Robert Jeffress - Safeguard The Reputation of Others
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to "Pathway to Victory". Everybody tells little white lies. What's the harm in bending the truth a little if nobody gets hurt, right? Well, the Bible clearly states that God takes our lies seriously: the big ones and the small ones. And today, we're going to see why this infraction made his list of the top Ten Commandments. My message is titled, "Safeguard the Reputation of Others," on today's edition of "Pathway to Victory".
Now, they'll not admit to it. At best, they'll phrase it like Winston Churchill did. They were engaged in what he called "terminological inexactitude". But any way you measure it, it's a lie. Now, I know that's not news to you, and the point today is not do politicians lie, but do you lie? Now, before you say, "Oh, Pastor, I'm not guilty of that," I wanna take a moment and I want you to voluntarily hook yourself up to a mental lie detector, okay? It's provided for you in the pew rack in front of you. Get your lie detector out, put it around your right arm, if you would, and I want you to answer eight questions to see how much of a truthful person you really are.
- Do you have a secret life you don't want others to discover?
- Would you agree to answer any question your spouse asked you if you were hooked up to a real lie detector?
- Do you often say things you don't mean for the sake of politeness?
- Have you ever lied about your age, education, or income?
- Would you tell a close friend that he or she had bad breath? Don't look at your neighbor right now.
- Have you ever said, "I love you," without meaning it?
- Do you love and respect your in-laws?
- Did you lie on this test? How did you do?
I imagine all of us realize we may be engaged in terminological inexactitude or what the Bible calls lying, which is the subject of the Ninth Commandment we're looking at today in our series on "The 10". Exodus 20, verse 16 says: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor". This is a very specific kind of lying that we're going to get to in just a moment. But first, let's look at what the Bible says about lying. You know, there's a connection between the Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Commandment. The Sixth Commandment involves taking something that doesn't belong to you: "You shall not take your neighbor's life". The Seventh Commandment: "You shall not take your neighbor's wife or husband". The Eighth Commandment: "You shall not take your neighbor's goods". And this commandment, the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not take your neighbor's good name".
All four of these commandments involve taking something that really doesn't belong to you. And there's a relationship between murder, adultery, theft. They all involve taking something that doesn't belong to you. The Bible treats lying very seriously. We don't; we treat it flippantly. It's a part of everyday life. I think about the father that was taking his 6-year-old son to the movie. The theater allowed children under the age of six in free and so the ticket-taker looked at the boy and said, "How old are you"? And obeying his father's instructions, he answered, "Five". The ticket-taker looked at him and said, "And when do you turn six"? The boy said, "Probably right after the movie is over".
Now, we kind of treat that as harmless kind of lying, but the Bible takes it very seriously. If you really wanna know what God says about lying, turn to Proverbs chapter 6, verses 16 through 19. Solomon said, "There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him". Now, that ought to cause our spiritual ears to perk up. Whenever the Bible said, "Here are seven things God hates," we'd better take note of them. What are they? Verse 17: "Haughty eyes," that is pride. "A lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers".
Will you notice that two out of these seven things involve lying and deception. God hates lying. Why does God hate lying so much? Why is this a commandment of the ten and why is it that two of the seven on the list in Proverbs deal with lying? There are two reasons God hates lying. First of all, because of the origin of lying. Where does lying originate? Hint: not with God. God cannot lie. On the other hand, Satan cannot not lie. He is the originator of lies in the universe. In John 8:44, Jesus describes Satan this way: "Satan does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and he is the father of all lies".
It is in Satan's nature to lie, and here's why God hates lying so much. When we, as Christians lie, we're behaving more like children of Satan than we are children of God. Secondly, he hates lying because of the outcome, the results of lying. Look at Proverbs 6:19 again, that list of seven things God hates. Notice what he says in verse 19: "A false witness who utters lies, And who spreads strife among brothers". There's a relationship between lying and causing division among brothers, that is among believers. I had a deacon in the first church I pastored. He never could quite get this verse quite right. The King James says: "Those who sow discord among the brethren," he would always talk about sowing discourse among the brethren. But we knew what he was trying to say.
God hates division among Christians, and lies further those division among Christians. Well, how do we lie? You know, just as there's more than one way to commit adultery, we saw there's more than one way to kill a person, there's also more than one way to lie. Now, the most obvious way we lie, first of all, is by contradicting the truth, by just saying something that is absolutely false in light of truth. Remember Genesis 2, God told Adam: "From the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not eat, for on the day that you eat of it you shall surely die". Apparently, Adam passed that instruction to Eve because in Genesis 3 Satan in the form of that serpent slithered up in to Eve's ear and said what? "You shall not surely die," Genesis 3:4. That's a lie, contradicting what is absolutely true. Contradicting the truth.
Secondly, another way we lie is more subtle: it's twisting the truth. It's making sure we're not technically involved in telling a lie but the truth is we're deceiving people. Calvin Miller, a great writer, tells about when he was in seminary he had a part-time job in a factory at nights to make ends meet, and one night he realized he couldn't go into work, he really needed to study for an exam, but he knew that would not be an acceptable excuse with his employer, so he asked his wife what they were having for dinner. She said, "Fish". He went in the bedroom, got flat on his back, and he told his wife, "Now bring the package of fish to me". So, she brought the package of frozen fish to him and while in the prone position, he threw that package of frozen fish into the air, caught it, and said, "Now, call my employer and tell him I'm flat on my back and I just threw up my dinner". Technically, that was true, but it was a deception. And the same thing is true when we twist the truth to suit our own purpose.
A third way we are involved in breaking the Ninth Commandment is by neglecting the truth. That is, allowing falsehoods to go unchallenged when we know the truth. That's the same as lying, Paul says. In Ephesians 4:25 he says: "Lay aside falsehood, speak truth to each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another". You know, Moses went on to elaborate on that in Leviticus 5:1. He said that if you're in a court of law and if you are called to testify about something you have seen or know about, it is sinful to refuse to testify and you will be punished for your sin. I remember years ago talking to a friend. We were talking about a staff member from another church who had recently left, and my friend said, "I understand it was because of immorality".
Well, I happened to know about the situation. I said, "You know, that's not true. There was no immorality involved in it at all. This is why he left". Now, my friend could have remained silent, said, "Okay, no big deal". But instead, he went the extra step. He called the person who gave him that wrong information and said, "You know, I've just come upon some facts about that. That staff member was not involved in an immoral relationship". He felt he had a duty, which he did, to correct error by speaking the truth. Fourthly, inflating the truth. That's another way that we lie. Inflating the truth, trying to make a good story or a situation sound better by embellishing it.
I remember hearing about two pastors who went to a pastors' convention. They were standing in the hallway and one said, "How many are you running in your worship service every Sunday"? The other pastor said, "Between 4 and 500". This pastor said, "Well, that's great". Later that next week, he received a bulletin from that church. He looked down at the attendance and it said, "87". So he called his friend. He said, "You told me you were running between 4 and 500, and your attendance report says 87". And the pastor said, "Well, 87 is between 4 and 500".
Now, that's what you call inflating the truth. And before you laugh too much, we've all done that before. Have you ever inflated your résumé, perhaps by exaggerating your educational experience or your work experience? Have you ever exaggerated a relationship with somebody by saying, "Oh, he or she, they're great friends," when in fact, you barely even know them? That's what you call inflating the truth. But I want you to notice a special category of lying that is the focus of the Ninth Commandment. Exodus 20:16: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor". You are not to lie about another person. Why does he mention this as the sin that makes God's top ten? Two reasons. First of all, bearing false witness about another person perverts justice. It perverts justice.
Now, stay with me on this. Remember Israel was a theocracy, and that means these moral laws were not just moral laws; they were laws for how society was conducted. And two of these ten commandments had capital punishment assigned to breaking them: adultery and murder. If you were guilty of breaking either of those commandments, you would lose your life. And so, it was very important that before somebody was executed, that reliable witnesses be consulted. And there were two safeguards to make sure that witnesses told the truth and didn't succumb to any outside pressure to declare an innocent person guilty or a guilty person innocent.
What were those safeguards? First of all, there had to be a multiplicity of witnesses. You didn't put anybody to death on the basis on one witness. Deuteronomy 17:6 says: "On the evidence of two witnesses or three witnesses, he who is to die shall be put to death; he shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness". By the way, Paul took that principle and he applied it to the church in 1 Timothy 5:19. He said: "Do not accept an accusation against an elder," a pastor, "except on the basis of two or three eye witnesses". Now I know that goes against our culture today. We're supposed to say, "Oh, one accuser is to always be believed. The accuser is always to be believed". No, the Bible says, you don't always automatically believe every accuser. There needs to be evidence. There need to be witnesses. The same thing is true here. There need to be a multiplicity of witnesses.
Now, here is the second safeguard in Deuteronomy 17, verse 7: "The hand of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people". If somebody was found guilty on the basis of two or three witnesses, and was sentenced to be stoned to death, guess who got to throw the first stone? They were ordered to throw the first stone, those two or three witnesses. They were the ones who inflicted the death blow. In other words, you'd better be careful what you testify to because you're gonna be the one to carry out the execution. And if you're lying in what you said, you're guilty not only of breaking the Ninth Commandment, you're guilty of breaking the commandment, "You shall not murder". You're the one responsible for taking another life.
God hates lying about other people because it perverts justice, but secondly, bearing false witness robs reputations. Look at Colossians 3:8: "But now also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth". Circle that word "slander". You know, to understand what he's saying when he's saying, "Lay aside slander," you have to look at slander's first cousin: gossip. Gossip in the Bible is the Greek word "psithyrismós". Psithyrismós. It's what we call in English an onomatopoeia. It describes by its sound what it is defining. Psithyrismós, gossip, "pssss, pssss". That's what a gossip does, pssss, he's always involved in secret communication. He doesn't want it traced back to him. He's whispering secretly accusations against another person. That's gossip.
But the word here, "slander," you know what that means? It means to strike out against. It means to openly judge another person. A person who commits slander doesn't even try to hide what he's doing. He is so sure he's right and the other person is wrong, he doesn't mind killing somebody's reputation. James has a word about that in James 4:11-12: "Do not speak against one another," slander one another, "brethren, for he who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law and the judges". Verse 12: "For there is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you to judge your neighbor"?
What he is condemning is making a judgment about another person that you're not qualified to make. It means being so certain you're right and they're wrong that you serve as both judge, jury, and executioner, of another person's reputation. It is a serious thing to do. The fact is, words we speak about somebody else, words that we use to destroy somebody's reputation, can never be retrieved. When I think about that truth, I think about a man named Raymond Donovan. You may remember him. In the 1980s he was the Secretary of Labor under President Ronald Reagan. He was accused of several crimes, he was indicted by a Grand Jury, but later he was acquitted of any wrongdoing. And I'll never forget watching the press conference he had after the acquittal came.
Somebody asked him, "Mr. Donovan, what are you going to do next"? He answered, "Does anybody know what office I go to to get my reputation back"? There is no such office. Once you've lost your reputation, it is lost forever. The truth is, the most valuable thing any of us possess is a good name. Proverbs 22, verse 1, says: "A good name is to be more desired than great wealth; Favor is better than silver and gold". We live and we die with our name, and that's why it is so important that we take extra precautions to guard the reputation of others. How do we do that? By refusing to bear false witness against our neighbors.