“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16) is one of the Ten Commandments.
Strictly speaking, this deals with lying in court cases, but basically this commandment forbids us to lie in general (compare Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, James 3:14, Ephesians 4:25). This is no doubt something that all of us know and would obey as a general rule, but many feel that lying is acceptable in some circumstances, and feel that bending the rules so as not to upset other people makes it alright.
Reasons for lying
- Want to avoid punishment
- Want to protect someone from knowing the truth
- Want to damage someone’s reputation or cause them trouble.
- You actually don’t know the truth but still say something in order to look knowledgeable.
- Wanting to protect someone’s (or your own) life
1. Want to avoid punishment
This happens because of the desire for self-preservation. Sadly, although it is understandable, as Christians or people with integrity (being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness) this is something we must avoid. The minute we lie, we will find that we will have to keep lying in order to cover up the first lie. This will affect others in some way or another. Even if you are likely to be punished you should decide that you will always tell the truth right from the beginning, however much it may hurt you.
2. Want to protect someone from knowing the truth
This is probably the lie that we are more likely to struggle with. Someone asks us a question – do you like this dress? Does my hair look alright? We may have a negative opinion but know the person asking wants a positive reply – so we answer “yes” though we really think “no”. Many poeple ask, is this a sin? Yes it is. It may be small and insignificant but we should be someone who is trusted to be honest, even if people don’t want to hear our answer.
3. Want to damage someone’s reputation or cause them trouble
This is the most dangerous of lies that people can commit. This results in slander, libel, deceit, the destruction of someone’s reputation and even may go as far as destroying someone’s life. Saying something untrue about another person can cause friends to become enemies, families to become divided and put barriers up in communities and even nations.
This comes from the heart of someone who is evil. Jesus said that Satan was “the father of lies” (John 8:44) and those that lie are following their father, and speaking their native language.
4. You actually don’t know the truth but still say something in order to look knowledgeable
This is the most foolish of lies, but amazingly it happens more often than you would imagine. When people are put on the spot, they can answer questions or queries that confuse, deceive or cause people to misunderstand. This is often the case in societies where loss of face is something to be avoided. Answering with “I am sorry, I don’t know” is the best course of action.
5. Wanting to protect someone’s (or your own) life
This is probably the most controversial and/or the only acceptable reason for lying. In the Bible are various accounts of people who knowingly lied but did so to protect life. Hebrew midwives saved the lives of many baby boys by lying (Exodus 1:16-17), Samuel lied about the reason for his coming to Bethlehem (1 Samuel 16), people were protecting two spies (2 Samuel 17:17-20). There are quite a few other examples. Also in more recent history when people hid Jews to protect them from the Nazis. In instances such as this, a person would justify their actions and words. God, who sees the hearts and minds of everyone, will judge each person by their actions.
In Matthew 12:36, Jesus says: “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken”, so we need to be aware that God watches and hears all that we say, and even think.
In the light of this, lying should always be avoided. When we lie, we are sinning against our neighbor and this will cause problems in our society and communities. God gave us all of the Ten Commandments in order that we would live together in unity and harmony. The example given in “5” is the only exception where God will understand our motives and hearts for being untruthful.
Jesus said: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)