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.

Making Every Effort

Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
Ephesians‬ ‭4:3-4‬ ‭NLT‬‬

If there is one feature of the world in which we live, it is a lack of unity. I’m not just talking about those of us who claim the title of “Christian” – more of that in a moment – but I’m mentioning the desperate condition of a lack of unity between nations, between people groups, between political parties, even in our own families. One thing our enemy, the devil, excels at is the art of inducing disunity. He will sow seeds of division at every opportunity. So before we know it, a husband and wife will find themselves arguing over the most trivial thing. Family members will stop speaking to each other for years, often over no more than a misunderstanding. Or at the other end of the scale a nation will go to war with another, for a reason not immediately clear, or lost in history. And even within a country, cultural and racial differences can seriously divide a nation. We live in a world where unity is a rare quality, a dream from a fantasy world.

Christians seem to be no different to anyone else when it comes to unity. Strife builds up within a church congregation over their liturgies. Over which hymns or songs are to be used. Over which version of the Bible is the most suitable. Even over, as in the case in a local church, how the chairs are put out – some want the chairs set out in rows, others in a more intimate semi-circular configuration. And all of that is before we start on the lack of unity between different denominations. Even in the early church, sectarianism had to be dealt with – we see a hint of this in Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 3. I wonder sometimes if God throws up His hands in horror at the behaviour of His children.

In our verse today, Paul wrote about the importance of unity. And he said we would have to work at it. Why?  Because we have no choice – Jesus is coming back one day for a holy and united Bride, the Church. Note the word “united”. That is because Jesus Christ is monogamous. He won’t be doing a Solomon, having so many wives that he almost lost count. The Bride is us. We are His unified Church, with everyone bound together in peace. This is our “glorious hope for the future”. Jesus said He will build His Church, and the “bricks” He uses will be us pilgrims, held together by peace.

So we make every effort to be unified and at peace with everyone. Not just when we feel like it. It may be hard work some days. Dealing with the sinful thoughts that rise up within us, not allowing them to be verbalised into disruption. Pride and other negative qualities can spring up within us like mushrooms and before we know it we’re involved in another schism. For today’s pilgrim, facing into another day on the road of life, making an effort to be at peace with those round us can be an insurmountable challenge. Particularly as many we meet, in our schools, workplaces, communities and families, won’t have the same desire. How many times have I thought that the person before me is “looking for a fight today”? We ask the grumpy amongst us, “did you get out of bed on the wrong side this morning?”. Sometimes we despair as we all lapse into an uneasy silence, peace an illusion, unity below the horizon of our expectations. But making an effort means loving the unlovely, issuing a kind word to the unkind, not answering back to a verbal tide of abuse, not reacting to a bad driver, allowing God to deal with unjust situations, and so on. Will it mean that we might find ourselves trodden on, or put down? Patronised or overlooked? Possibly. But as we “make every effort” God will do amazing things. Both in us and in others.

One With Christ

“But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to Him through the blood of Christ.”
Ephesians‬ ‭2:13‬ ‭NLT‬‬

What does being one with Christ actually mean? Superficially, being that close to someone who died over 2000 years ago would seem to be the stuff of a science fiction novel. And do we have the capability to be that close with anyone, because we are each created as unique individuals? We all have walls we put up. We all tend to keep people at arms length most of the time. So the questions I ask today will puzzle us until we realise that Jesus introduced us to the Holy Spirit. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” The Holy Spirit unites us with Christ. So as pilgrims continuing on our journey through life, we are not alone. We are always in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He is always there to call upon. He is the gentle whisper at the crossroads of life, leading and guiding us as though Jesus was right there with us. 

Paul reminds his readers yet again that through God’s grace they are close to Him. At one time they were so far away they didn’t even know He existed. The God-yearnings inside of them were filled with other gods. Counterfeit deities that failed to satisfy. But Jesus provided the opportunity for all peoples, not just His chosen people, to be united with Him. And that was possible through His sacrificial death at Calvary, where His blood was shed for us all. 

So as pilgrims we continue through life, one step at a time. In deep gratitude for the Helper at our side. Unified with Christ. Blessed beyond measure. Today we hit the refresh button. Today we have the opportunity to reboot our lives and include the Holy Spirit update once again. As we open ourselves to Him we expose a new dimension of living, oneness with Christ.

‭‭

Unity

How good and pleasant it is 
when God’s people live together in unity!”
Psalms‬ ‭133:1‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Another Psalm from David. This is another “Song of Ascents”, sung by God’s people during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. You can just imagine him watching the crowds of pilgrims, ascending the roads and paths up to Jerusalem. And what he observed brought into his mind thoughts of unity. You can almost feel the emotional glow in his musings, when he thinks about “How good and pleasant” unity is. And we too can imagine joining that throng of people, singing, shouting, laughing. A throng full of joy and camaraderie. But perhaps the exclamation mark at the end of this verse reveals that this was not the normal state of affairs. Perhaps, in those days long ago, God’s people were far from being unified in their approach to their lives and religion. David finished the Psalm with thoughts about the anointing of Aaron back in Leviticus, and the importance of that event in Israel’s history. How it then unified the people as they stood before God. 

Today there is little unity in society. Everyone seems to have their own opinions about everything and anything in life, and Christians are not excluded from having their own ideas. Perhaps this was what was in Jesus’ mind when He referred to people as “being like sheep without a shepherd”. Lost and rudderless in the sea of life. In many ways societies today have lost their way because they don’t have a life compass any more. Their moral parameters have disappeared. The concept of there being an ultimate Creator God is now largely missing from society and if thought about at all, is considered irrelevant. So perhaps when David observed the pilgrims ascending the heights, he realised what was missing from his society. I wonder what he would have thought about 21st Century Western society!

The verse about oil is significant. The ritual of a priest being anointed with oil is a practice not normally found in our liturgies today. But if we replace the precious oil with the precious Holy Spirit, then we have a different situation. God loves unity. And through His Spirit He brings that unity, that togetherness, into our lives and communities. Unity doesn’t mean that we all have to be clones of some God-image, all behaving in the same way. But it does mean we must all have the same understanding and are in agreement over the important issues in our faith, and particularly our faith in our loving Heavenly Father. The Holy Spirit is the glue that binds us, God’s people together. Sadly, too many Christians get caught up in differences between denominations. Instead of celebrating the Biblical foundations of our faith, they criticise and ridicule the liturgical differences. And on the way, the Christian faith can be replaced by militant sectarianism, demeaning God and His ways. 

So how do God’s people, Christians, live together in unity? We pray of course. But more than that, we do what Jesus would do – we show God’s love, grace and compassion to those around us, regardless of their denominations.

Unity

“Let me be united with all who fear You, 
with those who know Your laws.
Psalm 119:79 NLT

“Let me be united with all who fear you” sounds like a noble goal. Nothing to disagree with there, I think. I would think we Christians all “fear” God, in the fullest meaning of the word. And we all know His laws because we read the same book, the Bible. So it’s not hard to pray the prayer, “Let me be united“. But then a niggling thought pops up in my mind. What about Christians in other denominations who perhaps interpret Bible verses differently to me? Or what about those brothers and sisters who discount parts of the Bible because they don’t think they are applicable 2000 years or so after they were written? What about the denominations that involve a liturgy I find strange and archaic? Or what about that dear sister who told me she doesn’t read the Old Testament because there is too much violence and bloodshed? Am I united with them? Hmmm…

There can be a problem because, although we all start from the same position in reading the same Bible, legalism, liturgies and licence all start to erode our very roots. The problems can even start with dissension over which version of the Bible we should use. I know someone who will only use the original King James Version of the Bible, writing off all other versions as heresies. And then how the Scriptures are interpreted pushes us further apart. Many different denominations have emerged based on misunderstandings and misinterpretations, disagreements and differences. As an example, in 1843 the Church of Scotland split into two denominations after years of wrangling, to become the original Church and the Free Church. Apparently, one third of the ministers in the Church of Scotland started a new denomination because of a row over what was perceived at the time as state interference in the Church. But it didn’t end there – the Free Church split in two in 1900, into the United Free Church and the original Free Church. The reasons for such historical events are fading into the mists of time, but it would be inappropriate to offer judgement over what went wrong. Having been part of a church split some years ago, I know such events can be unavoidable when legalism and liturgies become more important than a relationship with our gracious and loving God. As we allow worldliness and secular principles to creep into our churches, diluting and destroying the pure Word of God, we inevitably end up with problems.

There is another key word that is often lacking in inter-denominational rivalry and dissent. And that is “grace”. How do I view people in other churches? With a judgemental attitude, or with God’s eyes of grace-filled love? Do we think our liturgy is better than theirs? Do we think we are right and they are wrong? I have for a number of years had a niggling thought that God is less concerned about which denomination I attend than about my heart attitude in worshipping Him “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23). The reality is that I need to look kindly, lovingly and graciously at other Christians, whatever their denomination. A dear Christian couple recently told me about the abusive attitudes they had experienced from evangelical Christians over their Roman Catholic roots. Unfortunately these attitudes are all too common and can be seen working out in sectarian disturbances between Protestants and Catholics.

But whatever our denominations, God loves all His children; one day we all will stand before Him to give an account of our lives. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:10 (AMP), “For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives–the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].”  Another Hmmm…. I think.

So in a sense, the Psalmist in this verse, Psalm 119:79, has opened a “can of worms”. Church unity is often talked about and joint services are sometimes held between denominations, but this is not what the Psalmist was talking about. Christians are bound together by a fundamental belief that God sent His Son Jesus to this world, born of a virgin, living a life as a human being but without sinning, to bridge that gap between God and man, and ultimately to die for the forgiveness of our sins. Paul wrote about unity in several of his Epistles. Here’s one verse from 1 Corinthians 1:10 (AMP), “But I urge you, believers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in full agreement in what you say, and that there be no divisions or factions among you, but that you be perfectly united in your way of thinking and in your judgment [about matters of the faith]”. Though he was writing to one particular church, I believe the principle applies across all churches.

So how does our 21st Century pilgrim cope with and respond to other Christians in the cause of unity? With grace and love. Just as God does. We might not want to hang our coats on their liturgical pegs, but we love them anyway. There is no other way.