You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
- Exodus 20:16
This command prohibits a false witness against someone else, especially in a court of law. It uses a serious legal application to put forth the everyday need to tell the truth - not just in court, but in everyday affairs as well.
Some Types of Lies
- Perjury. Lying under oath; falsifying legal records. Peter denying Jesus with an oath (Matthew 26:7).
- Concealment. Holding back information that causes a false impression. Reporting an accident but neglecting to report that alcohol was in use. Abraham only saying that Sarah was his sister (half true / half sister) and holding back that she was also his wife (Genesis 12:11-19).
- False Accusation. When we accuse others of things based solely on suspicion, gossip or prejudice. Jesus was accused of being a glutton, a drunk, a rebel, a blasphemer, a devil.
- Conspiracy. When several people unite to plot or cover up something so that truth will not come out. Rebekah and Jacob conspired to fool Isaac (Genesis 27).
- False Witness. An exaggeration or outright lie concerning the value or integrity of something or someone. Satan's lie about the power of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:4-5).
- Hypocrisy. To say one thing and knowingly do another. A good example is Peter the Apostle refusing to eat with Gentile Christians when Jewish Christians were around (Galatians 2:11).
- False Teaching. Those who promote and teach what is essentially incorrect, inaccurate or untrue. Those teaching a different gospel than the Apostles (Galatians 1:6-8, Colossians 1-4).
- Lying. Knowingly telling or suggesting a falsehood. Ananias and Sapphira who lied about the true amount of money they received for their land and gave to the Lord (Acts 5:1-10).
There may be other manners of dishonesty and lying but these eight are the most practiced types of deception.
The Principle Behind the Command
Not to lie is the desired effect, but why? Why is lying a sin? What is the principle that supports this command?
1. There is one truth about everything.
- It is God's truth (what He sees and judges - this is true) - Psalms 117:2; Psalms 33:4.
- His truth is everlasting (nothing changes His truth) - Psalms 117:2b.
- His truth is contained in the Word. What is true about all life and morals and the universe and the spiritual world. - John 17:17.
Today we are taught that truth is relative, whatever you see as truth is truth for you. If it works for you, feels good, does not hurt anyone, does not stop anyone else from pursuing his or her truth - this truth is true for you now. This idea of truth is seen everywhere in our society:
- Cannot censor anything, everyone is free to say anything.
- Equal rights for everyone, even those who are in prison or who are here in this country illegally.
- We are afraid to judge a student's work because it may lead to one thinking he is wrong and we want everyone to feel good about themselves, even if they fail basic skill tests!
- Politicians lie and call it something else, disinformation/dysfunctional statement
As Christians we may feel out of sync because we hold to the notion that:
- There is a standard of truth by which people and things can be measured.
- We can know this standard of truth that gives us the power to make accurate evaluations of things.
- They call this quality - enlightenment (John 8:32).
Lying and falsehoods therefore do two things to this principle:
- It denies or hides the truth, which in essence is like trying to hide or deny God Himself - it is a form of blasphemy.
- It darkens our own minds to the extent that we separate ourselves from the light of truth and salvation - we end up condemning ourselves (II Thessalonians 2:12).
2. Truth = Integrity
How do we place value on something?
- Beauty = Usefulness
- Rarity = Purity
How do we estimate the value of a person?
Outwardly we look for beauty, strength, talent, intelligence, but inwardly his value is determined by his purity or integrity. Integrity means wholeness, freshness, purity of character. The greater degree of integrity, the more valuable the individual. The degree of our integrity is valued mainly by how honest we are, in comparison to God who is totally pure and truthful.
Every time you are involved in falsehood your value (integrity) goes down. It is not one big lie that makes you worthless, it is the thousands of little ones that ultimately make you bankrupt in personal integrity. Every time we tell the truth we are contributing to the value of our personal worth, every time we lie we are decreasing our worth.
The rewards for telling the truth.
19Truthful lips will be established forever,
But a lying tongue is only for a moment.
20Deceit is in the heart of those who devise evil,
But counselors of peace have joy.
21No harm befalls the righteous,
But the wicked are filled with trouble.
22Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,
But those who deal faithfully are His delight.
23A prudent man conceals knowledge,
But the heart of fools proclaims folly.
24The hand of the diligent will rule,
But the slack hand will be put to forced labor.
25Anxiety in a man's heart weighs it down,
But a good word makes it glad.
26The righteous is a guide to his neighbor,
But the way of the wicked leads them astray.
- Proverbs 12:19-26
- vs. 19 - Salvation - no condemnation for truthfulness
- vs. 20 - Joy - no guilty conscience, peace of mind
- vs. 21 - Protection - no fear of evil even when it threatens (Jesus spoke truth and was crucified, but He did not dread evil).
- vs. 22 - Favor - God loves an honest man.
Rewards from men:
- Credibility - people will value your input, person.
- Responsibility - society searches out honest individuals as leaders. They want someone they can trust.
- Respect - an honest person is respected whether he is rich or poor, literate or totally uneducated. His sincerity shines through.
When weighing out the scales between truth and falsehood, comparing the results of each, we see that honesty is not the best policy, it is the only policy.
Bearing false witness/lying is a sin that is done in a variety of ways (conspiracy, false accusations, lying, etc.). It violates several principles:
- It denies truth which is a form of denying God = blasphemy.
- It separates us from the light of truth and makes us prisoners of darkness - a form of self-imprisonment.
- It lowers our personal integrity or value.
The rewards for honesty are great:
- Salvation, joy, peace, favor from men and God.
- A solid and favorable standing among men.
How to improve our ability to tell the truth:
- Do not talk too much and you will avoid instances of dishonesty (Proverbs 10:19).
- Get the facts - avoid believing or repeating something about someone else unless you have the facts and then decide if the things are worth repeating.
- Decide in advance that you will tell the truth no matter what. Most times we lie because we are under pressure of some kind. Ask God to help you tell the truth before you get into situations where you are pressured to lie.
When we do lie, let's have faith in God to forgive us just like He forgave Peter, Abraham, Rebekah and Jacob, and all the other liars who God worked with in spite of their dishonesty and weaknesses.
Let's remember that the ultimate lie is thinking we have no sin and no need for Christ. The ultimate truth is that all those who are honest will acknowledge that they are sinners and need the blood of Jesus to wash away their sins every single day of their lives. It may be time for honesty in your life.
Need forgiveness? Need salvation?
- Confess Christ
- Repent and be baptized
It may be time to acknowledge your dishonesty. If you have claimed to be a Christian but not lived like one, you've lived a lie. If we have a need to tell the truth and be honest with ourselves, others or God let's do that now without hesitation.
- Is it ever "right" to tell a lie?
- List three ways Christians tend to lie.
- How would you confront someone who lied to you? Give three examples.
- What leads you into making false statements? How are you seduced into lying?