Commandment 9 – Do Not Lie

June 16, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

The Ten Commandments

Trinity Sunday

Commandment 9 – Do Not Lie

Exodus 20:1-2, 16

            The Ninth of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not give false witness against your neighbor.” This means two things: “Do not lie when testifying in court.” And, “Do not lie.” Period. A society cannot survive contempt for the truth – whether inside or outside a courtroom. If people testify falsely in a courtroom, there can be no justice. And without even the hope of justice, there can be no civilization.

         If you remember the movie, Liar! Liar!, Jim Carrey plays the part of Fletcher Reid, a fast talking attorney and habitual liar. He is always lying to his son, Max, and he lies to him when he tells him he will attend his fifth birthday party. When he doesn’t show up, as Max is blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, Max has only one wish, “that his dad will stop lying for twenty-four hours.” His wish comes true and for twenty-four hours, this man can no longer lie. Every word that comes out of his mouth is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The results are almost disastrous.

         Maybe someone should make that wish for most Americans, because we have literally become a lying society. In a 1991 book by James Patterson and Peter Kim called, The Day America Told the Truth, they write that 91% of Americans lie regularly, both at home and at work. In answer to the question, “Whom have you regularly lied to?” 86% said to their parents, 75% to their friends, 73% to siblings, and 69% to spouses. Just imagine what those numbers might be now.

         The truth of the matter is, we are all liars, both by nature and by choice. Psalm 58:3 says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they are born speaking lies.” Don’t you just despise those convicting scriptures?

         I heard about a teenage boy, who was supposed to be home at midnight and he came in at two o’clock in the morning. Everyone was asleep and he was walking up the stairs. His dad woke up and said, “Is that you son?” He said, “Yes sir.” The dad said, “Son, what time is it?”

         Before this boy could say anything, the cuckoo clock in the hallway struck twice, so this boy just stood real still and cuckooed ten more times. Someone said our lying problem can be summed up with three former United States Presidents. George Washington couldn’t tell a lie. Richard Nixon couldn’t tell the truth. Bill Clinton couldn’t tell the difference.

         And so to all of this, God gives us this commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” God expects us to deal with other people with honesty and integrity. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         There are many important values in society, but truth is probably the most important. Goodness and compassion may be the most important values in the personal realm. But in the societal realm, truth is even more important than compassion or kindness. In his book, Words from the Fire, Albert Mohler, Jr. writes, “Our need to speak the truth is rooted in God’s own character. The God who created us, who established His covenant with Israel, and who redeemed His people through the blood of His Son – He is the God of all truth. He Himself is truth. All that He does, all that He says, all that he reveals, all the acts He performs, are words and deeds and acts of truth.”

         Mohler continues, “Everything about God reflects absolute and undiluted truth. In Him there is no lie. His justice and His righteousness are established…in absolute truth. He hates lies, and His followers must be a people of truth. His creatures are obligated to the truth.”

         I think we all know that a lie can forfeit a life or destroy a reputation. All we have to do is turn on the television news networks to hear lies thrown at us all day. The mainstream news media have become really good at this. If the reporters have not done their homework and an investigation of the facts, they simply make up the information. This specific commandment though was first and foremost related to a court of law as judgments were handed out.

         Every single day, individual Israelites gave testimony through the legal process. In an honor culture, where reputation meant everything and where life and death could hang in the balance, false witness could kill. The law of Israel included a detailed system for how evidence or witnesses could be brought against someone, especially those accused of a very serious crime. The Old Testament repetitively prohibits false witness. Truth must always be spoken about one’s neighbor, for even one incident of false accusation could unravel the social fabric of an entire community.

         You see, lies subvert a fundamental requirement for civilization, trust. If we do not trust our neighbors to speak the truth, then ultimately no civilization is possible. If we cannot trust the courts to get a true witness and to eliminate a false witness, then the courts become a sham and justice becomes an illusion. If we believe the courts can be manipulated, then there is no foundation of trust for society.

         But truth is also extended beyond the courts to our casual conversations with each other, in our social interactions, in our e-mails, and in our preaching. Mohler writes, “We fall so tragically short of the glory of God. We say we worship and follow God, and yet we lie. It is so important to tell the truth, because ultimately truth is about God and His own character. If God’s people do not reflect His own concern for the difference between the truth and a lie, then we sin and create a scandal to the gospel. Ultimately,” Mohler says, “speaking the truth is connected to our worship of God and our following Jesus – we show whether we love the truth and hate the lie.”

         Brothers and sisters in Christ, telling the truth is first of all about God and His character. But secondly, it is also about our fellow human creatures. We owe the truth to everyone – to every single fellow image bearer of God. In our fallen world, lies come in a variety of forms: big and small, crude and sophisticated, slick and awkward, long and short, quiet and loud. There is also propaganda, where the bigger the lie, the more readily it is believed. We just witnessed that for the past two years over the so-called Russian collusion scandal. There are also huge lies of ideology. There are little intimate lies within relationships. The fact is a lying tongue can adapt to meet any situation in which it finds itself.

         The following quote has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool some of the people all of the time and you can fool all of the people some of the time.” But I must add, “You cannot fool God any of the time.” Your lying will always catch up with you because there are always at least two who know you are lying, you and God. There is the story of a man and his wife who were getting ready to go out to eat and she was putting on her makeup while he was shaving.

         All of a sudden he stepped back, looked at the mirror in disbelief and said, “Where did that great athlete go? Who is this old man staring at me? These arms look like pencils, my chest sags like an old woman, and I have the stomach of three men.” He turned to his wife and said, “This is absolutely horrible. Tell me something positive.” With a big smile she said, “Well at least there is nothing wrong with your eyesight.” Folks, you can’t lie to yourself and you can’t lie to God.

         We must be a people of truth. Christians have a twofold, God-assigned responsibility to speak what is true and also to speak on behalf of truth itself. It is a mark of the Christian to be truthful, for Christianity is established in God’s truth. God’s people, formed into local congregations, are like islands of truth in the midst of an ocean of lies. God’s people are to be communities of truth – the people of truth.

         Theology is not just about right and wrong, or accuracy and inaccuracy. Theology is about the truth and a lie. In Romans 1, Paul tells us that in our sinfulness, we exchange the truth of God for a lie. If we exchange the truth of God for a lie, the consequences could be an eternal death.

         How do we know what the truth is? Well, we must continue our dependence upon Scripture. The only way we are going to speak the truth about God is if we are utterly dependent upon His truthful revelation of Himself. And we find that revelation in the Bible.

         There is such a thing as absolute truth. And absolute truth is God’s truth revealed in the scriptures. Today, so many people want to make their own truth to fit their own needs. This is called relative truth. I don’t know how many times on talk shows and in the news,  I hear people say, “This is my truth.” Or they make up sayings like, “God helps those who help themselves,” or “Don’t worry, God just wants you to be happy.”

         I hear the lies of deception when people who don’t want to attend church say, “I can have a relationship with God on my own.” That is totally against God’s concept of worship and community. Or I hear their relative truth of, “I’m not going to church. It’s full of hypocrites.” Well so is Walmart, but you still shop there. We cannot all develop our own truths, because in essence, we are developing our own lies. There is only one absolute truth teller and that is God and his son, Jesus Christ.

         “God’s people are a people of the truth,” writes Mohler. “We are to honor and tell the truth, to defend and discern the truth, to love the Bible as the Word of God that is truth without any mixture of error, and to stand for the truth. We are to uphold the truth, even if the whole world disbelieves, hates, and subverts the truth. We are the people of the truth for one single and irreducible reason – our God is true.”

         We are not to bear false witness. Psalm 34 says this, “Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good? Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies!” Don’t think lying is a big deal? Then listen to this in 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…” God said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

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