So the shop assistant has totted up your bill and told you the total. You’ve already worked it out roughly in your head, and realize they’re undercharging you. What to do? If it’s a small business, and particularly friendly, you’re probably going to let them know, and pay in full, enjoying the ‘super-righteous halo’ as they appreciate your honesty. But supposing it’s a multinational store, and the assistant has been rude or sloppy anyway, don’t you just want to pay them as little as possible? Or do you still inform them of the shortfall, whether they deserve it or not?
On a pay-and-display car park, my husband used to insist on buying an extra hour’s parking before driving off, if we got back one minute late. That is serious integrity!
I think Abraham must have been recognized as having serious integrity. The Hittites called him, “A mighty prince among us”. They couldn’t do enough for him. Abraham nearly had to fight them to pay for his cave. (Genesis 23 v 5 – 20) They treated him with honour because he treated them with honour. On this occasion, he insisted on giving the full market value for the site, but the way they dealt with him demonstrated that they had every reason to trust and respect him.
In our society, it is much harder to earn that sort of respect, as we are usually doing business with total strangers. You can’t build up a reputation with one-off acquaintances. No-one knows how you have dealt with people up till now, and they are unlikely to tell others if you ‘re a bit crabby. And where do you draw the line – should you hand in to the police station the penny you found in the gutter? Do the ‘itsy-bitsy’ issues really matter all that much anyway? We all have our ‘off’ days. Yes, of course God can see every attitude, but he knows we are still perfection-in-the-making.
What is important, though, is our self-image – how we see ourselves. If you manage to get an ‘unofficial discount’ by not admitting to an error in your favour, do you feel better or worse about yourself? If someone you respected found out, would you feel good or embarrassed? Do you perceive yourself as a person of honour, someone with integrity? If you don’t respect yourself all that much, it’s unlikely others will. We are made in God’s image – let’s not tarnish it.