I was thinking about doing this morning what another preacher did one time when he was going to preach on the subject of lying. He announced that his text for this particular Sunday was from the 29th chapter of Matthew and he asked the congregation for a show of hands of who has read Matthew ch29, and a whole host of them put up their hands. He said, “Thank you, you can put your hands down now. I can see that my message for today is especially relevant for you folks because there is no 29th chapter of Matthew and we’re going to talk about lying.” But I decided to be nice this morning and not do that to those of you who might have raised your hands.
There’s a former president who has been dead now for a century and a half, but stories of his honesty are still being told and retold. In a biography of his life it tells of when he was a young man who worked as a clerk at a general store, one evening he was counting the money in the drawer after closing and found that he had accidentally took a few cents too much from a customer, and that night he walked 3 miles to return the customer’s money. On another occasion a woman came into the store and bought a 1/2 lb of tea and then he later realized that he had only a 1/4 lb weight on the scale, so he’d only given the woman a 1/4 lb of tea for the price of 1/2 lb. So he closed down the store for a bit to personally deliver the remainder of the tea to the woman. Later in his life he made a living as a lawyer and he was noted for unswerving honesty. A relative told a story of him defending a client. When the key witness for his case took the stand, he realized the witness was lying, and though the lie was in favor of his case, he turned to the court and said, “Gentlemen, I depended on this witness to clear my client. He has lied. I ask that no attention be paid to his testimony. Let his words be stricken out, if my case fails. I do not wish to win in this way.” Do you know who that man was?… Things like that earned him the title “Honest Abe.”
You know why those are memorable stories and why Abraham Lincoln was nicknamed after deeds like that? It’s because his honesty was in his day and is all the more today a rare quality. There’s a book that was written in the early 1990s called “The Day America Told The Truth”. It records the results of the first mass survey of mass morality conducted in the United States. And in this book the authors after their survey and research state, “Americans lie. They lie more than we had ever thought possible before the study… 91% of us lie regularly. The majority of us find it hard to get through a week without lying. One in five can’t make it through a single day – and we’re talking about conscious, premeditated lies. In fact, the way some people talk about trying to do without lies, you would think that they were smokers trying to get through a day without a cigarette!” They say 86% of those surveyed lied to their parents, 75% to their friends, 73% to their brothers and sisters, and 69% to their spouses. Lying has become a cultural trait in America.
I came across an article on Forbes.com, the Forbes magazine web site. The article is entitled, I kid you not, “Lying is Good for You” and that’s what it tries to prove. And in this article it says, “We lie all the time. In 2002, Robert Feldman, a psychology professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, conducted a study in which he secretly videotaped students’ conversations with strangers. After the fact, he had the students examine the videotapes and identify the untruths. On average, they claim to have told three lies per ten minutes of conversation. And that number is likely far too low. .. we’re likely to under report the number of lies we tell (we lie about lying, that is)… In fact, we lie so readily that the dishonesty becomes automatic. Most of the time, we’re not even aware of the lies we tell, explains David Smith, director of the New England Institute at the University of New England and author of Why We Lie.”
Some lies in America have been used so often they’re joked about. I came upon a list of America’s greatest lies. Here are 10 of them. I sure you’ve heard at least most of them, maybe said a few yourself.
- The check is in the mail.
- I’ll start my diet tomorrow.
- We service what we sell.
- One size fits all.
- This hurts me more than it hurts you.
- I just need 5 minutes of your time.
- Your table will be ready in a few minutes.
- Let’s get together and have lunch sometime.
- It’s not the money; it’s the principle.
- I’m from the federal government, and I’m here to help you.
We’re talking about honesty this morning because we’re on the 9th commandment in our study of the 10 commandments, the 10 that God spoke from heaven to the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai, the 10 laws that formed the core of what God expected of them in the covenant he was establishing with them. Exodus 20:16 is where the 9th commandment is found. There God proclaimed to Israel, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Now, some believe that it just has reference to perjury, in other words lying when you are under oath in a court of law. And certainly it includes that. But I wouldn’t say it’s limited to just lying in legal matters. I think we can also bear false witness against a neighbor outside the court room in our normal everyday conversation. In fact I think most lying is bearing false witness about someone or something and is to the detriment of your neighbor. We’re just going to talk about honesty and trustworthiness in general this morning, because whether you think a lie is technically bearing false witness against your neighbor or not, doesn’t really matter. Lying/deceit in general is condemned in scripture with the same sort of language as is bearing false witness against your neighbor.
I’d like us to do 3 things this morning. First, identify some of the different ways of lying that maybe we don’t readily think of when we think about lying. And then we’re going to talk real briefly about why people lie, why you might want to lie. And then we’ll talk about reasons for not lying, why you might want to be honest. And then I think you will be well informed to make the best decision about whether you want to be rare in the world like Honest Abe or you just want to be conformed to the culture in which we live.
What are some ways of lying that we might overlook?
Well, first of all, there’s…
Embellishing our Stories
Because nobody wants to tell dull boring stories. We all want our stories to be as exciting and entertaining and sensational or dramatic or funny as possible, and we want people to be as impressed with us as possible. So we’re always tempted to exaggerate or alter the details a bit, to add a little more color to our stories. That’s why you can never believe somebody when they tell you how big of a fish they caught. If it’s cold day in the story, you don’t want to just say it was a cold day. You’re tempted to say something like “It must have been -55 degrees. It was so cold people were having their teeth extracted without anesthetic.” Something like that. Embellishment is very common when people write resumes. People stretch the facts to get the job.
Then another way of lying is the epidemic that’s in every office space, school, coffee house, and church. It’s
Gossip and Rumor
Repeating to others little juicy morsels of unsubstantiated information that you heard about other people, possibly some of it fact, but you have no way of knowing how much of it is true. Most often gossip and rumor contains falsehood, because people love to embellish and exaggerate things to make a better story and so that the person they’re talking about appears a little worse which makes them, the speaker, appear that much better.
And then another way of lying is…
Flattery has been defined as saying something to a person’s face that you would never say behind their back. You’re telling them things they want to hear, that you don’t really believe are true, because for some reason it’s to your advantage that they like you. You drive in your car and you say “The guy’s a total moron.” You meet him and you say, “You know what? I hold you in the highest esteem.” Or you tell your boss, “That was the best presentation I think I’ve ever heard.” Then on the phone with your wife, “I think I might get a raise. He was pleased when I told him that.” And your wife asks, “And how was his presentation?” “O it was awful.” Or you tell the preacher, “That was a wonderful sermon you gave today.” And then in the car on the way home, “That was the boringest, most useless thing I have ever heard.” (I know you never do that. That’s just in other churches.)
Psalm 12:1-3, “Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. 2 They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. 3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things” See, flattery is lying and speaking falsehood according to that passage.
Frivolous Little Promises
“Yeah, I’ll pay you back as soon as I can.” Really? You will pay them back as soon as you can?
“Yeah, I’ll see if I can make to that Bible study.” Or “I’ll see if I can make it to that Saturday work project.” Will you really see if you can make it?
Or there’s this little statement we say a lot whenever we’re talking to somebody in some sort of distress, “I’ll pray for you.” Or, “You’ll be in my prayers.” That’s easy promise to make because it gives people a little comfort to hear that and they won’t know whether you do it or not. I’ve tried to develop a habit so that I don’t make that promise and then forget to do it, when I tell someone I’ll pray for you, then as soon as I’m done talking with that person before I go do anything else, I’ll pause and say a prayer for them. And then at least I’ve prayed for them once, and doing it once helps me to remember to do it again the next time I pray.
Leaving False Impressions
Let’s turn to an example of lying that we find in Acts 5, which I think can help us see that we can be guilty of lying in sight of God without verbally making an untrue statement. It helps us to see lying is simply intentionally misleading people or intentionally giving them a false impression whether a false statement comes from your mouth or not. Let’s actually start here in the text at 4:34 to get a little context for this story. It’s describing the early church in Jerusalem and it says, “For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35 and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36 Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37 and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.” So it describes the incredible love and generosity of the early Christians for one another. They didn’t have enough in their checking and savings accounts to help those of their number who were in need, so they were selling their property and then bringing what they made on the sales to the apostles who would then distribute it to those who needed it. And Luke the author of Acts introduces Barnabas as one of those who did that. Then Acts 5:1, “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4 “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Now, the text doesn’t say anything about whether Ananias spoke a word or not. I suspect he may have said something. When he brought the money to the apostles, “Sapphira and I have been blessed materially by the Lord. We sold a prime piece of land that’s been in our family for generations.” And he poured out the money at the apostles’ feet. “We want this to go to those who need it more than us.” But I doubt that Ananias outright falsely stated, “Now, this is all the money that we received for the land.” I suspect Ananias was like us and thought “You know, it’s really bad to deceive people by just flat out making false statements, but it’s not so bad to just let people get a false impression.” So I suspect Ananias just conducted himself in a way that looked like he was doing the same thing that Barnabas and others had done, and just let people assume that he was giving all the money he got for the land. But Peter told him, “Ananias, you have lied. You’ve lied not just to men, but you have lied to the ever present Spirit of God.”
Lying is simply intentionally giving a false impression, whether you verbally make an untrue statement or not.
So I think we can lie by…
Technically True Statements
Like the man in Bible college who was overwhelmed with the work load at school and he wasn’t ready for this major exam he had coming up, he wanted more time to study. So on the morning of the exam day he went to the kitchen freezer and grabbed a frozen pack of fish, and then went to his bedroom and laid down on the bed and started tossing the frozen fish up in the air, and had his wife get on the phone with the school secretary and say, “I’m really sorry, Joe won’t make it to class today, he’s in bed throwing up his supper.”
Or like a guy who skips helping out with a Saturday project and decides to stay home and “work” on getting his fishing boat cleaned up and ready for the summer and then when asked “What were you doing Saturday?” He says, “Oh, sorry. I was working.”
But God’s no fool. And He sees our hearts. He knows when we’re just masking a lie with a technically true statement.
Another way to lie I think is by just…
Without moving a single muscle you can spread a lie. You’re on a joint selling mission with one of your sales colleagues. And in the negotiation with the client your colleague says something to the client that you know is just a flat out lie. But of course if the client believes it, it will help you seal the deal. Well, if you just sit there in silence because you don’t want to embarrass your co-worker and you want this client’s business, your silence is testimony, isn’t it, that what was said is accurate as far as you know. Aren’t you validating the lie by saying nothing? Think if that client sees you somewhere a month or so later after he finds out it was a lie, what’s he going to say to you? Is he going to say “Man, I’m so mad that other salesmen, because he lied to me.” No. He’s going to point his finger in your face and say, “You lied to me.” Because you just sat there and watching him be deceived.
So there are many ways of lying to watch out for. Now…
Why do we lie?
I think a little boy captured it well when his mother was working with him one day and she asked him, “Son what is a lie?” And the little boy said, “Mommy, a lie is an abomination, but a very present help in a time of need.” Well, that’s it. That’s why we lie. We see lying as a present help in time of need.
In the Forbes’ magazine article “Lying is Good for You” it says, “Simply put, we lie because it works. When we do it well, we get what we want. We lie to avoid awkwardness or punishment. We lie to maintain relationships and please others. And, of course, most of all we lie to please ourselves. Whether we’re embellishing our credentials or strengthening our stories, we often tell untruths to make ourselves appear and feel better.”
Why do we lie? To get what we want. Money, business, a job, respect, love, avoid embarrassment, avoid trouble, friends, security, revenge maybe.
So why not lie?
There’s the little minor reason that we could experience the sort of thing that 4 students experienced one school day. They got spring fever and decided to skip their morning classes and go to the beach. They showed up late for school that day and apologized to their teacher saying, “Sorry, we’re late. We had a flat tire on the way. That’s why we’re late.” The teacher, “Okay, well, take your seats. You missed a pop quiz. So we’ll do that now. Get out a piece of paper. You all ready? Okay, here’s the first question, “Which tire was it that went flat?” That sort of thing could happen to us when we lie. We could get caught. But let’s look at some much bigger reasons why you might want to just be honest everywhere all the time.
Let’s look at some proverbs that express…
How God Feels about Lying
Remember God is called in the Scriptures over and over again holy, which means He’s set apart, He’s separate, He’s distinct, He is in a class all to Himself. He’s not like us. He thinks differently and He doesn’t see sin and especially lying the same way that we do. Forbes magazine and our culture may say “lying is good for you, and especially little white lies. Those are just things you need to tell sometimes for your own good. It’s no big deal.” But God is not like us.
Proverbs 6:16, “There are six things which LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.” So notice in this list of 7 things that are an abomination to God, 2 of them are dishonest things; a lying tongue and a false witness who utters lies. And if you look up the word translated there abomination and it means something that is abhorrent, repulsive, utterly disgusting. That’s how God feels about lying.
Flip over a few pages to Proverbs 12:22. “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, But those who deal faithfully are His delight.”
So a reason you might not want to lie is you love God, you care about God’s feelings, you care about the one who gave you life and all things and sent His Son to die for your sins. That may be why you don’t want to lie.
And let’s look at a couple passages from the apostle Paul in the NT. Let’s notice 2 similar passages from Paul that both establish that…
Honesty is fundamental to being a Christian.
There is no such thing as a habitually willfully dishonest Christian. Look first at Colossians 3:9-10, “Do not lie to one another, [Why not?] since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a full knowledge according to the image of the One who created him“. Paul describes there the commitment that the Colossians made when they became Christians. You can describe it in different ways. You can call it repentance. You can call it giving your life to the Lord. You can call it becoming a disciple of Jesus, a learner and follower of Jesus. Paul uses the imagery of changing clothes here to describe it. If you are truly converted, if you truly become a Christian, what happens is you lay aside the old self with its evil practices. You say, “I am not going to be that kind of person any more. I am not going to do evil things anymore.” And you put on the new self. You decide “I’m going to be a different person.” What kind of person? A person who is constantly being renewed or being developed unto a full knowledge and the image of Christ. The commitment of a Christian is to be a learner and imitator of Jesus, to be under constant development to know Him fully and be just like Him. Paul says that’s why you don’t lie. Lying is totally contrary to the nature of Christ. So if you keep on willfully lying you are not trying to be like Jesus and you’re putting back on the old self. You’re going back on your commitment.
And then look also at Ephesians 4:21, very similar passage. “if indeed you have heard Him [Jesus] and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, 22 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, 23 and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, 24 and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” So if you’ve been taught the truth from Christ about what God expects you to do in your life, then you were taught that you need to lay aside the old self in all its sinfulness and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, let God’s word change the way you think and the way you look at the world and look at people, and put on the new self that reflects the image of God. That’s what being a Christian is. It’s taking on the thinking and character of God, revealed to us in Christ Jesus. “Therefore,” v25, “laying aside falsehood [Because God never lies. He abhors lying. So you lay aside falsehood.], SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another.” He’s using the imagery of a human body, Christ the head and Christians the members of the body, the fingers and toes, eyes and ears, arms and legs, and so forth. And as members of a body submit and are controlled by the head, Christians are those who submit to Christ and let Him control them. And as the members of a body are good to each other and help each other out and can depend on each other, that’s how Christians generally are to each other. We’ve got to fit in that picture if we’re going to be Christians. We’ve got to submit to the head Christ, and we’ve got to strive to treat the other members like fellow members of a body treat each other. Do the members of your body lie to one another? Well, there’s been a rare occasion when my members have lied to each other like there’s been a time or two when playing softball, my left hand told my body that he was going to catch the ball that was coming our way, but he lied and the body has suffered a little. But that’s rare. Generally the members can count on each other. Paul is saying that’s how it must be with us. We must fit in that picture of fellow members of the body of Christ, following the direction of our head and treating each other like fellow members, which includes not lying to one another.
And then you may also want to be honest all the time because of
Some promises of God
Let’s just notice some of God’s promises related to honesty and dishonesty.
Psalm 15 is one of my favorite Psalms. Listen to the opening verses of Psalm 15, “O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? [In other words, “Who may live with God?” Answer:] 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue [which includes gossip], nor does evil to his neighbor, not takes up a reproach against his friend.” So you can live with God for eternity when your short life here is over that may be why you want to walk with integrity and speak truth in your heart and not slander with your tongue.
Proverbs 3:1, “My son, do not forget my teaching, But let your heart keep my commandments; For length of days and years of life And peace they will add to you.” Peace, shalom, that’s quality of life. He’s saying generally speaking you will live a longer happier better life if you follow the instructions of the proverbs which are God’s instructions. Then notice the instruction in v3, “Do not let kindness and truth [or trustworthiness, honesty] leave you; Bind them around your neck, Write them on the tablet of your heart. [In other words carry kindness and honesty with you everywhere you go all the time.] 4 So you will find favor and good repute In the sight of God and man.” You see honesty is not just good for when this life is over. According to Solomon it’s good for this life now. Honest people don’t ruin their relationships by betraying trust. Honest people don’t have all the strife and conflict in their lives that comes from people finding out they’ve been lying to them. Honest people are admired and respected. Honest people don’t have this nagging feeling that they’re lies are going to be found out. Honest people feel good about how they’re living their life, and they have hope and peace knowing that God is pleased with them and is going to take care of them. They sleep good at night. That’s the way to live. A clear conscience and knowing that you have God’s favor feels so much better than wealth and popularity and whatever things you might acquire by deception.
Proverbs 21:23, “He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles.” You think you’re getting out of trouble by lying. God says “Think again. You want to stay out of trouble, guard your mouth and your tongue. Don’t let anything sinful come out of there. That’s how you really avoid trouble.”
And then there’s also this promise from God. Proverbs 19:5, “A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will not escape.” In case you missed it there, he says it again at v9, “A false witness will not go unpunished, And he who tells lies will perish.”
And we know Revelation 21:8, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
So I’m thinking I want to be honest. Because God abhors lying and I love God and want to please Him. Because honesty is fundamental to being a Christian, to being in Christ, and I want to be a Christian in Christ more than anything in the world, because in Christ are all spiritual blessings. And because I want to live with God and not with the devil and His angels, and I want to avoid a lot of trouble and guilt and shame and fear and conflict in this life.
– James Williams