A sermon by Rev Richard Keith on Honesty in the book of Proverbs.
Two plus two is four. The sky is blue. And the only word in the English language that rhymes with orange is sporange. All these statements are true. Honest. Would I lie to you? Of course I wouldn’t. And you know that’s true because you trust me.
Our society runs on trust. We trust our family. We trust our friends. We even trust people we hardly know at all. We even trust complete strangers unless we have good reason not to. We trust the bank when we deposit a cheque. We trust the butcher when we buy some meat. And people trust us. The supermarket trusts us when we swipe our credit card and the government trusts us when we lodge our tax return. Of course they do. Because trust oils the cogs that turn in the machine of civilisation. Without trust we would have anarchy. And that trust depends on our honesty. That our words and actions are true. That they line up with reality. And our honesty depends on our integrity. That we say what we mean and that we mean what we say. Without integrity, without honesty, there is no trust, and lack of trust undermines every level of human society, from the top of government right down to the individual.
According to the book of Proverbs being honest, telling the truth is the wise thing to do. Proverbs chapter 12 verse 22 says
The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.
The Lord detests lying lips. He doesn’t just dislike lying. He isn’t just annoyed by it. He detests it. He hates it with a passion. Like Australians hate cheats. Like kids hate Brussels Sprouts. On the other hand, the Lord delights in the truth. It makes him glad. He loves the truth and those who speak the truth.
Not only does the Lord love the truth, but people love it to. Chapter 24 says,
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.
Chapter 16 says,
Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.
When people ask us awkward questions, it is tempting to tell them what they want to hear? Not what is real or what we really think or what we really plan to do. And when we want to tell them no, sorry I can’t help you with that, it is tempting to make up an excuse that is more pleasant than the truth. But when we are the one doing the asking, we don’t want to be mucked around. We don’t want to be treated like a fool, like a child who wouldn’t understand. We don’t want to be treated like we’re so precious, like we’re so fragile that we need to be protected from the truth. We want the truth, however hard it may be. However tempting a lie may be, we need to treat people the way we would want to be treated. And ultimately, the truth they don’t like will be more satisfying than the lie they thought they wanted. However hard it is people know they can depend on the truth. They can prepare for the truth. They can build their life on the truth.
The truth is so beneficial and so necessary that the Lord expects, the Lord commands honesty in two particular spheres of life. Firstly, in the law courts. Proverbs chapter 14 says,
A truthful witness does not deceive. A truthful witness saves lives.
In the law courts a witness who tells the truth is an instrument of justice, defending the innocent, and punishing the guilty. When no one else knows the facts, when otherwise it is one person’s word against another, a reliable witness who tells the truth can reveal what really happened.
On the other hand chapter 25 says,
Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbour.
A false witness is not an instrument of justice, but a weapon in the hand of the wicked. A lying witness can kill a man just as surely as a knife in the back or a bullet in his brain, destroying his life, his reputation and his family.
The second place where honesty is vital is the market place. Chapter 11 says,
Accurate weights are the Lord’s delight.
Chapter 16 says,
Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making.
When everything in the market place is sold by weight, accurate scales are a must for honest trading. And it just goes to show that honesty isn’t just about what we say, it’s also about what we do. Doing the truth as well as telling the truth. But for the merchant with not scruples it could be easy to substitute dodgy weights to sell less produce for the same amount of money. And so Proverbs chapter 11 says,
The Lord abhors dishonest scales.
Chapter 20 says,
The Lord detests differing weights, and dishonest scales do not please him.
What these two spheres of life share, the law court and the market place, is firstly that a lot is at stake. A person’s liberty or their innocence in the law court. A person’s livelihood or business in the market place. But secondly, they are two places where deception might go undetected. Where the ordinary trusting person is at the mercy of those who know the short cuts and have the nerve to take them. They are places where lies might seem to win in the short term. But by revealing his will for us here in the book of Proverbs, the Lord is teaching us that he is the defender of the innocent and the protector of the honest. The dishonest man may succeed for a time, but his success cannot last.
Because the liar is like the person who breaks all the rules of the road. They drive at high speeds. They run through red lights. They drive the wrong way down one way streets. They dodge and weave dangerously to get to where they want to go faster. They get to their destination 5 minutes, or 10 or 20 minutes earlier and they think they are so clever. But they never realise that the only reason they can break the rules safely and so successfully is because everyone else is keeping them. If everyone drove the way they did, well, one, no one would get to their destination earlier, and two, some people would never get there alive. In fact, it only takes one idiot on the road to meet another and the result is catastrophic.
In the same way, liars get away with what they do, their scams, their deceptions, because everyone else is honest and trusting. But if everyone was deceitful like they were, then no one would trust anyone. The result would be anarchy. The dishonest man would be no better off than anyone else. So the liar is a parasite on the body of civilisation. They suck the livelihood from the hard work of others and grow fat. They may succeed in business or in politics or in community life. They may masquerade as wise men or as clever men or as successful men. But they deserve a parasite’s fate. And once they are caught in their own lies they lose their jobs or their families or their freedom.
Proverbs chapter 12 says,
Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.
Proverbs chapter 19 says,
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.
The truth endures because the truth is real. The truth has substance. What the truth achieves passes the test of time. It is built on the foundations of the reality of what God has made. But what is false is only an illusion. It isn’t real. It has no basis in fact. And what it achieves, the brief success it enjoys melts away like the fog in the morning.
“Honesty,” wrote William Shakespeare, “is the best policy. If I lose my honour, I lose myself.” And he wasn’t exaggerating. For at the heart of every lie there is a fear. At the heart of every sin there is a lie. And the source of every sin s the devil who is the Father of lies. We lie because we are afraid. We are afraid of what people will think of us. We are afraid of what they would if they knew the truth about us. What we really thought. What we really plan to do. We lie to appear more caring or more smart or more successful. We wear masks to hide behind and to deceive others until all we are is one big mask with no reality left behind it. We are swallowed up by our own lies so that we start to believe them too. We lose our honour. We lose our reputation. We lose our soul because we have sold it for a lie.
At the heart of every sin is a lie telling us that God cannot be trusted, that his way is only for fools, that no one will save us if we do not save ourselves. And so we lie and cheat and fight and kill. We abuse and we let ourselves be abused because we have believed a lie. And this all comes from the Father of lies. The devil. Satan. Who told the first lie recorded in the Bible, “You will not surely die.” And people have been perishing from thousands of lies each day ever since. The devil lies to us when he says that there is a better life to live than the obedience of faith that God calls us to. The devil lies to us when he promises us the great rewards of sin with no bad consequences. The devil lies to us when he distracts us from the cross and tells us to trust in ourselves rather than in our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil lies to us when he accuses us and says that we should be ashamed of ourselves when Christ has set us free from guilt. The devil lies to us when he says we have no hope, when Christ is our hope, our only hope. The devil lies to us when he says that we will never change, when the Holy Spirit is our power to change for the better. The devil lies to us when he frightens us, when we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The devil lies to us when he says that God could not love unworthy wretches such as us, when the truth is that we are the children of God. The devil lies to us when he says that our afflictions, our weakness, our illness, our poverty are the curse of God, when they may truly be the sphere of God’s blessing and we are carried through in the arms of God. The devil lies and lies and binds us with the chains of his deceptions until as Jesus said only the truth can set us free. Only by the light of this truth can we see through the web of Satan’s lies to grasp by faith in Christ the only life worth living.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” If we live a lie, if we surrender to the fear that lurks at the heart of every lie, if we listen to the lies of the devil rather than the voice of the truth, we will more than our honour, our reputation. We will lose ourselves. Jesus Christ is the truth that sets us free. And if the Son sets us free we are free indeed. Free to live the one true life, washed in the blood of Christ, sanctified by the Holy Spirit, called to live as the children of our Father in heaven, called to live in, by and for the truth.
Honesty is the best policy. It’s the only policy.