the commandments. today.
The penultimate commandment instructs us not to lie to one another.
‘Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbour.’ (Deuteronomy 5:20)
The Big Idea
For the Israelites, neighbourhood was not merely a concept; it was the reality within which the people operated. After the Exodus, the Israelites were akin to a nomadic people, travelling and camping in the wilderness. To maintain good relationships, there had to be a loyalty within the people, and this is what God wanted to instil by issuing this commandment. Honest testimony was also increasingly important, for it was the means by which Moses was instructing the people about the God, and his story. Any seeds of doubt caused by a simple lie could have been disastrous for the community. Truthful witness would also have had an impact on a judicial system, protecting poorer members of the community, who could not rely on wealth or influence to win their case.
Today, sometimes we minimalise the destructive nature of lying, arguing it away as simply a “white lie” or using it as an excuse not to hurt someone’s feelings. However, in a world full of falseness, there is an opportunity for Christians to be different amongst this. Nobody likes a hypocrite, and avoiding lying is one of the simplest ways to not fall into that trap. This may mean that we try and engage more authentically with those around us at work, our families, or even on social media. If Jesus is the truth (John 14:6), then as followers of him we should attempt to be truthful in all we do and who we are.
Obeying it Today
How then do we put this commandment into practice?
Don’t underestimate the power of lies
We are lied to everyday through advertising, through media, even sometimes through politicians. Our culture is immersed in fake news, we hear celebrities slandered daily and we’re all perhaps a little prone to exaggeration. Lying surrounds us, and it has a powerful, profoundly destructive impact. If someone trusts us, and we choose to mishandle that trust and communicate dishonestly, we may not realise the impact that could have on somebody’s future. It could impact their ability to trust, to have authentic relations, to share themselves etc.
Gossip is one of the most poisonous traits that can enter into a community, and so often it is pure lies. When we engage in talking about someone behind their back, we plant distrust, animosity and challenges where there previously weren’t. If we engage with gossip, it is so hard to truly trust people. It can lead to bitterness, upset, and can strip someone of their dignity. If we would not say something if someone was in the room, why do we think it is okay to say it when they are not?
Some things we can do…
- Be authentic. In a world which is drowning in false characters, we can be our most effective by simply being real. Are our social media profiles honest reflections of the life we’re living? Have we embellished our CV just a little too much? When people ask us how we are, do we say fine even though we really aren’t? By asking questions such as these, we can begin to realise the challenge of complete honesty.
- Stand up for truth. Sometimes we are called into hard situations, where people may ask us to lie for them. In these circumstances it is important to remember the power lies can have, and the power we can have in speaking up for truthful witness.
- Be a people who spread God’s truth, his Word and his love for people. By spreading these encouragements, we can speak powerful truth into people who may have believed lies about themselves their whole life.