Watch your mouth (3): Truth
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article by Rev. Joshua Engelsma was published in The Standard Bearer, October 15 2021.
In an age of fake news and talk-show spin and selfserving slant, truth is a commodity in short supply. White lies, half-truths, and bold-as-brass deceits predominate. Even in the church, one hears slander and misrepresentations.
In the midst of the darkness of such dishonesty, the God of truth calls godly young men and women to shine as beacons of truth. Truth-telling is not the only principle that governs our communication, but it is the first and fundamental one.
In the past two articles on Christian communication, we have considered generally the subject of communication, addressing such things as the nature of communication and the importance of it. In this and future articles, we are going to lay out the fundamental biblical principles that govern our communication. And we begin here: speak the truth.
Lying and the father of it
By requiring that we speak the truth, the Bible forbids lying. The ninth commandment of God’s law specifically forbids using our tongues to bear false witness. In view is a courtroom scenario where a person who is called to the stand as a witness lies under oath. In Bible times eyewitnesses were everything. They did not have video recordings, fingerprint analysis, and DNA testing. Instead, a person could be condemned on the basis of two or three eyewitnesses who told the same story. Bearing false witness in such a situation was a great sin.
By forbidding that one narrow application of bearing false witness, the ninth commandment forbids broadly any use of our tongues for lying. Lying is when we say what is not true, we do so deliberately, and we do it either to gain some advantage for ourselves or to protect ourselves from painful consequences.
This is something that even very little children tend to do readily. When they do something wrong, they will lie to dad or mom to try to get out of being punished, even when they have been caught red-handed. Though we might become more sophisticated and subtle in our lies, young people and adults are prone to do the same. Much better, we think, to add sin to sin by covering up our wrong-doing with a lie than to bear the shame of being exposed in what we have done.
Obviously, we are tempted in certain circumstances to tell bold, blatant untruths, but more often we tell subtle lies. We might grumble at the spin put on the news by liberal media, but the truth is that we are all masters of spin. This may be due partly to our faulty memories, but more likely to our sinful natures. For example, while arguing with another person, we fudge on the details of what has happened in order to make the other person seem more at fault or to justify what we have done. In telling a story we leave out certain key details that make us look bad, and we embellish the parts that make us look good. We repeat what someone else has said, but we use a tone of voice that makes him seem foolish. We give our interpretation of a matter as if it were truth. We twist someone’s words, take them out of context, and put the worst possible spin on them. We exaggerate by saying things like, “You always do this” and “You never do that.” Even though in all these examples we may not have told an outright lie, God still considers these exaggerations, evasions, and misrepresentations to be the bearing of false witness.
Another ugly form of lying is slander. Slander is akin to backbiting (an issue we will come back to later), but there is a distinction between them. Backbiting refers to saying some hurtful truth behind another person’s back, while slander refers to telling a lie about someone behind their back. While a classmate is walking down the hallway of school, you might whisper to your group of friends some hateful lie about her. You slander that classmate for the purpose of making her look bad as well to make yourself look better in the eyes of your friends. Your slander of her might include ascribing the worst possible motives to something that she has done, or refusing to judge her with a judgment of charity but instead assuming the worst about her. How common are sins of slander today!
Sins of slander and lying are so prevalent. But, why? Part of the explanation for the prevalence of these sins is that we live in an age where there is such ease of communication. Cell phones and social media can be great tools for good, but they can also be tremendous instruments of evil. Lies and half-truths can travel from one state to another, from one country to another, in an instant. There is a lot of truth in the saying that a lie travels halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.
But the explanation for the prevalence of lying is not ultimately in cell phones and social media. The explanation is our sinful natures. Not only do we speak lies to protect ourselves and make ourselves look better, but we secretly love to hear others say these things. Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds [some translate this word as “delicious morsels”], and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” We love to listen as others are torn to shreds and verbally dismembered. Our old man eats it up, smacks his lips, and says, “Delicious!”
The lie is a tool forged in the devil’s workshop. The very word for “devil” used in the Bible means “liar, deceiver, slanderer, mudslinger.” Jesus says of him, “When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).
The devil made use of the lie in the beginning to deceive Adam and Eve, and he continues to use the lie as his weapon of choice against the church today (cf. II Cor. 11:3). He is constantly telling the lie that obedience to God is misery, and that sin is pleasurable and can be committed without consequence. He is constantly slinging mud at the church and at us individual believers. He says, “Look at all your awful sins! You can’t possibly be a child of God! You can’t possibly be forgiven!”
This is the horror of lying and using our tongues to hurt others. When we lie about ourselves, either to build ourselves up in pride or to cover up our sins, when we use our tongues to slander and hurt our neighbor, we might think it is not so serious. But in reality we are doing the work of the devil!
Young people, flee the lie! Do not speak it yourself, and do not be party to the lies and slander of others!
Truth-telling and the God of truth
Also, the Word of God not only commands us not to lie, but sets before us a positive calling to speak the truth. We might think we have satisfied our calling if we can say, “Well, I never actually lied,” but we must also face the question, “But did you tell the truth, the whole truth?”
Of all the principles that guide our communication, this one is first and most basic. You can speak the truth and still not communicate as you ought, but you can never communicate rightly without the truth. There are so many passages of God’s Word that set forth our calling to speak the truth, that the difficulty is not finding them but choosing which ones to quote. Consider just two, one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament: “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly are his delight” (Prov. 12:22) and “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another” (Eph. 4:25).
Speaking the truth means, first, that we love and speak the truth of God’s Word. We live in a postmodern society that claims that there is no such thing as absolute, objective truth. But there is absolute truth, and that absolute truth is the truth of God’s Word. Loving that truth, we speak it to our family and friends, confess it before the world, and witness to it in our daily walk.
Speaking the truth means, second, that we say only that which is true in our dealings with others. Before we ever open our mouths, the words we intend to speak must pass through the filter of truthfulness. We ought regularly to ask ourselves, “Is this in harmony with fact and reality? Am I certain that what I am about to say to another person or about another person is, in fact, the truth? Do I have all the facts, and do I have them straight? Does this accurately portray what happened, or are the details fudged?” If it is not true or if we are uncertain whether it is truth, then we bite our tongues and say nothing. Speaking the truth means, third, that we speak the truth about ourselves. In other words, the calling to speak the truth requires openness and honesty. Especially in our closest relationships (for example, a husband and wife, parents and children, close friends), clamming up or bottling everything up is not proper. The ‘danger’ and the joy of a relationship is opening ourselves up to others and being known by them. This does not mean that we say everything that is on our mind, for only a fool always speaks everything on his mind (cf. Prov. 29:11), but healthy communication in a healthy relationship demands openness and honesty.
The reason God demands that we speak the truth is that He is the God of truth. The devil is the father of the lie, but God is truth. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.”
God is the God of truth. As the God of truth, God never speaks the lie. He opposes the lie and condemns all falsehood. And God Himself always lives and speaks the truth.
Because God hates and opposes the lie, you and I are called not to lie or use our tongues to tear down others. Because God always lives and speaks the truth, we are called also to live and speak that truth, to use our tongues to build up and defend the honor and good character of our neighbor.
As those who belong to Jesus Christ, we have been delivered from the ruling power of the devil and lies through the work of Him who is “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). As the Truth, Jesus was willing to endure the lies that were spoken against. He was falsely accused of being a troublemaker and of blaspheming the name of God. By His death on the cross, He delivered us from the power of the devil and from the wrath which we deserved for our lies. He has also given to us His Holy Spirit who works in us and sanctifies us to be men and women of truth.
Covenant youth, you have been delivered from the power of the devil and the lie! Therefore, hate the lie and put to death every sinful use of the tongue!
And you have been delivered unto covenant fellowship with the God of truth and with Jesus Christ the truth! Therefore, in grateful love, speak the truth in love!
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