From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 10 – How we can develop ‘the love of the truth’ and the character quality , and habit, of truthfulness?
Exaggeration is very common, but it is still lying. and it is a trait which can easily become a habit. It can be like the thin end of a wedge. Exaggeration is often seen as a more acceptable form of lying. It isn’t. It’s actually dangerous, because if it isn’t eliminated, it can undermine your conscience and, gradually, lead you into telling much more explicit lies.
I knew a church leader some years ago, to whom I have referred above. He was particularly prone to exaggeration. He actually became well known for it. People used to excuse it and speak of it as “just his way” and that he was “evangelastic” But it’s very wrong. It can easily escalate to the point where you aren’t just being a little rough and ready with figures, but increasingly wide of the mark. Therefore, make a decision never to exaggerate. It is wrong in itself, but it is also wrong because of what it leads to.
It is far better to make a firm decision that you will always just say exactly what you mean and no more. Do not allow yourself to embroider a story. Then, if you find that exaggeration is still is a habit, make a further promise to yourself that whenever it happens you will always immediately correct what you’ve said. Do it there and then, in the presence of whoever else is there.
That correction repairs the damage, but the discomfort and embarrassment you will feel at having to correct yourself in front of others will help to put yourself off doing it again. It would be like getting an electric shock every time you exaggerate. Your flesh nature doesn’t like being embarrassed. Therefore you will quickly learn not to risk doing it again, provided you know that you really will force yourself to correct any exaggeration publicly. It’s a good way to cure yourself of this habit.
Are we allowed to be tactful and diplomatic?
What about saying things which are not true just in order to be kind or diplomatic? For example, what if someone asks you whether you like their dress? In a situation like that you are entitled to ask yourself “What is this person really asking?” It is likely that what they really mean is “Please reassure me”. If so, you can honestly do so, whatever your real view, because it wasn’t really a request for information, but for reassurance.
However, there could conceivably be a situation where you knew someone’s dress was a problem or that it would cause them humiliation if you were to say nothing. If so, it may be your duty to speak the truth. If so, then your task would be to do so as gracefully, and kindly, as possible.
Honesty in all our relationships
Truth is also needed is in our personal relationships, not just where we are dealing with money or property. People can be distressingly false with each other. It is possible to be false without telling direct lies about facts and figures, or without even using any words at all, simply by misrepresenting your true feelings. For example it is commonplace for people to pretend to be someone’s friend to their face, but to be very disloyal behind their backs. It is a form of falseness which may involve words, but which doesn’t have to. It involves being dishonest about your real feelings, intentions or affiliation.
That sort of falseness is distasteful to have to witness and painful to experience. Yet it’s happening millions of times every day in Great Britain alone. It sickens me, and I feel sure it sickens God. Resolve to yourself that you will never act in that way. Never allow yourself to have two faces. Commit yourself to be true and real in every relationship you have. Never pretend to be, or to feel, anything which isn’t real.