As you know, for the past couple months we’ve been in a series of sermons based on the Ten Commandments. In our study we’ve learned that these ten laws are actually TEN-der laws because they are loving gifts from God that are indeed foundational for our lives as individuals and families.
We’ve been using a memory tool to help us retain what we’ve studied. Remember? Each command has a hand motion—and the number of fingers used corresponds to the number of that particular command. Let’s see how well you remember the laws we’ve covered thus far:
- Law #1 – Keep God first (pointer finger pointed Heavenward)
- Law #2 – Worship only God (left pointer finger bowing to right)
- Law #3 – Honor God’s name (three fingers over mouth)
- Law #4 – Honor God’s day (four fingers on your cheek as if to nap)
- Law #5 – Honor my parents (five fingers over your heart)
- Law #6 – Value every life (hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer finger of your other hand – turn pointer finger into a “gun” and aim at the other hand.
- Law #7 – Keep love pure (Hold up five fingers on one hand and the pointer and middle finger on the other – intertwine them by putting the middle one over the pointer to show that they are bonded together – no adultery)
- Law #8 – Do not steal (Hold up four fingers on one hand and four on the other – using one hand grab the other four fingers)
That brings us to today’s command which is found in Exodus 20:16. Let’s read it aloud together:
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”
The symbol for this ninth command is to hold up four fingers on one hand and five on the other. Then move the four up and down as they face the five to show that they don’t match—they are lying or bearing false witness and we’re not to do that. This ninth command reminds us that our Heavenly Father IS truth—and as His children we are to be like Him and strive to be people of truth. You need to practice these nine symbols throughout the holidays so you won’t forget what we’ve learned thus far because we won’t get back to this series until after Advent. We’ve got two more commands to go—because there is of course an ELEVENTH commandment. Okay—how many of you will pledge TRUTHFULLY to practice these motions at home? Good!
And, speaking of TRUTH, I have found that children’s books have a way of presenting PROFOUND truth in a very simple, UNDERSTANDABLE way.One of my favorites is Jon Scieszka’s, THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS. It may be familiar to some of you—but for those of you who haven’t read it—this version of the “pig’s tale” is written from the perspective of the “Big Bad Wolf.” It goes like this:
THE TRUE STORY OF THE 3 LITTLE PIGS
I get a kick out of this version because it illustrates the fact that a skillfully told lie can be a very powerful thing. I don’t know about you, but when I first read this little book I almost felt sorry for the poor wolf. I mean—after all he was just trying to bake a cake for his dear old grandmom! And—I agree with the wolf. Wasting pork IS a bad thing. Barbeque is a blessing! And MY dear old grandmother always said that you are supposed to starve a fever and FEED a cold. So—surely all this more than excuses the wolf’s committing two acts of Pork-a-cide, destroying two perfectly good “pig sties,” and losing his cool with the third little SWINE.
We chuckle but do you see my point? This little book, written for CHILDREN, can remind ADULTS like us that—with the right excuses—we can justify almost anything. With the proper turn of a phrase or clever combination of adverbs and adjectives, a falsehood—an out and out lie—can be made to sound just like truth. A horrible crime can sound like a natural—even noble—deed. And, tragically, in our culture this is a skill that is greatly admired. These days our world tells us that, lying is not only OKAY, but NECESSARY to get through life. We have come to the point where we have RECLASSIFIED lying. No longer is it distasteful or unacceptable. Now it’s an ART FORM known as, “spin.” We EXPECT lawyers, lobbyists, journalists, talk-show hosts and anyone else in the public view to “spin” the truth if it serves their purposes. In fact—if politician can successfully “spin” a version of truth so as to either soothe listeners or deceive them—he is considered to be an exceptionally good politician, someone worth looking up to, a real leader. Gone are the days when GREATNESS and HONESTY were a package deal. Do you remember George Washington and the cherry tree? As Lloyd Steffen puts it, “Honesty now looks like a dubious virtue if not an actual vice. It is studied and examined as a stratagem rather than as a hallmark of character.”
In fact, we don’t even use the word “lie” anymore. Instead we say things like, “strategic misrepresentation” or “reality augmentation.” But—whatever word you use, lying is STILL lying—and it does indeed seem to have become the modus operandi of our society. Think about it.
- Historians lie by re-shaping history to conform to current morals.
- Advertisers lie to sell their products.
- Politicians lie to garner votes.
- Newspapers lie to sell their papers.
In fact the one newspaper that is still actually printed on paper and still sells like hotcakes our TABLOIDS. These papers fly off the racks at grocery store checkout lines and feature “true” headline stories like: “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby” or “Four-legged Woman Opens Dance Studio.” People buy these things because they are tantalized at the thought of hearing the latest dirt, the latest garbage—even if it is almost certain to be totally UNtrue.
Several years ago the following headline changed Sir Walter Scott’s famous saying to read, “What a tangled web we weave; we ALL practice to deceive.” And sadly studies show this is an accurate statement. Statisticians tell us that:
- 91% of Americans confess that they regularly don’t tell the truth.
- 86% of children say they regularly lie to their parents.
- 65% of married people lie to their spouses.
- 20% of all people say that they can’t get through a single day without telling conscious, premeditated white lies.
If you doubt these stats think about it. We lie about our weight, our income, our grade point average, out work experience, our age, even how many fish we caught during our last vacation.
We hate it when people are dishonest with us but most of us can’t resist being dishonest to other people. One person suggests that, “…as a society, we have moved very far away from the age when a man’s word was his bond—to a society in which people are more accepting than ever before of exaggerations, falsifications, fabrications, misstatements, misrepresentations, gloss-overs, quibbles, concoctions, equivocations, shuffles, prevarications, trims, and truth colored and varnished.”
This week I read about a shocking study done by child psychologists reports that, “Some lying is considered normal. In fact, a child’s first few lies are seen as an important step in the development of the self.” Isn’t that sad! I mean, our culture has come to the point where it says the opposite of our Creator. It says that foundational to developing into a mature individual you have to embrace deceit. It sounds to me as if Isaiah 59:3-4 is describing present day America when it says, “No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies; they conceive trouble and give birth to evil.”
Interestingly enough, all this lying is not making people feel safer with each other. Years ago a Harris poll report dealt with the issue of trust. It was based on a survey of the first college graduating class of the new millennium—the class of 2001. According to this study when comparing the moral integrity and honesty of their generation with that of others, this generation of students say that they trust older people more than their peers. They are most likely to trust their grandparents’ generation (79%) followed by their parents’ generation (68%). But, when considering their own generation, the trust level drops to only 25%. Apparently, our children are seeing their world—where lies are so prevalent—as a treacherous place. I imagine they can relate to the words of Psalm 12:1-2 where it says, “Help, O 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.” Well, with lying accepted as the norm these days, many of us have forgotten exactly what a lie is and that makes it hard for us to know when we break this 9th commandment which makes our study very important.
Let’s begin by looking at the context of this command. Originally it was concerned with perjury. When Moses came down from the mountain there was of course no such thing as finger print evidence or security cameras or DNA so a person’s word was very important when it came to finding out who was guilty of a crime. But the principle undergirding this commandment applies to far more than the courtroom. It’s far more than a false statement given under oath. No—we violate the spirit of this particular law WHENEVER we distort the truth. This is important to note because most lies have just enough truth in them to make them difficult to identify as a lie.
We need to understand that whenever we shape and mold the truth for our own purposes, leaving out a bit here, adding a bit there, we’re guilty of breaking the ninth commandment. The fact is you can lie or spread falsehood without even opening your mouth—with the use of a lifted eyebrow, or a shrug of the shoulder intended to give a false IMPRESSION.Proverbs 6:12-13 describes this deceitful behavior when it says,“A scoundrel and a villain who winks with his eye, signals with his feet, and motions with his fingers, who plots evil with deceit in his heart—he always stirs up dissension.”
But you don’t even have to do that. I mean, without moving a single muscle you can break this command. Just by silently listening to people say things about another person—things that you know are not true and not speaking up and coming to their defense is to bear false witness. It is validating a falsehood without saying or doing anything. So distorting the truth can take the form of a silent shrug—or just silence itself but in his commentary on this text Tim Peck helps us better understand this ninth law by pointing out three OTHER forms our lies can take.
(1) The first is PRIDE.
Pride is when we distort the truth about ourselves. Paul talks about this in Romans 12:3 when he says, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.” Paul is saying that it’s every Christian’s responsibility to view him or herself accurately. You see, while our world talks about having a positive self-ESTEEM, the Bible tells us to have an accurate self-CONCEPT. I mean, instead of being intoxicated by pride, we’re told to have a sober, clear headed evaluation of who we are as forgiven sinners.
A police department in Canada once commissioned a group of police officers to film a documentary about the drug addicts and alcoholics who lived on the streets. The documentary was designed to be shown in schools. So these officers got to know the street people in the slums, as they filmed these drug abusers and alcoholics while they were under the influence. The officers found that when they later showed some of these people the film footage while they were clean and sober, some of the people were so horrified and shocked at their own behavior, that it motivated them to get treatment. It’s the same with us. When we’re intoxicated by pride we can’t see ourselves accurately. You could say our perception is “drunk with self-esteem.”Paul says we must not be that way. Instead we must evaluate ourselves according to the measure of faith God has given us. Now, this isn’t talking about our subjective faith, as if somehow the more faith we can muster up the higher a view of ourselves we’re allowed to have. No—this is talking about the Christian faith as being our standard, our criteria, the plumb-line for evaluating who we are. Instead of basing our self-estimate on how we feel or own opinions or the world’s standards, we’re to see ourselves against the objective standard of the Christian faith. And as people who have put their faith in Christ—we know that we are sinners—saved only by the grace of God. That humble realization helps us avoid allowing pride to distort the truth about ourselves.
(2) Another form of lying is SLANDER.
Peck writes, “If pride distorts the truth about ourselves, slander distorts the truth about other people.” This form of deceit is what 1st Peter 2:1 is referring to when it commands, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” Now, of course there are many different types of slander. In fact truth itself can be used as slander. Think of it. People are often unnecessarily hurt by the insensitive and callous remarks we make—even if they ARE true.I mean, it’s not always necessary to tell the truth.Ephesians 4:29 says that the only words that should come out of our mouths are words that are, “helpful for building others up according to their needs.”In other words, we should BUILD UP OR SHUT UP. If the truth hurts in a way that does not build up the person—does not help the person—it should not be told.
We love to confuse honesty with frankness. But there is some truth that we don’t need to be forthright about and should just keep to ourselves. Someone put it this way: “Honesty means that everything you say must be true, not that everything that is true must be said.” And—when we DO need to share painful truth that benefits a person and helps them to mature, we should do so in a loving, humble manner. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Instead, SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, we will in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Carole Mayhall writes, “Honesty is not always the best policy. Truth must be married to love; honesty must be intertwined with kindness.”
Another example of slander is FLATTERY. And—when I say “flattery” I am referring to the act of giving INSINCERE praise—saying something to someone’s face that you wouldn’t think of saying behind their back.For example, to a woman’s face you say, “Your hair looks wonderful today!”But behind her back you would say, “She would look better if that hair was not there!”Or to your pastor you might say, “Wonderful sermon, pastor. We loved every word.” but in the car on the way home you would say, “That’s the most boring thing I have ever heard.”Of course, I know you guys never do that but I’m just using it as an example!
Psalm 55:21 talks about this kind of lie when it says, “The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, but war was in his heart. His words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords.” Now—we all love to be complimented. In fact man is the only “animal” I know whose head swells when you pat him on the back. But we must remember flattery is like perfume. It’s all right to smell it, but don’t swallow it. As Proverbs 26:28 says, “A flattering mouth worketh ruin.”
(3) A third form of deceit is HERESY.
To review—pride distorts the truth about ourselves. Slander distorts the truth about others and heresy distorts the truth about God Himself. We see this form of falsehood everywhere these days as our culture denies the truth of everything from God’s existence and creative power to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We also see it in some churches who teach things and do things that are clearly contrary to God’s written Word—contrary to His tender laws. I mean it’s easy to see 2nd Peter 2:1 very clearly these days. It warns, “But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them– bringing swift destruction on themselves.” Now—to help us better understand how foundational to life this 9th command is we must remember that lies are incredibly destructive.
(1) First they are destructive to us as individuals.
1st Peter 3:10 says, “Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil and his lips from deceitful speech.” When we lie we don’t ENJOY the life God has given us. We don’t SEE good days. We become suspicious of other people, wondering if they are truthful with us. We live our days in constant fear that we will be found out and we are usually forced to tell more and more lies to cover our deceitful tracks. As Martin Luther said, “A lie is like a snowball. The longer it is rolled on the ground, the larger it becomes.” And no matter how good we are at it lies always catch up with us eventually. God warned us of this in Numbers 32:23 when He said, “You can be sure that your sins will find you out.” But more than that—lies are like an acid for our soul. I mean, lying destroys character and can become a habit. The more you lie the more EASILY you lie. We get to the point where we forget what the truth is and lose ourselves in a web of deceit. We become less real—less genuine. Doctor Laura Schlesinger writes, “The liar kills himself spiritually by diminishing in himself the divine glow that raised him above the rest of the animal kingdom.” A farmer once cut down a huge tree that was on his land. It looked good from the outside but he discovered that the heart of the tree was rotten. He looked closely at it and found a huge old nail. Apparently years ago someone had driven it in the tree and it had caused the heart of the tree to rot. This is how it is with the life of the person who lies. His life becomes a hollow shell. Lies destroy us as individuals.
(2) But lies also destroy OTHERS.
The proof of this is everywhere—in news stories about terrorist bombings and murders, and kidnapping and sexual bondage and even the Ebola virus. You see the Bible tells us that the cesspool of evil which has flooded our fallen planet began with a lie. When God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden He told them not to eat of one particular tree or they would die. But along came the serpent and said, “You surely shall not die for God knows that in the day you eat from that tree your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Of course you know the rest of the story. That lie has caused countless millennia of destruction. And even today lies continue their destructive rampage.
Arthur Miller wrote a play just after the 2nd World War called “All My Sons.” It was about a small manufacturer who was making engine blocks for the air force. One day he discovered that a whole batch of blocks were cracked and defective. But he was already behind in his production schedule and so he bribed the inspector to falsify his report and sent the engines on with his stamp saying they were O.K. and hoped for the best. The assembly plant took his word for it that these parts were in good condition, and they went ahead and mounted them. Well, under the stress of combat flying, the defective engines broke down, and all the pilots flying those planes went down—-including the manufacturer’s own sons. Sadly, things like this don’t just happen in plays—the destruction caused by deceit is seen in real life.
This is a good time to mention the fact that it’s not enough to refrain from bearing false witness. As followers of the one True God, we must be willing to bear TRUE witness. We must stand up for what is right and true. As the old phrase puts it: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Christians must not sit on their hands in the face of evil. We need to speak up for the truth. This is part of our role as salt and light. As I said last week, laws don’t change people but as sons and daughters of the one TRUE GOD we must speak up against laws that are bad—laws that make false promises. Christians—people whose hearts have been changed by Jesus—-must be active in politics—we must work to help pass laws that are TRUE and right. Much of the problems in our culture stem from the fact that we’ve not done that.
So, lies destroy us and others…
(3) And they also destroy RELATIONSHIPS.
This is sad because we are social beings. We need relationships to be happy. We want to get along with one another and live in harmony but this is not possible if we cannot trust one another. When the truth is not a “given” factor in any relationship, disappointment, heartache, and insecurity are the inevitable result. Lying knocks the foundation out from under any relationship whether it is with a spouse or a child or a best friend.
A wife once asked her husband, “Why don’t you play golf with Ted anymore.” Her husband replied, “Would you play golf with a man who moved the golf ball with his foot when you weren’t watching?” His wife said, “Well, no. I wouldn’t.”Her husband said, “Well, neither will Ted.”
Lies make relationships impossible. And among the most significant relationships that are damaged by lies are our relationships with other Christians in our church family. Writing to the church at Ephesus Paul said, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of ONE BODY.” (Ephesians 4:25)
Now—think about it. What would happen if your physical body lied to your brain? Let’s say your FINGER is touching a hot stove and says to the brain, “This doesn’t burn! No damage being done here” Then all of a sudden your nose tells your brain the truth and you say: “Then why do I smell burning flesh?” What if your eyes lied to your legs about where you could walk? What if your ears lied to your brain about when it sounded safe to walk across a busy street? If your body worked in this deceitful way it wouldn’t be long before it was no longer functioning.
And the same is true of the church. When we don’t put away truthLESSness, people become afraid to reach out. They become hesitant to move because they don’t know whom to trust. We have to be able to trust one another here of all places if we are to move forward as the Body of Christ functioning as His hands and feet in this community and world. Lies destroy relationships.
(4) And of course the WORST damage caused by lying is that it DESTROYS our relationship with God.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 there is a list of seven actions that put a wedge between us and God and three of them have to do with deceit. Listen to what it says, “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.” Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in men who are truthful.” So we know how God feels about lying!
You know, everyone has heard the saying, “God is love” but some make the mistake of thinking that God is only love. Love is but one of God’s many character traits. As I said earlier, He is also TRUTH. John 17:3 says that He is, “the only TRUE God.” Jesus said, “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life.” (John 14:6). The Holy Spirit is called the “Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13)
So—just as God defines what it means to be good, holy, and pure; He also defines what it means to be true. And as such He cannot tolerate falsehood. In some ways it’s like a person who has allergies. When Daniel was little we learned that he was allergic to cat hair. Daniel’s immune system was overly sensitive to the stuff. It attacked cat dander it in the same way that it would an invading bacteria or virus. His eyes watered and itched. So what did we do? Well, we removed him from places where there are cats. Daniel and cats didn’t mix. Now the analogy is not perfect, but it really is much the same way with God and lying or for that matter, with God and ANY sin. God doesn’t just choose to dislike sin. By His very nature, He will not tolerate the presence of sin. So when we callously, thoughtlessly lie in the course of everyday life, we are separate ourselves from Him. We move farther from Him. We become like those people Paul was describing in Romans 1 when he said, “…they exchange the truth of God for a lie.”
You know the GREATEST lie we tell is when we say we don’t need God’s forgiveness for the times that we break His commands. 1st John 1:8 & 10 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us….If we claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and his Word has no place in our lives.” So, the first step to accessing God’s help in obeying this and all of His commandments is to be up front with Him—HONEST—about our sin. Verse 9 promises that if we do, “He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This morning, in the privacy of our seats many of us may need a time of honesty assessment after which we ask God to forgive us for the times we have intended to deceive other people or times we have used the truth to hurt others rather than build them up. Others may need to trust God’s promise to bless us when we obey His leading in our lives. You may need to take Him at His word and join this church or give your life to Him as Savior and Lord. You may need to turn in your VISION Sunday card. Whatever decision you have to make, we invite you to do so as we stand and sing.