We’ve been looking at Ten Values to Build Strong Families. We’ve been looking at how God’s guidelines for life result in stronger families and better lives. Today we’re coming to the ninth value. Exodus 20:16 says, “Do not testify falsely against your neighbors.” Leviticus 19:11 simplifies it for us when it says, “Do not lie.”
At the start of the new millennium, Redbook Magazine published seven New Year’s Resolutions for a Better Marriage. “Forget those marriage-enhancing touching games and getting up a half hour early to spend ‘quality time’ with your spouse,” the article said. “These 60-second strategies are guaranteed to get your marriage off to the right start in the new millennium without requiring much change on your part.” That’s my kind of change. How can you improve your marriage? Greet him at the door when he comes home. Hold that kiss an extra ten seconds. Reach out and touch him. Turn off the boob tube. The sixth key to a healthy marriage, according to Redbook Magazine? “Tell a lie.”
All of God’s commandments seem to make sense in improving our families and our lives. We can see how putting God first, avoiding workaholic tendencies, and affair-proofing our marriages can improve our lives and relationships. But today’s value seems to be a relationship-threatening value. How will telling the truth improve my relationships? Won’t telling the truth just alienate those around me?
Some of the lies that we tell in our families can be not only marriage-saving, they can be lifesaving. Rate yourself on how likely you would be to lie when asked questions like this: “Honey, do I look fat in this outfit?” “Is my bald spot getting bigger?” “Do you think I’m a good cook?” “Do you ever regret marrying me?” Sometimes it seems easier to lie.
We’ve gone from valuing the truth to stretching the truth. We live in a culture of spin and dishonesty. We use words like white lie, whopper, fish story, and fib. We live in an age in which it’s expected that politicians and executive leaders will lie – even under oath. President Clinton asked his court questioners to define the meaning of the word is. There are no longer any objective standards of truth.
91% of us lie regularly. 64% of us would lie for convenience. Only 31% agree with the statement, “Honesty is the best policy.” 32% believe that they’ve been lied to by a clergyman.
We lie all the time in our families. 86% lie regularly to parents. 73% lie to their siblings. 69% admit that they lie to their spouses.
Why should I tell the truth? How will the truth improve my relationships? And what steps can I take to become more truthful? We’re going to look at these questions today.
But before we look at how and why to tell the truth, we need to figure out what lying actually is. You’re not lying when you don’t divulge everything you know. For instance, you’re not lying when your child asks, “Where do babies come from?” and you give an incomplete answer. You’re not lying if someone asks you today, “How are you?” and you don’t mention the fight you had on the way to church, not to mention your medical history and financial situation. Telling the truth doesn’t mean that you have to tell people everything you know about every subject.
You’re also not lying in many inconsequential social arrangements. Some have argued that makeup is a form of deception. Other people say that playing card games such as Cheat or Poker is lying. Sometimes, in telling a joke, there is deception until the punch line is delivered. A quarterback will sometimes fake a throw. You may put your lights on a timer so it looks like you’re home when you’re not. I don’t know many people who would make a strong argument that deception is wrong in these circumstances. Jesus himself encouraged his disciples to use makeup when they were fasting. Toupees aren’t a serious form of lying. These are inconsequential. They’re not important.
There are also exceptional circumstances in which lying is the lesser evil. The Egyptian midwives were right to lie when they were ordered to kill all male Hebrew babies. It was okay for citizens to hide Jews from the Nazis. But the truth is that these are exceptional circumstances. They’re not everyday life. When it comes to everyday life, God says, “Do not lie.” God calls us to be truthful in our relationships.
What is lying, then? Lying is intentionally misleading. You can lie with your words. You can lie by telling a half truth. You can lie without even speaking.
It reminds me of a man named Mr. Myrick, who had to go on a business trip. He persuaded his brother to look after his cat in his absence, even though his brother hated cats.
When Mr. Myrick returned back home, he phoned from the airport to see how his cat was. “Your cat died,” the brother reported, and then hung up.
Mr. Myrick was devastated. His grief was magnified by his brother’s insensitivity. He called again to express his pain. “You didn’t have to be so blunt,” he said.”
“What was I supposed to say,” asked the perplexed brother.
“You could have broken the news gradually,” explained Myrick. “You could have said, ‘The cat was playing on the roof.’ Then, later in the conversation, you could have said, ‘He fell off.’ Then you could have said, ‘He broke his leg.’ Then when I came to pick him up, you could have said, ‘I’m so sorry. Your cat passed away during the night.’ You’ve got to learn to be more tactful. By the way, how’s Mom?”
After a long pause, the brother replied, “She’s playing on the roof.”
How can I be honest in a dishonest world? How can I tell the truth?
1. ANTICIPATE THE TEMPTATION
Leonard Sweet, in his Soul Café newsletter, has written a top-ten list of lies. See if you can relate to any of them:
10. We’ll stay only five minutes.
9. This will be a short meeting.
8. I’ll respect you in the morning.
7. The check is in the mail.
6. I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.
5. This hurts me more than it hurts you.
4. Your money will be cheerfully refunded.
3. We service what we sell.
2. Your table will be ready in just a minute.
1. I’ll start exercising, or dieting, or forgiving tomorrow.
When you think about it, there are specific times that you know you’re going to be tempted to lie. It may be at a certain point at work. It may be in your marriage. You’ve got to anticipate the temptation so you can deal with it.
Augustine said there are eight different kinds of lies. Mark Twain said there are 869 kinds of lies. In essence, though, there are three broad categories of lies. Ask yourself which of these types of lies you are tempted to commit most often:
LIES TO PROTECT OTHERS – These are what you call “white lies.” We sometimes lie to protect others. “I love your dress!” “I’d like to stay later, but we have to get home because of the babysitter.” “You haven’t aged a bit.” “Thank you – I love this gift.” We’re tempted to lie all of the time to protect others. This motivation can be good, but lying to protect others can cause problems.
We don’t have to be brutally honest in all of our relationships. There is a place for tact. But lies can damage relationships instead of protecting them. Proverbs 29:25 says, “Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but to trust the LORD means safety.” Your life will be full of lies of you’re afraid of other people. The Bible teaches in Proverbs 28:23, “In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery.” Honesty is a lot better than avoiding conflict.
LIES TO PROMOTE YOUR INTERESTS – These are the lies that get you ahead. “The dog ate my homework.” In 1993, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey decided to find out how many applicants falsify resumes. They ran an ad for electricians with expertise using Sontag connectors. There is no such thing as a Sontag connector. But they still received 170 resumes. It’s estimated that 40% of people pad their resume. 92% say that they lie to save f ace. Many of us are tempted to lie in order to promote our interests.
You may have seen the commercial of the couple talking over the phone. They’re obviously just getting to know each other, and the guy is trying to impress her with his knowledge of her favorite topics. Everything she mentions, he quickly types into the keyboard and searches over the Internet so he can sound intelligent. Most relationships start out this way. We try to present our best face. We lie to look better than we really are. Some relationships never get past this stage. They keep sweeping stuff under the carpet. The pile gets bigger and bigger. Don’t lie to promote your own interests.
LIES TO CAUSE DAMAGE – The Bible calls this slander. You can use this to get even with someone. You misrepresent them to make them look bad, and also so you will look better. Why do we do this? Jealousy, hate, anger, resentment. I’m amazed at how tempting it can be to badmouth someone. We’re tempted to do this all the time.
Leviticus 19:16 says, “Do not spread slanderous gossip among your people.” Proverbs 17:9 says, “Disregarding another person’s faults preserves love; telling about them separates close friends.” If you’re tempted to lie and be cruel, anticipate that temptation. It will help you to be prepared for when you are angry or hurt.
How do you conquer lying? You’ve got to be prepared. The lying isn’t the problem. The real problem is your motivation. Once you understand your motivation, you can then deal with the real issue. Anticipate the temptation.
2. ACCEPT GOD’S STANDARDS OF TRUTH
The second step is to accept God’s standards of truth. We live in an age in which everyone is lying. Time Magazine did an article called “Lying: Everybody’s Doing It.” The article asks, “Is anyone around here telling the truth?”
Many people today believe that there is no such thing as truth. “Whatever is right for you is right for you and nobody else has a right to question it.” “I can believe whatever I want, no matter how inherently contradictory or logically flawed my belief is.” “You have a right to define truth any way you feel is appropriate – as long as you don’t impose that belief on others.” A 1990 article in Child magazine said this:
The Old View: Lying, like other issues of morality, was seen only in black and white. Children were taught that all lying was bad, deserving of strict punishment, and frequently reminded that “lying will make your nose grow as long as Pinocchio’s.” The New View: Today, some lying is considered normal. In fact, a child’s first few lies are seen as an important step in the development of the self.
We have a choice. We can accept the culture’s standards of truth. Or we can accept God’s standards of truth. What are God’s standards of truth? Psalm 34:12-13 says, “Do any of you want to live a life that is long and good? Then watch your tongue! Keep your lips from telling lies!” We need to understand God’s perspective on the truth.
The Bible says that God is truth. Hebrews 6:18 says, “It is impossible for God to lie.” For a Christian, every word either affirms that God is truth, or it denies that God is truth. We are called to speak only the truth because God is truth.
We’re also called to speak the truth because lying is Satan’s native language. Jesus said these words about Satan in John 8:44: “He was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies.” Every time we lie, we’re going against God’s character and using the language of Satan. We’re speaking in Satan’s mother tongue whenever we lie.
Your lying isn’t really the problem. Your heart is the problem. Jesus said, “For from the heart come evil thoughts…lying, and slander” (Matthew 15:19). Another time, Jesus said, “Whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Matthew 12:34). That’s why God is so concerned about lying. What’s going on in your heart determines what will come out of your mouth.
So what’s the solution? The only way to stop lying, if you want to be a person of integrity, is to get a new heart. Jesus specializes in heart transplants. He says, “Let me fill your heart with love instead of selfishness and joy and peace instead of hate and confidence instead of insecurity and energy and power instead of laziness.” Jesus said, “I am the truth.” The closer you get to Jesus Christ the more you’re going to love the truth and speak the truth, the more you’re going to live the truth. You need a new heart.
Job 27:2-4 says, “I make this vow by the living God…As long as I live, while I have breath from God, my lips will speak no evil, and my tongue will speak no lies.” Proverbs 30:7-8 says, “O God…help me never to tell a lie.” Accept God’s standards of truth.
3. APPLY TRUTH-TELLING SKILLS
If you’re going to tell the truth, you’re also going to need truth-telling skills. Otherwise you’re going to damage everyone around you. Nobody wants searing honesty. You’ve got to learn some truth-telling skills.
How can I tell the truth God’s way? SPEAK THE TRUTH CONSISTENTLY. That way people won’t have to guess. They’ll know that whatever you say is truthful. 80% truthful isn’t enough. Ephesians 4:25 says, “Put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth,’ because we all belong to each other.”
If you’ve been lying in your marriage, or in your job, you’ve got to start today to be truthful – and stick with it. It’s going to take others a while to get used to you. They’re going to wonder how long it’s going to last. You need to develop credibility with others, so that when you speak, people will know that you’re speaking the truth.
Another principle is this: SPEAK THE TRUTH LOVINGLY. This is especially important when you have something difficult to say. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” People need encouragement. An old Arab saying goes like this: “When you shoot an arrow dip it in honey first.” The more truthful you’re going to be, the more loving you need to be as well.
When I first got married, I became very good at speaking the truth. But I made a mistake. I didn’t speak the truth in love. I didn’t extend the grace to my wife that she deserved. She’s taught me that because she’s much better at that than I am.
People are always more receptive in hearing something when you speak the truth in love and believe the best about them. People always resist the truth when it’s perceived as an attack. Even if it’s true, it won’t go anywhere. The truth is only effective when it’s joined in love.
How do you know if you’re speaking the truth in love? Here’s a simple truth: who is going to benefit from what you say? If you’re going to feel a lot better having said it, then don’t say it. You can’t afford to. You’re not speaking to help and love the other person. You’re speaking to get something off your chest. It will be the best speech you’ll ever wish you’d never made.
But if it’s going to be for their benefit – if it’s going to be encouraging for them – then go ahead and say it. “Let everything you say be good and helpful.”
SPEAK THE TRUTH TACTFULLY. Proverbs 16:23 says, “From a wise mind comes wise speech; the words of the wise are persuasive.” You have to think in order to speak with wisdom. It takes tactfulness. You need to plan your presentation. You need to think about what you’re going to say and how it will be received.
Proverbs 12:18 says, “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” Your words have enormous power. You need to speak the truth in such a way that you’re being consistent, loving, and tactful. Never speak the truth without these three qualities.
Over a year ago, I heard a simple question that has changed my life. The question I heard was this: “What is the most positive way to say it?” At first I thought this question was asking me to be dishonest. I thought that positive and truthful couldn’t go together. But I was wrong. You can be honest – and at the same time you can be positive. You can be loving. You can be tactful.
Proverbs 16:21 says, “Gracious words add to one’s reputation” (The Message). Nagging doesn’t work. Nagging has never once improved a relationship. It destroys; it doesn’t build up. Criticism only makes you defensive. Most people already feel guilty. You don’t have to make them feel guiltier. Whatever you say, say positively. Always speak with a humble, loving attitude. Apply the truth-telling skills of the Bible.
4. ASK GOD FOR HELP
In Psalm 141:3, David prayed, “Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” If the tongue is so powerful, we do well to ask God to guard what we say.
One of our prayers every day should be, “God, please help me control my mouth. Help me to tame my tongue.” Our words have power, and we need to ask God to help us use that power appropriately. David prayed in Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer.”
The Bible says, “Do not lie.” In a culture which is filled to the brim with lies, we are called to improve our relationships by being truthful. We’re called to pray with the proverb-writer, who said, “O God…help me never to tell a lie” (Proverbs 30:8).
You may be here thinking, “I’ve blown it. I’ve been dishonest. It’s been hurting my relationships. There are some tough steps that I need to take in coming clean. It’s going to be hard.”
The first step toward honesty is to admit your dishonesty. You need to come to God and say, “God, I’m a liar. Sometimes I don’t always tell the truth. Sometimes I tell half-truths. I need your help. I need you to forgive me.”
We’ve all lied. We’ve all blown it in this area. But we can all receive forgiveness. You can pray to ask God to forgive you, to give you the power to change, and to ask him to give you a new heart. Pray these words: “Father, forgive me. I want you to change me. I know it will take time, but I want to put you in charge of my life. I want to receive a new heart and receive a fresh start.”
Father, give us the foresight to anticipate the temptation to be dishonest. Give us the commitment to accept your Word as our standard of truthfulness. Give us the humility and the love that we need to speak truth. And we pray, most of all, that you would give us your power to live God’s way. May our families and our lives be different, because we dare to follow your command, “Do not lie.” In Jesus’ name, Amen.