A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold. –Proverbs 22:1 NIV
“Identity theft sucks,” I read on the Facebook post. The writer had received a notice from the IRS that apparently someone had used her Social Security number to file a fraudulent tax return and, as a result, possibly claimed any refund she may have gotten from the state. Which she’d planned to use to pay the federal taxes.
Unfortunately, it was just one more thing in a string of unfortunate incidents that brought her to the brink of questioning her principles. After sending a check to the IRS for what she and her husband owed, she commented: “We will just continue to work our butts off to continue to pay my mountain of student loans, debt, and other bills. Who said hard work and honesty will get you somewhere?”
We’ve all been there, haven’t we? We’re slammed with one thing after another, even though we strive to do what’s right. And then we question whether doing the right thing even matters, when others make a living cheating and stealing – and getting away with it.
Back in college, I took a three-hour-a-day summer literature class. During the break the day before the weekly essay test, several students stole the test questions while the professor was out of the room. Of course, those students would receive the highest grades because the prof graded on a curve.
That day I called home, crying. “Why bother?” I lamented to my father. “I won’t get a good grade no matter how much I study.”
I studied anyway. But it was without heart.
After we got our tests back, I approached the professor and told him I didn’t think the grade was fair.
He peered at me over his bifocals. “Well, other students in the class . . .”
“Of course they did, you stupid jerk,” I thought. “You left the test in your briefcase, easily accessible to anyone, and left the classroom.”
I’m not a confrontational person, so I shut up and put up. If I’d told the prof the truth, I would have made him look like a fool and would have had to endure the wrath of the wrongdoers. Like my Facebook friend, I questioned whether doing the right thing was worth it.
But, like any other character trait, honesty is a choice. That’s truly what forms our character – the choices we make.
It’s not that I have a temper and “I couldn’t help myself.” It’s that I chose to vent my anger.
We choose to tell the truth, report all income on our tax return, not fudge expenses, return incorrect change to the store. We choose to honor our wedding vows, keep a promise, say no to an addiction. We choose to use the turn signal at an intersection even when there’s no other traffic around.
“Character is what you are in the dark,” said D. L. Moody.
John Wooden said something similar: “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
Jesus blasted hypocrites because they only did the right thing when there was someone around to see (Matthew 6:1–6). They chose to do right for the wrong reason.
What is the right reason?
Because it’s what God wants us to do.
“Tell me,” the prophet Samuel said to the disobedient King Saul. “Does the LORD really want sacrifices and offerings? No! He doesn’t want your sacrifices. He wants you to obey him.” (See 1 Samuel 15:1–23)
I responded to my Facebook friend’s lament.
“Keep doing the right thing,” I wrote. “Integrity, respect, character, and a good reputation can never be stolen from you, and they are worth far more than anything the world calls ‘treasure’.”
What choices are you facing today?
Help me, O Lord, to know the right thing to do and give me the courage and strength to do it. Amen.
The Bible has a lot to say about character. Here are some verses to read and meditate on:
Habakkuk 3:17–19, Matthew 6:19–34, Proverbs 11:5–11, Proverbs 31, 2 Peter 1:5–7, John 13:17
© 2018 Michele Huey. All rights reserved.