Being misrepresented by someone is painful. But here, the Lord is speaking to us and forbids lying that harms a neighbour. This may happen in lots of ways—like giving false evidence in a court, or expressing opinions in conversations or in tweets on social media.
Everyone’s reputation is important to the Lord. He has told us not to take his name in vain, but now he says everyone’s name is valuable to him. No-one should be smeared with lies or tainted by suggestions. Neither should anyone be misled by flattery.
Because of our tendency to fabricate facts to suit ourselves, Israel is told that two or more witnesses must concur in their stories before condemning anyone (Deuteronomy 19:15).
Being honest may not be as simple as it sounds. Think about David lying about his affair with Bathsheba. Think about Peter not wanting to be linked with Jesus. Think about our explanations of what happened when a window is broken. I can remember mine when I was in early primary school: ‘I threw a stone in the air and the wind blew it into the window.’ We’ll try anything!
Lies of all descriptions create cynicism and leave us distant from one another. They certainly don’t make a strong community.
But it’s not easy to simply report what is true—without bias that favours ourselves. Why do we find it so hard?
We need to go back a long way to answer this, but it gets to the heart of the problem.
We go back to Adam and Eve. Satan suggests to them that God is not good. Much later, Jesus calls him ‘the father of lies’ (John 8:44). In other words, our lying come from this daddy of all liars.
Once God’s goodness is questioned, other lies start to appear. Adam and Eve run with Satan’s lie, and immediately, know they’re in trouble. They begin massaging the facts to suit their now vulnerable situation (Genesis 3:11-13).
When we deny the truth about God, we are guilty, even if we don’t call it that, and need to reframe the facts to make it appear that someone else is the problem and not us.
We need to find a way to be confident. This should come from God, but if it doesn’t, we have to find something else to be proud of. We take credit for things we don’t cause. Ambition drives us to ‘boast and be false to the truth’ (James 3:14). It becomes natural, even expected. We seek out communities that allow us to live this way.
Because of this, truth ceases to be considered important, both in private and public affairs, and people who try to be honest get defrauded. The Lord is not happy (Isaiah 59:14-15)!
But nothing we do changes the fact that we should be true—inwardly (Psalm 51:6). This is what David knows when he is caught trying to lie his way out of sexual abuse—and worse. He lies to his subjects, and deceives himself. Then a true witness comes to confront him with the truth. And he is devastated. He knows he will have to be washed clean.
If we give false testimony, we’ve tangled with God, and he is going to have to undo the mess we’ve got ourselves into. Falsehood dies hard!
If you read the story of Jesus you find a very different human being from ourselves. He is the truth—of who God is (John 14:6). He’s also the truth of what a human being should be. We could say, he’s real! There’s nothing phoney about him anywhere.
A group of officers are sent to arrest Jesus. They return with no prisoner and say, ‘No one ever spoke like this man’ (John 7:46). Other enemies approach him with flattering words, hoping to hear something they can use against him. They leave—rebuked and humbled (Matthew 22:15-22).
Jesus exposes who we are. That’s not comfortable! But then, Jesus has come ‘full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14; 14:6)—not just cold, forbidding truth, but truth that has come to heal. This is this truth that sets us free (John 8:32).
Only Jesus can release us from the crippling need to defend or exult ourselves—and he does this by acknowledging the truth about us before the Father, and dying in our place. And he rises from the dead to announce a new truth about everyone who trusts him. We are exposed, and forgiven.
Jesus has unmasked the lie Satan told. God is good. And he has undone the terrible web of untruth we spin.
Jesus has created a new life we can share. We can live the truth, in love (Ephesians 4:15, 21, 25). This is not just refraining from lies but actively revealing the truth in love, that is, in such a way as will do most good. Paul says plainly, ‘…each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body’ (Ephesians 4:25).
God has renewed a right spirit within us, as he did for David, so, we can speak the truth, in love. And the fruit of this will be a community that works, and trusts and grows.