Thursday, March 4, 2010


I remember being taught as a child that "honesty is the best policy." Lies are the work of the Devil, but the truth shall set us free. That's all well and good, but I sometimes struggle with how far to take honesty. Is it OK to tell a "white lie"? Is it ever appropriate to conceal or avoid the truth? What if my honesty would only hurt someone?

I am learning that the proper handling of honesty often depends on the type of truth in question. Not all truths are created equal. First and foremost there is God's Truth—the truth about His goodness and His love for us, and the truth about Jesus and his redemptive grace. That Truth is paramount, and it will come out and be declared before the world no matter who tries to conceal it. Other truths are far less important. When I convey an honest opinion, I am telling the truth, but my truth isn't nearly so powerful or absolute as God's truth.

Paul encouraged the Ephesians to embrace truth and to speak honestly to each other as a way to build each other up and shield each other from the unwholesome lies of a fallen world. "Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (Ephesians 4:14–15, 25, 29) Paul's advice is to use honesty to do God's work. Truth should build others up, not tear them down.

Sometimes the truth isn't nice. Before we share criticism in the name of honesty, however, we need to consider how we intend to use that truth. Is our purpose simply to clear our own consciences by divulging all of our thoughts, both helpful and unhelpful? Is the point to make someone else feel ashamed for perceived shortcomings? Do we want to feel better about ourselves in comparison while calling our "honest" opinions subjective? Or do we actually want to build someone up with honest, loving, constructive criticism? If we can see that someone is on a dangerous path, it's worth being honest if we think the truth could help them turn to a healthier way. Being honest about personal opinions and slighting judgments with no thought of love or encouragement isn't nearly as helpful.

So really, honesty is the best policy, if by honesty I mean speaking the Truth in love in order to build others up. That's the best and truest kind of honesty, and I don't think the other kinds are really worth that much from a Christian standpoint. You could be just as well off not knowing the truth about what year it was when your outfit was last considered fashionable, but it's always worth it to share the truth about God's love and His expectations of His faithful servants.

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