If you were asked to define honesty, what would you say? Maybe you would say that honesty is the absence of lies. The challenge with this definition is that all of us may have different ideas about what constitutes lying.
On one side, there are those that argue that telling small lies to protect one’s-self or others is fine. These people label ‘lies’ as ‘using wisdom’ or ‘being kind’. Then on the other side, there are those who take a very firm view that even a ‘half-truth’ is a ‘whole lie’ and exaggeration is a lie also.
The Oxford dictionary defines the word ‘honest’ as ‘free of deceit; truthful and sincere’.
I wonder how many of us can say that we are completely truthful and sincere in our interactions and relationships?
This question doesn’t just apply to intimate relationships or marriages. It applies to every relationship that you’re in–friends, family, and co-workers.
Why is honesty so important anyway? “Dishonesty is like plaque that builds up in our relationships” – (Gary Chapman, internationally respected marriage and family life expert). In other words dishonesty is something that destroys our relationships over time.
The bible is clear about the topic of honesty. “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). This scripture tells us that the devil is a liar whereas we know that God cannot lie (Num. 23:19). As children of God therefore, we should be holy as our Father is holy (1 Pet. 2:19). This means then, that no lie should come out of us, no-matter how small or seemingly insignificant.
Psalm 15:1-3 tells us that those who “speak the truth from sincere hearts” can enter God’s presence. V3 also condemns those who gossip or speak evil of others. This means that we should not use ‘honesty’ as a way of attacking someone.
We should be honest so that we can build our relationships up, not tear them down. There are two ways to speak the truth:
(i) As bullets which can kill relationships. Remember that the purpose of telling the truth is not to condemn but to restore.
(ii) As seeds which take root, grow and influence the person.
Love has the patience to plant seeds. We need to speak the truth in love and not out of frustration (Eph. 4:15). Patience will be needed particularly when talking of honesty in marital relationships. For example, a wife may expect her husband to understand her feelings about a particular issue but instead she has to explain her stance to him. However, rather than being angry, and playing games to get her feelings noticed, it would be better for the wife to put the relationship first and be honest about her feelings as this would be less destructive for the relationship.
In the same way that people have different conceptions about what constitutes a lie, there are also misconceptions about what honesty actually is.
Truth telling is not:
(i) Telling everything we know about someone when it would ruin the reputation of those who have abandoned sinful practices and gone on to be upright. For example, such statements as: “Don’t you know he was once accused of stealing? I thought it best to be honest with you about their character; you probably shouldn’t give him the job.
(ii) Voicing all our emotions. Emotions are responses to events that happen throughout the day and can fluctuate depending on our mood and circumstances. If we voice every emotion or feeling in an attempt to be honest about our feelings, we may cause a great deal of damage. What happens when you have calmed down and no longer feel the same way? Unfortunately it is very difficult to take back words once they have been given a voice. Speaking positively about how you would prefer someone to treat you would be better than ‘being honest’ that you think the other person is being a ‘jerk’ at that moment!
(iii) Telling secrets for personal gain – Truth telling is not an excuse to divulge secrets to promote yourself or look good.
Let us be honest (no pun intended!) with ourselves. Being honest all of the time can be very difficult, especially in three main areas, admitting our weaknesses, When we don’t want to offend or upset someone and when we are in ‘sticky situations’. Why not read through the examples and see if you recognise yourself in any of them?
(i) Being open about our weaknesses
- When your CV needs a boost
- When you seem under qualified for a job
- In courtship – trying to be what you think the other person wants you to be rather than who you are. How long will you be able to sustain it?
- In friendship, trying to act smarter braver or more experienced than you are
- In marriage, pridefully suggesting that all problems are down to your spouse rather than admitting that you too are not sure what to do and need God’s help
(ii) When we don’t want to offend or upset someone
- You say to your spouse, ‘Oh, you forgot our anniversary, it’s ok, it’s not that important!
- You say to a friend, ‘Do I like your new hairstyle? O, it’s lovely’ even though you don’t like it
- You say to a family member ‘Thanks for the present-just what I needed-another pair of socks!’
- You say to your spouse, ‘Oh course I don’t mind that you’ve got to work late, I’ll just give the tickets I booked for a once in a life-time concert to someone else-it’s ok’
(iii) Telling ‘small lies’ to get out of trouble or sticky situations
- When you are late for a meeting, you pretend you encountered traffic when in fact you left home late
- When your spouse complains that you didn’t return her call and you say that you didn’t hear the phone
- When you’ve not prepared adequately for a meeting, you say that you were ill
- When you forgot an appointment but you say you never received confirmation of the time
- When you want to get out of a telephone conversation, you say someone is at the door or you are supposed to go out
- When you can’t be bothered to help your children with homework, you say you are busy instead of saying that you are tired and will do it later
- When you can’t be bothered to complete the shopping for your spouse, you say that the shop didn’t have those items
- When you’re screening calls but you later tell the person that the phone was on silent and you didn’t hear it.
- At work, the cash register is not balancing and you know you made a mistake but you claim not to know anything about it
- At work, you forgot to reserve the conference room but you insist you did and the mistake is with the person wrote down the booking
- A cheque bounces and you insist to your spouse that the bank must have made a mistake while you hurriedly take back purchases that your spouse knows nothing about
Sometimes like in these examples, it may seem that we cannot help but lie, it rolls off our tongues easier than the truth. In Romans 6:18, Paul says “Now you are free from your slavery to sin, and you have become slaves to righteous living”. We do not have to be slaves to dishonesty, we need to put off the practice of lying and put on the practice of truth telling.
Even small lies destroy relationships. Every time we slip into falsehood, we put distance between us and those we are relating with as relationships are built on trust. You may feel that you are protecting your spouse, friend or family member but all you are doing is hurting the relationship When you are honest in the small things, integrity will become a way of life for you and it will be easier to be honest in the bigger issues.
How to Rebuild Trust
If trust has been broken in a relationship, it is difficult but not impossible to rebuild it with God’s help. The first step would be to acknowledge all deceit. The courage to confess and seek forgiveness for past deceits shows a willingness to walk a different path in future. The next step is one that will take time and effort as it is the process of becoming trustworthy. The person who violated trust must be willing to speak the truth from that moment on and eventually trust will be reborn.
In a marital relationship, this would translate as complete transparency such as full access to computer passwords, bank account details and mobile phone. This sends the message that from now on, you have nothing to hide.
Make it personal
Why not try this exercise? For one day, write down everything you say that you realise isn’t quite true. Ask yourself if those statements deceived anyone. If the answer is yes, what can you do to put it right?
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