9th Speak Truth
by Jack Wald | November 19th, 2006

Exodus 20:16

Linguists say that you can tell what is important in a culture by how many words exist in the language to describe it.

It is a myth that the Inuit language of the Eskimos have 40 or more words for snow. But Eskimos do have a lot of words for snow, about as many as exist in English. Snow, sleet, hail, slush, powder, blizzard are just a few of them. My brother-in-law who was born in Somalia told me that while snow was unknown, they had many words for sand. A nomad in the desert doesn’t need words for snow that does not exist but does need words to describe the many kinds of sand and storms associated with it.

When you consider the number of words in English for lying, you have to conclude that lying is a pretty big deal for us.

We have lies, half-truths, untruths, exaggerations, whoppers, fibs, misrepresentations, white lies, fabrications, falsehoods, fibs, prevarications, whoppers, distortions, exaggerations, ambiguities, equivocations and misstatements. We tell blatant lies, stretch the truth, get overly imaginative, mislead, twist the facts, overstate the evidence, make factual errors, get momentarily confused and fail to tell the truth.

We are familiar with lying. My mother used to make me and my two older sisters sit on the steps until one of us confessed who had done something. After a while, my oldest sister would get up and tell my mother she had done it and my mother would tell her, “Go back and sit down, I know you didn’t do it.” It was always my sister Cathy or me who had done the foul deed.

One year at Thanksgiving, when we were back from college, my sister Cathy and I began to confess all our crimes: who had eaten the chocolate cake, who had played with the bridge cards and so on.

I am familiar with lying and this is what is forbidden in the ninth commandment, You shall not bear false witness.

Mark Twain wrote,  There are 869 different forms of lying, but only one of them has been squarely forbidden. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor, but as we have seen in commandments 6-10, each commandment covers an area of the law and the one that is listed in the ten commandments is seen as being the worst violation of this area of law.

So the ninth commandment forbids every form of falsehood, including the 869 different forms of lying Mark Twain identified, and of all of these, bearing false witness was considered to be the worst of lies.

This law, You shall not bear false witness, deals with testimony given at a trial. Why was bearing false witness considered to be the worst of lies? Of all lies, the deadliest is one that condemns an innocent person for a crime he or she did not commit.

The Bible doesn’t tell us much about Naboth, only that he had a vineyard next to the palace of King Ahab. It must have been a nice vineyard. Here in Morocco if you live in a house next to the king, you don’t have to say that you have a nice house. Just being next door to the king tells all that needs to be said about the house.

So Naboth had a nice piece of property and was a wealthy man. He undoubtedly had a wife, children, probably grandchildren. He lived on land that had belonged to his family for generations. He could identify a tree that was planted by his great-grandfather and now provided shade for the whole family. He had grown up on this property, brought his wife as a young bride to this property, had his children born on this property. He might have read Psalm 128 and felt it expressed God’s blessing to him.
Blessed are all who fear the LORD,
who walk in his ways.
2 You will eat the fruit of your labor;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
3 Your wife will be like a fruitful vine
within your house;
your sons will be like olive shoots
around your table.
4 Thus is the man blessed
who fears the LORD.
5 May the LORD bless you from Zion
all the days of your life;
may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem,
6 and may you live to see your children’s children.

But then King Ahab came one day and said he wanted to buy his vineyard. Naboth refused. To sell this land would be a violation of the covenant with God which had given each tribe land to possess. It had been in his family for generations, how could he sell what was part of his family?

He was uneasy for a while. Would the king take the vineyard by force? But then nothing happened and he began to relax.

A day of fasting was proclaimed and he went and was offered a seat of honor. This was as it should be. He had worked hard and served his community for years. His family was an honorable family.

These kinds of public fasts were held to end some crisis. It might be a drought, it might be a threat from an enemy but the fast was held to discern the cause of the problem besetting Israel.

As Naboth sat in his place of honor he heard to his horror, two men sitting near him who testified that he had cursed the king and blamed the king for the crisis. He denied the charges but to his amazement, the officials and nobles present, who he thought were his friends, took the side of these two men and he was taken out and stoned to death. Upon his death, the property was claimed by the palace and his family was left without a home or income.

Naboth was innocent. He had done nothing except refuse to sell what was rightfully his. Naboth was innocent and yet he was killed, his family ruined and this was done because of the false testimony of two witnesses.

In the ancient world, the accused was presumed to be guilty until proven innocent. Everything depended on the witness. This was before DNA, before fingerprints, before video and audio tapes, before all the things that go into determining the guilt or innocence of people accused of a crime today.

It was simply a matter of one person’s word against another person’s word and so the truthfulness of a witness was a matter of life or death.

The Mosaic Law was an improvement on this system. When a member of the covenant community was put on trial, he or she appeared before a jury of elders and there had to be more than one witness.
Deuteronomy 19:15
One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

As further protection, the witness was the first to throw a stone.
Deuteronomy 17:6-7
On the testimony of two or three witnesses a man shall be put to death, but no one shall be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.  7 The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people.

The witnesses who threw the first stones were considered to be the ones who had killed the person convicted of a crime. What this meant is that if it was discovered that the witnesses had lied, then the witnesses were guilty of murder and would be put to death. By throwing the first stones, the witnesses put their life on the line that they were telling the truth.

If in the course of the investigation it was shown that a witness had lied and made a false accusation, he was punished.
Deuteronomy 19:16-19
If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime,  17 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.  18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother,  19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother.

These were legal sanctions designed to protect the innocent from injustice. Being a witness against someone was not something to be done lightly. Your own life was at stake. In the case of Naboth, it shows how far the corruption of Ahab and Jezebel had gone that they were able to orchestrate the death of Naboth by getting the two “scoundrels” and the nobles and officials to unjustly condemn Naboth to death.

You shall not bear false witness. You shall not lie.

How do we lie?

Lies do not stand by themselves. Lying is a partner to other sins. We covet something, which we will get to next week in the last of these sermons on the ten commandments, and then lie so that we can get it. We steal something and then lie to cover up what we have stolen. We commit adultery and lie to our spouse to hide our affair.

Sometimes we make a mistake and then because we are not willing to take responsibility for what we have done, we lie. So if I have an accident and hit someone on the road, I do not stay to take responsibility for what I have done but flee the scene and lie to cover up my action. Or I might break something and then lie to say I don’t know how that thing got broken.

We lie to get something we want. When you sell something and make it seem better than it is or hide information about problems with what you are selling, you lie. When you campaign for political office and make promises you know you will not be able to keep, you lie.

We lie when we hide part of our past because we are embarrassed by how we were raised or what we did when we were children. We lie when we pretend to be more than we are. We lie when we present ourselves to be more righteous and respectable than we are.

Sometimes we lie to make ourselves seem more impressive than we are. When we write our resume for a job or application for a school, we stretch the truth and make claims that are not true. If I was half a point from graduating with honors, I may put on the application that I did graduate with honors and who is going to check something like that?

In 2002 a man was appointed coach of an American football team. When the reporters received his biography, they made phone calls to get some background material for their article and discovered that he had not played football in university as he had claimed, but had been injured in his first season and never played. He lost his position as coach for a lie he told a long time ago to make his resume look more impressive.

From time to time a politician is exposed for having exaggerated his combat experience or performance in university.

We lie when we tell a story and put a little spin on it that makes us look good and someone else look bad.

Have you ever had the experience of telling some friends about an incident involving someone else and then later the person you were talking about asks you what it was you said about them? And then you have to retell the story, only this time you have to adjust the story so you don’t make yourself look so bad for having talked about this person behind his back.

It is embarrassing to be confronted with the falseness of your words.

Sometimes, even if what we say is true, we know we are not supposed to gossip. But we like to talk about someone’s misfortune, especially if this person has been a problem for us. We like the sense of vindication that we were right, this person is a jerk. We like telling the bad news because it is a way of paying back someone who has not been fair to us.

Here are three rules for knowing if you should share news about someone else.

Is what I am about to say true?
If so, does it really need to be said to this person in this conversation?
Would I put it this way if the person I’m talking about were here to listen?

If the answer to these three questions is yes, then go ahead and share. I am ashamed to say that I sometimes have shared things that violated these rules. Sometimes I have shared something to make myself appear more knowledgeable. Sometimes I have shared something as a way of getting back at someone. This is a part of this sermon that has been very convicting for me.

We lie when we spin the story to our advantage and we lie when we listen to gossip that is being shared. After all, if no one listened to what a gossip was saying, then there would be no gossip. A preacher pointed out that a person who listens to gossip is like a person who serves as a fence for stolen goods. Both the person who stole and the person who accepts the stolen goods are guilty. Both the one who shares the gossip and the one who listens are guilty.

There is a rabbinic saying that makes this point.
[Slander] kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who listens to it, and the one about whom it is spoken.

The Scriptures are clear that God hates lying.
Zechariah 8:16-17
These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts;  17 do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the LORD.

Why does God hate lying? Lying works against the purposes of God.

What God needs from us is honesty. In order to have the close, intimate relationship with us that God desires, it is necessary that we be open and honest with him. When we hide our sin or motives from God, our lies separate us from him.

When false prophets speak lies the purposes of God are thwarted. Lies work against God’s purposes.

But more importantly, God hates lying because it is contrary to his character. God is characterized as truth. Part of God’s nature is truth.

In Psalm 31:5 David wrote:
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
redeem me, O LORD, the God of truth.

Jesus declared who he was in John 14:6
I am the way and the truth and the life.

This is why I am confident if someone genuinely seeks truth, they will end up in a relationship with God because all truth comes from God. God is truth.

In contrast, how is the Devil known? One of his titles is the father of lies.

Jesus was talking to the Jewish leaders in John 8:44 and said to them:
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.

God hates lying because it is a tool of the devil that is used to keep us from being in the relationship with him that he wants for us.

There is a spiritual battle taking place and our souls are the spoils of war. Lies and truth are weapons used in this battle.

The writer of Hebrews wrote about the scriptures as a sword used to uncover the truth in us.
Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

The truth of the scriptures is a sword used in the battle against the devil and his lies. Jesus made good use of this sword when he resisted the devil’s temptations in the desert by quoting Deuteronomy.

Our salvation is a battle of truth against lies and this is why God hates lying. When we lie, we aid and abet our enemy, the devil. When we stand and tell the truth, no matter how painful it is to do so, we stand with God and work for his kingdom.

John Calvin said
The purpose of this commandment is since God (who is truth) abhors a lie, we must practice truth without deceit towards one another.

I challenge you to speak truth. When you do something wrong, stand and admit what it is you have done. Accept the consequences for your behavior, no matter how uncomfortable that will be.

Guard your words. When you share a story about someone else, be sure this will be profitable.

Build and encourage with your words, do not tear down and destroy.

The devil is the father of lies. He is the most adept liar. He is the expert liar. And our best defense against his lies is to speak the truth.

Evil comes in the form of the flesh, the world and the devil. And all of these attack us. The world tells us we are not talented because we are not gifted like someone else. The world tells us we are not beautiful because we do not measure up to the world’s current standard of beauty. The desires of our flesh accuse us of being lazy and lacking the willpower to resist temptation.

And the devil takes all this and whispers in our ear, “You are no good. Do you really think God loves you when you are so bad at obeying him? Other people are good Christians but not you. God loves people but not when they keep failing over and over again. You have exhausted God’s patience. You don’t have enough talent to serve God. God is really disappointed in you. Why keep fighting? You will never change. You will never be able to overcome the temptations of the world.”

Richard Lovelace wrote in his book, Dynamics of Spiritual Life, about four truths upon which Christians stand. For periods of time in my Christian life, I have started each day with a declaration of these truths as a way of starting out my day on a strong foundation.

These are printed in the bulletin.

1. I AM ACCEPTED! (justification)
Because of my relationship with Christ, when God sees me, he sees me not as a sinner but as his perfect and holy child. The blood of Christ covers my sin.
I can trust God. He will not reject me. His love is not dependent on my behavior. Nothing I do today will make him love me more or less tomorrow. I am his special child, loved and accepted with no strings attached.

2. I AM DELIVERED! (sanctification)
Sin has no power over me. The power of sin to rule my life has been destroyed in the cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit is working with me to transform me into the holy child God sees me to be.
By faith I claim the power of God at work in me, transforming me from sinner to saint.
I have hope! What I am today is not what I will be tomorrow. PBPGINFWMY! (This was a button some Christians wore and when someone asked what it meant, they could tell them, “Please be patient God is not finished with me yet!”)

3. I AM NOT ALONE! (indwelling of the Holy Spirit)
The Holy Spirit lives within me. Each day I need to open myself to the Spirit, sharing all my thoughts and plans. I need to spend time in silence, allowing the Spirit to speak to me, to guide my thoughts. I need to continue to be open to the Holy Spirit throughout the day in a relationship of communication and communion, checking my thoughts with my knowledge of the Word.

4. I HAVE AUTHORITY! (spiritual warfare)
The forces of darkness are so chained by the victory of Christ that they are unable to do anything which does ultimate damage to his glory and kingdom.
The devil is on a short chain. He can growl and threaten, but in Christ, I cannot be harmed.
Satan is my accuser but I do not have to listen to his accusations.
Stand firm in Christ and rebuke Satan’s power over you each day.

The devil is your accuser. He never rests but continually whispers in your ear and tells you that you are no good, are not worthy of being loved, are not really of any use to God, are a disappointment to God so you might as well give up.

Speak the truth. Stand and proclaim what is true.

Read with me from the bulletin.

1. I AM ACCEPTED! (justification)
Because of my relationship with Christ, when God sees me, he sees me not as a sinner but as his perfect and holy child. The blood of Christ covers my sin.
I can trust God. He will not reject me. His love is not dependent on my behavior. Nothing I do today will make him love me more or less tomorrow. I am his special child, loved and accepted with no strings attached.

2. I AM DELIVERED! (sanctification)
Sin has no power over me. The power of sin to rule my life has been destroyed in the cross of Christ. The Holy Spirit is working with me to transform me into the holy child God sees me to be.
By faith I claim the power of God at work in me, transforming me from sinner to saint.
I have hope! What I am today is not what I will be tomorrow. PBPGINFWMY! (This was a button some Christians wore and when someone asked what it meant, they could tell them, “Please be patient God is not finished with me yet!”)

3. I AM NOT ALONE! (indwelling of the Holy Spirit)
The Holy Spirit lives within me. Each day I need to open myself to the Spirit, sharing all my thoughts and plans. I need to spend time in silence, allowing the Spirit to speak to me, to guide my thoughts. I need to continue to be open to the Holy Spirit throughout the day in a relationship of communication and communion, checking my thoughts with my knowledge of the Word.

4. I HAVE AUTHORITY! (spiritual warfare)
The forces of darkness are so chained by the victory of Christ that they are unable to do anything which does ultimate damage to his glory and kingdom.
The devil is on a short chain. He can growl and threaten, but in Christ, I cannot be harmed.
Satan is my accuser but I do not have to listen to his accusations.
Stand firm in Christ and rebuke Satan’s power over you each day.

Claim these truths daily. This is the firm foundation upon which we as Christians can stand.

John 8:32
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Speak truth.