How to Remain Honest in a Dishonest World
LIKE the air we breathe, dishonesty is everywhere. People lie, overcharge, steal, do not repay debts, and boast of sharp business practices. Living in this environment, we are often faced with situations that test our determination to be honest. How can we keep on resisting the tendency toward dishonesty? Let us consider three key factors that will help us to do so. They are fear of Jehovah, a good conscience, and a sense of contentment.
A Healthy Fear of Jehovah
The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Jehovah is our Judge, Jehovah is our Statute-giver, Jehovah is our King.” (Isa. 33:22) Recognizing Jehovah’s position of authority results in godly fear—a driving force behind our determination to resist the spirit of dishonesty. Proverbs 16:6 states: “In the fear of Jehovah one turns away from bad.” Such fear is, not morbid dread of a vindictive God, but healthy concern over displeasing our heavenly Father, who is deeply interested in our welfare.—1 Pet. 3:12.
A true-life experience illustrates the positive effect of such healthy concern, or fear. Ricardo and his wife, Fernanda, withdrew the equivalent of seven hundred dollars (U.S.) from their bank account. * Fernanda put the stack of bills into her purse without counting it. On arriving home after having paid some bills, they were surprised to find almost the same amount that they had withdrawn still in Fernanda’s purse. “The bank cashier must have overpaid us,” they concluded. At first, they were tempted to keep the money, since they had many other unpaid bills. Ricardo explains: “We prayed to Jehovah for strength to return the money. Our desire to please him in response to his appeal at Proverbs 27:11 made us want to return the money.”
A Bible-Trained Conscience
We can develop a sensitive conscience by studying the Bible and striving to put what we learn into practice. Thus ‘the word of God, which is alive and exerts power,’ will reach not only our minds but also our hearts. This will motivate us “to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.”—Heb. 4:12; 13:18.
Consider João’s case. He ran up a huge debt, equivalent to five thousand dollars (U.S.). Then, without paying his debt, he moved to another town. Eight years later, João learned the truth, and his Bible-trained conscience moved him to contact his creditor and pay off that debt! Because João has to support a wife and four children on a small income, the creditor agreed that he could pay back the amount in monthly installments.
A Sense of Contentment
The apostle Paul wrote: “It is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. . . . Having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Tim. 6:6-8) Taking this wise counsel to heart will help us to avoid being ensnared in greedy, questionable business practices or in unrealistic get-rich-quick schemes. (Prov. 28:20) Following Paul’s counsel will also help us to put God’s Kingdom first, confident that our basic necessities will be supplied.—Matt. 6:25-34.
However, because of “the deceptive power of riches,” we should never underestimate the danger of being overcome by greed and covetousness. (Matt. 13:22) Recall the case of the man Achan. He had witnessed the Israelites’ miraculous crossing of the Jordan River. Even so, overcome by greed, he did not resist the desire to steal some silver and gold and an expensive garment from the spoils of the city of Jericho. That act cost him his life. (Josh. 7:1, 20-26) No wonder that centuries later, Jesus warned: “Keep your eyes open and guard against every sort of covetousness”!—Luke 12:15.
Be Honest at the Workplace
Let us now consider some circumstances that can test our determination to remain honest in all things. Being honest at our workplace includes “not committing theft”—even if doing so is the supposed norm. (Titus 2:9, 10) Jurandir, who works at a government agency, was honest when reporting his travel expenses. His colleagues, though, claimed more than they had spent. They could do so because the head of the department covered for the dishonest workers. In fact, that same person reprimanded Jurandir for being honest and stopped sending him on business trips. In time, however, the agency was audited, and Jurandir was commended for his honesty. He also received a promotion.
André, a salesman, was told by his employer to charge the same service fee twice to customers’ accounts. Our brother prayed to Jehovah for courage to adhere to Bible principles. (Ps. 145:18-20) He also tried to explain to his employer why he could not follow his instructions—but to no avail. So André decided to quit this well-paying job. However, about a year later, his former employer called him back to work, assuring him that the customers were no longer being overcharged. André was promoted to manager.
Pay Back Debts
The apostle Paul advised Christians: “Do not you people be owing anybody a single thing.” (Rom. 13:8) We might try to justify not repaying a debt, assuming that the creditor is well-off and does not need the money. The Bible, however, warns: “The wicked one is borrowing and does not pay back.”—Ps. 37:21.
What, though, if an “unforeseen occurrence” prevents us from paying back what we owe? (Eccl. 9:11) Francisco borrowed the equivalent of seven thousand dollars (U.S.) from Alfredo to pay off his mortgage. But because of some business setbacks, Francisco was unable to pay his debt on the set date. He took the initiative to approach Alfredo to discuss the matter, and Alfredo agreed to be repaid in several installments.
Avoid Giving a False Impression
Recall the bad example of Ananias and Sapphira, a couple in the first-century Christian congregation. Having sold a field, they brought only part of the proceeds to the apostles and claimed that it was the entire amount of the sale. They wanted to impress others with their inflated generosity. The apostle Peter, however, under the inspiration of God’s holy spirit, unmasked their deceit, and they were struck dead by Jehovah.—Acts 5:1-11.
In contrast with dishonest Ananias and Sapphira, the Bible writers were candid and honest. Moses honestly reported his loss of temper that resulted in his being barred from entering the Promised Land. (Num. 20:7-13) Similarly, Jonah did not cover up the weaknesses that he manifested before and after preaching to the Ninevites. Instead, he recorded them.—Jonah 1:1-3; 4:1-3.
Certainly, courage is needed to tell the truth even if that costs you something, as is illustrated by what happened to 14-year-old Nathalia at school. She reviewed a written exam she had taken and noticed that one of the answers her teacher marked as correct was actually wrong. Although she knew that this would adversely affect her grades, Nathalia did not hesitate to tell her teacher. “My parents have always taught me that to please Jehovah, I must be honest. My conscience would have troubled me if I had not informed my teacher,” she said. The teacher appreciated Nathalia’s honesty.
Honesty—A Quality That Brings Honor to Jehovah
Giselle, a 17-year-old girl, found a wallet with documents and the equivalent of $35 (U.S.). She made arrangements through the school authorities to have the wallet returned to its owner. A month later, the school vice-principal read a letter to the whole class praising Giselle for her honesty and commending her family for her good training and religious upbringing. Her “fine works” gave glory to Jehovah.—Matt. 5:14-16.
It takes effort to be honest while living amid those who are ‘lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, and disloyal.’ (2 Tim. 3:2) Nevertheless, a healthy fear of Jehovah, a Bible-trained conscience, and a sense of contentment help us to remain honest in a dishonest world. We also cultivate an ever closer friendship with Jehovah, who ‘is righteous and loves righteous acts.’—Ps. 11:7.
^ par. 5 Some names have been changed.
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A healthy fear of Jehovah strengthens our resolve to be honest
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Our honest behavior brings glory to Jehovah