The Deep Truth
The Deep Truth
Back in 1899, four reporters from four different Denver newspapers didn't have a story for the morning paper. They decided to make up a story—to lie! They made up a story that the Chinese government was in talks with American businessmen bidding to take down the Great Wall of China so a roadway system could be built. The story spread from American newspapers to Europe and eventually to China. Some historians believe that the publication of this lie led to the Boxer Rebellion, an uprising in which thousands of people died, as the Chinese were concerned about Westerners coming into their country. Though this is an extreme example, it's clear that deception can be very destructive.
Conversely, the truth can be powerfully liberating. When Alex Rodriquez, a baseball player for the New York Yankees, finally admitted to taking banned substances, he told ESPN, "It feels so good coming out and being completely honest …. You take this gorilla and this monkey off your back, you realize that honesty is the only way …. The truth needed to come out a long time ago, and I'm glad it's coming out today …. The truth will set you free."
James 3:5 says that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body: "The tongue is a small member; yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire!" The old adage "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me" is not true! Words can hurt you—especially lies. But some words—true words—can heal you and set you free.
This is our ninth sermon in a series on the Ten Commandments. We're looking at the ninth commandment today, words that I believe the Lord wants to use to set you free from the lies you tell, the lies you live, and the lies you've been told. Deuteronomy 5:20 says: "And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." This commandment means that we are never to tell lies.
A columnist for Time magazine once wrote: "The injunction against bearing false witness, branded in stone and brought down by Moses from the mountaintop, has always provoked ambivalent, conflicting emotions. On the one hand, nearly everybody condemns lying. On the other hand, nearly everyone does it every day."
We all have a problem with the ninth commandment. This morning, I want us to interrogate the ninth commandment, and as we do, let's ask the Holy Spirit to interrogate our hearts, expose the lies, and set us free. There are four questions we want to ask of this commandment: What does this commandment mean? Why was it given? Why do we break it? How can we keep it?
What does this commandment mean?
"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." What does this mean? First, we need to know that the primary context of this commandment is the courtroom. Courtrooms in the ancient world were different from today. Before forensic evidence, everything hinged on the witness testimony, and usually there was only one witness. The primary context of this commandment is the courtroom because the courtroom is the place where the truth counts the most; it's the place where lying can cost the most. Lack of truth and justice in the courtroom leads to lack of truth and justice in the wider community.
But this commandment extends beyond the courtroom. It calls us to be true witnesses in all of life. Before God we are always under oath. God commands us to not lie in any context. In every day of ordinary life, our hand is on the Bible, and we're commanded to tell: "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."
What kind of lies do you tell? There are many different kinds of lies: whoppers, white lies, half-truths, fibs, gossip lies, exaggerations, misleading silences, lying on paper, lying at home, lying at work, lies that make you look better, lies that make others look bad. Are you a self-focused liar (you tell lies to make yourself look better) or an others-focused liar (you tell lies to avoid hurting others)?
Why was this commandment given?
Why is this commandment different from the other commandments? Why does this command have the added phrase "against your neighbor"? Why not just say "Do not lie," following the format of other commandments?
Your neighbor needs you to speak the truth. We can't have healthy relationships and community without truth telling. This commandment was given for the sake of community. Where lies damage and destroy community, truth telling allows community to flourish. Lewis Smedes said:
Truthfulness is an invisible fiber that holds people together in humane community. When we cannot assume that people communicating with us are truthful, we cannot live with them and trust that they will respect our right to the freedom to respond to reality. And if we cannot trust each other with respect to this basic right, we've lost our chance to be human together in God's manner. Speak the truth, be the truth, for your truth sets others free.
Truth: the "invisible fiber" that holds people together in community. Keeping the ninth commandment is particularly important today for two reasons: first, our postmodern culture is very fuzzy about what the truth is, and second, so many people in our day lack a sense of community. Dr. John J. Ratey wrote, "In modern life, people tend to have fewer friends and less support, because there's no tribe. Being alone is not good …." This commandment is so much more important to keep in a fuzzy-truth, no-tribe culture like ours. Wherever and whenever lies have been told, community has been damaged.
What's one of the largest lies you've ever told? Think about it. What did that lie do to other people and your community? This is why the Bible repeatedly tells us to be careful about what we say. The Bible is big on truth because the Bible is big on people. Ephesians 4:25 says: "Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
When we keep the ninth commandment, we reflect what God is like: Father, Son, and Spirit. When we live as truth tellers, we reflect God, and we bring a little bit of heaven to earth. The opposite is also true: when we lie, when we break community, we pour fuel on the fires of hell. Hell is a place where nobody tells the truth. Hell is a place where nobody can be trusted, where community can't find any truth to stand on.
Why do we break this commandment?
It's clear to us that this commandment is given to us for our own good, yet we break it. Why do we do that? Think about a lie you told this week—any lie. Why did you tell it? It seems to me that we lie when we're afraid of something. Deep down, somewhere in the dark caverns of our hearts, there's this control panel of fear that we have built that motivates us to lie.
Pretty much all of our lies have this in common: we lie because we're afraid—afraid of losing something, like losing approval or losing face. Your lies speak volumes about you; they reveal what you're most afraid of.
What do your lies say about you? What are you so afraid of? Is it losing somebody's approval, love, or respect? Are you afraid of losing certain comforts and securities? Are you afraid of losing control? Are you afraid of people discovering the lie that most of us live: that the person you pretend to be on the outside is not who you really are on the inside?
We lie because we're afraid. But I think there's an even deeper reason. Ultimately, we don't tell the truth because we don't believe the truth. Do you know why the Son of God came to earth? Do you know why Jesus died? Jesus died to tell the truth about you. Though people bore false witness against him at his trial, Jesus kept the ninth commandment to hell and back; he bled to bear true witness about you. And if you and I really believed this truth, we wouldn't be so afraid any more. We'd quit living lies and start telling the truth. You are so flawed and full of lies that Jesus had to die for you, and you are so loved and accepted that Jesus was willing to die for you.
By going through this series on the Ten Commandments, I think we can all see that we're more sinful than we ever dared imagine, but because of Jesus, we're far more loved and accepted that we ever dared dream. Only Christianity tells you the truth about who you are. Only Christianity tells you that you are deeply flawed and deeply loved at the same time. Other religions ask you to clean up your flaws in order to gain approval. Only Christianity gives you a God who knows "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth" about who you are and everything you've ever done, and yet he still calls you his "neighbor" and promises to never stop loving you and caring for you.
We don't tell the truth because we have a hard time truly believing the gospel—the good news—of Jesus.
How do we keep the ninth commandment?
There are three very simple ways to keep this commandment. Simple, yet hard.
First, tell the truth to yourself. You're never going to be able to tell the truth to your neighbor until you can tell the truth to yourself. Most of us spend much of our days listening to and believing lies without even knowing it—lies other people tell us, lies we tell ourselves, lies Satan whispers in our ears. Some of the lies include: "There is no hope," "Things will never get better," "I am worthless," "My life doesn't make any difference," "Nobody really knows me or loves me or cares about me," "I'm alone," "I could never be forgiven," "God is not in control."
John 8:44 says that Satan is a liar and the father of lies. Satan would love for you to believe these lies. What lies has Satan told you about yourself or other people? You've got to cross examine your lies. You must look your lies in the eye and say to them: "Lies, what have you ever done for me? When have you helped me? When have you loved me? What have you given me so that I might be better off?" You have got to stop listening to those lies.
Do you know how you overcome the power of a lie? With the truth. The Bible is a book that bears true witness about who you are and this life you're living. Romans 8 speaks all the truth you'll ever need to silence the lies. Let your lies shrivel under the hot sunshine of this passage:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus …. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, "Abba! Father!"… The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us …. We know that for those who love God all things work together for good …. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised— who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Years ago, George Orwell wrote, "In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." This first application point is simple: tell the truth to yourself. But it's revolutionary because most of us don't do it. Be revolutionary. Develop the revolutionary habit of silencing the lies in your head by telling yourself the truth that's in Scripture. Camp out in Romans 8 for awhile.
The second simple way to keep this commandment is this: tell the truth to your neighbor through the power of the pause. Most of us would do a lot better at keeping the ninth commandment if we simply learned to pause for a moment before speaking. Let's look at this in a few contexts.
The spirit behind this commandment is love, not punishment. There are some people and churches that speak lots of truth, but they seem to do this without love. Pause before you speak truth to your neighbor and check yourself: Am I speaking this truth to love or to punish? Sometimes you need to tell the truth with a tough love that costs you, because true love requires you to put the other person before yourself.
Another place to pause is in the face of gossip. Gossip is easy to do. It doesn't always feel like lying, but most of the time it is. It certainly isn't bearing true and loving witness. Gossip is destructive. Someone once said, "Gossip kills three: the one who speaks it, the one who listens to it, and the one about whom it is spoken." At a potential gossip moment, pause and ask yourself: Would I say this about Mark Mitchell if he were standing right here?
A third place to practice the pause is at work. Whatever lies people tell in your line of work—advertising, education, biomedical research, finance, politics, homemaking, construction, job searching—your responsibility is to tell the truth. It's easy to lie at work because everybody else does it. Don't do it. At work, start pausing before you speak and ask yourself whether or not you're being a truth teller.
Use the power of the pause to better tell the truth to your neighbor. Most of the time, you simply need to pause and remember that you have nothing to prove by telling lies. Jack Miller said: "You don't have anything to prove, to us or the world. The work is finished at Calvary, and that work has unlimited meaning and value. Keep your focus there."
When you're tempted to lie, you're forgetting Calvary. You're trying to prove yourself rather than remembering that Jesus proved himself for you on the cross. Pause. Refocus on Calvary. And speak the truth in love to your neighbor.
For some of you, recently or a long time ago, someone has borne false witness against you and it rocked you. You're not alone. Jesus knows. Others of you in this room need to ask for forgiveness. It's time you come clean. And some of you here this morning don't need the forgiveness of a human. For the first time in your life, you need to ask for God's forgiveness. You don't have a relationship with God. You've turned your back on him; you've denied him; you've been living a lie. Is there hope for you? Can Jesus forgive you? Can he accept you and be in relationship with you after all you've done to him?
Yes. Christ can and will do all of these things. Will you ask for forgiveness? Will you believe the truth? Will you follow him?
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Justin Buzzard is founder and lead pastor of Garden City Church in Silicon Valley, California.