Telling Lies

“So stop telling lies. Let us tell our neighbours the truth, for we are all parts of the same body. ‭‭
Ephesians‬ ‭4:25‬ ‭NLT‬‬

In this verse Paul highlights a seemingly-eternal human trait – the telling of lies. What’s the problem with lies, some might say. After all, telling the truth to someone can protect them from unnecessary worry or pain. Surely a “white lie” can be justified? Should I really tell a loved one the truth that they are suffering from an incurable condition? Wouldn’t a lie instead be the best way? Didn’t Paul really mean that we shouldn’t tell lies to excuse our bad behaviour or hurt someone? Difficult questions, but Paul writing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, unequivocally stated that we must tell the truth. Lies must stop. Jesus warned us that lies originate with the devil, who He referred to as the father of lies. The words of Jesus were recorded in John 8:44 when addressing the people in the Temple, “For you are the children of your father the devil, and you love to do the evil things he does. He was a murderer from the beginning. He has always hated the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies”. So perhaps Paul was pointing out the truth that lies are of the devil. The situation is simple – truth comes from God, lies come from the devil. 

So what does today’s pilgrim do about telling lies? Why do we tell lies in the first place? Some people seem to tell lies by default, to the extent that they seem unable to separate lies from truth. There is obviously an attraction to tell a lie if we can see it will get us off the hook for some misdemeanour. Or there might be an opportunity to gain a reward by lying. Some people will tell lies to make themselves look better than they really are, driven by some insecurity or other emotional problem. There are many reasons for why we feel the temptation to tell a lie. But in the end we have a choice. Our Heavenly Father doesn’t want us to tell lies. He wants the truth.

There is a way to tell the truth in everything, because if there wasn’t God would have said so. We read earlier in this chapter in Ephesians, “Instead, we will speak the truth in love,….”. That’s the key – God’s love flowing through us will help us find the right words and deliver truths the right way. With God in our lives there is no reason to tell lies. 

Paul finally reminded his readers about unity in the body, the church. And that is one thing which hasn’t changed over the years. Lies and deception will undermine and destroy the love that binds together our churches in unity. Jesus felt so strongly about the importance of truth, that He prefixed many a parable or teaching by the words “I tell you the truth“. Or, in the old King James version, “Verily, verily, I say unto you“. In John 14:6, Jesus affirmed that in fact He was the Truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life…”. So telling the truth is rather important don’t we think? We plod on in our pilgrimage the Jesus way, the way of truth.

Tricks and Lies

“Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:14‬ ‭NLT‬‬

This verse starts with a “then”. So we have to look to the previous verses to pick up the thread of what Paul was saying to his friends in Ephesus. He had previously encouraged them with the thought that Christ cared so much for them that He had sent to them “gifts” – men who would equip them with all they needed to grow in their faith, bringing unity and maturity to their lives, individually and corporately. Paul then follows on with the thought that being “immature like children“, at least in the context of their faith, was not a good place to be. But the next sentence exposes and highlights a potential and very real danger for Christians, especially new believers. It is the impact that “new teaching” can have, potentially leading them into error. 

 For example, a church I read about some years ago, took the verse in Mark 16:18 which starts, “They will be able to handle snakes with safety….” consequently introducing poisonous snakes into their services. It is very easy to lift Bible verses out of their context and start to make a doctrine or custom from them, ending up being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”. That is why the church has always needed the wisdom of the five-fold ministries described in a previous verse. Paul, from his prison cell, could see the dangers and snares that could potentially bring chaos and ultimate destruction. He cared deeply for his friends. But we should never forget that God Himself cares very deeply for each one of us. Not only is He always there for us, but He has put in place a safety net to protect His people.

…lies so clever they sound like the truth”. This is a problem that has always been with us. Why is it that people generally lack the discernment needed to expose trickery? In modern parlance we call it “scamming”. I read yesterday that a man lost his entire savings – hundreds of thousands of pounds – because he believed “lies so clever they sound like the truth”. But in the church we need to be aware of spiritual scamming. The internet is awash with off-the-wall beliefs and recommendations. The “God” channels on television sometimes provide opportunities for fringe preachers to scam their watchers with incessant appeals for money.

But how does the Christian pilgrim continue through life, free from the pitfalls of error? How can we avoid being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching”? There are some simple steps that we can take to stay on the “straight and narrow”. One of them is to get plugged into a church founded on the Word and the Spirit. There is safety in being with other pilgrims in a Godly church, where the leaders are Spirit-filled men and women grounded and obedient to God’s Word, the Bible. On our own we are in danger of being picked off by the devil. 1 Peter 5:8 reads, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.” When we meet with other Christians we can encourage each other, pray for each other, help each other, and have the opportunity to warn those in danger of taking a wrong spiritual turning. 

Another way to protect ourselves from error is to ensure the church that we are a part of is accountable to other church leaders or apostles. Established denominations are not necessarily free from problems –  depressing errors include spiritual apostasy, liberalism and worldliness. Spiritual accountability is essential in bringing security to the congregation and their leaders

Another way to prevent being “tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching” is to emulate the Berean Jews. In Acts 17, Paul and Silas found themselves preaching in a synagogue in Berea. And we read in Acts 17:11, “And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth”. If someone brings teaching we haven’t heard before, check it out in the Bible. If what is said, no matter how plausible it appears to be, can’t be verified by God’s Word, then discard it.

Although today’s verse has negative connotations, we mustn’t forget our loving Heavenly Father. He cares for us. He loves us. He is with us every step in our pilgrimage through life. Jesus said in John 15:4, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you…”. In the end, that is the key.  We pilgrims will find peace and security, as we remain in Him.

Olives

Why do you boast about your crimes, great warrior? Don’t you realise God’s justice continues forever? All day long you plot destruction. Your tongue cuts like a sharp razor; you’re an expert at telling lies. You love evil more than good and lies more than truth.
But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God. I will always trust in God’s unfailing love. I will praise You forever, O God, for what You have done. I will trust in Your good name in the presence of Your faithful people.”
‭‭Psalms‬ ‭52:1-3, 8-9‬ ‭NLT‬‬

A Psalm about two people. A great warrior who tells lies and the Psalmist who likens himself to an olive tree. It could be the actor list for a stage play or the character list in a fantasy novel. But then the seriousness of the message unfolds. David, the Psalmist, was recording the wrongs of a man called “Doeg the Edomite”, a man who massacred priests at Saul’s behest. We can read about the event, and his evil, in 1 Samuel 21 and 22. But what can we learn from this Psalm? I think the main message is that there is an eternal reality about God and His righteousness and justice. There have been many men and women, past and present, who are self-serving, mirroring the behaviour of the “great warrior” and thus assuring themselves the fate reserved for evil people. Perhaps David introduced a hint of sarcasm when he referred to Doeg as being a “great warrior”, because anyone with that title would be expected to be brave and courageous, and with a character befitting the word “great”. David referred to Doeg’s tongue as being like a sharp razor; he was apparently no stranger to boasting about his ruthless deeds and he used his mouth as the vehicle for underpinning his evil reputation. But Doeg was a man without a conscience and his one motivation in life was to maximise his own selfish rewards – an original “what’s in it for me” person – and he came to a early end, dying, according to Jewish traditions, at the age of 34. In today’s culture, the spirit of Doeg lives on, and many a person, not just those in a position of power or leadership, shipwreck their lives on a sea of lies and deceit. 

But David turns away from his rant to more personal matters. He likens himself to an olive tree. Why an olive tree? Why not an oak tree? Or one of those cedars of Lebanon? Perhaps he saw an olive tree planted close by while he wrote down his thoughts in God’s house, and was impressed by its fruitfulness. He saw the blessings of God manifested in this vigorous, long lasting tree; it was perhaps getting close to the time of a rich harvest of olives, and he equated it to his own life of trust in his loving Heavenly Father. A life full of “olives” of praise and thankfulness, a life founded on his relationship with God.

The moral of the story is that sooner or later, a life of deceit will face a time of reckoning. Lies will be exposed before the almighty Judge. And those people who commit to a life of righteousness will be amazed at how blind such deceitful people can be. They will laugh about the fate of even the most mighty of “warriors who do not trust God“. The righteous look on and observe godless, self-seeking evil people as they tumble down the slippery slope leading to the ultimate home of the father of lies.

God’s Master Plan

“O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all Your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.” Psalms‬ ‭40:5‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Any attempt to unpick and drill down into this verse can only end up in becoming lost in the depths of our Creator God, full of grateful praise and worship. The bottom line is that God’s wonders, plans and deeds are uncountable because there are so many of them. For example, just take the environment in which we live. The number of conditions that combine to enable life as we know it on this planet are uncountable. And it was God’s plan to create a world where His plans could be developed. And look at the complexities of human life – how could two cells coming together in a mother’s womb ever develop into a human being capable of so much? It beggars belief that so many people believe the lie that our world and all its contents happened by chance. As the verse above points out, our Creator God has performed many wonders and deeds in implementing His plans.

But there is a wonder, a plan, a deed, that is far above anything else God has done for the human race. We find in the Genesis account that God created men and women in His image. And He wanted to have a relationship with them based on love and friendship. But things went horribly wrong with man’s response to God, as we can find in the early accounts of the Israelite nation. God wasn’t going to give up on His creation, though, and He devised a master plan to reconcile mankind back to Him. His love for us was so intense that he wasn’t going to let us continue in living a life less than how He designed it to be. A life without the ultimate richness of being a friend of God. We can read about God’s master plan through the words of Jesus in John 3. This is the Message version. “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again.” That was God’s plan. To put the world back into the place He had designed it to be. He wasn’t going to give up on His creation and He never will. Through Jesus, God’s Master Plan, everyone person living on this planet can find out about God’s wonders, plans and deeds. If they want to. The choice is theirs. The choice is yours.

False Accusations

“Malicious witnesses testify against me. They accuse me of crimes I know nothing about.” Psalms‬ ‭35:11‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Throughout the Bible much is written about “bearing false witness”. It means telling lies about someone. Or accusing them of something that they haven’t done. Or gossiping about them, particularly on social media. But not to bear false witness against your neighbour was the ninth commandment that Moses delivered to the Israelites. God gave this commandment to the Israelite nation for a reason – “bearing false witness” strikes at the very fabric of society because it destroys relationships. And here we have David in Psalm 35 complaining that he was being accused of crimes he didn’t commit, caught up in the middle of a storm of rebellion in the society he was trying to lead. But this wasn’t just an Old Testament problem. It was prevalent in New Testament times as well – Jesus Himself was similarly accused (Matthew 26:60) and also Stephen, one of the early church leaders, in Acts 6:13.

And the problem hasn’t gone away today, with a constant stream of false accusations and comments about sports people and others being posted on social media. People’s reputations are easily destroyed by careless words in the workplace, or in conversations with others. The problem is all about the evil thoughts that people have within their hearts and Jesus thought this problem was important enough to teach about – we read what He said in Matthew 15:19. And the Apostle James wrote about the dangers of the spoken word in the third chapter of his epistle.

So what is to be done about this perennial problem? The bottom line is that each one of us must be careful about what we say and how we say it. We must think carefully before hitting the “return” key. We must ask ourselves the question, “is what I am about to say or write true, helpful, necessary and encouraging?” And we must strive to apply the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:18, “Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.