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To Be Honest

We all have verbal ticks or stutter phrases. Some say “you know” a lot; others say “I mean” frequently. We’ll let that go. However, there is another phase equally as common but unequally significant: “To be honest…” One physician I knew (a very fine man), prefaced nearly ever answer to a medical question with this earnest prelude.

“To be honest…” sometimes means, “I am going to say something you won’t like, but I need to say it.” That’s fine. On the other hand, why does anyone need to use the phrase, “To be honest” at all? Our words should be honest or we should keep silent. (In rare cases lying is justified. See Exodus, chapter one; Judges, chapter two.) For Jesus, our words have eternal significance.

For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matthew 12:37).

We should be true to our word and our words should be true. There should be no reason to take special oaths, as Jesus taught:

Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one (Matthew 5:33-37).

Jesus is probably not foreswearing oaths required in courts of law. Rather, he rejects the solemnizing of one’s words by special means. Sometimes, saying “to be honest,” is akin to swearing an oath. Similar phrases are “As God is my witness” and “I swear to God.” These appeals assume that the speaker is not always honest, not always trustworthy. If he was honest and trustworthy, such invocations would be unneeded.

I sometimes catch myself saying, “To be honest…” or “Honestly…” When I do I then say, “Why did I say that? I am always honest!” I hope so. What about you?

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