Summary: The character attributes involved in honesty are: 1. Simplicity 2. Transparency 3. Integrity
We are dealing with a topic today which is a struggle for all of us. If we are truthful, we will admit that not lying can be a problem. There is the fib, the white lie, the half-truth, the clever deception, misleading information, stretching the truth, exaggeration. Who has not been startled to hear yourself say something that is an exaggeration without even thinking about it. It is not that you began the conversation with the intention of saying something that was not quite true, but before you knew it you found yourself embellishing a story. Are you honest about your age? Have you been thoroughly honest with your taxes? Have you ever been dishonest about the time you claimed you worked, or not given an honest day’s work for an honest day’s wage? Have you ever cheated on a test? Have you ever lied to get out of trouble? Have you ever complimented someone when you didn’t mean it? Have you ever kept silent when you should have told the truth? Made yourself appear better than you are? Lied to gain an advantage or get your way? Misled someone to save face?
Jim Carey’s film, Liar Liar, explores how difficult it is to always tell the truth. Because of a wish his son makes, he finds that he is unable to lie at all. The film takes you through a typical day in his life and what it was like for him to always tell what was sometimes the excruciating truth. The Ninth Commandment prohibits giving false testimony against one’s neighbor, and commands that we be truthful. Just think of how different the world would be if everyone kept just this one commandment You could always trust everything anyone said. You would not have to have expensive legal agreements and contracts. The courtrooms would be radically changed and cases would be quickly settled, because the guilty would admit their guilt, and we could trust those who would say that they were not guilty. All salespeople would tell you the truth about their product, and people who return things to stores would always be truthful. You could always believe your spouse or your kids when they tell you where they have been. There would be no divorce, because everyone would keep their promise: “to have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part, according to God’s holy law; and thereto I pledge you my faith.” All of this would be different because one simple command of God was kept.
But Jesus does not excuse our lack of truthfulness just because it is hard to be truthful, or because we might get into trouble. He commands that we be truthful, and when we have not, we need to correct the false impression we have given. But honesty is not just about the words we speak, it is about the person we are. As I have tried to think carefully about this passage, there are three attributes of inner character that I believe are involved. The first is: Simplicity. Jesus said: “Keep it simple. Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Why did Jesus say that anything beyond this comes from the evil one? Because as he was speaking to a group of hypocritical religious leaders of his day, he said to them: “You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). So when we lie we are speaking the devil’s language and becoming like him.
I remember when I was a kid that when my sister and I had an argument about something and she wanted to exact the truth from me, she would start out by saying, “Rod, really, did you do that?” And then if she was not satisfied with my answer, she would say, “Do you swear?” When I would answer at that level, she gave the real test of honesty: “Honest to God?” That’s when I knew I could not avoid the truth any longer. Or maybe you would take this oath as a child: “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye ” (Of course, if you had your fingers crossed it didn’t mean anything.)
But we do the same as adults. We say, “I swear by all that’s holy ”, or “As God is my witness ” When we go to court we are asked to place our hand on the Bible and swear that we will “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” But the reality is that taking that kind of oath will not make a dishonest person any more likely to tell the truth, and the lack of an oath will not make an honest person any less likely to tell a lie. This statement of Jesus is not an injunction against taking a required oath in court, rather a command to keep our lives free from elaborate oaths and schemes to assure others that we are indeed telling the truth. Live simply. Speak simply. Speak the simple truth. If you are a person who has an honest character then you will not need to swear or promise to make others believe you. Your character will be your oath. The Essenes, a Jewish sect that existed at the time of Christ, avoided taking oaths, because they said, “One who is not believed without an appeal to God stands condemned already.”