You Shall Not Bear False Witness

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Exodus 20:16

INTRODUCTION: Please take your Bibles and turn with me to Exodus 20. We are nearing the end of our series on the Ten Commandments for Today, and today we come to the ninth commandment, which has to do with lying.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

Is there anybody here who can say that they are not a liar? If you answered yes, guess what? You’re a liar! Psalm 116:11 says, “All men are liars,” but God is a God of truth. In fact, the Bible says that it is impossible for God to lie.

The Bible also tells us that God hates lying. Proverbs 6:16-19 says, “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” Notice that two out of the seven have to do with lying! Proverbs 12:22 says, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

And so God has given us the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” And although the command was originally directed against lying about another person, especially in a courtroom situation, it has rightly been interpreted as commanding against all forms of lying. “You shall not bear false witness; you shall not lie.”


So let’s take a closer look at the meaning of the command.

    A. You shall not intentionally speak that which is untrue (Lev 19:11-12; Col 3:9-10 )

First of all, the command means that you shall not intentionally speak that which is untrue. Leviticus 19:11-12 says, “Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God.” Leviticus 19 is dealing with the application of several of the Ten Commandments, and here the ninth commandment is shown to include all forms of lying. Colossians 3 also makes this wider application. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9-10) So it is important for us to realize that the ninth commandment is not just limited to courtroom situations. You shall not intentionally speak anything which you know to be untrue.

    B. You shall not speak evil against another (Exodus 20:16; Deut 5:20; James 4:11)

Secondly, the command means that you shall not speak evil against another person. It is interesting when you compare the Ten Commandments as originally given here in Exodus 20 with the second giving of the Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5. Remember, Deuteronomy 5 takes place forty years later outside the borders of Canaan. And in Deuteronomy 5 we find Moses reminding the Israelites about the Ten Commandments, as well as further explaining to them about the Ten Commandments, so there are some minor differences. In Exodus 20 the word translated “false” in “false testimony” is a word that means “untrue.” In Deuteronomy 5 the word translated “false” in “false testimony” is a word that means “insincere, empty or worthless.” This goes beyond simply that which is untrue, and includes speaking any evil against your neighbor. James picks up on this in James 4 when he says, “Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it.” (James 4:11)

II. Different ways of lying

There are many different ways of lying. You can dress it up in other language, try to justify or disguise it, but that’s just another lie in itself! I think of Winston Churchill who instead of calling someone in the House of Parliament a liar simply accused him of “perpetrating a terminological inexactitude!” I am sure the guy had no idea what Churchill had just called him! But whatever you choose to call it: a lie is a lie is a lie.

So, what are the different ways the Bible says that we can be guilty of lying?

A. First of all, we can speak falsehood directly. The Bible mentions several ways we can do this..

Perjury is one way. Exodus 23 says, “When you give testimony in a lawsuit, do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd, and do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit.” (Exodus 23:2-3) And so when God tells us not to bear false witness in a courtroom situation, he is concerned not only with truthfulness but also with justice.

The Old Testament law treated perjury very seriously. We read in Deuteronomy 19: “If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime … The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 19:18-19) It has been said that when you commit perjury, you are in effect calling upon God to witness to your lie. Perjury is an especially serious violation of the ninth commandment.

Slander is another way we speak falsehood directly. Slander is speaking falsehood about another person which harms their reputation. Leviticus 19:16 says, “Do not go about spreading slander among your people.”

Spreading gossip or rumor is another way. Exodus 23:1 says, “Do not spread false reports. Do not help a wicked man by being a malicious witness.” We need to be careful not to spread gossip or rumors about people, whether in the office or workplace, or over the telephone or the internet. The internet and email are especially susceptible to spreading rumors and urban legends quickly and with little accountability. Check your facts before you forward that story to those one hundred people in your contact list, who will pass it on to one hundred others and so on. And if you find out that you passed on false information, at least make sure that you forward the corrected information to the same group of people.

Flattery is another way that we speak falsehood directly. David said in Psalm 12: “Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception.” (Psalm 12:1-2) It is wrong to flatter someone to curry favor for your own benefit. Job said, “I will show partiality to no one, nor will I flatter any man; for if I were skilled in flattery, my Maker would soon take me away.” (Job 32:21-22)

False teaching is another way people speak falsehood directly. Paul warned about false teachers in 1 Timothy 4: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.” (1 Timothy 4:1-2)

Careless lies are another way we speak falsehood directly. Proverbs 26 says, “Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows is a man who deceives his neighbor and says, ‘I was only joking!’” (Proverbs 26:18-19) A casual disregard for the truth will eventually catch up with you and cause you trouble in life.

And then, finally, “little white lies” are another way we speak falsehood directly. You know what we tell ourselves about little white lies. “It’s just a little untruth. It’s not going to hurt anybody.” Notice how we try to minimize or justify it even by the label we apply: “little … white … lie.” 1 Peter 2 says that you should “rid yourselves of … all deceit.” (1 Peter 2:1) In the same chapter Peter goes on to give us the example of Christ: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 1 Peter 2:22) Would Jesus tell little, white lies? The answer is, “No.” As followers of Christ we must not speak any falsehood. We are to be people of the truth.

B. Of course, you do not have to speak falsehood directly in order to be guilty of lying. You can also break the ninth commandment by simply intending to deceive someone else.

One way we do this is by misrepresenting the truth. For example, in Matthew 26 we read about false witnesses who came forward at Jesus’ trial. The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death. But they did not find any, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward and declared, “This fellow said, ‘I am able to destroy the temple of God and rebuild it in three days.’” (Matthew 26:59-61) Did Jesus speak those words? Well, yes, he said something similar to them. But these false witnesses misrepresented the truth by speaking his words out of context. And this was part of the evidence they used to convict Jesus at his trial.

We can also intentionally deceive other people by living a hypocritical life. Jesus said to the Pharisees of his day: “You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’” (Matthew 15:7-8) Pretending to honor God on the outside when you really don’t honor him in your heart is another way you can bear false witness.

C. So the Bible says we can be guilty of lying by speaking falsehood directly or by intending to deceive. There is also a third way the Bible says we can lie. And that is by mixing lies with the truth. Have you ever heard the phrase a “half-truth?” Well, a half truth is nothing more than a whole lie. We mix lies with the truth any time we exaggerate or when we try to twist the truth for various reasons. The apostle Paul said, “We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:2) As Christians we need to adopt the standard of the courtroom witness: “Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” Mixing lies in with the truth is just another way of telling a lie.

III. Reasons why people lie

Why do people lie? Have you ever thought about that? Why do we lie? Why do we start lying almost as soon as we start speaking? Why not just tell the truth? The ultimate reason is because we all have a sinful nature that is prone to sin, but it is helpful to look at some of the reasons or motivations why people lie. I can think of four main reasons.

First of all, we lie to protect self. We lie to cover our own hide. Saul lied to Samuel when Samuel approached him after his battle with the Amalekites. God told Saul to keep none of the plunder from the battle, but Saul had let the solders keep the best of the sheep and the cattle. When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The LORD bless you! I have carried out the LORD’s instructions.” But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the LORD your God, but we totally destroyed the rest.” (1 Samuel 15:13-15) Why did Saul lie? Because he knew he hadn’t followed the Lord’s instructions, and he was trying to protect himself. Have you ever lied to protect yourself in some way? Of course you have. We all have. It is one of the main reasons people lie.

Another reason we lie is to gain an advantage. We think that by lying we will gain money or prestige or something, and so we go ahead and lie in order to gain. We need to realize that lying will never truly bring us gain in the long run, because God will not allow it to. Proverbs 21:28 says, “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.”

Another reason we lie is simply to impress others. Have you ever done that? Once again, we all have. We feel insecure about ourselves, and so we lie about our past or abilities or accomplishments hoping to look better in other people’s eyes. The book of Jude in the Bible describes some people who lied to impress others. “These men are grumblers and faultfinders; they follow their own evil desires; they boast about themselves and flatter others for their own advantage.” (Jude 16)

And sadly, another reason we sometimes lie is to harm others. Joseph in the Bible found this out when he refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife. She was so angry with him that she lied about him, and Joseph was thrown into prison. (Genesis 39:11-20)

IV. Results of lying

What are the results of lying? There are many practical reasons God tells us not to bear false witness, and many of these can be seen in the results that happen when we lie. First of all, lying harms others. Proverbs 25:18 says, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.”

Secondly, lying destroys trust. Lying destroys confidence, security, assurance and trust. You cannot operate a family, a business, a church, or a country without a strong standard of honesty. Proverbs 14:5 says, “A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.”

Thirdly, lying wrecks relationships. Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” Ephesians 4:25 says, “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.”

Fourthly, lying ruins your reputation. Proverbs 10:9 says, “The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out.” How many people have lost their reputations in business, church or politics because they were caught in a lie?

Fifthly, lying breaks your fellowship with God. In Psalm 101:7 God says, “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” In order to have fellowship with God, we must confess our sin and leave our lies behind.

Finally, lying brings God’s judgment on the liar. Proverbs 19:9 says, “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will perish.” The book of Revelation includes liars among those who will perish in the lake of fire. “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) The righteous will take their place in God’s kingdom, but “outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:15)

Once again, we are all guilty of lying. We have all broken God’s standards for truth and honesty. We are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness through Jesus his Son.

V. Sources of lying

In battling against lying in our own lives, it is also helpful to recognize where lies actually come from. The Bible reveals two sources in particular.

First of all the Bible teaches us that Satan is the original source of all lying. In Genesis 3 Satan told the first recorded lie. God had told Adam and Eve not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that if they did they would surely die. Satan told Eve, “You will not surely die.” (Genesis 3:4) It was a lie. We all know how that one turned out. Jesus described Satan this way: “There is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) So Satan told the first lie. He is called the father of lies. And lying is Satan’s native language. Think about it. When you tell a lie, you are really speaking Satanese! Satan is the original source of all lying.

But we can’t blame it all on the devil, because the Bible tells us that lying also finds its source in the human heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” We read in Matthew 15:19 that “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” So Satan is the ultimate source of all lies, but he works through the sin in our hearts to bring those lies to bear.

We find both of these sources mentioned together in Acts 5:3 when Peter said to Ananias, “How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied?” Understand that when you break the ninth commandment, you are speaking the devil’s language and doing the devil’s work. That should be motivation enough not to lie.

VI. Positive application: Speaking the truth in love (Eph 4:15)

What is the positive application of the command, “You shall not bear false witness?” I believe we find it in Ephesians 4:15 where Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love.” It has been said that love without truth is hypocrisy, but truth without love is brutality. God doesn’t want you running around telling someone how ugly their dress is, or that you hated the gift they gave you, or what a lousy solo they sang. We must always speak the truth, but we must balance the truth with love.

You should ask yourself three questions before saying anything questionable about or to someone else:

  1. Is it true?
  2. Is it necessary?
  3. Is it kind?

Unless you can answer “yes” to all three, you’re probably better off leaving it unsaid.

So let us confess our sin of lying to God and ask his forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Let us turn away from the sin of lying in our lives. And let us seek to be truthful and loving in all that we say and do. Only then will we be living in obedience to the ninth commandment: “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.”

© Ray Fowler

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