It takes courage to tell the truth but that’s what God expects from His children. Commandment #9 states, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). Alas, some folks foolishly think that infers as long as a neighbor’s not involved lying’s okay. But the Bible makes it crystal clear it’s far from “okay” with God. He considers it as big a sin as any other. Just like committing adultery or stealing, the consequences of breaking God’s laws take on a life of their own and the resulting evil spreads like a communicable disease, infecting one person after another. J. I. Packer wrote, “The command not to ‘bear false witness against your neighbor’ comes in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5:20. The word for ‘false’ in the first text means ‘untrue,’ and in the second means ‘insincere,’ thus pointing to the deceitful purpose which breeds the falsehood.” Fact is, God’s laws primarily concern the attitude of our heart so thinking we’re off the hook as long as we don’t lie under oath about our neighbor won’t cut it with our Heavenly Father. He will, in the long run, hold us accountable.
Being a proficient liar can take you to the summit in this fallen world. Take Charles “Chuck” Colson, for example. He had decent parents, became a captain in the Marines, then earned various degrees before graduating from George Washington University Law School in ‘59. After founding a successful law firm and rising in the political ranks he was appointed “Special Counsel to the President” in ’69 where he gained notoriety as Nixon’s “Hatchet Man” who oversaw Dick’s dirty deeds. When Daniel Ellsberg released the infamous Pentagon Papers that bolstered the anti-war sentiment sweeping the nation it was Colson who concocted vicious lies about Ellsberg in an attempt to discredit him. Eventually Charles’ involvement in the Watergate scandal led to his downfall. He was disbarred and ended up serving a 7-month jail sentence. Despite his acumen as an attorney and advisor, his willingness to lie did him in. Yet no one’s beyond the reach of God’s grace, not even “Lyin’ Chuck.” Before he went to prison a friend handed him a copy of C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and, as that book has for millions (including yours truly), it encouraged him to open and read God’s Holy Word and his heart and mind were transformed. Upon release Colson became an evangelist, founded the “Prison Fellowship” organization and wrote over 30 inspirational books. In ‘93 he received the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. He donated the $1 million award (plus all book royalties and speaking fees) to the Prison Fellowship. God never writes off a repentant sinner.
While in decades past getting caught in a lie was a surefire career-killer it’s now regarded as “business as usual.” The prophet Isaiah declared back in his day, “Justice is driven back; godliness stands far off. Indeed, honesty stumbles in the city square and morality is not even able to enter. Honesty has disappeared; the one who tries to avoid evil is robbed. The LORD watches and is displeased, for there is no justice” (Isaiah 59:14-15). Sounds like a spot-on description of 21st century civilization to me. Reliable polls reflect that 91% of Americans lie regularly. Alistair Begg wrote, “Dishonesty, it would seem, is woven into the very fabric of our culture. Deceit runs through our society like so many dark veins through marble. The corridors of political power are plagued by it. The universities are rife with plagiarism, and organized religion cannot deny the fact that it has significant internal problems with honesty and integrity.” One would think the Christian community would take to the streets in protest and run the crooked politicians and preachers out of town on a rail. But instead of lying being loathed it’s accepted as being the “new normal.” Many child psychologists actually recommend parents not reprimand their kids for telling their first few fibs because it’ll interfere with their “development of self.” The Bible disagrees, saying lying’s an early sign of the human heart’s inherent wickedness. “Their throats are open graves, they deceive with their tongues, the poison of asps is under their lips” (Romans 3:13). While Paul wasn’t targeting toddlers in particular, he intimated the sooner a youngster learns lying’s a serious sin, the better.
The ninth commandment urges us to make a commitment to telling the truth. Our tendency, though, is to rationalize lying as sometimes being “situationally necessary.” That way we can dodge God’s law and pretend He’s fine with us covering our tracks. We flip on our inner “naiveté switch” whenever it’s convenient but we can’t hoodwink God. The Scriptures say, “If we say we have not sinned, we make him [God] a liar and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:10). It’s crucial we emphasize the Ten Commandments are signposts pointing directly to Jesus Christ for He is the ultimate truth that’ll never fail to set us free. Paul taught that while believers are no longer bound by the Law (“For sin will have no mastery over you, because you are not under law but under grace” – Romans 6:14), he also emphasized there’s no better guide to effective witnessing for Christ than God’s Laws (“To those under the law I became like one under the law [though I myself am not under the law] to gain those under the law” – 1 Corinthians 9:20). God’s commandments aren’t joy-destroyers, they’re life-enhancers. The Law is perfect because our Father in heaven is perfect. God has no reason to lie because He’s nothing but the truth. It’s His will that His children are easily recognized as belonging to Him due to their unwavering truthfulness being displayed in their character. A Christian should always consider telling the truth to be of vital importance because, by doing so, they bring honor and glory to their Lord and Savior. Plus, by being loyal to the truth, they never have to remember what they said to someone. Truth is an orphan while a lie has legions of relatives.
Like I said, the Bible has a lot to say about lying. Solomon wrote, “The LORD abhors a person who lies, but those who deal truthfully are his delight” (Proverbs 12:22). Lying silently to ourselves is bad enough but lying when we speak aloud is downright despicable. It’s the equivalent of blatantly advertising our hypocrisy. “If someone thinks he is religious yet does not bridle his tongue, and so deceives his heart, his religion is futile” (James 1:26). The tongue is an extraordinary component of our anatomy. We use it to chew, taste and swallow our food but it’s most special quality is that it enables us to communicate our thoughts and needs verbally. Yet, like so many things in this world, it can not only be corrupted but it can become an instrument that instigates corruption in others. “…The tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions. Think how small a flame sets a huge forest ablaze. And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrongdoing among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the entire body and sets fire to the course of human existence – and is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:5-6). If not restrained by divine power, our tongues are liable to spew vile things and cause widespread damage in the process. James is telling us in no uncertain terms the source of the destructive power of the tongue is hell. Christ said as much, too. He once confronted his rude opponents with “You people are from your father the devil, and you want to do what your father desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. Whenever he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Begg wrote, “Behind every word that’s unclean, untrue, angry, spiteful, divisive, and unkind is Satan himself.”
As we’ve seen happen repeatedly in the political arena, one lie is told and then another lie gets told to conceal the mess the original lie made. Rinse and repeat. But that strategy never works. The more dirt they shovel into the hole they’ve dug, the deeper it gets. What James said about a lying tongue is true – “it pollutes the entire body.” You’d think folks would figure out that, in the wake of a mistake, coming clean and telling the truth is the best way to stop all conjectures and rumors dead in their tracks. But even otherwise conscientious Christians learn the hard way. More times than not too many of us truly believe we’re so stinkin’ clever we can lie our way out of a jam. However, a person who’s been born again is supposed to hate lying. The Bible warns us over and over about the sin of being untruthful. “You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man who has been created in God’s image – in righteousness and holiness that comes from truth. Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor” (Ephesians 4:22-25). If we’re not careful, secularists will convince us we have to be more tolerant of half-truths, flattery, gossip, degrading comments, etc. and view them as harmless expressions of free speech. The problem with that attitude, though, is it gets to where nobody can recognize the truth anymore and trust vanishes.
There was a time when someone found guilty of committing perjury in a court of law (after swearing on the Bible to tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”) would receive the death penalty. Our country’s founding fathers knew that “justice for all” could never be assured if truth was allowed to fluctuate or be stretched. The only way to ensure anyone got a fair trial was to make lying on the witness stand a capital crime. Lives were at stake. Solomon wisely said, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow, so is the one who testifies against his neighbor as a false witness” (Proverbs 25:18). How things have changed! Nowadays the highest-paid lawyers are the ones who can manipulate the truth so thoroughly they can get a jury so confused even murderers who’ve confessed their guilt are set free. Folks running for office get away with lying consistently these days because the citizens who should be outraged shrug and murmur, “It’s just politics.” Thus we get what we deserve. But there’ll be a price to pay. “A false witness will not go unpunished, and the one who spouts out lies will perish” (Proverbs 19:9). So if a “false witness” ends up being our country’s leader won’t our nation perish along with them? Logic answers that question in the affirmative. And, by the way, God doesn’t have a party affiliation. There’s only one King and He’s it. Take note: “The one who acquits the guilty and the one who condemns the innocent – both of them are an abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15).
The scope of this commandment isn’t confined to the courtroom. Every one of us is prone to criticize others and judge them unfairly. We also tend to use insincere flattery to get on somebody’s good side and we often love to loiter in the scandalous rumor mill. All these activities are based on the same lie the Jewish leaders were caught up in. “Jesus also told this parable to some who were confident that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else. ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself like this: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: extortionists, unrighteous people, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.” The tax collector, however, stood far off and would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, be merciful to me, sinner that I am!” I tell you that this man went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted’” (Luke 18:9-14). We have no business passing on personal data about another person even if the info’s legit. Discretion is a hallmark trait of a Christ-follower. We must never assume we know everything about what someone else is going through or having to deal with. Praying is always the best thing we can do for another person, not broadcasting their difficulties. When we gossip we make things worse. “A perverse man stirs up dissention, and a gossip separates close friends” (Proverbs 16:28). Jerry Bridges wrote, “A judgmental spirit is too often a vice of committed Christians. We need to recognize it as the sin it really is.” David wisely wrote, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3).
Begg opined, “If gossip is saying something behind a person’s back that we’d never say to his face, then flattery is saying to a person’s face what we’d never say behind his back.” Flattery qualifies as lying because it’s a distortion of the truth. Exaggeration resides in the same category. Our pride goads us to inflate our achievements or talents in order to give the impression we’re better, smarter or more gifted than most. We must constantly bear in mind the words of the Apostle Paul: “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:22-23). In God’s eyes there’s no difference between me and a serial killer sitting on death row. Thus I have no right to judge anybody. The Bible makes that clear. “We are all like one who is unclean, all our so-called righteous acts are like filthy rags in your sight. We all wither like a leaf; our sins carry us away like the wind” (Isaiah 64:6).
There are two sides of the truth coin. There’s being productively honest and there’s being brutally honest. Obviously in the vast majority of cases we’re to tell the truth without hesitation. We do that not only to honor God and His ninth commandment but as a courtesy to others. When we tell the truth about a matter the people affected don’t have to decipher whether or not they have all the facts. They can react as they see fit. In other words, when in doubt, tell the truth. However, there are times when there’s no cause to bring up the truth because it can be needlessly destructive and brutal. I’ll explain. At Celebrate Recovery we have 8 principles. The 6th reads: “Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who’ve hurt me and make amends for harm I’ve done to others, except when to do so would harm them or others.” A person in recovery isn’t accomplishing anything positive if, in the process of making their amends, they cause problems to erupt in someone else’s life. For instance, I don’t need to call a girlfriend from 30 years ago out of the blue so I can pat myself on the back afterwards for telling her “I’m sorry I was such a jerk.” Maybe her life isn’t going smoothly right now. How would I know if my call might arouse suspicion in her spouse that she’s having an affair? I might feel better about myself but at what cost? We must not be reckless with the truth. We must let God guide us at all times in everything we do or say.
I’ve known folks who lie so much so often they don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s an automatic, uncontrollable reflex with them. Honesty has become the exception, not the rule. In fact, when a person’s totally transparent and fesses up to a wrongdoing or a crime it’s shocking! A Christian should be unafraid to tell the truth, even if the consequences may possibly damage their reputation. Jesus is the embodiment of truth and He lived His life truthfully. We should strive to do the same. As always, it’s best to let the Scriptures have the last word. Paul wrote, “You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial for the building up of the one in need, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).