It is hard not to notice the harsh reality of what our culture has become. We are more distant, hard hearted, and cynical than can be remembered at any time in history. And yet, it is from this backdrop that I have noticed a pursuit many give great energy. It is the desire to always be … honest.
On the surface, this seems wonderful, especially given the backhandedness and deceit so prevalent these days. This seems like something we should applaud, one’s desire to always be “honest” in every situation and in every interaction. So we encourage people to speak their minds and to not hold anything in, to be … honest.
Yet, I’ve come to observe the end result of all this “honesty.” It does seems that life in general should be better and that our personal interactions more gratifying if they are based on honest expression. So why doesn’t that happen more often? So many people I know lament the reality of how much their “honesty” got them into trouble. But why? Why does such a seemingly laudable desire yield, at best, inconsistent results or, at worst, difficulty and pain? And of course, scripture teaches us that “And you shall know the truth, and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32 – NKJV). So is honesty, as the old saying goes, always the best policy?
In digging deeper I have learned that the problems we have encountered with our attempts at honesty may rest in a few places. First, after looking some things up, it appears to me that we have defined “honesty” all wrong. You see, most believe that honesty is simply stating accurately whatever is inside. If we are feeling it at any level … out it comes. Speak your mind, and the like. Don’t let things that are deep in your heart stay hidden. Especially as it pertains to how you feel about something or someone. Priority number one … be honest!
But looking up “honesty” in an English dictionary altered my thinking. You see, all that I just described views it as a noun, a thing. But it isn’t. It’s an adjective, a descriptive word. When you look up “honest,” the definitions given are “honorable in principles, intentions, and actions; upright and fair; sincere; genuine or unadulterated; respectable; humble, plain, or unadorned.” Basically, being honest is less about what you say than about how and why you are saying it. All of these definitions speak more to the motives behind what we say than how accurate the words used are.
And it’s no surprise that the root Latin word for “honesty” is the word we use for “honor.” Honesty is not just about an accurate expression of your internal thoughts and feelings but conveying them in a way that is both honorable and respectful. Gee – that really puts a different perspective on most of the emotional venting we label honesty. Simply, if the expression of your inner self can’t be done respectfully and with honor, it may qualify for accuracy but not for honesty.
So now we come to the idea of “truth.” Here, we are sure that to be truthful is always a good thing. We are encouraged throughout scripture to walk in truth and to make it our highest ideal. So here we believe we have found a footing for sharing whatever is going on inside us under the reasoning that … “I must speak the truth.” Well, going back to our trusty dictionary reveals that truth is defined as “conformity with fact or reality, a verified or indisputable fact, an ideal or fundamental reality apart from and transcending perceived experience.” I like that last part. For something to be “truth” it must transcend “perceived” experience. In other words, it can’t be truth if it’s only truth for you (unlike the thinking of our world today).
So then as long as the thing I am giving from inside me qualifies as truth, I can let people have it, right? Nope! Sorry, still one more test it has to pass. And on this, the Bible is clear. We are not just commanded to speak the truth, but to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:14). Now I’m sure I am not alone when I say I’ve heard many people justify saying some cutting, critical, and downright mean things with “I had to say those things because I love them.” Well, even when speaking the truth “in love,” there’s a ‘love test’ that has to be passed. And many of you may have guessed where it is … yep, 1 Corinthians 13!
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8, NKJV).
We have finally arrived at the last piece of the formula. If you feel that urge to “share” with someone what you are really feeling inside, and want to call it “truth in love,” it needs to fit the standard set in these verses. It needs to be a truth that is the product of patience (suffers long). It needs to be not self seeking. It needs to be hopeful. It needs to be something that truly rejoices in … truth! Anything else is just venting and fails both the “honesty” and the “truth in love” tests. And of course we know, as Christians, for it to be truth, it must be based on the life and teachings of Christ. It must be something Jesus would call truth. Everything else, no matter how accurate, is a lie.
So, let me not discourage anyone from being honest. But please start that endeavor with being honest with you first. Then, when it comes to sharing your “honest” and “truthful” self with others (especially those close to you), know that for it to qualify for these wonderful labels, certain ingredients must be present. The intentions behind sharing must be honorable and respectful. And when it comes to speaking truth (and that in love) … well, I’ll let 1 Corinthians 13 speak for itself.
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