“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.“ (Matt 5: 33-37)
If I was to begin by asking who among us has never told a lie, I believe they will be no hands raised. Those who refused to raise their hands would reveal what a lie is by their refusal to be honest. Is it a serious problem, a sin that needs to be addressed? The answer is yes.
Lying means that a person is willfully (not ignorantly) making statements that are untrue, or half-truths, or falsehoods. The intention is clearly to deceive the other party. It implies that a person saying that lie is deceitful, or sneaky, being two-faced, or untrustworthy. He intends to mislead the other person, pull a fast one, entrap, dupe, betray, or delude the other person.
Those terms and adjectives clearly define the term lie or a liar. As you can surely see, it is a serious sin. Untruths or lies need not necessarily be in the oral form, they could also be in the written medium such as documents or letters, forgeries etc.
Contrast for a moment a lie with its opposite, the truth. Speaking the truth means that you trust a person’s words or deeds. Compare this with mistrust/distrust. Basically, we must take responsibility for our words. These are things that we need to teach our children from an early age.
When we say a person is a man of integrity, we think of a man who is honest, trustworthy and a man of truth. Christ our Lord was such a man. Having defined the terms, I will now show from the Scriptures the forms or types of lies and what the Bible has to say about this matter.
FORMS OF LIES
Bearing false witness – Proverbs 6:19 “Bearing false witness, who speaks lies and one who sows discord among them”. Proverbs 19:9 – states that a false witness would not go unpunished. Exodus 20:16 – warning against false witnessing. In fact, in order to protect a person against false witnessing, the old law made it necessary for there to be more than one witness against a man- Deut 19:5.
This false witnessing is a lie, it is a deliberate lie. When one goes to court one is required to “say the whole truth”, that is, take an oath. Telling lies in court is perjury, a crime which is punishable. Whenever you hear of someone indicted and found guilty of perjury before a grand jury or the FBI, you can rest assured that the evidence against them was so compelling that it was undeniable. False witness is so serious that it is the 9th commandment of the commonly termed 10 commandments. Christians cannot partake in false witnessing, we should let our yes be yes and our no be no. We are to be of good reputation.
Another form of untruths or lies is slander – an untruth with a malicious intent, a false statement that damages a person’s reputation. In Psalm 109: 1-3, the writer has said that “they have spoken against me with a lying tongue”. Slander seems to be one of the favorite hobbies of politicians of every party affiliation (e.g. Democrat, Republican, and Independents).
Let us not forget that it was the slandering remarks and connivance of the Jewish plotters that sent our Lord to the injustices of the Roman cross. In this instance, we also discover lying to be not an individual expression but instead involving group of people lying. Psalm 101:5 “Whoever secretly slanders his neighbor, him will I destroy”. God does not take slander lightly. Have we Christians been guilty of slander?
Gossip – Gossip is another form of propagating lies. All we need is an itching ear to catch whatever is carried by the wind. It is rumor-mongering. 1 Tim. 5: 13 – “and besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house. ..but also gossips and busy bodies, saying things that they ought not to”. This gossiping is almost an art form among some people, it occurs with neighbors, in our workplace, in schools, and the church is certainly not exempted.
The juicier the gossip the faster it spreads. More often than not, the innocent party is not “in the know” about what is being said about them. I will term it as a disease that must be eradicated. It stirs up trouble.
The next form of lie is what the Bible terms as “they delight in lies, they bless with their mouth and curse inwardly” – Ps 62:4. Hypocrisy if you please. Are we guilty of this sin? Some people can be so smooth that you think they are your buddies or mates, but watch out for the sharp-edged sword.
Some people can tell _a lie without blinking an eye, with a straight face: perhaps they have become professional liars. They could pass a polygraph test of the highest degree.
WHY DO PEOPLE LIE?
Perhaps we need to at this point ask “why do people lie?”. What are the excuses or reasons sometimes even used to justify such conduct?
Because of pride and jealousy – Matt. 27: 17-18. “for he knew that because of envy they delivered him”. The Jews were envious of the Lord’s just popularity, which to them was a curse or setback. The Lord was showing religion in practice while the Jews were priding themselves on their traditions. The brothers of Joseph lied to Jacob their father after selling their brother because of jealousy.
Ulterior motives – Some people lie because of ulterior motives, hidden agendas if you please. To gain an advantage over another person. Even flatterers are liars. Then there is the lie and taking credit for something that they did not deserve. Some of us have encountered this in our working lives. The innocent party suffers.
Lie because of hate or hatred.- Prov 26: 28 “a lying tongue hates those who are cursed by it”. There is a lot of hate in this world and Christians should not be part of it, we are to love our neighbors. This is the second most important commandment after “love the Lord”.
Another reason why people lie is to cover up a shortcoming – put the blame on others, shift the responsibility. Remember, people don’t lie to prove they are telling the truth. They tell lies to cover up crimes and things they are embarrassed for others to discover.
When Abel murdered Cain he too attempted a cover-up. King Saul gave such an excuse when he did not comply with God’s commandments to kill everything in 1 Samuel 15. First, he lied, then he tried to cover up by shifting the responsibility to the people. Again the brothers of Joseph lied to their father after selling off Joseph by saying that he had been killed by a wild beast (Gen. 37), a cover-up. What was the end result? – in King Saul’s case he was to lose his kingdom; for the brothers of Joseph, they suffered famine and humiliation.
Lie because of fear – many lie because they are afraid to take responsibility for their words and actions. Let us pause for a moment and consider the good Lord who could have escaped the Roman cross if he had not taken responsibility for his actions. He could have wriggled His way out by some persuasive arguments, but he stood for the truth. He was not afraid of those who could kill the body but not the soul.
We must take responsibility for our actions. As Christians, we must be prepared to face the firing line if that is what it takes. Banish fear with the truth, not with lies. Stephen was martyred because he spoke the truth. If we are wrong we accept the repercussions that go with it. This is a hard saying, but that’s the only way. People are more forgiving if one says the truth and accepts responsibility. Daniel and his friends spoke only the truth and were cast into the furnace to be burnt alive, but God saved them.
Another favorite excuse – Lie to make a living. Those people involved in sales are often guilty of this sin. Lie to get the job to feed the family. It is still wrong, and Christians must be the best salespeople, using no half-truths to sell their products to convince people. In the religious world, we have a lot of half-truths to get people into the church. The statement that baptism is not essential to salvation is a lie.
Another excuse is that we are “told to lie” – Some give the excuse that they were told to lie by their boss or parents. A child or teenager picks up the ringing phone and it is the preacher on the line asking for dad (who missed Sunday and the preacher is concerned). Dad says “tell him I’m not in”. What kind of message are we sending to our kids? Once we compromise we will be trapped. Don’t be a party to lying in such circumstances. We should not be forced to lie by anyone. Why should we be a party to such a sin?
Social lies / white lies – Some think it is permissible to tell a small lie. “Would you like a beer?” “No, I just had one” instead of “no I don’t drink”. We cannot classify lies into big or small, sin is sin in God’s eye.
IGNORING THE TRUTH, OR REMAINING SILENT
Another offshoot of not telling the truth is simply to keep quiet when we know or see a wrong being done. This is normally the case when it involves close friends or relatives. Would it be right to keep silent when we know a brother or sister has committed something that will affect their influence for Christ? Gal. 6:1 expresses the obligation for Christians to guide and lead back their erring brethren. When the apostles wrote to the various churches, they did not conceal anything, they spoke from the heart. They saw a sin and addressed it square on, whether it be relationship problems, the conduct of church affairs, doctrinal matters etc. Today we too must deal with such issues with the same fervor, without cover-ups or lies.
To conceal the truth means that one has the aim to deceive another as defined in the introduction to this lesson. The truth can hurt, no doubt about it, but it can also heal and comfort.
When we think of deception we think of the first lie in Gen. 3:13, when the serpent deceived Eve. So can we conclude that Eve was innocent? Eve was guilty because she believed a lie. In John 8: 44 Satan is said to be the father of all lies. Eve had chosen not to obey God but instead to believe a lie. God made man with one tongue, but the serpent has a forked tongue. None of us are born with a forked tongue. The book of James chapter 3 has a lot to say about the small tongue that can cause so many problems.
EFFECTS OF LIES
What about the problems that result from lying? Let’s see the effects of lies:
The result of lies is that it can cause so much pain, anguish, and sorrows. David was in such pain when he wrote: “they have spoken against me with a lying tongue” (Ps 120:1-2). I believe we too have suffered from lies.
One of the results of lies is that the guilty party may prosper while the innocent suffer. Prov 21:6: “Getting treasures by a lying tongue is the fleeting fantasy of those who seek death”. In Acts 25:7 a collection or gang of liars connived and collaborated to bring serious complaints against Paul which they could not prove: the result was that Paul suffered.
In Genesis 39, Potiphar’s wife lied that Joseph had tried to seduce her, and the result of that lie caused Joseph to be imprisoned. However, God’s providential care made Joseph the second most powerful man in Egypt. God cared for His servant.
Isn’t it true that lies and half-truths have caused so much sorrow and grief to so many, with families broken up, relationships severed, reputations blemished and tarnished, marriages broken up and rocked, relations between countries affected, between races and groups of people affected by such lies. Even the Lord’s church is not exempted from the chaos. Some people have suffered imprisonment because people colluded and lied about them.
One of the severest warnings in the Bible for liars is found in Rev. 21:8 “. . . all liars have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone”.
I would also like to draw your attention to Proverbs 6:16-19. Here we read of those attributes that God hates. Six things he hates, seven are an abomination to him. Two out of seven things mentioned there have to do with lies, that is, a lying tongue and false witnessing. God does not condone lying under any circumstances.
Today most of the advanced nations have authorized the use of polygraphs or lie detectors in criminal cases. A suspect is asked to undergo this detector test that is able to read a person’s response to questions to gauge if he is telling the truth or lying. For Christians our lie detector is our link to God: we can fool everyone but we cannot fool the spiritual person in us that is linked to our spiritual God.
SWEARING OATHS – TRUTH AND LIES
In the context of Matthew 5:33-37, the Lord was contrasting his teaching about oaths and the Pharisees’ lying and distorted ways. In the Old Testament oaths were taken in bearing witness (Ex 22:11 f; Deut 6:13), oaths of allegiance (2 Kin 11:4 f; Ezek 17:13), oaths in covenants (Gen. 26:31 cf; 31:53) are such examples. Holy men of God practiced oath taking throughout the Old Testament such as when Abraham extracted an oath of the servant sent for Rebekah, Gen 24:3. In another example, Jacob extracted an oath of Joseph in Gen. 47:31. In the New Testament, we have examples of oaths as well. One such example is Rom.9:1 “I say the truth in Christ, I lie not, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit”. Paul would make this oath no less than four times (2 Cor 11:31 ff; Gal 1:20; 2 Tim 1:7)
What the Lord was teaching here was that the Pharisees were being hypocritical: they permitted all kinds of oaths (lies) except what they regarded as deliberate false swearing or perjury. They also made distinctions between oaths, stating that some were binding while some were not. This is what the Lord was implying in Matt. 23:16-23 “Woe unto to you-you blind guides which say whosoever shall swear by the temple it is nothing, but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor”. Jesus was exposing their lying ways and their hypocrisy.
For Christians, the Lord was teaching us not to take the name of the Lord in vain (Ex. 20: 7). We hear such swearing in the mass media, movies and in loose conversations. The Lord is teaching us to abide by the truth. There should be no need for oaths to convince others of a Christian’s worth except his word and his deeds.
THE EXTREMES OF SWEARING AN OATH
In Acts 23: 12, a band of Jewish zealots “banded together and bound themselves under an oath saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul”. This must surely be an example of the extremes to which people will go to swear an oath. In Acts 23: 14-15, we read that the Chief Priest and elders had knowledge about this plot. This is an oath-taking or a swearing in the Lord’s name to do evil to another.
Today we have fundamentalists of various religions backgrounds engaging in the same acts and killing innocent people, all in the context of swearing an oath. Fortunately for the apostle Paul, those Jewish plotters had to continue their “fast” indefinitely since the Lord delivered the apostle from their murderous hands.
ANANIAS AND SAPPHIRA
Another instance of the severity of lying is seen in Acts 5. Ananias and his wife Sapphira had lied to the apostle about the proceeds of the sale of their possession. They did not have to lie, but they wanted to be seen as generous people. They told a deliberate lie. The apostle Peter asked them in verse 4 of chapter 5 “why have you conceived this thing in your heart, you have not lied to men but to God”. The result of that lie cost them their lives. Lying was a serious sin in God’s eye.
THE LIE OF RAHAB
This presentation would not be complete if do not address the issue of Rahab. People can sometimes twist the Scripture to justify anything. Was the lie of Rahab justifiable in the context of Joshua 2:1-16?
Rahab the harlot protected the two spies sent out by Joshua to spy on the city of Jericho. When the men of the king of Jericho enquired of her whether the two spies were lodging in her home, she denied it. Later she helped them to escape. Rahab lied, no doubt about it, and in so doing she saved the lives of the two Israelite spies.
She lied to save herself and her household. She made the two spies swear an oath that they would show kindness to her and her household. Their lives were saved and they repaid the kindness shown to them (Josh 6:17), but more importantly, we know from the Scripture that Rahab’s actions were inspired by faith in the God of Israel. Heb. 11: 31 also mentions this. The case of Rahab cannot be used to justify lying. It was the providence of God that sent the spies to shelter in Rahab’s home in the first place. She acknowledged that the God of Israel was the true God. It was her faith and God’s providence that also saved her, not her lying.
CONCLUSION: The world we live in is filled with lies and deception. The lies of those who deny Christ, false prophets and teachers, false miracles, faith healers, lies of liberalism, lies of the evolutionist, lies of the humanist, new-agers, lies of denominationalism and all the other man-made religions, all of which are leading billions to their eternal doom. The Christian can only preach the truth, speak the truth and live by the truth (2 Cor 2:17).
As we conclude, we Christians must endeavour to be people of good repute, people who can be trusted, people whose words are always true. We don’t need to swear oaths to convince others. We must be prepared to take responsibility for our actions. There is no need to cover up or shift the responsibility by lying. Teach our young ones to tell the truth always. because, “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:37).