to truth is to use it."
The Christian Must Demonstrate Honesty
1. In the Heart. "Knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful," Samuel Johnson once said. Honesty is demanded. So is its demonstration. Charles Spurgeon once said, "A good character is the best tombstone. Those who loved you, and were helped by you, will remember you when forget-me-nots are withered. Carve your name on hearts, and not on marble." Before one can be viewed as an honest person there must be an "honest and good heart" (Lk. 8:15, "good" is from agathos, which means that which is good in character). Only the honest and good heart will produce the honor that will cause one to be true to himself and to others. We are commanded to "provide things honest in the sight of all men" (Rom. 12:17). This we will do if and when we are fully aware that such is in the sight of the Lord (2 Cor. 8:21). So where there is an honest heart the integrity of the individual is beyond question.
2. In the tongue. In addition to honesty being displayed in the heart, it must be manifested with the tongue. "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh" (Matt. 12:34). Let us not deceive ourselves (Jas. 1:26). "Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight" (Prov. 12:22). An honest heart will not produce the fruit of a tongue that lies and deceives. More to the heart of the issue is the attitude toward our commitments and promises. When we vow or promise to do something, it should be viewed as a "holy thing" because God requires it of us. Simply put, honesty is the doing what you said you would do. When one promises to do something for a child and for some reason fails in the commitment, the child most often responds with "but you promised! " The message is clear with reference to trust, which in turn is based on belief in the parent's integrity.
3. In actions and deeds. When Jesus spoke of those who "saith to me, Lord, Lord," but who would not enter the kingdom, he was speaking of those who would not do his will (Matt. 7:21). He was speaking of the need for honesty in our actions and deeds. An honest man will not live a lie. He will be true to his convictions. He will not say one thing and do something else. There will be exactness and correlation between the belief and the act. "Talent is nurtured in solitude; character is formed in the stormy billows of the world" (Geothe).
4. Genuineness and Sincerity. Finally, honesty must display itself in genuineness and sincerity. In Psalms 55 Davis spoke of a pretended friend who was in fact his enemy: "The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart: his words were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords" (Psa. 55:21). The wise man warned, "Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats: for as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: eat and drink, he saith to thee; but his heart is far from thee" (Prov. 23:6-7). A man is vain when he fails to show honesty in living in demonstration of genuineness and sincerity (Jas. 2:15-17). "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all" (Jas. 2:10). The wise man said, "Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of the transgressor is hard" (Prov. 13:15).
A Call to Action
There are some stern tests involved, all of which remind us of the admonition, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, what thee"(1 Tim. 4:16). And who among us would declare that we do not need some correction along these lines? Dare any of us declare that we have never come into contact with Solomon's little foxes that spoil the vine? Compromise your conviction on the matter of integrity once, and it becomes easier the second time around. When one sincerely encounters the thrust of the obligations of honesty, then the real meaning of Proverbs 13:10 strikes a hard blow: "Poverty and shame shall be to him that refuseth instruction: but he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured."
In my early years of study I had difficulty with King David being called a "a man of God" (2 Chron. 8:14) and a man after God's "own heart" (Acts 13:22). He was guilty of many sins and indiscretions. But after falling, he would pick himself up in sincere repentance and confession of his sins. The monument to his integrity and honesty is found in Psalm 51. What a powerful tribute to that which demands a clear call to action. The New International Version of the Bible uses the expression, "that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity" and "with an honest heart" in translating 1 Chronicles 29:17. What was said of David could not be a better epitaph for you and me: "he served his own generation by the will of God" and "fell asleep" (Acts 13:36).
This vivid illustration from God's Word demonstrates a vital principle of truth regarding honesty; namely integrity is never subject to circumstances or people. It is subject solely to the principle of what is right, honorable and true in the sight of God and man.
It never asks, "Who is right?" but, "What is right?" It does not ask, "What kind of person am I dealing with?" but, "What kind of person am I?" It never inquires into "who is honest and deserving of courtesy and consideration?" Integrity seeks that which is honest and courteous regardless of the person with whom one is dealing. It does not ask, "What kind of behavior does this person demand of me?" Rather, it will ask, "What kind of behavior does the standard of truth demand of me?" Just what kind of individuals are we anyway? "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just . . . if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things" (Phil. 4:8).
There are definite circumstances which will try our honesty and conformity to truth. For the purpose of stimulating thought think of the following examples of the tests of our honesty:
Do we profess to believe in a man's innocence until he is proven to be guilty (1 Tim. 5:19; Matt. 18:16), yet judge before all the facts are in (Jn. 7:24)? Do we profess to believe in the principles of open-mindedness with reference to the study of the Bible, particularly in the area of judgment and opinion, yet are defiantly close-minded with those with whom we disagree (Acts 17:11-12)? Do we, without intent on our part and quite by accident, have opportunity to profit by a mistake made in our favor, a mistake which probably would never come to light unless we reveal it, take advantage of it as if honesty did not demand otherwise (2 Cor. 8:21). And what if your loyalty to the truth of God's Word would injure you and lying would profit you in some way? What do we do about the emotionally charged and extremely unpopular issues with reference to the way of truth? Do we support the way that is right even though such support is costly? Or do we oppose those who are standing for what is right because in doing this we know that our peers would greatly exalt us in their minds because of such opposition?
"Semper fidelis" - Always faithful, always true. Is it too much to ask that we as brethren be "always faithful" to God, to ourselves and to one another? At the risk of sounding judgmental this writer firmly believes that many of us need to honestly ask ourselves, "What does being faithful actually mean?"
I think right now is the time to get our dust-covered Bibles off the shelf and read carefully Romans 2:21-24. In so doing recognize the benefits of looking at the faults of others from the standpoint of opportunity afforded to look more carefully at ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5).
Guardian of Truth XXXIV: 16, pp. 488-489