You Shall Not Give False Testimony


One day around 1870, the manager of a large railroad in the eastern United States was surprised to receive a visit from one of his competitors.

Without wasting time on formalities, the man described a scheme by which the two companies could deceive a mutual competitor and put him out of business. The result would be worth millions of dollars in revenues for both companies.

The manager immediately pulled back from his desk and said, “Sir, that is not how we do busi ness here. Furthermore, I am sure Mr.

Vanderbilt [the owner] would not approve.”

“I can’t see why we should need to trouble the old gentleman about this,”

the man continued. “And—did I mention— we have a draft for $10,000 in your name, if you see fit to use it?”

“Sorry,” the manager replied firmly.

“It’s out of the question.”

“Hmmm, did I say $10,000? I must have misspoken. Actually, the draft is for twice that amount.”

At this, the executive edged still further away from his desk and glared at his visitor, who, mistaking the reason for his reaction, added hastily, “However, it’s just possible we could find a way to make it $30,000.”

Springing to his feet, the manager roared, “Get out of my office! Get out this instant, you scoundrel, before I have you thrown out!”

After the visitor had retreated, the secretary, who had overheard the entire conversation, came in. He found his boss sitting at his desk, wiping his brow.

“Sir,” he said, “I can’t begin to tell you how much I admire you for …”

“Don’t say it,” his boss replied, holding up his hand. “The truth is, I had to get him out of here in a hurry. He was getting close to my price.”

What do you think? Is it true that everybody has a price? Perhaps I should approach it another way: how much is your honesty worth?

we all do it, don’t we?

What about telling a lie to avoid embarrassment? “I’m really sorry, Mrs Hendly. We couldn’t finish your job last night because our machine was broken”

(Actually, we forgot all about it).

What about telling a lie to keep from hurting someone’s feelings? “Thank you for sending those muffins. They were delicious.” (We took one bite and threw the rest away.) What about telling a lie to save money? “Oh no, Mr Customs Inspector, we didn’t buy anything on our trip abroad.” (Just some silver plates.

They’re right there under the towels.) What about telling a lie to get a better grade? “I did finish the term paper, Dr Shivers, but the electricity went out just before I could save it to the hard drive.” (Modern version of “My dog ate it.”) Hey, but wait! We were talking about lies that would ruin a railroad. That’s not the same as common, garden-variety untruths. These are innocent little everyday prevarications. Not a big deal, right?

In fact, Anglican priest Joseph Fletcher wanted to take it even further.

He formulated an ethical system that would legitimise most “conventional” lies. In his famous Situation Ethics, Fletcher taught that the “right” action in any given case depends on the situation.

Even a huge lie may be justified, he claimed, if the motive is right.

It is easy to understand why this way of thinking has influenced millions of people. Popular spin-offs from Fletcher’s ideas have made lying more than just socially acceptable—a lot of people even consider it essential.

the problem with lying

It is not hard to discover that the Bible disagrees sharply with this slippery ethic. King Solomon says that “the Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22). The apostle Paul is no less emphatic. He puts liars on the same list with people “who kill their fathers or mothers.” He considers them “lawbreakers and rebellious” (1 Timothy 1:9, 10).

The book of Revelation joins in the chorus, warning us solemnly that “anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful” (Revelation 21:27) will not enter God’s kingdom. We could add dozens of other passages throughout the Bible that echo the same radical point of view.

The devil, said Jesus, does not hold to the truth, “for 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). Lying and falsehood are the antitheses of God. They are anti-God and when we indulge in them, we are blotting Him out of our sky. And if we persist in this habit, we are ripping His image out of our souls.

what’s all the fuss about?

What’s so bad about a little lie now and then? Why does the Bible insist so much on telling the truth?

Consider the following:

1. Lying destroys the freedom and dignity of our victims because it is always manipulative. By lying to someone, we take away their ability to choose rationally, to make a decision and form an opinion based on accurate information. We are treating people with contempt, as objects to fool and deceive for our own selfish ends.

2. Lying damages the personal freedom of the people who engage in it, because they quickly become entangled in the sticky web of their own deception and manipulation. Abraham Lincoln said: “No man has a good enough memory to make a successful liar.” Truth tellers do not have to strain to avoid the pitfalls they have set for themselves but liars keep digging in deeper as they lie more and more, attempting to cover their previous falsehoods.

3. Lying destroys trust. It is sometimes possible to deceive other people but usually not for long. Distrust and suspicion increase exponentially when a lie is discovered. Nobody trusts a liar.

And it is also true that no-one is more suspicious than a liar. People who lie naturally don’t trust other people. They assume they are just like them.

4. Lying damages the liar’s sense of self-worth. Even if it is possible to deceive other people for a while, it is much harder to fool ourselves. I may be able to pull the wool over your eyes but I have done serious damage to myself, because I know that I am a fake and a hypocrite.

5. Lying destroys our relationship with God. This may be the least concern of someone squirming in an effort to get out of trouble. But in the end, it is the most devastating effect of all.

the time of the big lie

Jesus warned the time is coming when millions of people will be overwhelmed by the most powerful and sophisticated deception ever known.

Highly convincing religious leaders will “perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect” (Matthew 24:24). We call this movement “anti- Christ,” because it is against God’s will.

Jesus’ mission from the beginning was to tell the truth about God (see John 18:37).

The apostle Paul also speaks about this powerful end-time deception.

Notice especially the verses in which he tells us the reason it will sweep so many people away. Antichrist—“the man of lawlessness”—will come with “all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 9, 10).

So why are millions of people going to be overwhelmed by the last great deception? Because they do not love the truth.

When we looked at the sixth commandment, we learned that “Do not murder” requires that we must actively love our enemies. Now, in the ninth commandment, we discover that “Do not lie” demands that we love the truth.

So what do people who love the truth do? If we love the truth, we will search for it. It will seem important to us to discover it. We will take the time and make the effort necessary (see John 5:39). Daily Bible study and prayer for understanding will be a normal part of our lives (see Acts 17:11). Like the psalmist, we will pray, “guide me in your truth and teach me” (Psalm 25:5).

the no-lie people

The prophecy about the end-time has a note of immense encouragement for all of us. It says not everyone will be overwhelmed by the big lie. John the Revelator saw in vision a group of individuals living in the last days who “follow the Lamb wherever He goes” (Revelation 14:4). They follow Jesus, who is the truth and following means unreserved obedience.

The prophecy then adds that “no lie was found in their mouths” (verse 5). If no lie was found in their mouth, it means the truth was there instead.

They are people who value the truth enough to look for it and they have discovered it. Having found it, they want to share it, because the prophecy says it is “in their mouths”—they want to talk bout it. What they had encountered changed their lives and now they are not willing to keep it selfishly to themselves. As a result, they become fearless witnesses for God and for truth in the midst of overwhelming deception.

At this point, history will have come full circle. These followers of the Lamb will be worthy successors of the first Christians who stood against the powerful pressures of the political correctness and group-think of their day. When the religious leaders had the apostles flogged, the record says: “The apostles left … rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:41, 42).

The early Christians, like the people who will walk with the Lamb in the last days, understood the meaning of the ninth commandment. For them, not bearing false witness meant bearing a fearless witness to the truth. And in this way, they were worthy followers of Jesus, who said, “I am the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

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