Are You Honest?

There is only one way to assess our honesty, and that is from God’s point of view.

By Elder Carl B. Cook, Counsellor in the Africa Southeast Area Presidency

I was 19 years old and received my mission call to serve in Hamburg, Germany. The bishop interviewed me to help me prepare to enter the temple prior to serving my mission. One of the questions he asked was, “Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man?”  I paused for a moment, evaluated my honesty from my point of view, and thoughtfully responded “Yes.”

I went to the temple and then to Germany to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others. As I studied the scriptures, taught the gospel, and served God, the influence of the Holy Ghost increased in my life. My thoughts and attitudes began to change. I had an increased understanding of God’s expectations of me. As Preach My Gospel describes it, I began forming a “fresh view” of God, myself, and the world (PMG p. 62).

The importance of being completely honest

One evening my companion and I were teaching a lesson on honesty, and an experience came to my mind that occurred before my mission. As a sixteen year old young man I had fixed up an old farm truck to drive to school and work, but it was an ongoing challenge to keep it running.  My friend and I were driving along a country road and noticed a truck similar to mine, discarded in a field next to some old equipment. The old truck was partially dismantled and rusting away. We noticed it had a part that was missing on my truck.  Since the truck in the field appeared to be abandoned, I rationalized that surely no one would miss the part. My friend encouraged me and we removed the part from the abandoned truck and put it on my truck. I justified my action by reasoning that the owner didn’t really need the part, and I did.

In the mission field I was teaching investigators that stealing is taking something that does not belong to you.  My experience of taking that once insignificant rusty truck part was brought forcefully back to my memory.  Suddenly I was pained by my action of taking the part. I knew it was wrong. The spirit helped me understand that from God’s point of view I had not been honest. I began repenting and asking God for forgiveness. I realized that to be a true servant of the Lord, to teach gospel principles and testify with power, I must be living those principles.

 I returned home after completing my mission and wanted to make full restitution, to right my wrong and give closure to my repentance. My first week home I went to the county records office to see who owned the farm where I had taken the truck part.  I found the owner’s name and address and travelled to his home in a neighbouring community to make things right.  An older gentleman greeted me at the door and I explained what I had done five years earlier. He seemed surprised at my confession and quickly commented, “Oh, that’s ok.” He minimized the situation and assured me that it was not a problem.  I paused and said to him, “Well it is a problem to me.  I took something that did not belong to me.  I would like to make things right. Would you please take this money to allow me to pay the debt I need to pay?”  He graciously took the money and I departed.

Assess honesty from God’s point of view

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. There is only one way to assess our honesty, and that is from God’s point of view. We cannot accurately determine the honesty of our actions from our own view, our friend’s view, or the views of people in our community.

God is honest and just in all things, and He requires the same of us. As Alma said, “He cannot walk in crooked paths; neither doth he vary from that which he hath said; neither hath he a shadow of turning from the right to the left, or from that which is right to that which is wrong; therefore, his course is one eternal round (Alma 7:20).”

If we desire to live in God’s presence, we must change and become as He is. We cannot rationalize or justify any of our behaviour that is in opposition to God. We must view ourselves and our actions as He views them.

Our Gospel Principles manual helps us evaluate the honesty of our actions from God’s view:

“To Lie Is Dishonest

Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel:  “Thou salt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying.  We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.

“To Steal Is Dishonest

Jesus taught “Thou shalt not steal” (Matthew 19:18). Stealing is taking something that does not belong to us. When we take what belongs to someone else or to a store or to the community without permission, we are stealing. Taking merchandise or supplies from an employer is stealing. Copying music, movies, pictures, or written text without the permission of the copyright owners is dishonest and is a form of theft. Accepting more change or goods than one should is dishonest. Taking more than our share of anything is stealing.

“To Cheat Is Dishonest

We cheat when we give less than we owe, or when we get something we do not deserve.  Some employees cheat their employers by not working their full time; yet they accept full pay. Some employers are not fair to their employees; they pay them less than they should.  Satan says, ‘Take the advantage of one because of his words, dig a pit for thy neighbour’ (2 Nephi 28:8). Taking unfair advantage is a form of dishonesty. Providing inferior service or merchandise is cheating.

“We Must Not Excuse Our Dishonesty

People use many excuses for being dishonest. People lie to protect themselves and to have others think well of them. Some excuse themselves for stealing, thinking they deserve what they took, intend to return it, or need it more than the owner. Some cheat to get better grades in school or because ‘everyone else does it’ or to get even.

These excuses and many more are given as reasons for dishonesty. To the Lord, there are no acceptable reasons. When we excuse ourselves, we cheat ourselves and the Spirit of God ceases to be with us” (Gospel Principles, 2009, 179-182).

We cannot justify our dishonesty with the reasoning that others around us are dishonest. We cannot control what others do, but we must control what we do.

Elder Sheldon F. Child summarized principles of honesty and integrity this way:

  • When we say we will do something, we do it.
  • When we make a commitment, we honor it.
  • When we are given a calling, we fulfil it.
  • When we borrow something, we return it.
  • When we have a financial obligation, we pay it.
  • When we enter into an agreement, we keep it. (“As Good As Our bond”, Ensign, May 1997)

There are temporal blessings we may receive when we live with integrity, such as finding and keeping jobs. President Brigham Young encouraged the early saints to increase in goodness, to be honest and reliable so that companies looking for employees would say, “Give us a Mormon” (Teachings of the Church: Brigham Young , 1997, 24). As members of the Church we can all benefit from the cumulative effect of the honesty of other members of the Church.

Spiritual blessings from being completely honest

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin emphasized the spiritual blessings we can receive. “The rewards of integrity are immeasurable.  One is the indescribable inner peace that comes from knowing we are doing what is right; another is an absence of the guilt and anxiety that accompany sin.  Another reward of integrity is the confidence it can give us in approaching God....The consummate reward of integrity is the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost....Let us live true to the trust the Lord has placed in us” (Finding Peace in Our Lives, 1995, 193-94).

As we incorporate principles of honesty in our lives, the Lord can bless us with increased strength and commitment. I visited the Brigham Young University Campus in Provo, Utah and read a statement pertaining to honesty made by Karl G. Maeser, a former president of BYU. He said, “Place me behind prison walls – walls of stone ever so high, ever so thick, reaching ever so far into the ground – there is a possibility that in some way or another I may be able to escape; but stand me on the floor and draw a chalk line around me and have me give my word of honor never to cross it. Can I get out of that circle? No, never! I’d die first.” (In Alma P. Burton, Karl G. Maseser : Mormon Educator, Salt Lake City : Deseret Book 1953, 71)

I invite each of us to evaluate our honesty. As we ask ourselves the question, “Am I honest in my dealings with my fellow man?” let us pray with a sincere heart to view ourselves and our actions as God views them. If we feel guilt and sorrow, let us repent and change.

I know if we truly repent we will receive the promises described in Preach My Gospel. We will feel God’s forgiveness and His peace in our lives. Our guilt and sorrow will be swept away. We will feel the influence of the Spirit in greater abundance. And when we pass from this life, we will be more prepared to live with our Heavenly Father and His Son (PMG p. 62). I know these principles are true.

THE CHURCH OF GOD

The people of Ammon who were numbered among the Church of God were “distinguished for their zeal towards God, and also towards men; for they were perfectly honest and upright in all things; and they were firm in the faith of Christ, even unto the end” (Alma 27:27).

ELDER BEDNAR

“People of integrity and honesty not only practice what they preach, they are what they preach. And the Saviour stands as the finest example” (“Be Honest,” New Era, Oct. 2005, 7).