Is honesty the best policy?

I have been thinking about the saying, “Honesty is the best policy.” It is often stated quickly, off the cuff, and can even come off as a quip. I have observed people speaking honest words that hurt others deeply and have experienced having honest words spoken to me that wounded.

On the one hand, honesty is a requirement of the Lord.

Proverbs 12:22 – The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.

Colossians 3:9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.

On the other hand, lying is sometimes rewarded.

Exodus 1:15-20 – The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shifra and Puah,  “When you help the Hebrew women in childbirth and observe them on the delivery stool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.”  The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live.  Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?”

The midwives answered Pharaoh,Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.”

So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.

It seems love is the best policy, not honesty.

Consider the following scenarios:

A little girl dresses herself for the first time and appears in a mismatched outfit before her daddy. “Daddy, look!”

Honesty: Honey, you did great, but you need to work on matching your clothes better.

Love: You look absolutely stunning, sweetie. I am so proud of you! (After all, that little darling was stunning.)

A family takes Grandpa to church when he is visiting for the weekend. On the way out, his grandson enthusiastically asks, “Grandpa, did you like our church?”

Honesty: I didn’t like the music, and the sermon wasn’t my favorite either.

Love: I had an amazing time being with you in church this morning! Thank you for bringing me! (After all, all minutes we get with our families by invitation are delightful. No one needs to invite us into their lives.)

An acquaintance makes a meal for you during a difficult season, and it does not align with your family eating patterns.

Honesty: Your meal wasn’t our favorite, but thanks.

Love: The meal was delicious, and I thank you for your effort. So kind of you! (After all, any meal is delicious when someone took the time to prepare it and serve it.)

Honesty that is loving is the best policy.

I don’t want to be paranoid about every word I say, of course, but when being honest involves saying words that will be difficult for us to speak or others to receive, exceptional care must be exercised.

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 4:29)

Here are some of the errors that can cause us to be honest in ways that are not loving — in ways that hurt:

Condition of the speaker’s heart: The person speaking to us is not in a calm place that allows for careful word choices and a tone that communicates any sense of sincerity or any evidence of having thought through what they were going to say.

Timing: “This is not the time,” is sometimes a true statement. We are at a celebratory event, or the setting is not private, or we are in the middle of a difficult day and the speaker knows that to be true and speaks anyway. I still use a principle taught to me by an HR manager decades ago — Don’t fire someone (or have a very difficult conversation) on a Friday, their birthday, or anniversary. Love waits until Monday and doesn’t ruin annual celebrations. Almost everything can wait a few days.

Level of relationship: The person doesn’t know us well enough. Our relationship with the person speaking to us is not as strong as the message they are delivering. A close friend is qualified to speak on more matters than the neighbor we chat with occasionally when both of us are outside doing yard work.

Topic importance: Topics fall into one of three levels within each of us — likes and dislikes (opinions), true or false (beliefs), or right or wrong (values). The further down the list, the more important the topic, and our topic categorizations differ. Person A might think eating meat is in the right-wrong category, but Person B considers meat-eating a mere like-dislike discussion. For Person A to speak to Person B in right-wrong terms becomes damaging. Speakers are most loving when they broach topics based on how the other person has them categorized, not themselves.

A checklist to consider

Any time we are being “honest” when our heart is not doing well, the timing is not good, the relationship is not strong enough, or the topic is meaningless to the other person, we may not be loving well. Words spoken without love — even honest words that are legitimate — do not land well.

1 Corinthians 13:1 – If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

I know what it means to be addressed by a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal, and so do you. Sadly, and remorsefully, I have also been the gong and cymbal who has hurt ears and wounded hearts. I can’t take back any of my tirades, missteps, involuntary hurtful words, or the purposeful jabs. Such words wounded others, and I can only pray God rushes in to heal.

We want to make as few mistakes as possible.

This week I am reminded about two all-important questions.

1. Before our mouths open, we should ask ourselves: What benefit will these words have?

2. What is more important to us, being right, or the relationship?

Love is the best policy. Always. 

Picture Explanation: Roses are blooming, time with one daughter at a soccer game, another daughter with our grandson, and a son who turned 19. Been busy around here!

Speaking of loving people well:      

Only three days left! If you are interested in being contacted to participate in a One Gritty Blink Bible study in 2023, click on the Oaks Ministries link below and contact me by email. The next opportunity for a face-to-face study starts June 7 in Roswell, Georgia. Let’s focus on things that count for eternity!

© 2023 by Oaks Ministries. All rights reserved.   


6 Responses

  1. Laurie,
    I love your deep dives into scriptures. I can “honestly” say I have used this scripture in my life’s work as an educator. “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 4:29) but…I need work on certain topics❣️

    Happy Trails and Happy Words of Love❣️

    1. There is nothing casual about loving people well and reflecting Jesus to the world. Deep dives are the only way to go, and I appreciate you being on that quest as well!

  2. Thank you, Laurie, for this great post. I find my spirit to be willing and my flesh to be weak too often when it comes to restraining myself and the impulse to speak rashly. We always regret the harm we cause. It just isn’t worth the mometary “benefit” we “derive.”

    I am learning, sometimes from some hard knocks – God’s gracious pruning and training!

    I love your ongoing reminders to speak well and to love others well. Thank you!

    The photos are delightful!

    1. I am learning in the School of Hard Knocks right along with you! The true test occurs within the four walls of my home and where I fail most. God’s gracious pruning and training is active in my life too. I am so grateful!

  3. Thank you, Laurie, for your words about words! They matter, and this was well thought out! I read it more than once. May I use my words well.

    1. Coming from you, the well thought out phrase was meaningful. Thank you. I want to use my words well, too.

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I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes growth.

1 Corinthians 3:6

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