Is It Really Dishonest?
“Adjust your accident report a bit, and everything will be fine.”
“The tax authorities don’t have to know everything.”
“The main thing is not to get caught.”
“Why pay when you can get it free?”
YOU may hear expressions like these if you ask for advice on financial matters. Some people seem to have clever “solutions” for everything. The question is, Are those solutions truly honest?
Dishonesty is so widespread today that people often view lying, cheating, and stealing as acceptable ways to avoid punishment, to make money, or to move ahead. Prominent members of society often set a poor example regarding honesty. In one European country, cases of fraud and embezzlement grew by over 85 percent from 2005 to 2006. And that did not include many minor cases of dishonesty, which some people call peccadilloes, or “little sins.” Perhaps it was not so surprising that leading business and political figures in that country were involved in a scandal in which they were found to have used forged diplomas to advance their careers.
Despite the world’s pervasive dishonesty, however, many people want to do what is right. Likely you are one of them. Perhaps because you love God, you want to do what is right in his eyes. (1 John 5:3) You may feel as did the apostle Paul, who wrote: “We trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Hebrews 13:18) For that reason, we invite you to look at some situations that can test a person’s desire to conduct himself “honestly in all things.” We will also consider Bible principles that can be helpful in such circumstances.
Who Should Pay for an Accident?
While driving one day, a young woman named Lisa * makes a mistake and collides with another car. Nobody is injured, but there is damage to both vehicles. In her country, young drivers pay high premiums for car insurance, and those premiums go up after each accident. Since Lisa’s older cousin Gregor is with her, a friend suggests that they report that Gregor was driving her car. In that way, Lisa can avoid higher insurance costs. The solution seems prudent. What should she do?
Insurance companies use the premiums paid by their policyholders to settle claims. Hence, by following her friend’s suggestion, Lisa would in essence be forcing other policyholders to pay for her accident through higher insurance rates. She would not only be making a false report but also be stealing from others. The same would be true of making false statements to increase an insurance settlement.
Legal penalties may be a strong deterrent to such a dishonest act. But a more important reason to avoid being dishonest is found in God’s Word. “You must not steal,” states one of the Ten Commandments. (Exodus 20:15) The apostle Paul reiterated that command for Christians, saying: “Let the stealer steal no more.” (Ephesians 4:28) By obeying God’s Word in such insurance matters, you avoid doing something that God condemns. You also demonstrate your love and respect for God’s law and for your neighbors.—Psalm 119:97.
“Caesar’s Things to Caesar”
Peter is a businessman. His accountant suggests that he claim a tax deduction for the “purchase” of expensive computer equipment. Such a purchase is normal for a business like Peter’s. Although Peter never made the purchase, the government would not likely investigate such an expense. That deduction would save Peter a considerable sum on his tax payments. What should he do? What could guide him in making his decision?
The apostle Paul told Christians in his day: “Let every soul be in subjection to the superior authorities . . . Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax; to him who calls for the tribute, the tribute.” (Romans 13:1, 7) Those who desire to gain God’s approval pay all taxes that the authorities require of them. On the other hand, if the law of the land grants reduced tax rates to certain individuals or businesses, there is nothing wrong with claiming such benefits if legally qualified to do so.
Here is another situation that involves the paying of taxes. David is employed as a carpenter at a local company. But his friends and neighbors ask him to make cabinets and furniture for their homes, and he does so after hours. They offer him higher pay than he is earning at his regular job, but they expect him to work without an invoice. Thus no one keeps a record of the work done, and no one pays taxes. Many people feel that this is fine, since everyone benefits from this arrangement. Because David is interested in pleasing God, how should he view work that is done off the books?
Although a person working in such a way may not get caught, he is not paying the taxes that the government has a right to collect. Jesus commanded: “Pay back, therefore, Caesar’s things to Caesar, but God’s things to God.” (Matthew 22:17-21) Jesus said this to correct his listeners’ thinking regarding the payment of taxes. Governmental authorities, whom Jesus called Caesar, consider tax payments their rightful due. Hence, followers of Christ view the paying of all taxes as their Scriptural obligation.
Cheating on Exams
A high school student named Marta is getting ready for her final exams. Because her prospects for a decent job depend on her receiving high marks, she has spent hours studying. Some of her classmates have also prepared—but in a different way. They will be using pagers, preprogrammed calculators, and cell phones to cheat in order to achieve high grades. Should Marta do what “everybody” is doing to make sure that she gets good grades?
Because cheating is so commonplace, many feel that there is nothing wrong with it. “The main thing is not to get caught,” they reason. That reasoning, however, is unacceptable to true Christians. Although a teacher may not notice those who cheat, there is someone who does. Jehovah God knows what we do and will call us to account for our actions. Paul wrote: “There is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” (Hebrews 4:13) Knowing that God is watching because he is interested in our doing what is right is strong motivation to be honest when we take a test, is it not?
What Will You Do?
Lisa, Gregor, Peter, David, and Marta saw the seriousness of the circumstances they faced. They decided to act honestly and thus maintained a clear conscience and their moral integrity. What will you do when faced with similar circumstances?
Your colleagues, classmates, and neighbors may have no qualms about lying, cheating, or stealing. In fact, they may use ridicule to try to force you to act in the same way as they do. What can help you to make the right decision despite the pressure to act dishonestly?
Remember, acting in harmony with God’s will results in our having a clean conscience as well as God’s approval and favor. King David wrote: “O Jehovah, who will be a guest in your tent? Who will reside in your holy mountain? He who is walking faultlessly and practicing righteousness and speaking the truth in his heart. . . . He that is doing these things will never be made to totter.” (Psalm 15:1-5) A clean conscience and friendship with the God of heaven are worth more than any material advantage gained through dishonesty.
^ par. 10 Some names have been changed.
[Blurb on page 12]
“Let the stealer steal no more.”
Respect for God’s law and love of neighbor move us to be honest in insurance matters
[Blurb on page 12]
“Render to all their dues, to him who calls for the tax, the tax.”
To gain God’s approval, we pay all taxes required by law
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“All things are . . . openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.”
Though teachers may not catch us cheating, we want to be honest before God
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Theft That Is “Invisible”
Your friend has purchased the latest edition of a computer program, and you would like to have it. He offers to save you money by making you a copy of the software. Is that dishonest?
When users buy computer software, they agree to abide by the limits spelled out in the licensing agreement for that program. The license may allow the purchaser to install and use the program on only one computer. In that case, copying the software for someone else breaks the licensing agreement and is illegal. (Romans 13:4) Such copying is also stealing, for it deprives the copyright holder of income that he has a right to receive.—Ephesians 4:28.
Some may reason, ‘No one will ever know.’ Be that as it may, we should remember Jesus’ words: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.” (Matthew 7:12) All of us appreciate fair payment for our work and desire that others treat our property with respect. We should, therefore, extend the same consideration to others. We avoid “invisible” thievery, such as taking intellectual property * that does not belong to us.—Exodus 22:7-9.
^ par. 40 Intellectual property includes such copyrighted material as music, books, or software, whether it is printed on paper or stored electronically. Trademarks, patents, trade secrets, and publicity rights also fall into this category.