Is Lying, Cheating, And Stealing For Self-Serving Reasons Ever Worth It In The End? [Video]
Sarah and I recently traveled to Paris to see our daughter, where we stayed in an Airbnb rental about an hour away from the city. At one point during our stay, our daughter, Joy, asked the rental owners about the possibility of swapping homes with them for a weekend at some point. She and her family live in an apartment in Paris, and since the rental owners frequented the city often, they could stay at her place in the city while Joy and her family spent some time in the Airbnb, outside of the hustle and bustle of Paris. They responded favorably, and who knows? Maybe Joy’s proposal will one day come to fruition!
After returning home, I shared this with a friend from our neighborhood, who serves on our HOA board. I mentioned half-jokingly to her, “Maybe sometime I will do a house swap with someone in France. Both can save money on a rental!” This committee person said, “Unless it is for over a year, you cannot do this. It is contrary to the rules of the covenant.”
In hearing that, I later said to Sarah, “Well, so much for that idea.” I had no interest in circumventing the policies. Of course, I still joked to this committee person, “Well, why can’t everyone else abide by the covenantal rules but I be an exception? Isn’t that how all of us feel?” She agreed as we chuckled.
Now that I know my HOA has rules against something like this, I will never move forward with this money-saving idea. But it raises a discussion and question: Let’s say Sarah and I went ahead and made such an arrangement, despite the rules against it, and swapped homes with a Parisian family for two weeks. If the family doesn’t cause any damage to the neighborhood, they don’t have parties that keep the neighbors up, and they don’t do anything illegal, what is the harm? Maybe they even just stay at home the entire time, enjoying its amenities, and no one even knows we were gone—would that be so bad?
Yes, it actually would. Because Sarah and I now know the rules of our neighborhood covenant, we should not move forward in a clandestine manner to do a house swap. End of discussion. Nothing to even consider.
But why? Though we would not be doing anything illegal, immoral, or unbiblical (per se, because it would, of course, be immoral and unbiblical to attempt circumventing the rules we agreed to when moving into our neighborhood), what real harm would there be to lying like this?
This question applies to all kinds of lying, cheating, and stealing that many—even Christians—consider taking part in every day. So often we are tempted to think “no harm, no foul” when it comes to lying, cheating, or stealing if it: 1) benefits us and 2) doesn’t cause any obvious harm elsewhere. If such an opportunity presents itself, can’t we move forward on it? What would be the harm?
Well, five extremely harmful reasons come to mind that, sadly, many do not consider long when presented with an opportunity to lie, cheat, or steal.
1. It would undermine trust.
When we lie, cheat, or steal and get away with it, and it benefits us, it is difficult not to semi-brag about this. Boasting of our cunning exploit is a natural inclination. We see ourselves as street smart and want at least one other person to know of our clever scheme. We wear it as a badge of honor. However, when we brag in a self-congratulating manner about our successful lying, stealing, or cheating, we broadcast that our honesty is negotiable. We put the seeds of doubt in this other person. “Oh, by the way, if our relationship turns unfriendly, and it suits my interests, I will defraud you.” Concerning people who walk in integrity, even their enemies know they won’t lie, cheat, or steal. Not because they can’t but because they won’t—they have chosen not to.
2. It would criminalize our behavior.
I can rationalize all day long that the law or rule is wrong, but as long as it is in place and can be enacted, I am guilty of acting contrary to the law and can incur the punishment assigned to such actions. My opinion about the law being invalid is a moot point since the court (or HOA board) will incriminate me regardless of my belief. It is wishful thinking that I can erase suffering from the consequences of illegal behavior. But not infrequently, those who lie, steal, or cheat think they are an exception to the rule.
3. It would reveal character flaws inside us.
I can argue all day why the law is wrong and why my lying and cheating is justified, but is that how others will interpret us? Will our children hear us when we tell them that we don’t do some things because it would be lying and cheating, when they learn that we lie and cheat? When we pick and choose the times we will be totally honest and the times we will not be honest, we are sending a message that our integrity is arbitrary based on what best serves us. Why, then, should our child not lie and cheat at a board game? Why should they not lie about what they just did behind our backs? Why should they not take money from our wallet? If that serves their interests, and they deem the rule against it less important than their “need” at the moment, why not lie and cheat and steal? Being truthful is merely a convenience to be used when it is to our advantage, just as lying is a convenience.
4. It would limit future opportunities.
People who lie, cheat, and steal do not think this undermines their future opportunities; but just as it undermines trust, it puts a check in the spirit of people who provide opportunities. They wonder, “Do I really want to give this opportunity to this person?” In general, people with a character and reputation for integrity along with competency in some particular area, usually advance more. In any given season, maybe not, but when looking at a person’s whole life, more opportunities come to people who always tell the truth, respect the property and rights of others, and play fair and follow the rules. But because truth is narrow, some feel it is too restrictive, and that truth-telling limits opportunities.
5. It would produce inside us anxiety.
The conscience remains active with most folks, so lying, cheating, and stealing compels one to look back over the shoulder to see who might be coming after them. Semi-paranoia sets in and one loses peace of mind and heart. The three amigos—lying, cheating, and stealing—perch on the shoulder and periodically scream in panic, “All is exposed, run faster!” The price to pay—the trade-off—for gaining something via lying, stealing, or cheating is an underlying and chronic anxiety over exposure. It is the age-old reality: Will I get caught? The objects in the rear-view mirror, that seem to appear out of nowhere, loom large.
In wrapping up, we are faced with several questions. Are the following worth it to us?
- Are we willing to undermine trust by believing one can make honesty a negotiable item?
- Are we willing to criminalize our behavior but counter that description by claiming personal opinion invalidates the law?
- Are we willing to reveal our character flaws as minimal that should be downplayed while our children imitate us and showcase the same?
- Are we willing to believe that truthfulness—which requires never lying, stealing, or cheating—limits opportunities?
- Are we willing to produce inside us anxiety from lying, cheating, and stealing, believing such is a small price to pay—peace in exchange for the purse—since the aim is accumulation?
In conclusion, we need to hear Jesus. In Mark 7:20-23, He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that.. come… theft… greed… deceit… arrogance… All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
When the chance arises to lie, cheat, or steal, to Jesus the circumstances do not cause these things but reveal that we have been looking for that chance to do what is in our hearts to do. This is an issue within us, and the circumstances do not matter to Jesus.
Do the circumstances matter to you?
Questions to Consider
- Has there ever been a time when you convinced yourself it was okay to lie, cheat, or steal, because the ends would justify the means? If so, do you still agree the ends justified the means? Explain your answer.
- If you are a parent, have you ever considered the rules you give your children that you expect them to follow yet you do not always hold yourself to the same standard? If so, what does this reveal about your character?
- Which of Emerson’s five reasons against lying, cheating, and stealing reverberated the most inside you? Why?
- What do you think Jesus meant when He said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles them”?