Why Be Truthful?
AT 18 years of age, Manfred was an office trainee. * The company he worked for arranged for him and several other trainees to attend a vocational college two days each week. One day the class was dismissed earlier than scheduled. According to company rules, the trainees were to go back to work for the rest of the day. Instead, they all went off to have a good time, except Manfred, who returned to the workplace. By coincidence, the company executive in charge of the trainees came by. When he saw Manfred, he asked: “Why are you not in class today? And where are the other trainees?” How should Manfred respond?
Manfred’s predicament is typical. Should he tell the truth, or should he cover up for his classmates? To give a truthful answer would mean trouble for the others and make him unpopular. Is it all right to tell a lie under those circumstances? What would you have done? We will return to Manfred later, but let us first consider what is involved when we are called upon to decide whether to speak the truth or not.
Truth and Untruth—A Fundamental Rivalry
At the start of mankind’s history, everything was based on truth. There was no twisting of facts, no manipulation or misrepresentation of the truth. Jehovah, the Creator, is “the God of truth.” His word is truth; he cannot lie, and he condemns lying and liars.—Psalm 31:5; John 17:17; Titus 1:2.
That being the case, how did untruth come to be? Jesus Christ provided the authoritative answer when he told his religious opposers, who were seeking to kill him: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began, and he did not stand fast in the truth, because truth is not in him. When he speaks the lie, he speaks according to his own disposition, because he is a liar and the father of the lie.” (John 8:44) Jesus, of course, was referring to the event in the garden of Eden when Satan induced the first human pair to disobey God and thus fall victim to sin and death.—Genesis 3:1-5; Romans 5:12.
Jesus’ words clearly identify Satan as “the father of the lie,” the originator of lying and untruth. Satan continues to be the chief proponent of untruth and, in fact, is “misleading the entire inhabited earth.” He bears a heavy responsibility for the damage that widespread lying has done to humans today.—Revelation 12:9.
The fundamental rivalry between truth and untruth, started by Satan the Devil, still rages today. It permeates all levels of human society and affects every individual. The way a person lives puts him on one side of the issue or the other. Those on God’s side base their life course on the truth of God’s Word, the Bible. Anyone who does not follow the way of the truth falls, knowingly or unknowingly, into the hands of Satan because “the whole world is lying in the power of the wicked one.”—1 John 5:19; Matthew 7:13, 14.
Why the Tendency to Lie?
The fact that “the whole world” lies in the power of Satan tells us why many people lie. But we might ask, ‘Why did Satan, “the father of the lie,” do so?’ Satan knew that Jehovah is the rightful Sovereign of all that He has created, including the first human pair. Yet, Satan desired for himself this lofty and unique position, something to which he was not entitled. Out of greed and selfish ambition, he schemed to usurp Jehovah’s place. To achieve this, Satan resorted to lies and deceit.—1 Timothy 3:6.
What about today? Do you not agree that greed and selfish ambition are still very much the motives that impel many people to lie? Greedy business, corrupt politics, and false religion are rife with deception, falsehood, manipulation, and fraud. Why? Is it not because people are often motivated by greed and ambition to get ahead or to reach out for wealth, power, or position to which they are not entitled? A wise ruler, King Solomon of ancient Israel, warned: “He that is hastening to gain riches will not remain innocent.” (Proverbs 28:20) And the apostle Paul wrote: “The love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things.” (1 Timothy 6:10) The same could surely be said of the inordinate desire for power or position.
Another factor behind lying is fear—fear of the consequences or of what others may think if the truth is told. It is only natural that people wish to be liked or accepted by others. This desire, however, can move them to distort the truth, even if only a little, in order to cover up shortcomings, to hide unflattering details, or simply to leave a good impression. Appropriately, Solomon wrote: “Trembling at men is what lays a snare, but he that is trusting in Jehovah will be protected.”—Proverbs 29:25.
Loyalty to the God of Truth
What did Manfred say when the company executive asked him for an explanation? Manfred told the truth. He said: “The teacher dismissed us early for the day, so I came to work. As for the others, I cannot speak for them. Perhaps you could ask them personally.”
Manfred could have given a clever, misleading answer, thus making himself popular with the other trainees. But he had good reasons for sticking loyally to the truth. Manfred is one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. His honesty preserved his clean conscience. It also won him the trust of his employer. As part of his training, Manfred was assigned to the jewelry department, where trainees were not normally allowed to work. Some 15 years later when Manfred was promoted to a position of responsibility in the company, the same executive phoned to congratulate him and to recount this incident of integrity to the truth.
Since Jehovah is the God of truth, anyone wishing to have a close relationship with him must “put away falsehood” and “speak truth.” A servant of God ought to love truth. “A faithful witness is one that will not lie,” wrote the wise man. What, though, is a lie?—Ephesians 4:25; Proverbs 14:5.
What Is a Lie?
Every lie is an untruth, but not every untruth is a lie. Why not? A dictionary defines a lie as “an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive.” Yes, lying includes the intention to deceive someone. Hence, to speak an untruth unwittingly—such as giving someone incorrect facts or figures by mistake—is not the same as to tell a lie.
Moreover, we need to consider whether the person asking for information is entitled to a comprehensive answer. For instance, suppose Manfred had been asked the same questions by an executive of another company. Would Manfred have been obliged to tell him everything? Not really. Since that executive had no right to such information, Manfred would have had no obligation to provide it. Of course, even in this case, it would have been wrong for him to tell a lie.
What example did Jesus Christ set in this regard? On one occasion, Jesus was conversing with some unbelievers who showed interest in his travel plans. “Pass on over from here and go into Judea,” they advised him. What was Jesus’ reply? “You go up to the festival [in Jerusalem]; I am not yet going up to this festival, because my due time has not yet fully come.” Shortly thereafter, Jesus did travel to Jerusalem for the festival. Why did he answer that way? They were not entitled to know the exact details of his whereabouts. So while Jesus did not utter an untruth, he gave them an incomplete answer in order to limit the possible harm they could do to him or to his followers. This was not a lie, for the apostle Peter wrote about Christ: “He committed no sin, nor was deception found in his mouth.”—John 7:1-13; 1 Peter 2:22.
What about Peter himself? On the night of Jesus’ arrest, did not Peter lie three times and deny knowing Jesus? Yes, Peter caved in to fear of man and lied. But he immediately “wept bitterly” and repented, and his sin was forgiven. Moreover, he learned from his mistake. Some days later, he spoke in public about Jesus and resolutely refused to stop when threatened by the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem. Surely Peter’s temporary setback and quick recovery should be an encouragement to all of us, who can easily be overwhelmed in a moment of weakness and stumble in word or deed.—Matthew 26:69-75; Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-32; James 3:2.
Truth Will Be Established Forever
“It is the lip of truth that will be firmly established forever, but the tongue of falsehood will be only as long as a moment,” explains Proverbs 12:19. Yes, truthful speech is marked by durability and permanence. And human relationships are more stable and satisfying when people are committed to speaking the truth and acting in harmony with it. Indeed, truthfulness brings immediate rewards. These include a clean conscience, a good reputation, and strong relationships in marriage, in the family, among friends, and even in business.
Lies, on the other hand, cannot stand the test of time. A tongue that utters falsehood may deceive for a while, but untruth does not prevail in the long term. Furthermore, Jehovah, the God of truth, has set a time limit for the toleration of untruth and of those who promote lies. The Bible promises that Jehovah will wipe out the influence of Satan the Devil, the father of the lie, who is misleading the entire inhabited earth. Jehovah will soon put an end to all lies and liars.—Revelation 21:8.
What a relief it will be when at last “the lip of truth” will be firmly established forever!
^ par. 2 Not his real name.
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Greed and selfish ambition are the motives that impel many people to lie
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Every lie is an untruth, but not every untruth is a lie
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What do we learn from Peter’s denial of Christ?
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Speaking the truth makes for stable and satisfying relationships