Topical Scripture: Exodus 20:16
Hollywood Squares was one of television’s longest-running game shows, airing from 1966 to 1989. Now they’ve brought it back, with Whoopi Goldberg in the center square. The format is very simple: celebrities answer questions, and the contestants decide whether they’re lying or telling the truth. It’s a game made out of lying.
No wonder it’s popular in America.
A recent New York Times article reported that 91% of Americans say they regularly don’t tell the truth (did the other 9% lie?). 20% admit they can’t get through a day without conscious, premeditated white lies.
When I worked as a graphic artist during seminary, I had a customer who kept a “lie book” in his pocket. Whenever he told someone a lie he would write it down, so he could remember it the next time he saw that person.
The commentaries claim that this is the commandment of the ten we break most often. Do you agree? Raise your hand if you’ve never lied. Be careful—don’t lie.
The psalmist lamented, “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception” (Psalm 12:1-2).
What is “false testimony”? Why do we commit this sin? Why is it wrong? What can we do about it? These are our questions today.
What is a “lie”?
We live in a “post-modern” culture, where truth is considered to be subjective and personal. There’s no “right” or “wrong,” just what’s right or wrong for you. No absolutes—which is itself an absolute statement. So, let’s be clear—what is a “lie”?
False words are, of course, lies. We lie when we tell half-truths, when we exaggerate, when we misquote, when we slander others and gossip about them.
False appearances are lies. The psalmist said of his people, “they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse” (Psalm 62:4).
Sometimes we gossip in spiritual guise. “Pray for the Does, they’re having marital troubles;” “I’m concerned about the Joneses, their son (or daughter) is really struggling in school.” We pretend to care, which is a lie.
Any time we create a false appearance, we’re lying. I remember an episode in the old M.A.S.H. series, where Hawkeye the doctor strikes out with a new nurse assigned to the unit. The next guy through the door asks her out and she accepts. Hawkeye asks his buddy, “What does he have that I don’t have?” “Sincerity,” they reply. “Sincerity,” he says—“I can fake that.” No, you can’t.
Withholding the truth is a lie. Listen to Leviticus 5:1: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” The sin of silence is as real as the sin of speech.
Last, rationalization is a lie. Everyone’s doing it; it won’t hurt anyone; no one will know. It’s just a “white lie.” But “white lies” are an oxymoron.
In a Peanuts cartoon (August 1997), Charlie Brown says to Linus, “We’re supposed to write home to our parents and tell them what a great time we’re having here at camp.” Linus answers, “Even if we’re not? Isn’t that a lie?” Charlie Brown explains, “Well … it’s sort of a white lie.” To which Linus asks, “Lies come in colors?”
No, they do not.
Why do we lie?
Let’s ask our second question: why are such lies and deceit so common?
The first sin in the Bible was telling a lie. In Genesis 3 we read that the crafty serpent asked the woman if she was allowed to eat from any tree in the garden. When she answered, he lied, “You will not surely die” (v. 4). So she ate, and he ate, and eventually they both died. As will we, unless Jesus returns first. The first sin in the Bible is a lie.
The last sinners named in the Bible are also liars. In Revelation 22 Jesus says to John, “Outside [heaven] are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15, emphasis mine).
The psalmist said, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies” (Psalm 58:3).
Why are lies so common to us?
One answer: we lie to compensate for our own failures.
We have some sense of the way things should be, of life as God intended it. But we know that we are not living this way, that we have sinned, fallen, failed. So, we compensate. We create a false self, an “idealized self,” the person we wish we were. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to this person.
But no one can do it for very long. When we fall short of the perfectionism which drives us, we deceive ourselves and others. We lie.
Cain lied to cover up his murder. David lied about Bathsheba to cover up his sin. Any sin they committed, or you commit, I can commit. There is no sin we cannot commit. If they lied to compensate for their own failures, so can I. So can you.
Another answer: to hurt those who hurt us.
If someone lies to us, we lie to them. To hurt those who hurt us.We lie to get revenge. We repeat half-truths and rumors, we gossip and slander, to hurt people we think we have a right to hurt. After all, they did it to us, right?
Saul was convinced David was a threat to him, so he became a threat to David. He lied about him to his son, his family, his nation. If he lied to hurt his enemy, so can I. So can you.
Still another answer: to get ahead.
We lie to get the account, to close the deal. To impress the girl or the boy. To please our parents. To further our own agenda.Ananias and Sapphira lied about the money they brought to the church, so they could keep some of it for themselves. If they lied to get ahead, so can I. So can you.
Finally, we lie because we are tempted by Satan himself. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8:44). He helps us along, encouraging us to be less than honest with God, others, and ourselves.
Why is lying wrong?
Now, we’re ready for our third question: Why is lying wrong? If 91% of us do it today, and people did it all through the Bible, why is it so wrong? Here are the facts.
God says it is wrong. Listen to Psalm 101:7: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” And listen to Ephesians 5:25: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” God says lying is wrong.
Lying offends the character of God. Jesus is truth (John 14:6). The Bible calls our Lord “a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32:4). Thus lying runs counter to his very nature.
Listen to Proverbs 6:16-19: “There are six things 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 into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” See how God feels about deceit?
Lying sacrifices trust. Do you remember the last time someone lied to you—perhaps a national politician or leader, or a personal relationship? Have you been able to trust them since?
Lying destroys people. Once a lie has been told about someone, it can never be taken back.
The rabbis used to tell about a man who repeated gossip and slander about his rabbi. Finally he came to him and apologized, and asked what he could do to make things right. The rabbi gave him a bag filled with feathers, and told him to empty it into the wind at the top of a nearby hill. He did, and brought back the empty bag. Then the rabbi told him to go back and pick up all the feathers, which by now had blown across the town and the countryside. Of course he could not. The man then understood the damage he had caused. Do we?
In short, lies destroy. Never underestimate their power or the damage they can do.
Who do you think said these words: “The broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one…. If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it to be the truth”? It was Adolf Hitler. And six million Jews died from his lies.
How do we keep the ninth commandment?
Now we’re ready for our last question: how do we keep the ninth commandment? How do we deal with lies, in our lives and our culture?
First, confront them as soon as possible. Don’t let their malignancy grow.Deal with this issue in your own life. If you find deceit in your words, your thoughts, your actions, confess it to God, right now.Deal with this issue with your children. Confess this sin to those you’ve hurt. This will hurt you, and make it far harder to lie next time.
Second, don’t listen to the lies of others. Know that if someone will lie about me to you, they’ll probably lie about you to me. Be the one who stops the cycle of lies and rumors and gossip.
Third, live with consistent integrity. Be the same person when you talk to someone as when you talk about them. Be the same in private as in public. Be one person, always.
Will Rogers once advised, “So live that you would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.” That’s good advice.
Last, stay close to God. Jesus always told the truth. In fact, he was the Truth. The best way to keep the ninth commandment is to get close to him—to ask his Spirit to fill and control you, to stay right with him as the source of your life. Then all which comes from your heart and lips will be right.
The writer of Proverbs was wise enough to pray, “Keep falsehood and lies far from me.” Are we that wise today?
Our church in Midland helped a number of villages in the north of Mexico. Their greatest need was always for clean water. The people would typically dig their water well at the lowest spot in the village, because it was easier. But when it rained, refuse from the stables and the houses flowed into the well, contaminating the water.
We learned to drill wells at the highest spot in the village, above every place else, if we wanted the water from those wells to be pure.
Let us pray.