A small boy approached a stranger, “Mister, have you lost a dollar?” The stranger replied, “Yes, I believe I have. Did you find it?” Exclaimed the little lad, “Oh, no. I just wanted to find out how many people have lost a dollar today, and you make the 55th person!”
Human depravity is widely displayed through lying. Psalm 58:3 declares—
Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies.
No one has to teach a small child to lie, it comes naturally! In fact, the opposite is necessary, we must teach a child to tell the truth!
Despite its prevalence, lying is a sin God forbids with the Ninth Commandment, Exodus 20:16—
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Among the seven things God hates two refer to lying according 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.
The first violation of the Ninth Commandment dealt with in Scripture is the giving of false testimony in legal proceedings in Exodus 23:2—
Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong. When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.
Immediately, I am struck by the fact that the nation of Israel violated this commandment on the morning of Good Friday. Matthew 27:19-25—
While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
“Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”
Pilate followed the crowd in doing wrong and the crowd followed the chief priests and the elders in doing wrong—justice was perverted by siding with the crowd. Pilate went against his conscience and God’s warning given to his wife in a dream to have nothing do with that innocent man. The crowd violated the Ninth Commandment. Both conscience and law were set aside and mob psychology prevailed!
The penalties for false testimony in a judicial case were severe under Deuteronomy 19:15-19—
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.
Anyone who perjures himself is not to be pitied. He or she is to receive the penalty tit for tat, in other words, according to lex talionis.
Justice might be more righteous in this country if we had a tit for tat law for perjury. Take the recent incident of the woman accusing Irvin and Williams of the Dallas Cowboys of raping her. What should be the penalty for her false testimony? The exact penalty the two football players would have received if tried and convicted.
Rewards have been offered for the arrest and conviction of the six-year old girl recently slain and Bill Cosby’s son. What about giving a financial reward or amnesty to a witness for testifying in court? I could never trust the testimony of person who was paid in any form to testify!
If truth telling was valued so highly in Israel’s courts that the perjurer was to be punished without pity, could truth be esteemed any less in situations outside of the courtroom?
In addition to justice, a primary issue in the Ninth Commandment is defamation of character. Once the mud hits it sticks! Ruining a person’s reputation is equivalent to robbing and murdering that person. What could be worse than to steal one’s good name?
Take the incident in 1 Kings 21, where Jezebel devises a plan to secure for her husband, King Ahab, the vineyard of Naboth. 1 Kings 21:8-14—
[Jezebel] wrote letters in Ahab’s name, placed his seal on them, and sent them to the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city with him. In those letters she wrote: “Proclaim a day of fasting and seat Naboth in a prominent place among the people. But seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.”
So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death. Then they sent word to Jezebel: “Naboth has been stoned and is dead.”
In this incident, the sixth, eighth, ninth and tenth commandments are broken: Murder, stealing, false witness, and coveting your neighbor’s property. Naboth’s name would have remained “MUD” if the prophet Elijah had not been sent by God to expose the crimes and curse Jezebel and Ahab. Since Ahab was king of Israel, only God could execute the punishment him. Ahab was the highest court in the Land, but he found out that there is a higher court in heaven.
At stake is justice for anyone who uses the judicial system. False testimony destroys justice.
The Mosaic Law extends the Ninth Commandment to lying more generally. God sets down in Leviticus 19:16—
“Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the LORD.”
SLANDER is FALSE TESTIMONY. Slander a type of verbal fraud. It robs reputations, honor, status, standing in the eyes of others, and peace of mind.
Slander comes from the evil heart according to Jesus in Luke 6:45—
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Often slander arises from hatred. Psalm 109:3 says—
With words of hatred they surround me; they attack me without cause.
Those who slandered Jesus hated Him for no reason. Slander tears the victim and down and seems to build up the one doing the slandering in his or own eyes. Therefore, when one’s righteous life convicts another, the guilt stricken person has two basic recourses—repent or hate!
Idleness leads to slander according to 1 Timothy 5:13—
Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.
Paul wrote to the Church at Corinth in 2 Corinthians 12:20—
For I am afraid that when I come I may not find you as I want you to be, and you may not find me as you want me to be. I fear that there may be quarrelling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance and disorder.
Christ had prayed that believers would be one. It is obvious from what Paul writes that slander and gossip destroy harmony. Gossip and slander are powerful tools in the hands of the Devil. It just takes a little yeast to permeate the whole loaf. It is the responsibility of every Christian to nip gossip and slander in the bud. If a person has some juicy morsel to tell you, tell them you are not interested in hearing such things and they should immediately stop spreading it—for they will destroy the unity of God’s people. David this advice comes from David in Psalm 101:5—
Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret, him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure.
Slander issues from the heart of the person who fails to consider others above himself. The humble Christian, however, opposes slander says, “No wicked thing or slanderous accusation shall stand before mine eyes.”
James 4:11-12 is particularly pointed regarding slander—
Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?
James had already urged in 4:7—
Therefore, be subject to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
Devil is the DIABOLOS in the Greek and it means SLANDERER. Certainly, James is linking verses 7 and 11, exhorting his readers not slander one another, for this is the work of the Devil. He is telling them to stop the evil practice to which they have resorted. If they continue to slander each other in the Church, they will eventually destroy the fellowship of the Christian community.
James echoes the teaching about judging others that Jesus gave in the Sermon on the Mount—
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
Judgment is a most difficult task because it involves not only other people but the law itself. James is saying that a slanderer puts aside the law God made and thus places himself on the same level as God.
Scripture tells us that all of us will have to appear before God in the day of judgment and at that time we have to give an account of “every careless word we have spoken” (Matthew 12:36). God hold us responsible for the very words we speak and especially the words spoken against our fellow man.
All of us are guilty because of our sins. We are under the law and on the same level as our fellow man. We are the accused. Therefore, instead of placing ourselves above the law and assuming the position of a judge, we ought to encourage, comfort, and rebuke our fellow man with careful instruction and great patience. Not behind his back, but face to face. That’s love, but backbiting is hate! The apostle urges in 1 Peter 2:1 —
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.
Peter’s word for SLANDER includes backbiting, evil speaking, and defamation.
What if the gossip and slander is true? Do we close our eyes when we see a brother falling into sin? Certainly not! James ends his letter with advice that is to this point in 5:20—
Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
Any Christian who knows something about another that is either sin or detrimental to the testimony of the Church, needs to follow the steps outlined by Christ for handling a sin in Matthew 18:
1. Go and show your brother his fault in private.
2. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses.
3. If he refuses to listen to them, take it to the church.
4. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him as an unbeliever.
Add to these four steps, Galatians 6:1—
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.
The Book Proverbs makes these observations about Gossip:
A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret. A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends. The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts. A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much. Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down (Proverbs 11:13; 16:28; 18:8; 20:19-20).
Slanderers are the opposite of being trustworthy. They divulge secrets and speak foolishly. Thus, words are more than sticks and stones; they can and do hurt people.
I AM THE LORD is God’s primary reason forbidding the spreading slander. To slander a person is an attacked on the image of God in man. And to slander, a child of God is to slander Yahweh. God decrees in Leviticus 19:12—
Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the LORD.
At the Battle of Jericho, Achan secretly took items devoted to God and hid them in his tent. When exposed, Achan confessed in Joshua 7:20-21—
It is true! I have sinned against the LORD, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a wedge of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.
What commandments were broken? God states His case in Joshua 7:11—
Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions.
Stealing and lying —the Eighth and Ninth Commandments—because the prohibition against false testimony includes lying and deception.
It is obvious from Achan’s case, that cover ups are false testimonies. To hide something is a charade, the offering of something false as real or true.
Later in history, the Ninth Commandment is part of God’s case against the Israelites in Hosea 4:1-3—
Hear the word of the LORD, you Israelites, because the LORD has a charge to bring against you who live in the land: “There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land. There is only cursing, lying and murder, stealing and adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying.
It is clear from God’s charge that a liar does not love his neighbor or God. Lying is a sin against LOVE, TRUTH and TRUST. These three things are foundational to integrity. INTEGRITY is uprightness as evidenced in character and actions. A liar is not honest and at heart is a murder and thief.
Positively, this commandment calls for a commitment to the truth in all one’s dealings. Even more, it calls everyone to use speech constructively, to speak of others that their well-being is furthered and enhanced.
Must God’s people, at all times, under all circumstances tell the truth to all persons, in word and deed, when asked and when not asked?
TRUTHFULNESS is the presupposition of FAITHFULNESS.
The opposite of false testimony is a true testimony. The standard of truth is God Himself. Isaiah 65:16 says—
Whoever invokes a blessing in the land will do so by the God of truth; he who takes an oath in the land will swear by the God of truth. For the past troubles will be forgotten and hidden from my eyes.
David praises God for His faithfulness and truthfulness in 2 Samuel 7:28, saying—
O Sovereign LORD, you are God! Your words are trustworthy, and you have promised these good things to your servant.
No one is trustworthy who is unfaithful and untruthful. “The LORD detests lying lips” declares Proverbs 12:22. But what constitutes a lie? A simple definition would be saying that which is not true to deceive.
A LIE, therefore, can be defined as a voluntary speaking of intent to deceive. There must be the speaking of an untruth; it must be known to us to be an untruth; and it must be with a will and intent to deceive him to whom we speak it, and to lead him into error.
Surprise parties are couched in falsehoods in order to deceive the surprise! Certainly, there is intent to deceive, but there is no intent to lead into error! So in such cases, we don’t label the surprisors as liars.
April fool deceptions intended to make the other person look silly are considered jesting, not lying!
A mistake in a statement is not a lie. When a broadcaster announces that 20 people were killed in a plane crash, and the number turns out to be 19, he may be reporting erroneous information, but he is not lying, for there is no intent to deceive.
A work of fiction is not a lie. Jesus taught many parables, which though true to life were non-factual or make-believe. They were given to illustrate a truth, not to deceive people.
Polite formalities should not be classified as lies. If an acquaintance asks, “how are you?” And you answer, “Fine!” And your head hurts and stomach aches are you lying? No! That reply is just part of a cultural ritual. Of course, if your doctor asks that question, it is a lie!
Deceit where the rules of the game call for it is not a lie! No ethical Christian has ever protested in a football huddle—
I’m sorry gentlemen; either I carry the ball or else— I refuse to deceive the opposition with a fake around the right end—that is unethical and an outright lie!”
The very nature of team sports and warfare makes us alert to the fact that a type of deception will be naturally used to throw the opposition off balance. When Allied invasions forces landed in Normandy on D-Day, the German Luftwaffe was on a wild goose chase over France, sent there because of Allied interference with German radar. Deceit is an expected strategy of war. The LORD gave Joshua and Gideon deceptive plans to overthrow Ai and the Midianites.
But concealment and deception in a court room is another story! Honest testimony is at the heart of the judicial system and any deviation from this standard is an attack on the whole legal process.
We must distinguish lying from concealing in some cases. The concealment of truth is proper, or even a duty, when it does not violate a moral obligation or there is no legitimate claim to a truth withheld. 1 Samuel 16:1-3 is such a case—
The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.” But Samuel said, “How can I go? Saul will hear about it and kill me.” The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
Samuel concealed his real purpose, but God’s instructions did not give him the prerogative to speak a falsehood. Only what was true was presented to Saul. As for Samuel’s ultimate intentions, nothing is affirmed or denied, and nothing incited Saul’s mind to probe concerning what may have been Samuel’s ultimate motives for coming to Bethlehem at this time.
What constitutes a claim to knowledge? Would Saul have had a right to know, had he asked, what Samuel was doing in Bethlehem besides offering a sacrifice to the LORD? I think he would have, if he asked? He was the king!
There are many ways to lie:
DIRECT LIE as when blind Isaac asked Jacob, “Who are you, my son?” Jacob answered, “I am Esau your firstborn.”
PERJURY is a formal lie—a false statement under oath.
HALF-TRUTH. A little girl whose sister was sick told the teacher that her sister didn’t feel like coming to school. The wording was true but left the wrong impression.
QUOTING OUT OF CONTEXT. A speaker said, “I like Canada better than the U.S. with respect to Sunday observance.” He was quoted as saying, “I like Canada better than the U.S.”
ACTED LIE. A study of a thousand advertising executives who carried brief cases home at night revealed that two-thirds never opened them. They took their brief cases home to impress their bosses.
KEEPING QUIET. If I hear a person being slandered on a matter on which I have some facts tot he contrary, it is silent participation in the lie to fail to speak out the evidence that would clear the victim’s soiled character.
SELF-DETRACTION. A highschooler says, “I’m a poor student,” when his grades are A’s and B’s. He makes the understatement because he wants to hear someone say, “You’re a smart student.” You get good grades.”
WRONGFUL BOASTING. After crossing a bridge an ant on an elephant’s back remarked, “My, didn’t we shake that bridge!”
FLATTERY is saying something to someone’s face that you wouldn’t say behind their back. Psalm 12:2-3 says—
Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue.
EXAGGERATION. Why is it that many fish stories are fibs?
PRAGMATIC LIES are lies that are not lies, unless you get caught.
BUSINESS LIES. A company promises to send a repair man the next day, knowing full well they won’t able to send him for another two weeks.
ADVERTISING LIES. Distortion or deception about a product. A study of the exercise equipment sold on TV showed that the products do not do what the advertisers claim.
LIES TO GOD. Oaths and vows invoking God’s name, which are not fulfilled is lying to God. Peter said in Acts 5:3—
Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Lying affects us, others and God. One lies lead to another until we become hopelessly tangled in the octopus of deceit. Mark Twain put it, “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” Lying not only harms the one who lies and upsets society, but it also affects our relationship with God.
Habitual lying may indicate you are not God’s child but under the sway of Satan, who is “a liar and the father of lies’ (John 8:44). Lying is contradictory to God’s nature, for He is Truth! A person who habitually lies needs to ponder the warnings of Proverbs 19:9—
A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will perish.
And hearken to Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:25—
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.