You Shall Not Bear False Witness
Some today believe that there are good lies and bad lies. Here is the truth about lying.
Ours is not a truthful society. Leaders in government, business, education and religion knowingly lie numerous times each day. They are not alone in the practice. Most people admit that they lie often. Straying from the truth is an accepted way of living. Many think there are good—meaning little white—and bad lies. Some would never consider lying in a court of law but feel no remorse at giving false information on a job application. Some people believe that lying is necessary to keep things running smoothly—international relations, businesses, marriages and friendships.
What is the truth about lying? Is there good and bad lying? Do “little white lies” help or hurt people? Can stretching the truth and distorting the facts cause considerable damage to individuals and whole nations? The plain truth is revealing.
Recently, Americans suffered through a bitter election. A slim majority of Americans who participated in the election voted for Mr. Bush. These consider the result a positive thing. They are happy. However, a large number of Americans are disappointed by the results and think that the president’s second term will mean assured disaster. After the campaign, it is clear that the United States is bitterly divided. What is the reason? Of course, the full answer to the question is a complex one. Yet, a part of the answer squarely involves abuse of the Ninth Commandment.
During the campaign, respected news sources reported that both political parties strayed far from the truth about issues in print ads and in commercials on radio, tv and the Internet. In addition, both candidates are known to have distorted, twisted and warped facts about each other in speeches in front of millions of Americans.
The Washington Post reported on May 31, 2004, “This campaign is persistent and methodical, and it often revs up on Monday mornings with the strategically timed release of ads [about Senator Kerry] …. Sometimes the charges ring true. … But often they distort Kerry’s record and words to undermine the candidate ….” The same was true on the other side: “Kerry, too, has made his own misleading statements and exaggerations” (ibid.).
On Election Day, the members of the news media who had pointed fingers at the candidates significantly contributed to the problem by broadcasting distorted voter exit polls. Media watchers believe that there was a real attempt to throw the election. Let’s be honest. The American public was subjected to outright lying by the highest officials in government and the media.
What are the fruits of the election? A fog of distrust blankets the nation. This is a very dangerous situation. Yet the problem with lying is much bigger than just within America.
Our world is constantly being flooded with all kinds of untruths. Self-deception, spiritual hypocrisy and false religious instruction are reaching pandemic proportions. Bible prophecy shows that this world is quickly heading into its worst crisis ever. It is an event so terrifying that Jesus Christ warned His disciples about the soon-coming Great Tribulation nearly 2,000 years ago. He said that religious deception would be the leading cause of the crisis at the close of man’s rule on Earth (Matthew 24:4-5). As individuals, we must be sure that we fully understand the critical importance of the Ninth Commandment.
Ninth Commandment Stated
With incredible power, God spoke from Mount Sinai, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). This is the fifth of the commandments related to preserving loving relationships among mankind. Remember, the first four commandments show us how to love God; the last six explain how to love other humans. Besides preserving the family structure, marriage, human life and other human beings’ possessions, with the Ninth Commandment, God seeks to guard what is next most important to any human: his reputation. This commandment forbids all lying, which includes the sins of slander and gossip. A thief takes physical things that are easily replaced; however, a man’s reputation taken by lies, slander or gossip is often never restored.
God gave mankind the Ninth Commandment to show us that all men, women and children must control their tongues.
The human tongue is a tiny organ, yet it wields incredible power. The Apostle James wrote, “Behold also the ships, which though they be so great, and are driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whithersoever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member …” (James 3:4-5). Here the tongue is compared to the rudderof a large ship. Though it is the smallest part of the vessel, it has the power to direct its course. All too often, the power unleashed by the human tongue is a destructive one. James continued, “Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell” (verses 5-6).
When we deeply meditate on these verses, we realize that there has been untold human suffering and damage caused by people who carelessly lie, slander or gossip about another human being. Yet all parties are damaged by such actions. Who can ever trust a liar, slanderer or gossip? The Proverbs state, “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). Why? “Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Proverbs 18:21). Lying causes great harm to all involved.
What human being today is in full control of his or her tongue? Notice James’s answer: “For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:7-8). All humans sin with the tongue. The point is that unless God, through His Word and His Holy Spirit, is leading and guiding us, we simply cannot control our tongues properly. God expects us to build the righteous spiritual character that will enable us to use our tongues for the good of others.
The Damage of False Testimony
The simple application of this commandment is to not give false testimony in a legal setting. To lie in a court of law is called perjury. Serious penalties, including substantial fines and jail time, are imposed in many countries for committing such an act. It is right to do so. Why? All justice is based on truth. The sad fact is, many commit the crime of perjury every day. Some government leaders, educators, business people, men and women think nothing of lying on a witness stand. What makes their sin even more shocking is the fact that they attempt to deceive the judge and jury by swearing to tell the truth—putting their right hand on the Bible and invoking the name of God. Such poor conduct is a monstrous lie in itself. It says much about the lack of real morals in our society.
Surely we can understand what an outrage this is to the great God, whose word is truth(John 17:17).
The crime of perjury runs rampant through all levels of our society—from the very top to the bottom. We should not forget that a recent president lied openly to Senate and congressional committees. Yet, he was not removed from office. Think about the message this sad fact sent to the rest of the world. Are we a nation that okays lies, deception and hypocrisy?
The damage caused by false testimony is enormous. No one trusts a known enemy. Our criminal lying shows us that we cannot even trust our elected officials, friends, spouses, business partners and work associates. Anyone who is familiar with our legal system knows that there is no such thing as a simple, inexpensive trial. Countless hours and millions of dollars are wasted checking out the truthfulness of witnesses. Why? People cannot be trusted to tell the truth.
Consider also the personal damage to people that regularly takes place because of false testimony. Bitter divorce and custody disputes can leave husband, wife and children scarred for life. Some will manufacture the worst false accusations to get custody, money and possessions. Because of lying, innocent people have been wrongly executed. The one striking example here is Jesus Christ. He was executed because of false witnesses (Mark 14:56-63).
Let’s admit it. Breaking God’s Ninth Commandment has cultivated attitudes of suspicion, hopelessness and uselessness in society. We are paying a high price for our casual and continual lying.
Stop Living a Lie
To stop lying, we must understand why human beings lie. Study little children. Why do they lie? Generally, little children lie to avoid punishment or to appear better than their peers. With adults it is not any different. The root cause of this horrible sin is vanity.
King Solomon recognized this simple fact. He wrote, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2). Every sin has its root in vanity.
Men and women lie because they are more concerned with the self than anything else. What is best for another human being is rarely considered. Many fear to speak the truth because they are obsessed with what others think about them. Yet, few people are concerned by what Almighty God thinks. This is especially true in the spheres of higher education and religion. The Apostle John said this about the religious leaders of his day: “For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:43).
The two most difficult things for a human being to do are to admit error, and to face failure. Men will stubbornly believe and teach lies when they cannot agree with the truth. The best example here is the theory of evolution. Those steeped in higher education and science cannot accept the reality and authority of a Creator God, so they have invented a lie to explain a fantastically designed creation without a Creator. The supposed facts of evolution do not add up—and will never add up—yet the theory is taught as fact on a daily basis. Our world is suffering greatly because of this widely promulgated lie. It is the underlying foundation of our modern education system, therefore it has adversely affected our views on political science, international relations, economics, medicine, psychology, sociology, marriage, family and child rearing. We must recognize that any system of beliefs built upon a false premise will ultimately lead to failure.
There are those in higher education and science who recognize the theory of evolution for what it is, but they will not speak out against it because they do not want to be made to look foolish in front of their peers. They fear being made fun of. How tragic! Why should any well-educated person be ashamed to admit a faith in God? Isn’t it far more ridiculous to profess a faith in a mindless, chancy, mathematically impossible alternate theory of creation? Doesn’t believing something one knows is false just because others do expose the ultimate hypocrisy? Isn’t it time we replace vanity with some courageous leadership? Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matthew 5:11).
Lying may appear to be the best route to take in the short run. However, real lasting benefits can only come by recognizing and telling the truth.
The Father of Lies
Why do human beings so easily succumb to such a disgraceful habit?
It is not intellectually fashionable to believe that Satan the devil exists. He does. Our lying society is a major proof of this fact. Satan the devil is the author of all lying and deception.
John the apostle records Jesus Christ’s own words revealing the truth about Satan. Upbraiding the religious leaders of His day, Christ said, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44). Here Christ shows that it was Satan who lied to our first parents, who told them they had an immortal soul—essentially murdering them. God had told them that if they rebelled against Him and walked the opposite way of His government, they surely would die (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan appealed to Eve’s vanity, and she disobeyed God. Adam willingly followed his wife. They believed and followed a liar. They and the rest of mankind have suffered since.
Satan is a powerful angelic being that broadcasts—all over the Earth—a spirit of disobedience, which includes lying and deception (Ephesians 2:2). It is Satan who tempts all humans to lie.
In addition, through the agency of human instruments, he deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9). With full control of certain men’s minds, he has successfully suppressed the truth of God (Romans 1:18). God promises to unleash His righteous wrath on all men who suppress the truth. There are men and women in religious circles today who knowingly do just that. Our world is full of religious deception. Just like Adam and Eve, millions embrace false doctrines—teachings not found in the Bible—and still call themselves religious.
To be a Christian, an individual must believe what Christ says and strive to live as He lived. Jesus Christ and the original apostles including Paul, preached the gospel, or good news, of the coming Kingdom of God (Mark 1:15; Acts 28:31). Few churches preach that gospel. Jesus Christ and the original 120 disciples, including the apostles, kept a Saturday Sabbath and God’s holy days—discussed in detail in our July 2004 issue. Which churches keep these days?
Concerning religious deception, Jesus Christ warned, “For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before” (Matthew 24:24-25). The point is, you could be living a religious lie—the most dangerous kind of lying. You must prove what your Bible says and then follow the Church that teaches those doctrines. Doing anything less will lead you and your family into assured spiritual disaster.
Living the Truth
The positive spiritual application of the Ninth Commandment requires that we live and speak the truth in all areas of our lives. God and Jesus Christ are the truth! Describing the Father, Jesus Christ said, “[T]hy word is truth.” He also said this about Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). God’s goal for human life is to reproduce Himself into potentially billions of other God beings who are the truth and speak the truth. We are to become just like God. The Ninth Commandment demands then that we come to acknowledge the truth of the Bible first of all. Do you know and believe your Bible?
To do so, you must come to the place where you recognize that there is an Almighty God who rules the universe. His ways are the only right and true ways to live. Then you must acknowledge and obey the truth when it is revealed to you. This means you become converted to the true God and His ways. To live any other way is to live a lie. It is the worst kind of slavery. Jesus Christ promised: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). It is vitally important that we base our whole life on the truth.
In our personal lives, we must make sure that our words are always true. If we remain in the habit of lying to others and to ourselves, we will destroy our character and pervert and twist our own minds. Keeping our minds free of lies opens up an incredible clarity of thinking—the kind of thinking that cultivates deeper understanding of all truth.
Paul taught, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another” (Ephesians 4:25). When we speak, let it always be the truth. However, this does not mean that we always have to reveal all that we know. In speaking the truth, we must always use wisdom, tact and especially love. God’s ministers are required to always speak the truth in love (verse 15). Sometimes the truth does hurt temporarily, but in the long run it is the best healing agent we could desire.
All men are only as good as their word. If we are habitual liars, none can trust us. What is worse, we cannot be helped spiritually. Who can help a liar? The clearest example of what we mean here is Satan the devil. Not even God can help him—his mind is permanently twisted.
Satan’s character is diametrically opposite that of God. If we choose to live as Satan lives, we will suffer a fearful fate. John records in Revelation: “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). All humans who embrace the way of lying are in danger of being thrown into the lake of fire, which represents the ultimate punishment—eternal death.
Remember, there are no good lies in God’s sight. Half-truths, distortions and deceptions are condemned throughout the Bible. Let’s all learn to live and speak the truth and thereby inherit the glorious Kingdom of God. This is the wonderful and uplifting message of the Ninth Commandment, you shall not bear false witness.
BY DENNIS LEAP
William P. Eason