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Nothing Is More Important than Truth

Exodus 20:16

Jim Davis

Tom Sims tells this incident: "My wife and I decided to eat out one night but failed to make reservations. When we arrived at our favorite restaurant, we found that several couples had signed up for a table ahead of us. I left our name with the hostess, and we sat down in the lobby.

"Soon thereafter, a disgruntled couple left the restaurant, complaining that the wait was too long. Within minutes, the hostess called, `Walker?' No one responded. She called again but got no response.

"Assuming that the couple who had left were the Walkers, I quickly convinced my wife that if we told the hostess we were the Walkers, we'd get seated faster. As we approached her, she said, `Mr. Walker?' I nodded. `We've been expecting you,' she informed us. "Come this way. Your family is waiting for you in the private dining room.'" [Parables, Etc. Dec 1995. Page 7.]

The "credibility gap" that once alienated the public from people in high places now seems to separate us from one another in all walks of life. Americans lie on their income tax returns to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Doctors fake reports in order to profit from Medicare patients. Prize athletes at great universities are kept eligible for competition through bogus credits and forged transcripts of academic records. Children soon acquire the cynical assumption that lying is the normal tack for TV advertisers. In the words of a Time magazine essay, ours is "a huckstering, show-bizzy world, jangling with hype, hullabaloo, and hooey, bull, baloney, and bamboozlement." After a while, people tend to expect not to hear the truth anymore. (Lewis Smedes, Mere Morality --James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988), p. 456.)

Since creation there has been an evil nature about us that seeks to distort the truth. We see this nature in our children. There is a new thought among researchers that children can and will tell deliberate lies by age 4, or perhaps even earlier. However, until age 8 most children cannot distinguish between a deliberate false statement and an unintentional one, but do know that it is wrong to try to mislead someone. ("Would a child lie?" by Paul Ekman. Psychology Today, Jul/Aug 1989. Pages 62-65.)

Lying has become the hallmark of our society. We see mass media distort the truth through sensationalism every day of our lives. "Americans say they no longer trust journalists to tell them the truth about their world. Young people have difficulty finding anything of relevance to their lives in the daily newspaper." (Bill Moyers quoted in EPA Liaison, Jul/Aug, 1992) We see truth distorted by politicians. We see truth distorted by preachers.

A traveling preacher was debating with a Texas oilman who doubted the reality of divine punishment. "Let me tell you about a remarkable incident," the preacher said. "In this morning's paper there's an article about a politician who was struck by lightning while he was lying. That was miraculous, wasn't it?"

"I don't know now," the Texan replied. "It would have been more of a miracle if lightning struck a politician when he wasn't lying!"

Since ancient times great thinkers have been absorbed with ethics--defining right and wrong. Some have defined might as right (overlooking the reality that it is possible to be powerful without being good). Some say each culture should define what is right for its members. Others say each man should define what is right for himself. Then there are the various schools of thought, which define right as whatever is moderate, or pleasurable, or desirable, or best for the long run.

Where It All Began

Our dishonest dilemma began in Eden with Satan's first lie. Our worst nightmare began when Satan bore false testimony against God. Satan asks, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden?'" Then he says, "You will not surely die . . . For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." That first lie brought all the death and destruction since the creation.

John 8:44-45
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! (NIV)

Acts 13:9-10
Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, "You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? (NIV)

Actually, lying is the glittering centerpiece of Satan's strategy. When he encountered Eve in the garden, his first statement was a lie about God: "You will not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). Clearly, deception is the glue that holds Satan's agenda together. Can you think of one sin where nontruth isn't right beside it or right behind it?

There is nothing more important than truth and there is nothing more devastating than the absence of truth. The ninth commandment, "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16 NIV) is not to be taken lightly.

Mark Twain said, "When in doubt, tell the truth. It will confound your enemies and astound your friends." However, Solomon says, "Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding." (Proverbs 23:23NIV) For those seeking God's kingdom, truth is discovered as we seek knowledge of God. Through truth come wisdom, discipline and understanding.

Proverbs 8:4-11
"To you, O men, I call out; I raise my voice to all mankind. You who are simple, gain prudence; you who are foolish, gain understanding. Listen, for I have worthy things to say; I open my lips to speak what is right. My mouth speaks what is true, for my lips detest wickedness. All the words of my mouth are just; none of them is crooked or perverse. To the discerning all of them are right; they are faultless to those who have knowledge. Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold,

for wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (NIV)

God's Kingdom of Truth

When Scottish theologian John Baillie taught at Edinburgh University, he made it a practice to open his course on the doctrine of God with these words: "We must remember, in discussing God, that we cannot talk about Him without His hearing every word we say. We may be able to talk about others behind their backs, but God is everywhere, yes, even in this classroom. Therefore, in all our discussions we must be aware of His infinite presence, and talk about Him, as it were, before His face."

The knowledge that the Lord is everywhere should have a tremendous impact on what we say. Lies, gossip, unkind remarks, off-color comments, angry words, irreverent speech, and disrespectful use of the Lord's name should never come from our lips.

God's kingdom is strikingly different. God is a "God of truth" (Psalms. 31:5). God cannot lie (Titus 1:2), and we are called on to reflect this characteristic of God, to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). The righteous hate what is false (Proverbs13:5). As children of a true and truthful God, we need to be truthful people.

Colossians 2:1-4
I want you to know how much I am struggling for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (NIV)

"We are facing an integrity crisis. Not only is the conduct of the church in question, but so is the very character of the church." (Warren Wiersbe) For many within the church it seems, wrong is not always wrong and right is not always right.

It looks like it's time for those of us who live by God's standard to recommit ourselves to honesty. It looks like it's time for those of us who live by God's standard to recommit ourselves to honesty.

God's kingdom is designed for those who love the truth for only those who love the truth can be sanctified in God’s sight.

2 Thessalonians 2:9-13
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (NIV)

Telling the truth is a matter of submission to God's will. Those seeking the truth discover God's kingdom, and contrary to popular opinion, truth can be discovered.

John 8:31-32
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (NIV)

The truth effectively works in those who truly believe. Paul writes, "And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13 NIV).

Truth effectively works in you when it creates a character of integrity. A person of integrity seeks to use the truth to eliminate error and falsehood. "To love integrity means to use truth to eliminate error and falsehood from the world . . .To love truth is to be truthful in such a way that people will learn to trust us . . .To love others is to use truth to serve them and not ourselves." ("To be perfectly honest . . ." (Calvin Miller. Moody, Mar 1987. Pages 16-19.)

A boy, 12 years old, was the important witness in a lawsuit. One of the lawyers, after questioning him severely, asked, "Your father has been telling you how to testify, hasn't he?" "Yes," said the boy. "Now," pursued the lawyer, "just tell us how your father told you to testify." "Well," replied the boy modestly, "Father told me the lawyers would try to tangle me in my testimony; but if I would just be careful and tell the truth, I could say the same thing every time."

Proverbs 12:17-22
A truthful witness gives honest testimony, but a false witness tells lies. Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil, but joy for those who promote peace. No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble. The LORD detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful. (NIV)

We are told to be honest with each other. Paul writes, "Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body." (Ephesians 4:25 NIV)

We lie to avoid the consequences of our wrongdoing or to promote our personal interests. We sometimes lie just to get people's attention. We may use flattery spoken to manipulate others.

Proverbs 26:28
A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin. (NIV)

We may circumvent the truth through deception. We see deception everywhere: in the businessman who carefully massages the fine print to hide the real commitment of the contract, the preacher who uses Scripture to manipulate his congregation, and the politician who uses statistics selectively to "prove" his point. The Bible says deceit is the sign of a wicked heart (Proverbs 12:20).

One way we circumvent truth is by exaggeration. It was said of one lady, "She's just about truthful. She doesn't lie about anything except her weight, her age, and her husband's annual earnings."

The story is told of a woman who once said to a famous evangelist, "I'm deeply troubled over a problem that I know is hurting my testimony. It's the practice of exaggeration. I start to tell something, and then go on and enlarge the story until it's all distorted. People know that what I say is not true, and lose confidence in me. I wonder if you can help me?" The preacher looked at her and said, "Let's talk to the Lord about it." She started praying, "O God, You know that I have this tendency to exaggerate . . ." At this point the evangelist interrupted, "Call it lying, Madam, and you may get over it!"

Another way is to shade the truth and tell only what serves our purpose. Ananias and Sapphira serve as the first example of disobedience and God's discipline in the first century church. They only told what served their purpose. They sold a piece of property and pretended they gave all the money to the church. They kept back a portion of the money.

Acts 5:1-5
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet. Then Peter said, "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? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (NIV)

Warren A. Chandler was speaking to a congregation about God's harsh punishment of Ananias and Sapphira for their dishonesty. Then to stress the fact that all of us lie sometimes, he commented, "God doesn't strike people dead for lying as He used to. If He did, where would I be?" Surprised by a wave of snickering that rippled across the audience, Chandler added, "I'll tell you where I would be. I would be right here preaching to an empty church!" Chandler, of course, was not denying his own guilt. But he made the point--they all had lied.

Another way to shade the truth is to cover up our shortcomings and hide our true feelings. Christians should strive to be open and honest. We should be able to share with other Christians and seek their prayers, support, advice, and help to change or become accountable. If we live a lie and pretend to be perfect, it is discouraging to others who know they cannot be perfect. The refusal to admit our needs estranges us from the help that the body of the church can offer. It also keeps us from knowing and understanding ourselves, and consequently it prevents us from growing. ("Be honest with me" by Richard Strauss. Moody, Mar 1987. Pages 23-25.) Integrity vs. hypocrisy - present honest face to others.

We should think of ourselves according to the truth. The temptation is to blame our problems on others.

Romans 12:1-3
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-- his good, pleasing and perfect will. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. (NIV)

Conclusion:

It might seem that lying has no direct connection with immorality, but it does. Look at the degradation that began in Eden with a simple but explosive lie. "You shall not die."

If a person lacks self-control in one area, it often spills over into other areas of his/her life. Moral failures can usually be traced to three lacks: no daily personal walk with the Lord, failure to meditate on Scripture, and the absence of truth in our lives. You can’t know the truth if you don’t know the Lord.

Many are anemic in their understanding of biblical truth and thus have very shallow theology. We believe it ought to work for others but it doesn’t work for us. Such an unstable doctrinal foundation cannot stand under pressure. Too often we are legalists when we apply God’s truths to others, but when we find ourselves in the same situation, we do what feels right for ourselves.

"Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle that fits them all." -- Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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