Sometime ago Jim Carrey starred in a movie entitled Liar, Liar. Carrey played the role of a slick, lying attorney who suddenly could not tell a lie for 24 hours because of a magic wish his son made on his birthday. The movie is about all the trouble this guy encountered when he had to tell the absolute truth in every circumstance. Near the end of the movie, there was a serious note when the father confessed to his son: "Max, I can't do my job, and tell the truth. Everybody lies."
Do you think that is true? Does everybody lie? Can you go through life without lying? Would it be difficult for you to go through a 24 hour period being absolutely truthful?
The most powerful man in the world, President Clinton, lied to us in the matter of Monica Lewinsky. He stood in front of all those TV cameras and straight faced lied to us. This joke has a lot of truth to it: How do you know when a politician is lying? When their lips are moving.
Or what about the average person in our society; does it really matter to you whether he distorts the truth a bit, or a lot? The politician and the salesman, the customer, and the doctor, and the boss; all in their own way misrepresent the truth, exaggerate the hurt done to them, minimize the wrongs they've done. It's just the way today's society functions. We're part of this society, and so we take part in the misrepresentations too. Your son has to go to court, and so you phone his boss and report him sick for the day. You know full well that you were going 72 in a 55 zone, but you insist to the officer that you were only going 60. When a friend wants to know what we think of her new dress, we have our thoughts but see no need to offend, and so we flatter and tell her that her new outfit looks absolutely stunning. Etc, etc, etc. Lying is part of society, and all too often we get caught up in the practice too. Probably many of us feel pressure from time to time to distort truth in order to survive in our culture.
When I recently sold my Ford Explorer, a man who was looking to buy it told me he had received a check from the bank for 7,000 dollars. He wanted me to sell him the truck for 7,000. I told him that I needed 7,500, or I wouldn't sell it. He called me several days later asking me if he could borrow the Explorer for a trip he was taking to New York. He said, "The bank has approved the loan - they're mailing me the money." I said, "I thought they would only give you 7,000." He said, "No, I lied to you trying to get you to come down on the price." I said, "NO, you cannot borrow the truck to go to New York." The guy lies to me, then he tells me he lied to me and expected me to trust him with my truck.
Though our society gives ample place to the lie, the Lord does not. The Bible teaches us that telling the truth is a necessity for survival of life as we know it. Chaos always results when lies replace truth. Can you imagine living in an environment where there is no TRUTH - no truth on labels, contracts, guarantees, promises, commitments? Relationships would dissolve, because there would be no trust holding people together.
How vital for us as followers of Jesus to spend a few moments thinking about why it's important for us to always be truth tellers.
Before I give you several reasons why we, as believers, shouldn't lie, let me first of all make it clear to you that I do not consider "joking" as lying. For example, you could say, "Did you hear about the two men walking down the road? The one said to the other"; when in fact the two never walked and the conversation never took place. That's not a lie. It's a joke! Let's not get legalistic about this, most of us joke around, and I don't see any problem with this as long as we're not hurting people with our jokes.
A first reason to be truth tellers is that God commands us to tell the truth. God hates lying and commands us to deal truthfully with each other.
Proverbs 6:16-19 (NKJV) These six things the LORD hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren.
Did you notice that out of these seven abominations, two of them deal with lying? God hates lying!
Proverbs 12:19 (NKJV) The truthful lip shall be established forever, But a lying tongue is but for a moment.
Proverbs 12:22 (NKJV) Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, But those who deal truthfully are His delight.
Do you want to be an abomination to the Lord or a delight?
Proverbs 20:17 (NKJV) Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, But afterward his mouth will be filled with gravel.
Proverbs 21:6 (NKJV) Getting treasures by a lying tongue Is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death.
The ninth commandment is clear in its intent::
Exodus 20:16 (NKJV) "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Leviticus 19 repeats God's emphatic instruction to Israel:
Leviticus 19:11 (NKJV) 'You shall not steal, nor deal falsely, nor lie to one another.
Psalm 15 asks the question, "Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle?" and gives this answer:
Psalms 15:2 (NKJV) He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart;
In a word; lying was to be rooted out of God's people Israel. God hates lying equally much today.
Revelation 21:7-8 (NKJV) "He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
Revelation 22:15 (NKJV) But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
He places outside the New Jerusalem, which represents the New Covenant, "whoever loves and practices a lie." Instead of uttering a lie, or even twisting the truth, the Lord's instruction is this:
Zechariah 8:16-17 (NKJV) These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; Give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; 17 Let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; And do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,' Says the LORD."
These Scriptures should make it clear that God hates lying and commands us to tell the truth.
Most of us would agree that lying is not a good thing. However, we have a problem. Like the character in the movie, to some degree, most of us lie! Telling the truth is difficult, particularly as we live in a society that increasingly discounts the value of telling the truth. Opinion polls indicate people accept a certain amount of "packaging the truth," cover-up, stonewalling, or "spin doctors" as inevitable realities in the world of politics, business, and, sadly, even in personal relationships.
Lying is so much part and parcel of today's society that many Christians feel they need to lie from time to time if they're going to survive, let alone function, in this society.
How do we apply the norm of Scripture in the culture of today? To answer this question, please turn with me to the book of Titus.
Titus 1:5 (NKJV) For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you;
We learn from this passage that the apostle Paul, had left his servant, Titus, on the island of Crete to appoint church leaders and build up the local church in that place. The task wasn't easy for Titus, and so Paul wrote him a letter. In his letter, the apostle interacted with the circumstances as they were on the island. Those circumstances are described in:
Titus 1:10 (NKJV) For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision,
Here are people who have heard the gospel but now talk in a way that misrepresents the gospel. As a result, verse 11 says, "whole households" are subverted. In that context, Paul says, It's the way the Cretans are.
Titus 1:12 (NKJV) One of them, a prophet of their own, said, "Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons."
Paul quotes one of their own poets to confirm that "Cretans are always liars," and he adds, "This testimony is true" (vs 13). Here then, was a culture not all that different from our own. But now notice; Paul does not tell Titus to put up with it, as in: hey, it's the way things are, it's in their nature, it's their culture, and you can't change it. Rather, Paul is emphatic:
Titus 1:13 (NKJV) This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith,
Paul does not tolerate lying amongst the people of Crete, even though these people have been brought up with lies as part and parcel of daily living.
Now the question for us is this: why does Paul tell Titus so bluntly to "rebuke them sharply"? Why does Paul not tolerate any lying? Should he not recognize that in the circumstances he's asking too much with such a standard?
The apostle, himself, tells us why he does not tolerate lying. Notice how he starts his letter to Titus; in verse 1, he sets truth over against lying. Look at his opening line:
Titus 1:1-2 (NKJV) Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began,
Paul, you see, knows himself to be a servant of the God "who cannot lie", knows himself to be charged to preach a gospel that acknowledges the truth. But if God cannot lie, then there is no room for lying among God's children.
If God, then, does not lie, but is "the God of truth"(Is 65:16), what place ought Paul to give to lying? None! Lying is to be put away.
Ephesians 4:25 (NKJV) Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another.
What, then, do we need to conclude? This: lying simply does not belong among God's children. Society may have plenty of room for the lie, but that's because society does not know God.
A second reason to be truth tellers is that, as Christians, we are called to imitate Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:1 (NKJV) Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.
Paul was imitating Christ and he calls all believers to do the same.
Ephesians 5:1 (NKJV) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children.
Christians are not to lie, because we are to be imitating Jesus. I wonder if we fully realize how a skeptical public judges the merit of trusting Jesus by observing our behavior. Jesus identified himself as Truth, saying, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."
The cause of Christ is injured by even one lie. Christianity is made contemptible in the eyes of the one to whom you lied. He not only sees you, but he sees the whole cause for which you stand, and he writes it off as worthless.
A man said, "You know, when a man tells me that he's a Christian, I get nervous and cautious. I've been burned so many times by Christians, I've decided I can never trust a Christian." What brought him to that place? Christians who lied! When we lie, we injure the cause of Christ.
Think of how often we lie or stretch the truth: with the IRS; in excuses we give friends for not accepting invitations; for being late; for missing an important event; in submitting expenses to our company; in exaggerating stories.
I think that if we all took a tally of how often we stretch the truth, it would be totally humiliating to learn how often and how easily we can compromise being totally honest.
Because the reputation of Jesus is at stake in our behavior, God is calling us to be pro-active in carefully scrutinizing our habits of exaggerating, telling white lies, and separating our business ethics from our personal ethics. The secular world loves nothing better than to catch a Christian in some form of dishonesty, followed by this usual litany: "And you are a Christian. If that's the impact Jesus is having upon your life, I'm not impressed."
What are white lies? They are called that because they are considered harmless. But, when you see this in the light of the Scriptures, you see that a white lie, so-called, is still a lie.
White lies usually occur in circumstances where we are asked to give our opinion about one's dress or personality, and we feel negative about it but do not want to say anything for fear of hurting their feelings, so we lie, we say the nice thing, the pleasant thing, and their feelings are not hurt. We think, "I've saved them from hurt, therefore no harm was done in lying to them." But what is happening here is that we are deciding what is a "good" time to lie and when is not. This boils down to situational ethics.
Many years ago, back when I was a lot younger and a lot dumber, I was at a meeting with a couple, and the woman said to me, "What do you think of me?" In this situation, our first priority is to tell the truth. But we are to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). What I could have said to her was, "I think you are a person who tries too hard to please people. Because you try to look good in everybody's eyes, you end up seeming somewhat artificial." What I did say was, "I think you are a phony and a hypocrite." Needless to say, that didn't go over too well. I believe that we can speak the truth without being cruel. We are to be truthful, because Jesus, whom we are to imitate, was always truthful. But let us not forget that he was also always loving.
So, our second reason to be a truth teller is to reveal to the world that following Jesus creates a new breed of person committed to being truth tellers even amidst a crooked environment.
A third reason we are to be truth tellers is that telling lies has horrible consequences.
Psalms 101:7 (NKJV) He who works deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who tells lies shall not continue in my presence.
Taking detours from truth destroys relationships. At the national level, Gallup polls reveal that widespread public distrust of politicians and the media has resulted from so many lies being exposed. Cynicism has become a national disease. Think of how awful it is when we can't trust what we see or hear from leaders and the media!
Consequences become even more painful at the relational level. Can one articulate the pain when a person we trust lies to us? Relationships are devastated. Isolation, anger and suspicion rush in to fill the vacuum.
When I was 16, I had been dating a girl named Debbie for over a year. One day I called her to see if we could do something that night, but she said that she had made plans to go horse back riding with her girl friend. Later that day, I stopped by her house to pick something up, and she answered the door with her hair in curlers. It was raining out, and she was going horseback riding in the rain with her hair up? I left her house that day and never called her again. Lying destroys relationships. How can you trust someone who lies to you? How can you have a meaningful relationship with someone without trust?
I have been lied to so often by so many people that when someone tells me something, I assume they are lying, unless I know their character.
Focusing on the personal consequences of habitual lying, we find increasing devastation. A liar lives under the pressure of always having to remember what was said, coupled with the fear of exposure and the necessity of telling more lies. Truth becomes relative. Truth becomes what we want it to be. Lying becomes a kind of personal prison.
Needless to say, the Bible urges us to tell the truth because of the dire consequences of telling lies. Cal Thomas was right when he wrote regarding God's laws: "In reality, these moral laws have all the certainty of physical laws. When they are violated, a society always discovers the revenge of the offended absolutes."
You might be thinking, "How in the world can we survive if we always tell the truth in today's climate? Will we not quickly find ourselves poverty-stricken or even unemployed if we diligently see to it that we speak only truth with our clients, our boss? Will we not quickly find ourselves in deep trouble if we answered truthfully to Dad's question about where we were last night, if we answered truthfully the teacher's questions?"
It is a fact that our finite minds drive us to the conclusion that we'd simply not survive if we made it our business to be truthful in every word we spoke. But that's because our minds do not give God the place He needs in our thinking. Solomon tells us in Proverbs 3 that we are to :
Proverbs 3:5 (NKJV) Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding;
Proverbs 3:1 (NKJV) My son, do not forget my law, But let your heart keep my commands;
And what promise comes with this instruction to trust God and keep His commands?
Proverbs 3:2 (NKJV) For length of days and long life And peace they will add to you.
You see, believer, we think, "If we tell the boss the truth, we'll be up the creek." But God says, "If you tell the boss the truth, then I will bless you!" If He cared for you so much that He delivered you from slavery to sin, will He not care for you when you speak the truth?
It is true that to our sinful minds, telling a lie is the obvious way out of a fix; it will save us our job, will get us off the hook with the law, will prevent a hassle with our teachers, etc. But God's Word tells us differently. He wants the truth, only the truth, always the truth, and His promise is that He will bless us when we obey His command to speak only the truth.
God gave His Son for you, gave His Son to set you free from the power of sin. Now what does God do? He tests us. The test is this: will you give in to the temptation to lie, or will you trust that the Lord will supply all you need even if you lose your shirt, your reputation, your freedom? It's a fact that lying is very much an accepted thing in our society, and that reality simply makes the test God sets before us that much more acute. But even if all society lies, that doesn't change a thing about the reality of God's Word. So what are you going to do when you're confronted with a question? Count on the Lord and His promises, or follow your own head?
A fourth reason to be truthful is that becoming a truth teller can bring about radical change in society.
When we strive to imitate Jesus, He enables us to influence the environment where God has placed us during the week. Most of us thrive on investing our lives in something really significant. What could be more significant than to become part of a movement to restore truth in the marketplace, in our culture, in our personal relationships? Remember, change in society always begins with a few! The decline of truth in our culture started with a few that spread like a virus. Change for the better can start the same way.
A spiral of decay in personal and public lying seems to be occurring in our time. However, the good news is that change for the better can also begin with a few, and accelerate. When we Christians demonstrate that following Jesus does create a person capable of being honest, no matter the cost, such behavior will have an impact. In the early Church, it was the honesty of Christians that made them appear as lights in a decadent environment, making the Christian Faith attractive. I believe we have a similar potential today that will bring great honor to Jesus.
Where do we start? We can start with confession to God, confessing that we have sinned by being less than honest. In his great Psalm of repentance, David says, "Have mercy on me O God...Against you, you only, have I sinned...Surely you desire truth in the inner parts...Create in me a clean heart, O God... (Psalm 51)
After expressing our desire to be truthful, we can seek to be honest in little things - catching
ourselves in "white lies," half truths, exaggerations, in the stories we tell for expediency.
We can be honest in our business dealings. I recently sold my truck, and the man who bought it was haggling with me over the price. I countered his offer, and he said, "Okay, I'll pay you that if you put on the title that you sold it for less." I said, "I can't do that, that would be lying." He responded by saying, "You're right, we shouldn't lie."
We can be honest in our homes, honest with our children. Nothing hurts a child more than discovering their parents haven't been honest with them.
I read of a father who was taking his two sons to play miniature golf. He inquired of the price, and the attendant told him it was $3.00 for him and $3.00 for any child over six. The father told him one boy was three and one was seven. "You could have saved $3.00 if you said the older boy was six. I wouldn't have known the difference." The father replied, "Yes, that's true, but the kids would have known the difference."
That's depravity of the human heart that makes a person save $3.00 by being a liar. How many fathers are teaching their children to be dishonest?
Change starts with us.
Throughout history, the Church of Jesus Christ has been the catalyst for change. So the Good News today is that we individually, and as a church family, possess great potential in Jesus Christ to do more than wail about the lack of honesty in our times. We can be a catalyst for change by committing ourselves to be honest. We can start today, finding the grace of Jesus to forgive our past history of lies and then asking God for the power to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.