The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth!
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
- Exodus 20:16 (ESV)
“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”
- Proverbs 6:16–19 (ESV)
Situation ethics (the teaching that there is no such thing as absolute truth) encourages lying and deception. If truth is unreliable or only determined by one’s point of view, then who decides what’s false or true? So, if “truth” is subjective, how do we know we’re lying?
The ninth Commandment insists that we must not “bear false witness against [our] neighbor.” The wisdom of Proverbs reminds us that three of the seven things the LORD hates revolve around the ninth Commandment: A lying tongue, a false witness, and one who sows discord. This command (according to God) is non-negotiable. The Apostle Paul reinforces this commandment: “Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds” - Colossians 3:9.
So, why do we lie? If you tell me you haven’t lied, I think you just did.
In the book The Day America Told the Truth (a survey of the morality of Americans), research reveals that 91% of Americans lie regularly. With or without polls, I think it’s fair to say that “lying” is pretty standard. Lying may be convenient and less painful than honesty. But it doesn’t make it right. Media, politicians, and world leaders are known to mislead, twist the truth, and sometimes, blatantly fabricate. But it doesn’t make it right!
Why is it still required in our court systems that witnesses “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Perjury is a severe offense because a false witness can harm a person. Common practice or not, lying and deception pervert and corrupt hearts and are an abomination to God: “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.” - Proverbs 12:22.
However, we cannot ignore stories in the Bible where people lie and get away with it. They’re often praised for their actions. The Hebrew midwives lied to the King of Egypt to save the lives of male children (Exodus 1:17-21). Rahab lies to the Canaanite soldiers to protect Joshua’s spies (Joshua 2:4-6). Are false statements always wrong?
God’s command: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” suggests concern for the judicial and litigation aspects of how lies and slander harm our neighbor — a radical difference between saving or destroying a life.
So how do we lie? There are many forms of lying.
We bear false witness when we slander or gossip. Saying or repeating things about someone that are not true defames one’s character.
Falsely flattering someone is a form of lying. When we say things to a person’s face that we don’t believe about them is disingenuous.
Embellishing (exaggerating) to impress others uses a grain of truth to justify a lie.
Remaining silent when we hear someone say something about someone we know is inaccurate is slander by silence. Blaming others to conceal activities or things we know we should confess or admit while remaining silent to protect ourselves is lying.
No matter how we try to spin it, God detests lying that harms our neighbor.
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