© Judson Press, Valley Forge, Pa 1983. Revised by the author 2001



With apologies to David Letterman, I give you the


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. I'll be there Sunday, I promise!
2. We pause for a few brief announcements.
1. Finally, in conclusion, my last point is…

Two brothers terrorized a small town for decades. They were unfaithful to their wives, abusive to their children and dishonest in business. When his younger brother died, the older brother told the pastor of the local church, "I want you to conduct my brother's funeral, but I'm asking one favor. During the service, I want you tell everyone he was a saint."

"I can't do that," said the preacher. "Everyone knows that's not true."

The wealthy brother pulled out his checkbook. "Reverend, I'm prepared to give $100,000 to your church. All I'm asking is that you publicly state that my brother was a saint."

On the day of the funeral, the pastor began his eulogy. "Everyone here knows that the deceased was a wicked man, a womanizer and a drunk. He terrorized his employees and cheated on his taxes." Then he paused. "But as evil and sinful as this man was, compared to his older brother, he was a saint!" You can guess whether he got the promised $100,000.

A witness was obviously lying in his testimony before the court. The judge told him, "Zeke, remember the Bible says, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.'" The witness replied, "Your Honor, I'm not bearing false witness against my neighbor. I'm bearing false witness for my neighbor."

Although the primary reference of the Ninth Commandment is to formal testimony before a court of law, the commandment illustrates the principle of honesty that applies to all of life. Slander loudly proclaimed before a judge or quietly whispered to a neighbor differs only in that the former has the extra guilt of a broken oath. I have never been called upon to give testimony at a trial, but the Ninth Commandment still speaks to me in a far more personal way: "Tell the truth."

Lying is a sevenfold abomination. Ancient Hebrew wisdom declares,

There are seven things that the Lord hates and cannot tolerate:

A proud look,
a lying tongue,
hands that kill innocent people,
a mind that thinks up wicked plans,
feet that hurry off to do evil,
a witness who tells one lie after another,
and a man who stirs up trouble among friends.
— Proverbs 6:16-19

All seven of these vices are found in the person who breaks the Ninth Commandment. Every part of him or her — tongue, hands, mind, and feet — is infected with the disease of dishonesty. Not only does God find such people intolerable, but nobody else can stand them either.

Tell the truth
"Love covers a multitude of sins," so the Bible affirms (1 Peter 4:8, RSV). But it is much more common to find people acting as though it said, "Lying covers a multitude of sins." For, of course, lying does — temporarily! People lie to avoid the consequences of something else that they've done wrong.

It is easy to tell one to lie, but hard to tell only one. A person can't eat just one potato chip, and a person can't just tell one lie. One lie leads to another and another and another until one caught in a tangled web of dishonesty. And those who start out to tell white lies soon become color blind.

"A lie is an abomination unto the Lord… and an ever present in time of trouble." This statement is a mismatch of Bible passages but a true reflection of life. When people get into trouble, a lie always looks more like an asset than a liability. But clinging to it in self-defense is like holding onto a lightning rod in a thunderstorm.

As with individuals, so with governments: the more deeply they get into trouble, the more apt they are to seek an escape through lying. Truth is the first casualty in every war. Governments consider it their patriotic duty to deceive the enemy and, incidentally, their own people. Thus, each government inflates the battlefield losses of the other and deflates its own. "National security" becomes the handy detergent with which a government washes the black out of every official lie. Things haven't changed very much in the four hundred years since Henry Wotton described an ambassador as "an honest man sent to lie aboard for the commonwealth."

However much people may detest official lies, to cry out against such deception is not really very helpful, nor even very Christian. There is, of course, a biblical precedent for denouncing deceit in high government office, but it is mostly in the Old Testament when the Kingdom of Israel was a kind of theocracy. The king himself was drawn from the community of faith and subject to its discipline. In the New Testament Jesus and the apostles lived under corrupt Roman rule but had very little to say about the dishonesty of political leaders like Herod, Pilate, and Caesar. On the other hand, Jesus had a lot to say about the deceit of religious leaders (Matthew 23).

What may appear to be a double standard is actually the only sensible approach. All lying — governmental and individual — is wrong. But to attack the lies of people in high office diverts attention from our own temptations to deceive. The attack is unlikely to change anything in political life but it gets us off the hook. If we look closely, we are apt to find in ourselves the same seeds of deceit we object to in others.

In the words of Paul, "Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body" (Ephesians 4:25 NIV). Notice the reason he gives for telling the truth is not that you will be caught and punished for lying, but that you are members of the same body. Once you understand the unity of the Body of Christ, you see how absurd lying is. It makes no more sense than for your left foot to tell your belly button that ocean water is warm. We are all members of the same body. Therefore tell the truth.

Those who come to Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6) must thereafter tell the truth — and not only the truth, but …

Tell the Whole Truth
The best liar is one who is able to make the smallest amount of lying go the furthest. Real experts can lie without saying anything untrue. For example, all of the statements of demons quoted in the Bible are true (e.g Mark 1:23-34; 3:11; 5:6-7), but being masters of deceit, the demons use the truth to their own deceptive ends. The rest of us amateur liars bungle along.

After a fishing trip ended in total failure, the fisherman stopped at a fish market. "Just stand over there and throw me five of the biggest trout you've got," he said.

"Throw `em?" asked the puzzled dealer. "Whatever for?"

"So I can tell my wife I caught them. I may be a poor fisher, but I'm no liar!"

That's what he thinks. He told the truth but not the whole truth. He is like the farmer who, being stricken by guilty conscience, went to his neighbor and confessed, "I'm sorry I stole a rope from you last year."

"A rope? Think nothing of it, neighbor. Let's forget it and be friends."

But the farmer had no peace about it because he had neglected to tell the neighbor that there was a cow attached to the end of the rope when he stole it. Tell the truth, but sure it is the whole truth.

A complete lie is easily killed, but a half-truth has nine lives. It is far more deceptive because it is more believable. Benjamin Disraeli said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics." It is statistical facts, carefully chosen and artfully arranged to deceive, that constitute the worst form of dishonesty.

          "A truth that's told with bad intent
          Beats all the lies you can invent."

Tell the whole truth, but remember always to…

Tell the Whole Truth in Love
Paul brings two important principles together in his letter to the Ephesians. "By speaking the truth in a spirit of love, we must grow up in every way to Christ… " (Ephesians 4:15). Whenever there is a conflict between truth and love, love should win.

One minister's family was given a mince pie for Christmas by a lady who was good-hearted but a poor cook. The pie was so dry and over spiced that it had to be thrown out, faced with the difficult task of being both truthful and kind, the minister said, "We appreciate your gift. And let me assure you that a mince pie like yours never lasts long at our house."

This was, of course, a clever piece of lying, but presumably the motive behind it makes it a little more acceptable. Most white lies, however, are told not for love but to avoid social embarrassment. Rahab provides us the best model of a white lie. She bore false witness against her neighbors in Jericho when they demanded the whereabouts of the Israelite spies (Joshua 2:1-7). Her behavior, though, was commendable because it kept the higher law of love. Whenever love and truth are in conflict, it is better to be on the side of love.

The Christian goes beyond the minimal requirements of honesty to speak the truth in love.

Without truth, love becomes cheap "sloppy agape." It disintegrates into mere sentimental feeling. Without love, truth becomes brittle, cold facts that freeze the soul.

Speak the whole truth in love.


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