Most people probably think of themselves as honest because they do not engage in what they regard as serious acts of dishonesty. However, it is likely that many of these same people engage at least occasionally in some acts that they regard as no more than insignificant dishonesty. And, perhaps the primary reason a lot of these people do not think they are being dishonest when they engage in these acts is that they believe that many, if not most, people engage in such behaviors and, therefore, they tend to think that such behaviors are generally condoned.
So, what might be a good way to determine the types of behavior that indicate whether or not a person is, in fact, behaving dishonestly? We believe that the definition provided by Webster’s Dictionary is adequate in making such a determination. Webster states that being dishonest “implies the act or practice of telling a lie, or of cheating, deceiving, stealing, etc.”
There is no need for this article to discuss whether or not burglary, robbery, embezzlement, etc. are dishonest behaviors, since virtually everyone would acknowledge that these acts are serious types of dishonesty. In contrast, lying, deception, trivial cheating, and petty theft are almost certainly among the most prevalent types of behavior that people tend to dismiss as only insignificant dishonesty.
We will not discuss lying and deception in this article, because we do so in our article entitled “What Does the Bible Say about What We Say?” [Note: To read that article, click on its title.] Consequently, this article is intended primarily to help people realize that when they engage in trivial cheating and/or petty theft, such behavior may generally be condoned in our society, but the Bible does not provide any definite reason to believe that either of these acts is condoned by God.
To be sure that the readers of this article understand what we mean when we refer to trivial cheating and petty theft, we will now define these two terms.
We define trivial cheating as not acting fairly in dealings that may involve either financial or non-financial matters that do not cause significant harm to other people. Examples of trivial cheating include not abiding by the rules in some type of athletic competition; exaggerating qualifications on an employment application form; and using an unauthorized source of information to obtain answers when taking a scholastic exam.
As for petty theft, we define it as not paying for, or getting appropriate permission to take and keep, something of relatively little value that does not belong to the person who takes it. Examples of petty theft include borrowing a low-cost item from someone and intentionally not giving it back; pilfering an item of slight worth from the perpetrator’s place of employment; and shoplifting an inexpensive item of merchandise from a vendor.
Some people may argue that God takes into consideration the reasons why people engage in trivial cheating or petty theft, especially if, in doing so, they do not cause significant harm to other people. Those who make this argument apparently think it is reasonable to believe that God will judge the stealing of a loaf of bread or some other relatively low-cost item more leniently if a person needs the item but does not have enough money to purchase it, than He will judge a person who steals such an item despite the fact that he (or she) has sufficient money to pay for it.
Perhaps, this belief is correct, but the Bible does not support the presumption that God will not hold people responsible for committing trivial cheating or petty theft, even if they do so to satisfy their genuine needs. In other words, the Bible does not sanction these acts, regardless of whether or not the person who engages in such behavior sincerely believes that they are not able to have their needs met otherwise. Furthermore, if the Bible did sanction such behavior, more people probably would convince themselves that it is alright for them to engage in trivial cheating or petty theft whenever they think they have genuine needs and, as a result, they would be less inclined to earnestly seek alternatives that could enable them to meet those needs honestly.
Although most people may think of themselves as honest, many of these people are guilty of, at least, trivial cheating and petty theft, which the Bible does not condone for any reason. Therefore, everyone who sincerely wants to be honest should refrain from engaging in such behavior, even if these acts are generally condoned by our society. God desires that every person – especially, Christians – be holy, which certainly includes not engaging in even trivial cheating and petty theft. [For an in-depth discussion about people being holy, click on “Can Anyone Except God Be Holy?’]