Speaking the Truth

Ephesians 4:25

Audio Version

Lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day American Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses. Here is one example: the drunk husband snuck up the stairs quietly. He looked in the bathroom mirror and bandaged the bumps and bruises he’d received in a fight earlier that night. He then proceeded to climb into bed, smiling at the thought that he’d pulled one over on his wife. When morning came, he opened his eyes and there stood his wife. “You were drunk last night weren’t you!” “No, honey.” “Well, if you weren’t, then who put all the band-aids on the bathroom mirror?” Now, this is a pretty silly example of telling falsehood. The motivation was to get out of trouble. Oftentimes, however, the motivation for telling a lie can be simple convenience. Here is an example of that, told by Chuck Swindoll: “Back in the days when kids raveled on trains to get somewhere with their parents, they didn’t charge for kids that were five or under. And so this six-year-old fellow was told by his mother, as they were carrying their bags to the train, ‘Tell ’em you’re five.’ The little boy frowned and he got on the train and sat down. And the conductor came by and said, ‘How old are you, son?’ And he says, ‘Ah, five.’ So he didn’t pay anything. His mother paid her fare and the conductor left. The conductor came back a couple of hours later just to talk to him- rubbed his hand in the little fellow’s hair and said, ‘Well, how are you gettin’ along?’ The boy answered, ‘Really good.’ The conductor continued their chat by asking, ‘Let’s see, when you gonna be six?’ And the little boy said, ‘About the time I get off this train I’m gonna be six.’”

Lying is an example of the old man, the old life about which Paul has been telling us that we should put it off. We need to put off the old man, and put on the new man. Now, we need to be careful here. Putting off falsehood and putting on the truth is never the way in which we become right with God. Paul is not giving us a two-step process in which we can become the children of God. Rather, he is telling us that we are already the children of God, and that therefore we should act like it. In other words, we don’t do what Paul has commanded us here in order to obtain eternal life. Instead, we have eternal life, and therefore we obey what Paul (and God through Paul!) is saying.

Now, Paul continues to use the language of clothing here. I like the illustration that my friend the Rev. Dr. Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS used in his sermon on this passage: when we look at a man in uniform, we can tell not only that he is a military man, but we can usually tell what rank he is, and which branch of the service he is in. He is a marked man (in a good sense, of course). So also, we should be marked by our truthtelling. It ought to be obvious to the world that we are Christians because we tell the truth. We don’t tell lies because of convenience; we don’t tell lies because it will get us out of trouble; we don’t tell lies because of the fun of it; and we certainly don’t tell lies to hurt someone else.

That leads us into the reason that Paul gives us for why we should tell the truth. We should tell the truth because we are members of one another. Try this picture on for size: your left eye decides that it would be really convenient if it gave the brain false information about what it is seeing. So, it tells the brain that the cliff is further off than it looks. It isn’t 50 feet away, like the right eye thinks. No, it must be 100 feet away. What would happen if the left eye won the argument in the brain? The body would feel no compunction against going 60 or 70 feet (it thinks), and the whole body plunges off the cliff. Okay, it’s an absurd thing to imagine. And yet it is just as absurd to think that there is no harm done to the rest of the body of Christ when we lie. Sometimes we lie carelessly, or we are careless of the truth. But sometimes we are deliberate in our lie, and we do it in order to hurt someone. This is precisely what Paul forbids. You know, lying is not a small matter. It is one of the Ten Commandments. It is the Ninth Commandment, to be precise. That commandment states that we should not bear false witness against our neighbors.

That brings us to the vitally important point here. Christ was the ultimate Truth-Teller. He always told the truth. In fact, Christ is truth. He is the way, the truth, and the life, as John tells us. The truth is that Christ died on the cross as an atonement for sin. That is, Christ is our Neighbor, and we are members of His body, because Jesus took the guilt of our lies and deception away from us, and onto Himself by being a perfect sacrifice for sin. Christ died. And when He died, the world told the greatest lie ever. They said He was a blasphemer, claiming to be God while not being God. But of course He was God. And Jesus was vindicated when He was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the greatest correction of Satan’s lies that has ever happened. And if you believe not only that Christ is resurrected, but that He was resurrected for you, then you should always be motivated to tell the truth, because the truth will always finally win. Yes, it may hurt you in the meantime to tell the truth. But what is that compared with an eternity of truth vindicated? Should we not see that telling a lie is trading eternal values for a temporary fix? And of course, even in the short run it doesn’t always work. As Mark Twain said, the difference between a person who tells the truth and the person who tells a lie is that the liar’s gotta have a better memory. And, as Mark Twain also said, some people have lots of trouble with those passages of Scripture that they don’t understand, whereas Mark Twain himself always had the most difficulty with the passages of Scripture that he did understand. I think we all know what telling the truth means. We’ve had it drilled into our heads since childhood. But it is so hard to do, isn’t it? That gleaming carrot of convenience and escape, and just plain sinful fun just beckons, doesn’t it? The deception of it all! Wasn’t that part of what happened in the Garden of Eden? Satan told lies. Adam told a lie. Eve told a lie. They all lied. Lies don’t have to be outright falsehoods, you know. Telling a half-truth where the other half is essential to the meaning of the whole is still a lie. A deceptive answer, or a misleading answer is also a lie. If you are wondering whether something you said is a lie, put it to this test: is your answer going to lead someone to an incomplete understanding, or worse yet a wrong one? If it is, then you need to make sure that you don’t tell it.

Of course, the perennial question arises at this point: what if a Nazi came to your door asking you to tell them where you hid those Jews. Would you tell them? Firstly, we usually raise that question in order to justify lies that are close, but not quite. If you ever get into that situation, let me know. I doubt that anyone here listening to this sermon has ever experienced such a situation. Secondly, to answer the question, I am not sure what the answer is. Rahab definitely told a lie to hide the two spies from Israel. She is commended for her faith, although not necessarily for her action. Others think that God would have protected the spies even had she told the truth. Godly men differ, and I am not sure where I am on this issue. Ask me again in a while. But, as I said, this is usually a theoretical issue that is used as a foot wedged in the door, so that we can use that example and extend it to other situations (opening the door wider!) where such a lie is definitely not the right course of action. For right now, know that the truth is what God wants us to tell. Another helpful thing to remember when you are tempted is the Golden Rule: would you want that person to whom you are about to lie; would you want that person to lie to you in turn? Look at yourself in the mirror, which hopefully has no bandaids on it, and ask yourself this question: am I loving the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind? Am I loving my neighbor as myself? The answer is always that we do not. The answer after that is Christ Jesus, the way, the Truth, and the life. Amen.

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