In our modern world, when we speak of cheating, we often trivialize our actions in order to justify our behavior.
- I’m not breaking my diet, I’m just having a piece of cake on my ‘cheat day’.
- We’re just fudging the numbers a little bit on our tax return. It’s not like we’re engaging in a serious crime.
- So what if I copied the test answers? In the real world, people help each other all the time.
From our excuses, we see that cheating manifests in many areas of life. And though we often trivialize it, the Bible offers a different perspective on cheating.
Cheating in the Bible
All manner of cheating involves taking something that is rightfully due to someone else. Whether that thing is tangible or intangible, great or small, cheating robs somebody of something:
- Cheating robs others of just compensation.
- Cheating robs others of credit and recognition.
- Cheating robs others of love and affection.
Let’s break down what the Bible has to say about these different methods of cheating.
Cheating in Business
In the United States, volumes of laws and regulations have been written to govern all manner of business transactions from lending to stock trading to food sales and more. And government agencies regularly examine their respective business sectors for ongoing compliance.
But this notion of regulating fair business practices is nothing new. Old Testament law prohibited people from even maintaining weights and measures of different sizes. Such measures were used to ensure proper volumes of grain, oil, silver, and anything else of value. To misrepresent the true quantity of something is to misrepresent its value, which can only result in an imbalanced transaction that favors one party—the party that introduced the dishonest scales.
‘Dishonest’ is the keyword here. This law exists because ‘…God detests… anyone who deals dishonestly‘ (Deuteronomy 25:16).
Employers and Laborers
In addition to dealings between buyers and sellers, the Bible also addresses the conduct of employers and laborers. As anyone who has ever seen their paycheck bounce can attest, getting cheated out of payment for work is disruptive and damaging.
The prophet Malachi includes ‘those who defraud laborers of their wages’ among the people subject to God’s judgment (Malachi 3:5). And in the New Testament, James pulls no punches warning that ‘the wages you failed to pay… are crying out against you‘ (James 5:4).
These words are so severe because the worker counts on his wages. In ancient times, before we had freezers and bank accounts, workers were paid daily so they could buy their food for that day. The law commands the daily payment of wages because ‘[the worker] is poor and counting on it‘ (Deuteronomy 24:15).
Likewise, workers must not cheat their employers. Paul warns us to not tolerate idleness (2 Thessalonians 3:6-10). And to the Galatians, he says that ‘each should test his own actions… [and] carry his own load‘ (Galatians 6:4-5). All who can contribute to the community should contribute. But this admonition also applies to the intangible, leading us to another consideration.
Cheating in School
On two separate occasions, Paul quotes Jeremiah 9:24 as he makes the case that we Christians are saved by grace. It is not human wisdom, human knowledge, or human righteousness that makes us acceptable to God, but the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Misplaced boasting robs God of the credit that is rightly due Him. When we glorify ourselves we not only fail to honor God, but we also misrepresent the true path to salvation to others.
But what does this have to do with cheating in school?
In school, cheating often manifests as taking credit for another’s work. This could be as simple as looking at your neighbor’s answers during a test, or as egregious as plagiarizing a term paper or a thesis.
In high school, cheating might result in a failing grade or detention. But in higher education, and in some professions (such as science and journalism), plagiarism can damage careers and subject others to missed opportunities, thereby resulting in tangible financial damage.
School is where we train for life. And if we develop cheating habits in school, those bad habits will follow us into the business world, and even into our spiritual lives. We must take credit only for our own work, for our own sake and for the sake of others.
And in spiritual matters, we must remember that God is a jealous God. Apart from Him, we have no righteousness, and all glory is due Him. But that’s not all He asks of us…
Cheating in a Relationship
Cheating on a spouse is a class unto its own and is discussed in more detail elsewhere. Though a full examination of adultery is outside of the scope of the present writing, we must consider two aspects of infidelity that we might be inclined to overlook or rationalize away.
First, marriage is a sacred relationship. God designed it to remind us of His commitment to us, and His desire for us to remain committed to Him. For this reason, throughout scripture, God describes those who turn to false gods as ‘prostituting themselves’ (Leviticus 20:6). By using marriage as an illustration, God calls us to maintain a sacred covenant relationship with Him.
He even instructed the ancient Israelites to fasten tassels onto their garments so that they may ‘…have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.’ (Numbers 15:39). And the lusts of our eyes lead us to the second consideration about cheating in a relationship.
The Cheating Heart
This is another way that we trivialize cheating. Ogling other women or watching pornography might seem harmless to our minds—after all, we’re not going out and sleeping with other women. Yet, Jesus would disagree. Even an impure thought that does not result in action must be brought into obedience to Christ.
All actions—good or bad—begin with a thought, and when we carry even thoughts of cheating—in any form—through to their results, we invite trouble, as these stories show.
Biblical Examples of Cheating
- Jacob and Esau: Jacob cheated his brother on multiple occasions. First, he took advantage of Esau’s hunger to swindle his birthright (Genesis 25:29-34) Later, Jacob tricked their father, Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing (Genesis 27:1-40). And the very next verse tells us that Jacob had to flee for his life after so grievously wronging his brother.
- Zacchaeus: We meet this wealthy—and dishonest—tax collector in Luke 19. Although the Bible does not describe the details of Zacchaeus’ cheating, his encounter with Jesus prompts him to confess his wrongdoing (v 6) and promise to pay back four times what he has cheated out of others.
- Ananias and Sapphira: In Acts 5, upon joining the fledgling Christian community, this couple sold their property and offered the proceeds to the disciples. But they secretly withheld a portion for themselves and misrepresented their gift (v 2). Though they owed the disciples nothing—as Peter reminded them (v 4)—the Lord struck them dead for their dishonesty.
The Consequences of Cheating
These stories reveal the natural—and sometimes supernatural—consequences of cheating. For Jacob, his deception led to enmity and a severed relationship with his brother (Jacob would later go on to swindle his uncle and earn even more enemies).
Zacchaeus was faced with paying restitution far in excess of the amount that he had stolen. And for Ananias and Sapphira, God himself ensured that they would not bring their dishonest practices into the young church by ending their lives before they could even join the community.
But still, there is hope…
Cheating and Forgiveness
God promises to forgive our sins when we repent, and cheating is not exempt from this promise.
David’s adultery with Bathsheba was forgiven when he repented and confessed his sin to God (2 Samuel 12:13).
Jesus responded to Zacchaeus’ confession by declaring that ‘salvation has come to this house’ (Luke 19:9).
And Jacob, a notorious serial swindler, had a transformative encounter with God that left him a new man. Afterward, he reconciled with Esau and became the father of the twelve tribes of Israel.
Even as we bear the earthly costs of cheating, we can still be redeemed and restored through God’s grace, and empowered by His Spirit to move forward in righteousness and honesty.