“To be honest, as this world goes, is to be one man picked out of ten thousand.” Shakespeare wrote these words to come from the mouth of Hamlet sometime between 1599 and 1601. While Hamlet meant it as a personal dig towards someone else, it was also a generally true statement (and an ironic one coming from Hamlet) that is just as true around 417 years later.
I’ve lumped the eighth and ninth commandments together not because I’m lazy but because they can be traced back to the same theme and virtue: honesty.
Exodus 20:15-16 contains these two commandments, and it reads, “You must not steal. You must not testify falsely against your neighbor” (NLT).
Stealing involves honesty in the obvious sense that when we steal, we do not obtain the object by honest means. We take it even though it was not given to us and we did not earn it or buy it.
In a much more subtle way, stealing is a product of dishonesty because it means we are not being honest with ourselves or with others. It can stem from an insecurity we don’t (or don’t want to) deal with, like jealousy or dissatisfaction. In not being honest about it and dealing with it, even on our own, we decide we’ll just take what we want or don’t have. We think it’ll take care of our problem, but stealing isn’t a true remedy for the issue.
Or we steal just because we don’t want other people to have something. This comes from bitterness or anger. And I believe that in this sense, we steal things that aren’t tangible. We steal hope, joy, peace because we don’t have them, and we don’t want others to have them either. Misery does love company, so much so that it’ll create more of it if it has to.
Testifying falsely, or lying, is probably the purest form of dishonesty because it means we know the truth and are purposefully disregarding it. And while people should not value the opinions other people hold of them, lying about someone creates a false persona of that person that can directly affect his or her life.
I work at a bank. I used to work at a clothing distribution center during the summers between spring and fall semesters in college, and this was the only work history I had on my resume when I applied for the job at the bank. Let’s say my co-workers had talked junk about me and circulated rumors, essentially creating and spreading lies. Let’s say they did it so much that my previous boss heard this stuff and believed it. Now, suppose whoever was in charge of hiring someone to fill the position at the bank called my previous boss and asked about me and all he or she heard is that I’m a greedy cheat who isn’t very nice. What kind of recommendation does the former boss give? Do I get the job where I have to be friendly to everyone and be honest?
What we say about other people can have real implications, some serious and some not. Regardless of the consequences, we aren’t called to tear people down or hurt them. We are called to love them, and in doing so, lift them up.
Honesty and truth are very important to God, so much so that Jesus identifies Himself as the truth (John 14:6). Being honest affects us because it’s the difference between dealing with our issues and making them worse. It affects others in that it can afford them opportunites and encouragement or it can harm them. And it can affect our relationship with God because He deeply values truth and authenticity (i.e., John 4:24), and He knows the truth even if we aren’t comfortable with telling it. These two commandments go back to honesty and truth because those qualities make our lives and the lives of those we interact with better.
By Carrie Prevette