Satan is the “father of lies,” and this why those under his sway speak lies and murder with their words and deeds (Jn. 8:44). This is also why Christians are frequently attacked here by the Devil, just like the woman in the Garden in the beginning. The fundamental lie is about the goodness of God and His Word. But if we repudiate that lie, we will hate all other lies and love the truth.
The Text: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25).
WSC Q. 77 What is required in the Ninth Commandment? The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbors’ good name, especially in witness-bearing.
WSC Q. 78 What is forbidden in the ninth commandment? The ninth commandment forbiddeth whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.
Heidelberg. Q 112 What is required in the ninth commandment? That I do not bear false witness against anyone, twist anyone’s words, be a gossip or a slanderer, or condemn anyone lightly without a hearing. Rather I am required to avoid, under penalty of God’s wrath, all lying and deceit as the works of the devil himself. In judicial and all other matters I am to love the truth, and to speak and confess it honestly. Indeed, insofar as I am able, I am to defend and promote my neighbor’s good name.
INTENTIONS & CONTEXT MATTERS
Whenever we come to this subject there are Christians with overly tender consciences tempted to think that if they told someone it was raining outside one time (because they thought it was) and then they went outside and it wasn’t, they’ve lied. But we really do need to make distinctions between lying and being mistaken (which we should be ready and willing to correct as necessary), as well as the difference between intending to deceive (lying) and intending to give the necessary information. Related, context and relationships matter: you do not owe strangers the same amount of information as you do your parents or spouse. “A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims folly” (Prov. 12:23). Your conscience should not ordinarily be troubled if you did not read all of the fine print of the user agreement, and you clicked “I have read and understand…” The intentions of everyone involved is to communicate that you are liable for certain standards, and you understand that.
Cheating is actually a form of stealing and lying. In school settings, you are passing yourself or your work off as an accurate representation. But if you copied the answers from an answer key, looked over a classmate’s shoulder, or told your teacher you finished the reading that you didn’t really finish, then you are lying and attempting to get credit, praise, and promotion that you don’t deserve. In work settings, cheating may consist of lying about your work or work hours, or you may lie by breaking your word, your contracts, or your promises. There are many warnings in Scripture about making vows/promises, and here we should be particularly careful about promising to do things that we really aren’t sure we can fulfill, including to our own family. The righteous man “swears to his own hurt and does not change” (Ps. 15:4).
FLATTERY VS. ETIQUETTE
Sometimes empty promises are a form of flattery, which is another form of lying and cheating. It is attempting to win respect/friendship through false complements, empty promises, or ignoring real problems. Speaking the truth to one another, as members of one another, means that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, not using others for what they can do for you. And here, we should make a distinction between good etiquette and flattery. Thanking someone for dinner need not mean it was your favorite meal ever, and again, it is kindness not to say everything that comes into your head and love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). But this must not be an excuse for not addressing sin or addressing weakness or ignorance (Gal. 6:1).
While the ninth commandment certainly applies to judicial situations, this also includes the court of public opinion. The Bible teaches that a good name is worth more than great riches (Prov. 22:1), and the duty of honesty requires the protection of our own name as well as the good name and reputation of our neighbors. This means we must be very reluctant to receive negative reports about our neighbors’ marriage, parents, kids, business dealings, or even those of our enemies. Of course this does not prohibit seeking help from those who can actually provide it, and this does not prohibit giving feedback on public matters like quality of work.
Thomas Vincent points out that the prohibition against lying includes to and about ourselves: “in accusing ourselves in that wherein we are not guilty, and denying the gifts and graces which God hath given us, endeavoring to lessen our esteem, that thereby we might be numbered amongst those from whom we are through grace redeemed.” This also includes “unnecessary and imprudent discovery of all real infirmities, unto the scorn of the wicked and ungodly.”
Satan is the father of lies and the accuser, and he loves to accuse sinners with real and false accusations. The answer to every accusation is the cross of Christ, whereby we have been crucified with Christ and all of our sins completely paid for (Gal. 2:20). We must not listen to or give any credence to lies that say otherwise. If God says you are forgiven, and you have confessed to anyone you have sinned against, then do not give lies the time of day.
CONCLUSION: HONESTY & AUTHORITY/TESTIMONY
Jesus Christ is the authoritative Truth made flesh. He is the true Word of God, and by His death and resurrection, He has been given the name that is above every name. In Him, we have that honest name and therefore, our good name reflects His good name. We should want our reputations in the community to be something like “honest as a kirker.”
If Christians have lost a great deal of authority in our modern world, we should look nowhere else but here: we rejected God’s true and authoritative word for many lies, and in turn, we have told and embraced many lies. But God’s Word is the truth (Jn. 17:17), and that truth sets us free.