This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Psalms 15:1-5
Catechism: Lord’s Day 43
Author: Rev. Gordon Pols of Ancaster, Ontario
Why? Why do you want to know? Isn’t that often your question before you answer someone else’s? You want to know why they want to know the thing they asked you, because it may very well affect the answer you give – or even whether you feel you should answer the question at all. What if the person is asking the question out of bad or evil motivation? Maybe the person is looking for info with which to do some serious damage to someone. Should we answer such a question? Should we lie in answer to such a question in order to steer the questioner in the wrong direction?
What I’m saying “explains” some of the most famous lies recorded in the Bible. Pharaoh wanted all of the baby boys born to the Israelites killed because he was running scared of the Israelites becoming too numerous and too powerful. But the Bible says (Ex. 1:17f) that the Hebrew midwives didn’t do it because they “feared God.” Why are you letting them live? They said: “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women, they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” This answer is full of nerve…and humor…and the truth is it’s a lie! For which God blesses them!
Or how about the story of Rahab (Joshua 2). She hides two Jewish spies under a pile of flax on her flat roof. The king sends soldiers to capture and no doubt to kill these spies. What does Rahab say to the soldiers? “Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they had come from. At dusk, when it was time to close the city gate, the men left. I don’t know which way they went. Go after them quickly. You may catch up with them.” Again…some humor. She sends the soldiers on a wild-goose chase…and she is lying through her teeth! Yet as with the midwives, God seems not to disapprove but he blesses, spares, Rahab…and her family…and she becomes great… grandmother of Jesus!
When God sent Samuel to anoint another king – David – because Saul had messed up badly, then Samuel is scared. If Saul finds out what I’m up to he’ll kill me! Tell you what, said God: “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’” Was that the truth?! (I Sam. 16)
When the king of Aram sent soldiers to capture Elisha because, being the prophet he was, God enabled him to pass on Aram’s military moves to the king of Israel, guess what happened? II Kings 6:18f “As the enemy came down toward him Elisha prayed to the Lord, ‘Strike these people with blindness…(Then) Elisha told them, ’This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.’” And he led them to Samaria, right into the hands of the king of Israel! What do you think of that? I think it’s funny! The very man they’re looking for leads them by the nose to the wrong place, where they are captured! In terms of our usual way of speaking it = a lie. Sure, it’s a lie…but, do you feel bad? Those who hid Jews from the murderous hands of Hitler and then when asked by Hitler’s soldiers whether they were hiding or harboring Jews said: NO – would that make you feel bad – especially if you were the hidden Jew?!...or would you praise and applaud?
Why all these examples? Is it because I am minimizing the importance of speaking the truth, of being truthful. Of course not. On the contrary. We all know that truth is absolutely important. I don’t have to spend 20 min. telling you that. Take away truth and you can’t trust anybody. Take away truth and you can’t trust each other. Take away trust and you find that human life, human relationships, human society falls apart! And the question is out today: Who can we trust? Who do you trust? Politicians? Lawyers? Journalists? Talk-show hosts? Spin doctors? Advertisers? Preachers? Who do young people trust most? In a recent US survey Y.P. said they trust older people (grandparents, etc.) the most – 79%. Next comes their parents’ generation at68%. They trust their own peer-group generation the least – 25%. Are we headed for trouble or what?
Laura Schlessinger tells the story of a mother who’d been lied to by her 6-year-old. To make the point that lying is bad news for trust and relationships mother said: For the next whole week you won’t know whether I’m telling the truth or lying. Next day, driving him to school she promised to pick him up after school and take him out for fries – a major treat. Later that day when driving home he excitedly reminded her of the fries. With a deadpan expression she said: “I lied.” He lost it…Yelled, cried…said you’re not nice, you’re not fair! After two days he had enough. He learned a major lesson.
No, I gave you all those biblical examples a few minutes ago because I want to make the point that we often read the 9th commandment wrong. Ask almost anybody: What’s the 9th commandment against? And they’ll answer: LYING. The 9th commandment is against lying. The 9th commandment says: You shall not lie.” The 9th commandment is a blanket prohibition against all lies…what we commonly call lies. But you know it’s not that simple! The biblical examples I gave you say that life is not that simple. If you make the matter that simple you actually make life difficult/hard. You get into bad binds…like: Am I breaking the 9th commandment if I say I’m not hiding Jews when in fact I am? Mark Twain wrote the story of a deathly-ill, contagiously sick mother whose little daughter was badly injured…died. How’s my darling daughter the mother asked. For fear of killing all hope of the mother’s recovery if she were told what had happened the nurse answer as usual: She is fine. For that lying would the nurse get heaven or hell? Mark Twain asked. What do you think?
What I think is that the 9th commandment breathes a different spirit, a different atmosphere than the simple: “You shall not lie.” Actually the commandment says: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The point is not just a formal agreement of what you say with the so-called facts. (as: what temperature is it? Answer 5ºC. Oops, you lied! It’s only 4ºC!) No, the point is that at its deepest level truth is a relationship-to-my-neighbor matter. The point of this commandment is: Watch out how you relate to your neighbor, especially with your words! Watch out how you relate to your neighbor – especially the one you don’t like, the one you want to get even with, the one you want to give a taste of his/her own medicine. And what better opportunity than if he/she is charged with something in court? If you get to testify in court…stick it to him/her in court…you could put ‘em behind bars, or worse…even in a box! Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? That’s heavy stuff! That’s 9th commandment stuff.
So, don’t you dare! says this commandment. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor…and so pervert justice…and attack your neighbor’s life. Of course…you shall not falsely testify for your neighbor either and so set a criminal free! To be unjustlyaccused or excused – both are a great sin.
We can do our neighbor “in,” we can do a lot of damage to our neighbor by what we say outside of a courtroom too. In fact, 99.9% of the time that’s where we do it…harm our neighbor by what we say outside of the courtroom. We whisper, we twist the truth, we tell a juicy story, we badmouth. Sometimes just a little “white lie” will do it. White lie – you mean lies have colors? Our catechism rightly expands the commandment to cover the whole world of the tongue – words. Watch your words! Watch what you say. God is no friend of gossips. God doesn’t like everything that’s on the grapevine. Hey…did you hear about…? The devil, the great slanderer, Satan, the great accuser has a hey-day with all this stuff. What a way for him to destroy people! Jesus was crucified by slander. A malicious twist on his words about destroying the temple of his body and raising it in three days.
So…Watch what you say. Should you say this at all?
Watch how you say it. With glee? Anger? Spite? Revenge?
Watch why you say it. To hurt? To put down? To impress?
Watch to whom you say it. To someone who will use it to hurt?
To tell the truth is not an end in itself. To tell “the naked truth,” to be brutally honest, to “say it like it is” is not really the Bible’s approach to truth. Truth has to be connected to love, truth has to be connected to trust, truth has to be connected to the neighbor. We must speak the truth, but in love. A truthful person is a trustworthy person. Truth and trust. Can I trust you to have my best interest at heart – even if on occasion this may mean that what you say hurts me? Can I trust you to say/be/do for me what God wants you to say/be/do for me? Can I trust you to love me, love my life, love my good name?
Ultimately, of course, only God is trustworthy. We weak, fallen human beings don’t always speak true or “run” true. But when we’re faith-and-love connected to God…that makes us dependable people, true people. Because to love God is to love him who is TRUE…the Truth, the Way and the Life. To love the truth is to love my neighbor…to love my neighbor’s good name. It is to defend my neighbor against evil and hat…to defend with my tongue…to defend with a lie…to defend with my life if I have to.
Love the truth = love your neighbor. I close with a story…about a man who spread gossip about his rabbi. Then he feels guilty, tells his rabbi, and asks him to forgive him. Yes, said the rabbi, but first one little thing. Take a feather pillow to the top of a windy hill and let all the feathers fly. The man was relieved. This was easy. The he returns to receive his forgiveness. Oh, one more thing, the rabbi says. Go back and collect all the feathers!
Impossible, isn’t it? Yes, impossible to recollect the lies, the gossip our tongue can let loose. The story ends there. I suppose that means the man remains unforgiven. And that’s the greatness of the gospel isn’t it? In Jesus God came to give effective FORGIVENESS…also for our breaking of the 9th commandment. Thanks be to God for Jesus! In him we have deliverance from all our sins. He laid down his life for our sins. And that’s no lie!!
ORDER OF WORSHIP (suggested…please make changes ass appropriate to your local situation)
Gathering songs: from Sing a new Creation #12 & #21
Call to Worship
Use Ps. 34
vs. 1 by leader
vs. 2 by congregation
vs. 3 together
God’s Greeting…and Congregational AMEN
As God has greeted us so let us greet each other.
Prayer of Confession (Use your own or the one on page 972 in the P.H. or use the words of P.H. #266)
Assurance of Pardon
God’s Will for Our Lives -- Mat. 5:3-1-,14-16
Prayer for Understanding
Spirit of God, give life to the words we read, the words we speak, and the words we hear so that your Word may shape our lives. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 15
Confession Reading: Heid. Cat. Lord’s Day 43
MESSAGE: “LIVE THE TRUTH”
Prayer of Application:
Father we thank you for your truthfulness, for your faithfulness. And we see this best in him who came to bear for us the cross of shame. We pray O Holy Spirit, Spirit of Truth that you will shape our hearts and minds our words and actions to be true to God and true to our neighbor. May we bear the image of the Father and be children of Truth, in Jesus’ name.
God’s Blessing…and cong. AMEN
Closing Song: #630