In December 2001 George O’Leary was at the top of the coaching profession. He had just been named the head football coach at the University of Notre Dame – the Fighting Irish. It was a dream of a lifetime. O’Leary was in charge of one of the most prestigious sports programs in the world. Then two days later, at the end of his first day on the job, a call came. A reporter had been trying to contact some of the guys who had played college football with O’Leary back at New Hampshire. The strange thing was that nobody could remember a George O’Leary. So Notre Dame’s sports information director telephoned to check it out. O’Leary admitted that when he applied for a job at Syracuse, his resume did not look impressive enough. So he improved his resume. He improved his resume by claiming he had a non-existent master’s degree as well as playing for the College of New Hampshire for three years. Just five days after being named the head football coach for Notre Dame, was asked for his resignation.
The Ninth Command
Lies flatter and seduce. They deceive and delude and they kill and destroy. Lying is more widespread than many of us care to consider. There is bias in the media, misrepresentation among advertisers, and false promises from politicians.
Today I am focusing on the ninth command:
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).
Truth in the Courtroom
This commandment’s first reference was in the court of law. Ancient civilizations reacted differently to dishonesty in their respective judicial systems. At Athens, the false witness was liable to a heavy fine, and if convicted for three lies, they lost all their civil rights. At Rome, by the law of the Twelve Tables, a dishonest person was hurled headlong from the Tarpeian Rock, an execution site in ancient Rome. In Egypt, a false witness was punished by amputation of the nose and ears.
In the ancient Hebrew culture, individuals also gave testimony through the legal process. God’s command was aimed to prohibit false witnesses inside the courtroom (Exodus 23:1-3). Proverbs shows that God values honesty: “A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is like a war club, or a sword, or a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18).
Even today we see prominent court cases play themselves out in the media. The recent fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, a 17 year-old African American high school student, caught our nation’s attention. George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the summer of 2013 inside a Florida courtroom because of his claims of self-defense. Thousands of people protested the verdict believing Zimmerman to be lying.
The State of Florida v. Casey Marie Anthony was also a high-profile murder case in early 2011. In this case, Casey, the mother of two year old Caylee Marie Anthony, was found innocent of first degree murder, among other charges. Casey told authorities the death of her child was accidental though it was reported that even Casey’s parents failed to believe their daughter. In both of these recent cases, the American public felt strongly that one party or the other was lying.
A witness was very important in Old Testament times. In the courtroom justice of the day there were no lawyers, no fingerprints as evidence, and no detectives. Everything could depend on the words of a witness. The Old Testament figure of Naboth, was killed because two witnesses had accused him of blasphemy against God and the king (1 Kings 21:13). In the New Testament, it was false witnesses that spoke at the trial of Jesus that brought about His death (Matthew 26:60-61).
The Bible contains rules against lying witnesses. For example, the testimony of just one witness was insufficient for pronouncing a death sentence (Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15). The witnesses against a man were the first persons to throw stones when carrying out the sentence (Deuteronomy 17:7). The rationale behind this was as follows: to throw a stone at someone and to cause their death required a great deal more courage than a few lying words. If a witness was found to be lying, then they would receive the same punishment the accused would have received (Deuteronomy 19:16-19). Perjury was a serious matter.
But all of us know that honesty and dishonesty has various shades. Indeed, lying has its own family.
Lying’s Sister – Rumors
A rumor is story that is not true. Rumors are common but they are never benign and always malignant. Rumors expand from person to person. Someone has said that a rumor can travel half way around the world before the truth could get is boots on.
We need to remove rumors from our conversation. The Puritan Thomas Watson said, “A person who tells a rumor has the devil in his tongue. But the person who hears a rumor has the devil in his ear.” Rumors assassinate a person’s character when we indiscriminately pass on information.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself about rumors and gossip.
1. Is what I am about to say true?
2. If so, does it need to be said to this person?
3. If the person were here, would I be talking this way?
Lying’s Brother, Slander
Slander is another form of gossip, an evil form of lying. It is an indiscriminate “passing along” of tales no matter if they are true. We need to do everything we can to smother the flames of slander. Ask that person who tells you the juicy piece of information if you can quote them on this. Remember, you can be arrested for receiving stolen goods and passing them along. Don’t allow your ears to become garbage cans for gossip.
Lying’s Parents, Silence
You can lie not only by what you say, but in what you do not say. At times, we tell half-truths. Rather than being a positive and true witness for the Lord Jesus Christ, we can run like the disciples at the cross of Christ. We can hide when the heat is on and run for the shadows. This is hiding the truth.
At times, sin needs to be confronted. The Bible tells us: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15). Where were those disciples when Jesus died? They were sinfully silent. You can be sinfully silent when you don’t speak up when someone is maligned. Some say, “Silence is golden,” yes but sometime silence is just plain yellow.
Four Lessons to Remember
1. It is better to be divided by truth than united in error. I love unity. The Bible loves unity. But don’t sacrifice unity for the sake of truth.
2. It is better to tell the truth that hurts and then heals than to tell a lie that comforts and then kills. Rough truth is better than polished falsehood.
3. It is better to be hated for telling the truth than to be loved for telling a lie.
Tell your children that telling the truth will not get you elected most popular. Telling the truth caused Jesus to be crucified.
4. It is better to stand alone with the truth than to be wrong with the multitude.
Programming Note: The four lessons were first offered by Pastor Adrain Rogers. Please note, I will post the last entry on the Ten Commandments on Friday, October 4. See here for the introduction to the series.