Best of Daily Reflections: The Ninth Commandment: Don’t Lie
“You must not testify falsely against your neighbor.”
The original Hebrew of the ninth commandment reflects a judicial setting. Specifically, this verse refers to lying in the context of a legal proceeding. But it suggests a broader application to lying in general. This is something God’s people, including us, should not do.
Often, when I have said that Christians should not lie, people rush to defend lying in some extreme situation, such as when Christians lied to the Nazis about hiding Jews. “Wasn’t lying right in this instance?” someone will ask. Certainly, it might be right to lie in order to preserve human life. But I am fascinated by the rush to find exceptions to the basic rule of speaking truthfully. My sense is that people look for extreme exceptions, not because they want to engage in ethical debate, but rather because they want to justify their own tendency to be much less than truthful in much less extreme contexts.
Several years ago, I preached a series on truthfulness at Irvine Presbyterian Church. I showed how the God of truth calls us to be people who speak and live truthfully. During the course of this sermon series, I was shocked by how often I “bent the truth” in ordinary speech. People in my congregation confessed to the same, using made-up excuses to when they were late, or offering compliments that weren’t honest, or exaggerating to impress their friends, etc. etc. etc. I don’t think my congregation and I were unusual. We are caught in a world of spin, and many of us play right along.
Behind the ninth commandment is an assumption that God’s people are to be truthful, literally, full of truth. When we speak and live honestly, we reflect the character of God, even as we set ourselves apart from the deceptive character of this world.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: Are there situations in your life when you are apt to be less than truthful? When? What tempts you to “bear false witness”? How might you reflect the truthfulness of God more faithfully in your life?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I can easily excuse myself from the impact of this commandment because I don’t tell whoppers. But doing so misses the chance for your Word to convict me and challenge me. Indeed, I sometimes am less than truthful. I don’t like confrontation. I don’t like relational disagreement. I want to be liked. And so I stretch the truth beyond the breaking point. Forgive me, Lord, when I testify falsely in my life.
Help me to be someone who speaks and lives truthfully. May I reflect your character in all that I do and say. May this be true in my family life and in my work, in casual conversation and in official communications.
In particular, dear Lord, I ask that you help me to be truthful in all that I write for these Daily Reflections. May I rightly discern your truth and convey it accurately.
All praise be to you, God of truth! Amen.
P.S. from Mark
A few years ago, I wrote a book on truthful living: Dare to Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty. If you’re wrestling with what it means to be a truthful person, you may find this book helpful.