How would you react if someone called you a liar? I expect most of us would take great offence. And yet, scholars note that ‘the thing that separates human beings from other animals isn’t the ability to reason or use tools, but rather it’s telling lies and human capacity for self-deception.’ In fact, they contend that ‘lying is a fundamental and unavoidable part of human nature.’
The dictionary defines a lie as; an intentionally false statement, false information knowingly and deliberately presented as being true.
God has made His thoughts on the matter very clear; ‘Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who act faithfully are His delight.’ (Proverbs 12:22)
‘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)
The word that jumps out at me in these verses is ‘abomination’ and what a strong word it is. The definition of abomination is; a thing that causes disgust or loathing. And it’s hardly surprising that God loathes lies when we realise that it’s right up there alongside shedding innocent blood (murder), wicked plans and running to (do) evil.
And Jesus adds to this list in Matthew’s Gospel; ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.’ (Matthew 15:19-20)
We don’t like to acknowledge how corrupt and sinful we are and so we soften our vocabulary to describe or even to justify the fact that we lie – telling fibs, gilding the lily, massaging the truth, being creative with the truth and a whole host of other terms. Then there’s the infamous ‘little white lie’.
Some people contend that it’s simply not possible to always tell the truth and suggest that ‘white lies’ are needed to avoid hurting others. But the Bible model is that we should speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15) In God’s eyes, a ‘little white lie’ is exactly the same as a big, fat, ugly, bare-faced, black lie. We should, of course, always practice tact, kindness, courtesy and discretion but, for the child of God, there’s simply no place for lies – white or otherwise.
The Amplified version of our key verse is given as; ‘You shall not testify falsely [that is, lie, withhold, or manipulate the truth] against your neighbour [any person].’
When I consider the term ‘testify falsely’ it makes me think of a court of law and, indeed, this commandment refers to legal and personal disputes just as much as it does to any other situation. When a person testifies in court, they’re required to swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This demonstrates clearly that there are many ways to lie.
• Lying by commission
This is the classic telling of an outright lie. I want to believe that Christians would resist this but the temptation is strong because lying is such a quick and effortless way to gain an advantage over others or get ourselves out of trouble. It appears to offer a quick and easy escape from embarrassment, fear and guilt until, of course, we’re found out. And we will inevitably be found out. ‘For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light.’ (Luke 4:17)
The reality is that lies hurt people; they cause distress and disappointment and frequently damage trust to the point where it can’t be repaired. This is particularly true of lying in retrospect where we give our solemn word to someone and then we break it. The detrimental effects are enhanced because breaking our word goes hand in hand with hypocrisy; when we give our word we’re intimating that we’re trustworthy when we’re not. The liar loses their own integrity and the trust and confidence of the injured party which is difficult if not impossible to re-establish. This is particularly damaging in close personal relationships (such as marriage) and also when the liar is in a position of authority (a parent, teacher, leader etc).
• Lying by omission
This is when we decline to tell the whole truth and it’s perhaps the most common type of lying. What we say may contain elements of truth but a part of the truth isn’t the whole truth and it can give an entirely different and false impression of the facts.
Perhaps the most common example of this is when we’re in dispute with someone. Someone has offended us and we want to let off steam and justify our position. This may make us feel better in the short term but the Bible model for settling disputes is very clear. ‘If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.’ (Matthew 18:15)
‘If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offence. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.’ (Matthew 18:15)
There’s no court in the land that would settle a dispute without hearing both sides but more often than not we seek out an ally and give them our version of the truth. It’s human nature to want to paint ourselves in a good light and our version of events is often at risk of omissions and/or exaggerations and so may not qualify as ‘nothing but the truth’. In other words, we’re withholding information and giving a false impression of what actually happened. In effect, we’re lying.
There are, of course, lots of other examples of withholding information for our own purposes; excuses about why we’re late for work, or why we didn’t get around to doing something we said we would.
Exaggeration – or stretching the truth – is a very common behaviour. We frequently indulge in this sin in an effort to make ourselves seem more important or gifted or special than we really are. It can be a form of pride and is closely related to boasting.
We sometimes also see exaggeration when people are in dispute with one another. We exaggerate the offence and the emotional pain because we don’t want to seem petty in our reactions to a perceived slight. We’re now guilty of both lying and slander.
Manipulation is when we seek to control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously for our own ends. It’s frequently expressed as passive aggression. We don’t want to deal with a particular issue or person so we act in an underhanded way to block, obstruct or exclude them.
There’s also emotional blackmail (throwing guilt) where we misrepresent our feelings or needs in order to control someone. It also includes misrepresenting the consequences of a particular course of action for our own reasons.
Among the subtlest forms of deceit is flattery. This can also be related to manipulation in an attempt to get something from the other person.
• Slander and gossip
Slander and gossip are really just variations on the same sin and sadly they’re all too common within the church. Many times we engage in slandering the character of others to make ourselves seem better than they are. Or we pass on information that we know isn’t true or perhaps we’re not sure if it’s true but we repeat it anyway.
In the same way, gossip is unnecessarily exchanging information that may or may not be true. It’s easy to spread gossip but it’s a hard thing to take and the subject is almost always hurt and offended. The Bible tells us not to associate with gossips, babblers or chatterers. ‘A gossip goes around telling secrets, so don’t hang around with chatterers.’ (Proverbs 20:19) I believe that we don’t take the sin of gossip seriously enough and we need to remember that it’s grouped together with a number of heinous sins that we’d certainly never tolerate or entertain.
‘Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.’ (Romans 1:29)
The last line of this verse is particularly important. ‘Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.’ When we gossip we implicate others in this same sin because we require them not to pass on the information and certainly not to divulge the source.
First of all, this is hypocrisy because the gossip is holding the listener to a standard they’re not keeping themselves. Secondly, the hearer is now required to pretend (lie) that they’re not party to the information. ‘If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.’ (James 1:26)
Hypocrisy is related to self-deceit. It’s one thing to tell a lie and it’s quite another to live a lie. The Bible has a great deal to say about the sin of hypocrisy and none of it’s good!
1. Do we hold other Christians to a standard which we do not ourselves maintain?
2. Do we feel superior at times to a weak Christian, but keep hidden our own weaknesses?
3. Do we change our behaviour depending on what company we keep?
In the event that we can honestly answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then we too can quite legitimately be accused by God of hypocrisy.
But there’s another way in which we live a lie.
‘We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.’ (1 John 4: 19-21)
If we love someone we don’t lie to them, we don’t withhold the truth, we don’t exaggerate, manipulate or flatter them and we don’t gossip about them.
• The implications of lying are enormous.
‘You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.’ (John 8:44) Do we really want to be identified as children of Satan?
‘The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.’ (Revelation 21:7-8) Do we really want this to be our portion?
As Christians, we are required to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and in so doing we demonstrate the sincerity of our love for God and for others. ‘Only fear the Lord, and serve Him in truth with all your heart: for consider how great things He has done for you.’ (1 Samuel 12:24)
The seventh commandment: Don’t lie
If, just one time, we fail to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we’re liars.
If we exaggerate, manipulate and flatter, we’re liars.
If we indulge in slander or gossip, we’re liars
If we live a lie, we’re hypocrites and, therefore, we’re liars.
Guilty as charged.