11. Truth

Lessons from the Law: No.11 : Respect the Truth

Ex 20:16 You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

We have said that all these commandments are linked to relationships. The first four are relationship with the Lord, the fifth is about relationship with parents, the sixth is about relating rightly to all other humans and respecting their life, the seventh was about marriage relationships and the eighth about relationships with all other people, and respecting their property ownership. Each command stops abuse of that relationship in some specific way. Life is all about relating to God and to other people. None of us is an island and so life is all about how we relate to everyone else we encounter in life, starting with God.

The ninth commandment gives us another abuse against others: speaking wrongly about what they have said and done. This is more than just speaking badly about others, although that is also wrong, this is seeking to pervert justice, because false testimony is telling untruths about them that lead to injustice. Each of the previous commandments we have just considered are to ensure there is peace and harmony in the community of God’s people. Murder takes life, adultery takes a person’s heart, stealing takes a possession, and now false testimony takes a reputation, and each one causes harm and upset in the lives of individuals and in the community. It isn’t only the individuals that are upset, although that is bad enough, but the whole of the community is adversely affected when these things take place. Guilt, shame and especially mistrust break in to the lives of the people in the world around you when you break these commands.

We find similar instructions given later in the law: Do not spread false reports.” (Ex 23:1) and “Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex 23:7) False speaking was to have no place among the community of God’s people. Why? Because as Solomon was later to write, “There are six things the LORD hates…. a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Prov 6:16,19) The Lord is concerned with truth and reality and lies and deception are only of His enemy and so He hates these things that disturb and upset His world. Indeed, Solomon later wrote, “The righteous hate what is false,” (Prov 13:5) and so a righteous person, reflecting their Lord’s heart, will have nothing to do with speaking falsely.

It was quite a key issue with Solomon and crops up in Proverbs again and again in different forms: “A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies.” (Prov 14:5) and “A truthful witness saves lives, but a false witness is deceitful.” (Prov 14:25). So strongly does he feel about it that he gives severe warnings: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who pours out lies will not go free.” (Prov 19:5) repeating it slightly differently a few verses later: “A false witness will not go unpunished,and he who pours out lies will perish.” (Prov 19:9) But it is also the person who listens to these lies and accepts them who is drawn into this: “A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever.” (Prov 21:28). Speaking even more graphically, he later says, “Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor.” (Prov 25:18)

Yes, the message is quite clear from Scripture: the Lord is against lies, and especially lies about those who are around you, whoever they may be. And ‘neighbour’ can mean those who live near you or those who work around you or learn around you at school or college. ‘Speaking falsely’ is saying anything about another which is not the truth about them. It may simply be an opinion or it may be secondhand, but if it is not true, we are still ‘giving false testimony’; we are saying things about them which are not true and we are conveying to others false information or false impressions. We are leading others to think badly about the ones we are speaking about and in so doing we diminish their reputation. To use a word we used a lot in the previous meditation, we ‘demean’ them; we make them less than they are.

I suspect that this commandment is broken far more regularly than we are mostly aware. Reports mount up that press reporting and TV news reporting are sometimes careless in checking the details before publishing them, and thus false reports or ‘slightly inaccurate’ reports are given. How many reputations have been destroyed because a reporter and their editor were a little bit flexible with the truth? The media representatives may find they have a lot to answer for when they face the Lord eventually.

But it isn’t only the media; it is each one of us. How careful are we about speaking the truth? Gossip tends to inaccurately convey the truth. Yes the truth may include an error or mistake or piece of bad behaviour, but if it comes without compassionate understanding, it is not the complete truth and the gossip will be answerable to the Lord for breaking this commandment which, we have noted above, is highly regarded by the Lord.

No, don’t think that this is a minor commandment, one less than murder. You may not be physically killing a person but you may kill their reputation and, indeed, their future. We must be very careful to stick to the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, otherwise we may find ourselves being held accountable by the Lord, and that will not be pleasant!

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16. Evil Men

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.16

Psa 10:13 Why does the wicked man revile God? Why does he say to himself, “He won’t call me to account”?

There is a mystery in many people’s minds, a mystery about evil and specifically about evil in people. Why are people like they are? Why do dictators do the terrible things they do? Why do men and women murder, why do men rape, why do fathers abuse children, why do people steal from other people? I once led a law class where the whole class were unanimous that we needed laws to protect the weak “because people are nasty”. What an indictment of the human race!

There are two possible aspects to this verse today – the reason why men act like this, and the reason God lets them act like this. First of all, what is the reason men act like this? Why do people do wrong and then deny the presence of God? Why does the wicked man think he will get away with it?

Well there are two parts to the answer to that. Looking at Scripture, we see that we have an adversary, Satan, who comes against us to tempt us to do wrong, and he does that by getting us to think wrongly. We did consider this the other day but we will look at it more deeply now. At the Fall we find the following sequence of events: He said to the woman, “Did God really say,’You must not eat from any tree in the garden? (Gen 3:1) This was Satan challenging the truth in Eve’s mind as part of his endeavours to get her to go against God. That was followed by,You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman (Gen 3:4), his denial of the consequences of her actions. So we see he whispers into people’s minds that it’s all right to do this thing because who’s to say it’s wrong, and anyway, it will be all right. It is wrong and it won’t be all right – A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7) There are always consequences to our wrong doing.

Now there is a second reason men now do wrong. It isn’t only Satan; it is the fact that since the Fall, every man, woman and child has been tainted by this thing called Sin, this tendency towards self-centred godlessness which results in unrighteousness. Note that it is now a tendency within us. Once we become Christians we have a greater power within us, the Holy Spirit, who enables us to overcome the old tendency, the old nature. However until a person comes to Christ for salvation, that old nature prevails and Sin prevails in them. Godlessness is most natural; self-centredness is most natural, and unrighteousness is most natural. Now David didn’t have this understanding when he wrote this psalm, but we have all the revelation of the New Testament teaching so we should understand it and we shouldn’t be surprised when we see such things. Satan plus the old sinful nature means that evil is expressed in human beings.

But we said there is a second aspect to this verse – why God allows wicked men to act like this. This is so often the cry of lack of understanding, “Why doesn’t God do something about it?” the ‘it’ being the wrong doing of evil people. Well actually when you think about it there is an easy answer to this one. The Bible indicates quite clearly that God has given us free will. It would be a nonsense if God told us to do things if we did not have the capacity not to do them. The fact that Eve and then Adam ‘fell’, were disobedient, is a clear example of this free will. A variety of other people in the Bible also clearly didn’t do what God told them to do. No, free will is a capacity that God has obviously given us. So when we cry, “Why doesn’t God do something?” we are in fact saying, “Why doesn’t God override this person’s free will?” and that’s where it gets difficult. Put simply, where should He stop? Obviously He should stop murderers and rapists and criminals, you might say. OK, but why stop with them for there are lots and lots of acts of wrongdoing that are not criminal acts? OK, you say, do away with all wrongdoing! Ah! Including in you? Including your wrong thoughts, wrong words and sometimes wrong acts? You want God to take away your free will and make you into a robot who can only do good, whose action will be severely curtailed, and whose human experience will be radically cut back? You want God to do that, because that is your only alternative?

As soon as we come to this point we see the awfulness of Sin and the awfulness of free will, but then we start seeing the wonder of salvation that wins sinful human beings to God’s side to be good. That’s what salvation does, but we have to have the other awful freedom first. Yes, God does act into this world and sometimes He does obviously move against evil men, and yes, men do reap the consequences of their actions, but in the meantime the terrible downside of free will is that man can be evil!

Never blame God for your wrong doing and never demand He takes away free will of other people – or you! Free will is the staggering responsibility that God has bestowed upon mankind. It is, if you like, a sign of His respect for us. He gives us our lives to live as we will, with the potential to achieve wonderful things, but also to do terrible things. The choice is ours. He will be there to help us achieve the former, and His wrath will be there against the latter, but the choice is still ours. Choose wisely.