The "Colour" of a Lie
BENT, BROKEN, UNBOWED
The Ten Commandments for Today
THE “COLOUR” OF THE LIE DOESN’T MATTER
The ninth commandment deals with something that seems like such a little “bump” in the moral and ethical road that we are tempted to ignore it. Lying has become an accepted part of our society. From potentates to paupers, everyone seems to be doing it. J. John writes: “It is at all levels, and we have a thousand terms for it. Politicians are ‘economical with the truth,’ statistics are ‘massaged,’ signatures and dates are ‘adjusted,’ expenses are ‘inflated,’ and our work experience is ‘padded.’ We lie at work (about our hours, expenses, lunch breaks, and who really broke the copier), and we lie at home…We lie to the taxman (‘necessary expenses’), we lie to the doctor (‘I do exercise regularly’), we lie to the bank (‘a temporary shortfall’), and we lie to the traffic police (‘speed limit” Sorry, I had no idea’). Lies are now everywhere.” (Ten Laws of Love Set in Stone, page 40).
Truth has become relative. What’s true for me might not be true for you. For most people today there is no such thing as an “absolute” truth—only differing opinions, or “my” truth as opposed to “your” truth.
The postmodern society tells us that there are no absolutes, therefore it is impossible to tell a lie because there is no such thing as an absolute truth. Depending on the circumstances, one man’s “lie” could be easily another man’s truth therefore we can’t impose our standards on anyone else. The lack of absolutes put a serious dent in something that is vital to a just society—TRUST. I can’t trust where there are no absolutes because I can never know anything for sure. Like Pontius Pilate we think we can get off with saying, “What is truth?” and make it whatever we want it to be.
When it comes to the Scriptures we often take, or leave, what we will of its contents, depending on what is convenient for us, because for many the Bible is not absolute truth. Most people, even believers, pick and choose, which is one of the dilemmas that we have with something like The Ten Commandments. They can’t be true anymore because… The favourite argument is that they are “Old Testament” and old covenant, and therefore irrelevant. But Jesus, who perfectly modelled their relevance, never dismissed them. In fact, He strengthened them and summarized them in these two great commandments He gave to love God and love our neighbour. The two great commandments that Jesus gave encompass the Ten Rules the God once gave Moses. Jesus did not put the Ten Commandments out to pasture and the 9th is no exception.
LET’S LOOK A LIES
There is the total lie—complete and utter fabrication. There can be the lie of silence where we fail to mention something that is important. There is the lie that misleads, when we don’t actual tell the lie just drop a few bits of information that will lead the hearer to make a false conclusion. We also lie to ourselves. There is the exaggeration—embellishing the truth.
Why do we lie?
We want to avoid trouble.
We want to cover up who we really are and what our problems really are—to make ourselves look good and acceptable.
We don’t want to admit guilt. Everything and everyone else is to blame except us—quintessential Adam and Eve! We are the victims.
THE SERIOUSNESS OF TRUTH
The ninth commandment is expressed in legal terms and is very specific: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor” in the New International Version.
There are plenty of verses in the Bible about lying in general, and we will look at some of those, but this particular commandment is directed toward a specific kind of lying. This is lying about someone to someone else.
Under the specific details of the commandment that God gave Moses were items like these which are mentioned in Exodus 23:
“Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious gossip. Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit…Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty” (Exodus 23:1-3; 6, 7, NIV).
The way the commandment is worded makes it sound as though the proceedings were taking place in a courtroom. This is the “Do you swear that the evidence you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God” kind of testimony. And, given that we are always standing before the court of heaven and the Judge of all the earth who sees and knows everything, we are giving testimony that demands the truth.
God was well aware that a false testimony could lead to putting an innocent person to death. Because truthful witness was so important, and false testimony or inadequate testimony could lead to an innocent person being executed, the death penalty was not imposed if there were no witnesses to the crime. One witness was not enough. There had to be two witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6). In addition, those witnesses felt the weight of their responsibility because they would be the first to execute judgment on the accused: “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 17:6, 7). Ordinary people would think twice about how certain they were about what they were saying since they would become either the instruments of just punishment, or murderers themselves.
Obviously, it was possible for even two or three witnesses to give false testimony, so there was a provision to cover that possibility as well. In Deuteronomy 19, where the cities of refuge are described, we have further information. Deuteronomy 19:15-21 is very specific: “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the Lord before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil things be done among you. Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
So apart from the testimony of the witnesses the officials still had a responsibility to carry out an investigation to make sure the witnesses were telling the truth. If they weren’t then they would receive the same punishment as would have been handed down to the accused. So it wasn’t a matter of a few days in jail and a fine. It could easily be a matter of death if the witnesses lied about a person who was accused of a capital crime.
In the Old Testament system it was believed that proper punishment was a deterrent. And time and time again that phrase “You must purge the evil from among you” is repeated. A witness would at least think twice about lying under that system.
This same system was in force in the New Testament. When the authorities wanted to have the Romans crucify Jesus they had to produce two witnesses against Him. And since He had done nothing worthy of death, we are told in Matthew 26:60 that they came up with many people who lied about Him. So bent were the authorities on killing Him that it seems apparent that even though their own investigation hadn’t revealed any evidence against Him, they chose to accept the lies of the witnesses without investigating the truth of what the witnesses were saying.
Jesus taught that when confronting a brother or sister in Christ with an offense that it might be necessary to bring witnesses along if that person refused to pay attention. Matthew 18:16 says: “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” This was a direct quote from the Old Testament.
When Stephen was accused and brought to trial in the early days of the church, the authorities once again produced false witnesses (Acts 6:13, 14) and these witnesses were the ones who had to throw the first stones that resulted in Stephen’s death (Acts 8:54-60).
Certainly, even a good rule can be abused, but the consequences of throwing out the good rule based simply on the reality that someone could abuse it, are even more devastating.
Often in the Old Testament, this idea of being a witness in the legal sense took on a spiritual meaning. We’ve talked about this covenant or contract that existed between God and His people. This was a binding agreement between the two parties. God said, “I will…if you will” and it is often recorded that the Hebrews publicly committed themselves to keeping their part of the contract. We talked about this when we discussed the 7thcommandment: “You shall not commit adultery.” God’s relationship with his people is similar to a marriage—vows have been exchanged and the expectation is that they will be honoured. In Joshua 24:22, when Joshua comes to the end of his life, he reminds the people of this vow, this contract and demands that they renew their commitment to following God. He even baits them by accusing them of not being able to keep their promises. “But the people said to Joshua, ‘No! We will serve the Lord.’ Then Joshua said, ‘You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.’ ‘Yes, we are witnesses,’ they replied.”
This example demonstrates what is probably the ultimate in lying. Lying to ourselves about ourselves is something we do remarkably easily. Joshua doesn’t believe them! So much doesn’t he believe them that he set up a monument and symbolically made it a witness to their promise so that every time anyone looked at it they would remember their own lies. “‘See!’ he said to the people. ‘This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the Lord has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.’”
There is legal aspect attached to lying. I believe that this 9th commandment is couched in these legal terma only because it directly relates to: 1. The covenant made with the God where we are told to love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our minds, and with all our strength, and 2. The promise we’ve made to God to love our neighbor and do that neighbor no harm.
We’ve all heard the expression: “It is only a little white lie.” But, although we might rationalize lying by assigning it “colours” or degrees, all of them are still lies.
THE GOSPEL AND TRUTH
Our dedication to the truth-telling in what we say and what we do, and the avoidance of even those “little white lies,” can be critical to whether or not our testimony as believers is accepted or rejected. If our life is a lie and doesn’t add up to what we profess, or we lie in what we say, why should anyone believe what we tell them about Jesus?
We also need to be careful not to add to, or subtract from, the Gospel message. Jesus said: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6, NIV). When we testify to that truth, we need to stick to “the truth and nothing but the truth” or else we cause people to: 1. Believe in something that is a lie and, 2. when they discover the lie, wonder what else we’ve told them about Jesus that isn’t true.
When Luke sat down to write his gospel, he began with this declaration of truth-telling: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainly of the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4, NIV).
Luke is saying that truthfulness in handling the account of the story of Jesus is important. So he examined the eyewitnesses and determined whether or not they were telling the truth before he sat down to write the Gospel. John was one of those eyewitnesses and he says in his epistle: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—that we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard…” (1 John 1:3a, NIV).
Paul also addressed the issue of giving false testimony about Jesus in Romans 15:14, 15 when he was making his arguments about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He writes: “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.”
We need to be careful about how we handle the truth of God and His Word and not be false witnesses about that truth. A false witness or prophet was detestable to God.
Jeremiah 23:25-32 tells us, “‘I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, “I had a dream! I had a dream!” ‘How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? They think the dreams they tell one another will make my people forget my name, just as their ancestors forgot my name through Baal worship. Let the prophet who has a dream recount the dream, but let the one who has my word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord. ‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that creaks a rock in pieces? Therefore,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me, Yes,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, “The Lord declares.” ‘Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least,’ declares the Lord.”
How do we know truth from fiction? How do we know when a “false prophet” appears to tell us something supposedly “from God” that isn’t from Him at all? We need to be like the Bereans in Acts 17:11, who listened to Paul’s message but then went and checked it out in the Scriptures for themselves.
Paul was accused at times of making things up, and of not being Christ’s chosen messenger at all. He too called on his accusers to produce proof through witnesses of his lying. He writes this in 2 Corinthians 13:1, when he was addressing some issues that cropped up in the church in Corinth: “This is my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time, I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me.”
The apostle insisted that those who had received the word that he preached were witnesses to the truth he spoke. I Thessalonians 2:10: “You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we are among you who believed. For you know…” I’m not sure I would dare say what Paul said, but then I’m not Paul!
Paul was so confident in his people that he was certain they would not lie about all that God had done in their lives through him, and that the message He proclaimed was a true message because of the power of God at work through that message in their lives.
Witnesses were also important when a church leader was accused of some wrongdoing. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:19: “Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.”
The importance of being a truthful witness to the Gospel and to the Word of God appears constantly. Timothy is told that what he has learned from those who have been faithful witnesses to the truth is to be passed on to others (2 Timothy 2:2) so that they in turn can pass it on. In those days much of the teaching of Jesus was passed on by word of mouth so it was important to get the message right.
The idea of more than one witness as a guarantee of the truth is carried on right into Revelation where we read about the two witnesses, the prophets, described in Revelation 11:3.
Having witnesses to the truth was important, and being truthful witnesses is important. Just as marriage is a picture of the covenant relationship between Christ and His people, so is telling the truth in all areas of our lives important to our witness to the truth of the Gospel. If we don’t tell the truth in our daily lives, why should anyone believe we are telling the truth when we explain the good news about Jesus?
God knew all about the danger that lying represented to a person’s reputation. When Jesus was on the earth He had some pretty strong words to say about Satan in John 8:42-47. He called Satan “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him…he is a liar and the father of lies.” This refers back to Genesis 3 when Satan tempted Eve by telling outright lies about God and then inferring things that were lies about God. Basically he “murdered” God’s reputation by leading Eve to believe that God was holding out on them. He also “murdered” the relationship that Adam and Eve had with God because of those lies.
The violation of the ninth commandment violates both of the great commandments given by Jesus. How can we say that we love God with all our being if we break our vows to Him by handling His truth unfaithfully? How can we say that we love our neighbor if we lie about him and murder his reputation or lead him to believe something that is not true about God?
A LIFESTYLE OF TRUTH
It’s impressive how often lying is mentioned in Scripture.
“The Lord said to Moses: ‘If anyone sins and is unfaithful to the Lord by deceiving his neighbor about something entrusted to him or left in his care or stolen, of if he cheats him, or if he finds lost property and lies about it, or if he swears falsely, of if he commits any such sin that people may do—when he thus sins and becomes guilty, he must return what he has stolen or taken by extortion, or what was entrusted to him, or the lost property he found, or whatever it was he swore falsely about. He must make restitution…”
Leviticus 19:11, 12, 16
“Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord…Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”
“O my Strength, I watch for you; you, O God, are my fortress, my loving God. God will go with before me and will let me gloat over those who slander me. But do not kill them, O Lord our shield, or my people will forget. In your might make them wander about, and bring them down. For the sins of their mouths, for the words of their lips, let them be caught in their pride. For the curses and lies they utter, consume them in wrath, consume them till they are no more. Then it will known to the ends of the earth that God rules over Jacob.”
“But the king will rejoice in God; all who swear by God’s name will praise him, while the mouths of liars will be silenced.”
“No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.”
“Keep me from deceitful ways; be gracious to me through your law. I have chosen the way of truth; I have set my heart on your laws.”
“I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. Save me, O Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues. What will he do to you, and what more besides, O deceitful tongue? He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows, with burning coals of the broom tree.”
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush to evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”
“The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”
“The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked bring shame and disgrace.”
Proverbs 14:5, 25
“A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies…a truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.”
“The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life, but a deceitful tongue crushes the spirit.”
“A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue.”
“A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will perish.”
“A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.”
“A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
“For our offenses are many in your sight, and our sins testify against us. Our offenses are ever with us, and we acknowledge our iniquities: rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God, fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter, Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey.”
“‘For they have done outrageous things in Israel; they have committed adultery with their neighbor’s wives and in my name have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do. I know it and am a witness to it,’ declares the Lord.”
“Her prophets whitewash these deeds [stealing killing, profaning holy things, not distinguishing between holy and common, not keeping the Sabbath, unjust gain, injustice etc.] for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, ‘This is what the Lord says’—when the Lord has not spoken.”
Zechariah 8:16, 17
“‘These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,’ declares the Lord.”
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”
“Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices…”
1 Timothy 4:1, 2
“The Spirit clearly says that in latter times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”
“…a faith and knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness—a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…”
“…it is impossible for God to lie…”
1 John 1:6
“If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.”
1 John 2:22
“Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ…”
Revelation 21:8, 27
“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
And these are only a few!
Sometimes we don’t even recognize that we are not telling the truth. Perhaps one of the items that needs to be on our prayer list is this one from David:
Psalm 141:1-4 (NIV): “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep a watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.”
Jesus was living Truth. We, as His representatives in this world, must reflect that truth. We are not the living Truth, but we are the truth than is being lived out.