Avoiding All Lies and Deceit (3): Avoiding this Evil in the Church
Reformed Free Publishing Association
By Martyn McGeown. Previous article in the series: Avoiding All Lies and Deceit (2): Receive No Evil. What follows is the final entry of the series.
The apostle Paul in Colossians 3 and Ephesians 4 is concerned most about lies within the church. In Colossians 3:9 the apostle writes, “Lie not one to another;” and in Ephesians 4:25, he writes, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor” [in the church].
We expect unbelievers in the world to lie, but there is something awful about the lying of Christians in the congregation. Paul gives a compelling reason in Ephesians 4:25: “for we are members one of another.” In Ephesians 4, Paul develops the subject of the church as a body with different members. In a healthy body, the members work in harmony. The members all have one goal, which is the edification of the body in love. But in an unhealthy body, the members work against one another. One way in which the body of the church malfunctions is when the members of the church lie to one another. Imagine the absurd scenario: the hand seeks to deceive the mouth; or the eye seeks to deceive the ear. If that sounds absurd, it should. Now imagine that you practice deceit in the congregation: you lie to the minister; you lie about the elders; or you spread gossip about another member. That must sound as absurd to you as the hand seeking to deceive the mouth.
The effect of lying and deceit in a congregation is devastating. Lying in a congregation destroys fellowship, for the members do not trust the minister; the minister does not trust the elders; and the members do not trust one another. The result is strife and division. The same is true in our homes: we must not tolerate lying in our children; and husbands and wives must live in honesty with one another. In short, says the Heidelberg Catechism, “that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit.”
Sadly, when this happens in the church the office-bearers are often the chief victims of it. A member whispers to another member after the worship service, “Did you hear that in the sermon?” He invites a few other select members (ones he knows will agree with him) to his home, where the sermon is discussed, debated, dissected, and condemned. Statements, often taken out of context, are analyzed by the group. The emphasis of the sermon is decried as unacceptable to the group. A group of “concerned people” begins to meet regularly for coffee, cake, and roast preacher. Not one of the people in the group approaches the pastor in love, nor do any bring their concerns to the elders who oversee the preaching. And, shamefully, nobody in the group, often dominated by an influential and outspoken member, speaks up in defense of the maligned office-bearer or rebukes the group for their sins against the Ninth Commandment. The group’s influence spreads in the congregation until a significant faction is convinced in their echochamber that the pastor is unfaithful. Backbiting, slandering, rash judging, and falsifying a man’s words are the atmosphere in which bitterness against the office-bearers—the pastor because his sermons are not “up to snuff,” and the elders because they do not do anything about it—grows. And children who are present soak in that bitterness so that they, too, despise the pastor and the elders, which has a devastating effect upon their ability to receive the catechism instruction from their pastor.
God is not glorified in that no matter how zealous for the truth the group appears to be. If the pastor has weaknesses and infirmities, the members must bear patiently with him. If they are serious weaknesses, the elders must address them in a proper way. Raising sects and mutiny in the church under the guise of defending the truth is never justified in a faithful Christian, but is the sinful way of schism.
Jesus told the truth because he is the truth. Our Lord Jesus never lied, he never committed the sin of backbiting, he never slandered, he never falsified a man’s words, and he never judged a man rashly or unheard. Jesus hated all lies and deceit. Yet for telling the truth he suffered: he was put to death not for lies, but for truth. The truth that Jesus told, namely, that he is the Son of God, enraged the Sanhedrin, so that they condemned him to death.
And yet, marvelously, God used the lies and deceit of Jesus’ enemies (Judas, the false witnesses, and the Sanhedrin) to bring him to the cross. On the cross Jesus suffered the heavy wrath of God against our lies and deceit, against our falsifying of our neighbor’s words, against our backbiting and slandering, and against our rash judging. On the cross pardon was purchased for all those who repent of their lies and believe in him. On the cross our sins, including our lies, were blotted out through the blood of Jesus. And as a result, God sends the Spirit of truth into our hearts, and he enables us to tell the truth. When we fall into the sin of lying, the Spirit, who is grieved, works in us to repent, and our merciful Father forgives us. And out of thankfulness we love the truth, we confess it uprightly, and we defend and promote the good character of our neighbor.