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The Ten Commandments

To Tell The Truth

Erwin W. Lutzer | June 1, 1986

Selected highlights from this sermon

God loves truth and hates lies. Whether we are serving as a witness in a courtroom or bantering in an everyday conversation, He expects us to be truthful. That means we must spurn exaggeration, slander, and bragging. 

Even our actions are tied to the command, “Do not bear false witness.” Our choices are often deceptive since we desire to portray ourselves in a positive light. God values integrity, so will we bring our hearts of untruthfulness to the only One can cleanse us?

Basically you and I are dishonest. We are born with a bent toward deception. All of us are. In order to protect our reputation or to get money, or for one reason or another, usually to make ourselves look good, we break the commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

I’ve never yet met a person who has told me that he hasn’t told a lie. I can imagine somebody might do that today and if they do I’ll simply say that’s one more to write down in their ledger. Right?

I’ll never forget when I was about ten. Those of you who are in that age bracket listen carefully. I was brought up on a farm and my father came to me one day. It was my responsibility to feed the chickens at five o’clock every afternoon. I walked into the garage. He asked me whether or not I had fed the chickens. It was somewhat after five. Oh, I knew I had not done it with any degree of regularity, and so I lied. I said yes, I had. My father believed me. Ten or fifteen minutes later I left the garage and I went and I got that bucket full of wheat and I went and fed the chickens. I remember how good it felt. You know, usually we talk about guilt associated with sin. Well, I don’t remember guilt. I just knew that it felt so good because I had lied and I had gotten away with it, and the chickens were fed. Nobody had incurred any harm as a result of it and I remember to this day thinking to myself, “All summer I’m going to do things this way. If I am asked I am going to make myself look good. I’m going to lie and then I’m going to do it later.”

So about a week later I was asked again. “Did you feed the chickens?” I said yes. Well, of course I didn’t leave immediately to go do what I had forgotten to do. That would look too obvious. I waited about ten or fifteen minutes and then I went and I did it. And guess what. I was seen feeding the chickens.

Now, if you ten year olds are still with me you have to understand that I belonged to another generation. When my parents found things like that out they applied the board of education to the seat of learning. That was in another generation you understand. The Bible says that thou shalt not bear false witness, and God is a God of truth, and He is interested in us being people of truth.

Now, when that commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness” was given, it actually referred to perjury, that is to say a false witness in a court of law. But I want you to turn with me today to Proverbs 6 where interestingly there are two different kinds of lying that are spoken about – that which would take place in a court of law, and that which takes place in normal conversation, and God says He hates both. Proverbs 6:16 says, “There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to Him.” Here they are: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, 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.”

Did you notice that lying is mentioned twice? Verse 17 says “haughty eyes, a lying tongue.” Verse 19 says, “a false witness who breathes out lies.” Verse 19 is talking about going to court. You bear a false witness in the presence of someone. And verse 17 is talking about the person who lies in casual conversation. God says, “I hate lying.”

Now what I’d like to do today is to give you three ways that we can break that commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

First of all, we can break the commandment by what we say. Here I’m thinking, of course, about actual lies. We are in a situation where a lie looks good or would make us look good and so we go ahead and do it like that proverbial school boy who said that a lie is an abomination unto the Lord but a very present help in time of trouble. So we are in difficulty and what do we do? We lie. We are filling out an application for a job and we tell a lie to make ourselves look good. God sees it. God hates it.

Back in the good old days when I was teaching ethics at Moody Bible Institute, the students always used to ask me this question. They’d ask, “Is it ever right to lie?” Then they’d give this illustration. “Suppose that you were a person who was hiding missionaries and the communists (It was always communists; I don’t know why.) come to the door and they point a gun at you and they say, ‘Tell us where the missionaries are.’ Now the question is, would you lie and say you don’t know, or would you tell the truth? Would you say, ‘What you do is you go up the stairs and then just to the left there’s a closet there. Two of them are in there, and then you go to the other side, and we have some hiding in another room off the den.’ What would you do?” Well, my response, you know, used to be, “I don’t know first of all what I would do if I had a gun pointed at my head. I have never yet had that happen, even though I’ve lived in Chicago nearly six years, and I realize that statistically that was supposed to happen last July, but anyway, I do know this. If I were to tell a lie I believe that I would have sinned even if I lied under those conditions because whenever you tell a lie, you are actually indicating a lack of faith.

You say, “Well, wouldn’t it be better to lie than to have missionaries dead?” Don’t you realize that even if I were to tell the truth and the Communists killed those missionaries, I would not be responsible for the death of those missionaries? The Communists would be.

You know, those of us who are Calvinists, who follow the writings of the Apostle Paul and who therefore believe in the sovereignty of God, don’t believe that God would be thrown off base if somebody happened to tell the truth. Can you just imagine God in heaven wringing His hands and saying, “Oh, good night, I intended that those missionaries live another ten years and now look at what Lutzer did. He told the truth. What are we going to do?”

Of course, God can keep people alive as long as He wants, even if we tell the truth. God hates lying. One of the ways that we can break this commandment is by what we say, and here I’m talking about lying, I’m talking about exaggeration where somebody says, “You know, my wife is never on time.” That’s probably not true. Think back many years ago when you were going to take her shopping and you promised her a new dress. Or a wife who says, “My husband never picks up his clothes.” Watch it. Think back to perhaps the early sixties when you received an unexpected knock on the door on an early Saturday morning and he picked up his clothes. So don’t say he never, never picks up his clothes. That’s exaggeration.

And, of course, under this I could put people who brag, and people who toot their own horn. Don’t you wish sometimes that when you met people like that you had the courage to tell them, remind them of the fact that it’s not the whistle that pulls the train? I think we’ve all had those temptations.

Exaggeration! Distortion where we say something by innuendo! You know there was a man on a ship who had a mate who didn’t get drunk very often, but one day he did and the captain wrote in the logbook, “The mate got drunk today.” The mate said, “Take that out.” The captain said, “No.” He wrote it down. So the next day the mate was keeping the logbook and he decided to write in it, “The captain is sober today.” Well, he was telling the truth, but you do get the implication.

And then slander! That’s when you demean the reputation of other people by what you say whether you are telling a falsehood because of the lack of investigation in the matter or whether you are even telling the truth. Listen, you can tell the truth and be guilty of slander if you are telling the truth to people who are not part of the problem or part of the solution, and what you are doing it for is to simply demean the reputation of some believer in their eyes. That is slander.

Now I want you to turn with me to 1 Timothy 3. There’s a very interesting sidelight here as to what God says about slander. Notice what it says regarding the wives of deacons. Deacons take note and share this passage with your wives if it applies. It says, “Women (probably the wives of the deacons though it may also refer to deaconesses) must likewise be dignified and not malicious gossips.” That’s a pretty good translation, but do you know what the Greek says? It says not diabolos. That’s what it says. It says not devils. It’s the word that is used 40 times for devil in the New Testament. It says, “Women should not be philanderers.” That’s the meaning of the word diabolos, and so what he’s saying is, “Don’t be slandering because when you slander somebody you are doing Satan’s work.” He is a slanderer and that’s the meaning of the word devil.

So you see, it’s not just speaking the truth about someone. Even speaking the truth can be slander if you are causing their reputation to be tainted in the minds of those to whom you speak, and God says He hates it all. He hates the devil’s work.

You know, it’s wonderful to know that if you have been the victim of slander, and I suppose all of us have been at times, there is a verse in Psalm 31 that says this. Regarding the believing person it says, “Thou dost hide them in the secret place of Thy presence from the conspiracies of man. Thou dost keep them secretly in a shelter from the strife of tongues.” Isn’t that great? God guards those who are victimized by the strife of tongues, rumors that will not subside – false rumors. That’s Psalm 31:20.

So, one of the ways that we can break the commandment is by what we say. Secondly, we can break that commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness,” by what we do. We talk about doing the truth. For example, cheating is a form actually of misrepresentation and bearing false witness. And I feel sorry for people who have cheated in their past who have never made it right because in the back of their minds there is always that knowledge that somehow they have done something wrong and in moments of revival when the Holy Spirit of God begins to do His work they begin to realize that they’ve got to go back and make things right. That’s why at schools, even such as Moody Bible Institute sometimes there are students who cheat, who years later write letters saying, “I cheated when I was there and I want to make that right.” That’s an indication of the work of the Spirit of God who wants us to be totally honest and make things right as far as we possibly can.

I remember one day in seminary we had to go to the board and write Greek words down and parse them. And we were given drills. We’d go to the board and we would stand next to each other and we’d do it, and I was next to a guy who was just a Greek whiz, and sometimes I wasn’t a Greek whiz, and I remember on one occasion looking out of the corner of my eye and seeing what he had written, and I wrote down the very same words, and the teacher commended me for being so accurate. And then I remember that after that chapel service about two days later I was under such conviction. Have you ever been in a meeting where you just can’t wait for it to get over? You say, “Preach that sermon. Get it over with. Sing the song because I’ve got to do something. God has spoken to me.” I was in such agony I couldn’t hardly believe it with just the weight of guilt upon my shoulders and heart. And I went to the professor and I explained to him what happened, and we took care of it and what a load it is off a person’s shoulders.

Just writing a term paper where you have plagiarized! You know plagiarism is when you steal from one author. If you steal from many, of course, then it’s called research (laughter) but just writing a term paper where you have plagiarized and to know that you have handed it in to the university and there is something wrong with it, that is dishonesty.

You can also lie by what you do. Let’s take, for an example, the misrepresentation that took place in Acts 5, in the story of Ananias and Sapphira. We read this in our devotions at home last night with the children, and my children were really quite taken aback by the fact that the text doesn’t say that they lied. What happened in Acts 4:36 is Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth owned a tract of land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the Apostle Paul’s feet. Chapter 5 tells the story of Ananias and Sapphira who also sold a property. They did the same thing but they kept back part of the price. Somebody says, “Well, wasn’t that all right? Maybe they had financial need.” Of course, it was all right. Peter says in verse 4, “While it remained unsold did it not remain your own? After it was sold was it not under your control? You could have done anything you wanted with it. You could have kept all of the money.” What did Ananias and Sapphira do that was wrong? The answer is that they took money and they laid it at the Apostle’s feet pretending that they were giving all that they had received from the land, just like Joseph, also known as Barnabas, had done. That’s what was so sinful. If they’d have given a part of it and said, “Now this is only a part of it because we need money,” Peter said they had that right. He says, “It was yours. Even after you sold it, it remained your own, but the problem is you put the best face on it. You wanted to give the impression that you were spiritual, and you wanted to give the impression that you were generous, and Sapphira, you wanted to be elected to the women’s society so everyone would think that you are godly. And because of that pretense God says, “It’s game over. You’re dead.”

You say, “Well, why doesn’t God do that today?” I think God was giving an object lesson to the Church. What he was doing at the beginning of the Church was to say, “I hate pretense. I hate hypocrisy. I hate lying, and because these people agreed in their hearts to lie through pretense I will use them as an object lesson.” And so Ananias dies, and Sapphira dies. Both of them are wiped out and Peter says to them, “Why has Satan filled your hearts to lie to the Holy Spirit?”

Remember John 8 says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. His technique is lies, lies, lies, lies. You know that sometimes wicked spirits actually speak through the mouths of people, especially when they are being dealt with, if a person is demonized because of some reason, perhaps dabbling in the occult. And one of the things that you know about wicked spirits is that the only time you can believe them is when they have just told you that they have just been lying. They are liars. It is almost impossible for a demon to tell the truth. He would rather say something very evasive and general rather than telling the truth. He hates truth.

And so, Peter says, “Ananias, why did Satan fill your heart? He put it into your heart to lie.” If you had said, “Ananias and Sapphira, that day that you were eating breakfast and you were discussing this among yourselves, Satan was in your kitchen and he was passing this idea off into your minds,” they wouldn’t have believed it. They would have said, “This is what we agreed to do to make ourselves look good.”

Satan’s great desire is to take thoughts and to pass them off into our minds and to get us to believe that they are ours and not his. It was motivated by pride, this lie was. It was suggested by the devil but it was directed against God. Peter says, “You have not lied to man. You have lied to God because He is the one that makes the rules. You are a liar and God hates liars.”

Oh, there is so much more that could be said but we must hurry on. We can break the commandment by what we say. We can break the commandment by what we do also. We can also break this commandment by what we say and do when you put the two together. For that, turn with me to 1 John for just a moment. It occurs near the end of the New Testament just a couple of pages before the book of Revelation. Here he says that you can be a liar because you say one thing and you do another. I’m thinking of John 1:6. “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness we lie and do not practice the truth.” What he is saying is that what comes out of our mouth is inconsistent with our life. We say, “I walk in the light.” We stand up and we give testimonies and say, “You know it’s wonderful to walk with the Lord and to have fellowship with Him,” and all that, and yet there are hidden areas of darkness in our lives. If you can, think of our lives as a house and every house has several different rooms and every one of these rooms represents a different area of our life. One room represents our business life. The other room represents our married life. The other room represents our academic life. The other room represents the financial part of our life and we have all of these different rooms within us and if there is darkness there because there is something that we have not surrendered to God, the text says that we lie and we do not do the truth.

And remember what the Lord says in Proverbs? “These six things does the Lord God hate, yea seven are an abomination unto Him,” and twice lying is mentioned. God hates it because God is truth. Satan loves it because he is a lie and the father of lies. So it’s possible to lie by what you say and by what you do, combining the two and putting them together.

Look at another lie that John talks about. This is in the same book in chapter 4 verse 20 - another kind of lie that he speaks about. “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and he hates his brother, he is a liar, for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” That’s interesting. Here’s somebody who stands up in church and sings, “My Jesus I love Thee, I know Thou art mine; for Thee all the follies of sin I resign,” but he has resentment against his brother. The text says, “If someone says, ‘I love God’ and yet he hates his brother, he’s a liar.” You know, you read it and you say, “Why is that the case?” and the rationale that is given is that it is easier to love someone whom you can see and you can serve than it is to love God who is unseen. That’s what he says. But you say, “I have resentment in my heart towards my brother.” If you have resentment in your heart toward your brother or toward your sister, in effect you also, by the way, have resentment against God. There’s a very quick transfer there because there are people who say, “It was because of God that my parents abused me,” or “Why did God allow this to happen to me?” and it’s very easy for us as human beings to take hatred against a person and then end up directing that hatred against God. And so he says that it is not possible to say you love God and yet hate your brother without lying. You say, “Well, I don’t agree with that.” Well, if you don’t then you are calling God a liar because the text says it can’t be done.

Now you see, what the Lord is saying to us is that He desires that we have, and the key word here is, integrity. That’s a good word and God knows that we need a lot of it. We have so many people today who, when you speak to them in church, appear as if all is well, but actually in their lives, they are building up a whole network of deception and deceit. If only the truth were known, they lack integrity and honesty – the ring of transparency and truthfulness.

I wouldn’t expect you to necessarily remember when it happened because it happened in the year 1906, but do you remember that earthquake that you’ve read about that took place in San Francisco on April 19, 1906? And as a result of that earthquake 700 people died, 300,000 were left homeless, and 28,000 buildings were destroyed. It was very interesting. An architect said that the reason that the toll was so great was not necessarily because of the earthquake being that large, but he attributed the devastation, at least a large part of it, to what he called dishonest mortar.

The builders of San Francisco had used a lot of cheap sand, mixed in with not enough expensive limestone. They did that in order to conserve, and in order to make some money on the deal, just like builders sometimes do today when they are constructing buildings with inferior materials. And though it was hidden for a long time, when the earthquake came it was revealed that many of those buildings were built with dishonest mortar and therefore not built well. And that is why the devastation was so great. Now I thought to myself that there are a lot of lives that are being built on dishonest mortar.

Jesus once told a story and said that those who build their lives on sand may have a beautiful house with the right number of windows and it may be a very impressive structure. It looks just as beautiful, if not more so, as the house that is built upon a rock, and so you can’t tell the difference on a beautiful sunny Sunday afternoon in Chicago. But then Jesus said that when the storm comes and the judgment begins to come and you begin to have problems and the wind begins to blow and the hail begins, and you have lightening and thunder and all that, suddenly the house that is built upon the rock stands and the one that is built upon the sand collapses. It collapses because of dishonest mortar.

You know there have been people whose lives have appeared to be so normal, so godly and so neat who have built an entire network of secrecy in terms of the hiddenness of what they have done, all of which has been built upon deceit. It’s amazing to see this happen because our hearts are naturally “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked,” the Bible says, “and who can know it?” And God says, “I hate a lie.”

And the time is coming when the antichrist comes when the Scripture says men and women are going to believe the lie. God will send them strong delusions that they might believe the lie. Right now in Sunday school I am teaching on the New Age Movement. It’s really based on an incredible number of subtle lies. But there are some lives that are based on lies too.

Do you remember David? David tried to cover his sin. He went to a great deal of trouble to try to do that. He brought Uriah back from the battle. He tried to get Uriah drunk. He then eventually ended up killing Uriah so that it would look as if Bathsheba just became his wife and everything was fine, and that there was nothing wrong with their relationship. Cover-up on cover-up on cover-up! You’ve heard me say that it’s rather ironic that the man who went to such great lengths to cover his sin is almost famous for it today. Everybody knows that David was an adulterer. But it’s very interesting that when he began to cry up to God in Psalm 51, he says, “You will not delight in sacrifice,” but also he said in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” David says, “God, you are a God of truthfulness, of justice, of righteousness and transparency, and I am confessing that the sin was against you.”

Interestingly, in Romans 3 Paul picks up that verse and he adds the words, “Let God be true and every man a liar.” Now if you are here today and do not realize the deception that is in your own heart, you are really making God a liar because the Bible says that each of us is born with a deceptive nature. Each of us has a great dose of untruthfulness because a drop of Satan’s rebellion, a drop of his desire to lie has fallen upon every single human heart. But what God says to us today is that He can forgive that.

If you are a Christian and there is deception in your life, it is very, very important that you get it taken care of to the extent that it can be taken care of, even if it means writing a letter to a university that you graduated from, or returning something, or telling the truth about some untruth that you told to someone where you misled them, or correcting some business deal where there has been some dishonest mortar. You have that responsibility before God because God hates lying.

If you are not a Christian your first responsibility is not to worry about all of the deceptions in your life except insofar as they are a reminder of the fact that you desperately need to be forgiven and to be cleansed by God and to be received in His presence. And the good news is that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, His death was a sacrifice for sin. He died in our place whereby we could be forgiven and cleansed, and God can make us one of His own, and actually give us a new nature that hates deception because it is patterned after Jesus Christ. And the reason that you ought to flee to the cross with such tremendous speed, figuratively speaking, is because the Bible says this in Revelation 21:8. After giving a beautiful description of the New Jerusalem it says, “Outside of the Holy City are sorcerers, idolaters and all liars.” Interestingly, in that list of people outside of the Holy City it doesn’t say all sorcerers, though that may be applied. It says “all liars.” Why? God says, “I hate abomination and lying. God hates it because He is a God of truth.

Whatever the dishonest mortar is in your life, will you confess it and forsake it and expose yourself to God, whatever the cost? God says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

Let’s pray.

Oh Father, today we want to thank You that Jesus is a friend of sinners because we know that there exists within the natural unconverted human heart an incredible deception, the tendency to lying, deceit and slander. It’s all there. We thank You that You can not only forgive us for that but we rejoice also that You can make us new people, people who love righteousness and hate iniquity. And we pray today for that believer who knows right well what they ought to make right as the Spirit of God has pointed it out to them. We ask that You will give them the grace to do it no matter how humiliating it is, no matter how difficult it is. We pray that You will give them the ability to do whatever is necessary to be fully right with You and man. And for the people who do not know You as Savior, who have never trusted You, and who understand that they are deceitful, help them to see that their first step is to realize that Jesus Christ’s death was for them, and to believe on Christ, to acknowledge their sin, and then say, “Lord Jesus, I trust you completely and totally.” May they make that choice today for Your name’s sake we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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