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In the Steps of the Savior

"Old-Fashioned" Honesty?

Harry Osborne

One writer observed of modern society, "A commentary on the times is that the word honesty is now preceded by old-fashioned." Over the past few years, we have all seen diminished respect for the virtue of telling the truth in various quarters. The adjudicated finding of guilt on perjury charges brought against our last president was surely a disgraceful evidence of the pervasive presence of dishonesty in our modern world. The widespread use of falsehood is not consistent with the values and character expected in the world of my upbringing. My earliest remembrance of character education is the teaching to always be honest. Whether at home or in school, in Bible classes or in the community, honesty was a mandatory virtue in each person and it was commonly accepted that lying was the worst thing one could do. While still a teenager, I came in contact with several people who made a practice out of falsehood and deceit. Since that time, I have witnessed the same proclivity in those who sought power for themselves in various realms. Is it merely being "old-fashioned" to seek a return to a world where honesty is again viewed with the highest respect?

Our Example of "Old-Fashioned" Honesty

In John 8, there is a clear contrast presented between Jesus who told the truth and the leaders of the Jews who lied. At one point, the leaders of the Jews claimed, "We are Abraham's seed, and have never yet been in bondage to any man" (John 8:33). The fact is that Abraham's seed, the Israelites, had been in both Egyptian bondage and Babylonian captivity. The Jewish leaders' lying attempt to bolster their own importance was at variance with the truth. This was not the first time they had lied, nor would it be their last. They had lied about their respect for Jesus while trying to harm him. They would ultimately get men to testify falsely against Jesus to give a false veneer of justice to cover their murderous act. When Jesus arose from the dead, the same people would conspire to lie in a vain effort to conceal His resurrection. Jesus well summarized their character by noting their moral parentage:

    Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father it is your will to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and standeth not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father thereof (John 8:44).

Jesus, on the other hand, is seen as the ultimate example of honesty throughout His earthly ministry. In John 8, Jesus repeatedly affirms that He speaks the truth. Jesus explains the inattentiveness of His opponents to His message by observing, "But because I say the truth, ye believe me not" (John 8:45). When Jesus affirms His present divine nature and power, His critics accuse Him of blasphemy, lying and having a demon (John 8:46-53). Jesus responds with a clearer affirmation of the truth — that He had complete knowledge of God (Gk. oida), that He retained a pre-incarnate knowledge of Abraham, and that He was the I AM in the flesh (John 8:54-58).

Jesus called those who denied such "liars," and so they were. To cover their lies, those first century liars took up stones to kill Jesus, but He was hidden from them and went on His way (John 8:59). The contempt Jesus had for those steeped in lies is clear from the text. They were undeserving of a further expenditure of Jesus' time and they were unable to overcome the truth He upheld in the end. Yes, they would try to bring about what they thought a better result by their lies and misrepresentation against Jesus, but they would not succeed. Jesus was the ultimate embodiment of the fact that only the truth can make one free (John 8:32). A better end is never accomplished by means of lying.

It is an equally sad commentary on both the liar and the believer of a lie that they see misrepresentation as a way of gain. Lying is never a path to progress. It is an inevitable road to disaster, in this world and the one to come. When the principle of honesty is not honored, it will inevitably lead to trouble. The Bible records cases of people who lied. In each case, the lie led to another problem. On the other hand, when Bible characters told the truth, a blessing was always the end result.

Nothing has changed since Bible times to alter the effects of truth or falsehood. However, it seems that many in our society have not learned the value of honesty and the disgrace of falsehood. Some seem to think that lies and deception are acceptable tools to reach their desired goal. A recent study showed a sizable majority of Americans think lying is acceptable at times and sometimes a necessity. It is no wonder that such is the view of a society when even the "religious world" has moved towards the justification of falsehoods. Over the past generation, some in the denominational world have become heavily influenced by "situation ethics" which holds that lying is sometimes right. Even among some who call themselves brethren, there have been attempts to justify lying and deception under some circumstances as morally necessary. There is a present controversy among some brethren over what is beginning to be called the "divine deception" controversy (an oxymoron if ever one existed).

Words of Wisdom on Honesty

The proverbs of Solomon present a contrast between the wisdom of truth and the folly of falsehood. In Proverbs 12:15-23, the wise man says the following:

    The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise.... He who speaks truth declares righteousness, but a false witness, deceit.... The truthful lip shall be established forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil, but counselors of peace have joy. No grave trouble will overtake the righteous, but the wicked shall be filled with evil. Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight. A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness.

Solomon says that the foolish person bears false witness, deceives others and is given to much speech. Throughout Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, Solomon comments upon the fact that those who are constantly talking are often given to lies. Experience teaches us that as well. Lying and deceit may be successful for a little while in helping one gain a desired place, but it will not help in the long run. The end of a liar is shame and disgrace, not success.

When the writer says that "a lying tongue is but for a moment," he is declaring two facts about lying. First, a lie will be found out sooner or later. As God warned of old, "Be sure your sins will find you out" (Num. 32:23). Second, the nature of a liar is that of one trying to make it from one moment to the next. The liar has no firm foundation of fact upon which to stand if a lie is seen as necessary for preservation. The mind of a liar is interested only in present survival. Thus, the priorities of a liar center upon self and not upon principles of right that are greater than self which should guide all action.

Making Application in Our Own Lives

So, how do we deal with a liar? Solomon answered by saying, "The truthful lip shall be established forever" and "those who deal truthfully are His delight." In other words, God will take care of those who tell and abide in truth. Thus, we are instructed, "Therefore, putting away lying, let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25). To do otherwise is to disobey God and to invite the disgrace that will come on one when the truth comes out.

A liar may get by with falsehood for a time before other people, but not in the sight of God. In Acts 5:1-11, we read of two people who lied in order to make themselves look better. The people to whom they lied could not know of their lie, but God did. They were struck dead when they persisted in the lie. In my lifetime, I have met a few people who should be happy that God has ceased such action today. However, His punishment of liars in eternity remains stern (Rev. 21:8).

As Christians, we are to be lights to a world in darkness (Matt. 5:14-16; Phil. 2:14-16). Surely that obligation includes the responsibility to exemplify the virtue of honesty in all of our conduct. Let us commit ourselves to speaking only that which is true. When tempted to lie in order to reach a goal, let us remember that God knows the truth and He will bring it out in time. The cost of lying is just too high. If we tell the truth, we build on a solid base for the present and for eternity. Our lives will ultimately be blessed if we speak the truth as God has done in His speaking to man through the Bible.

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