The Series on the Ten Commandments: In Case You Missed It

Recently, I completed a series on the Ten Commandments. In the series introduction, I offered three reasons why the Ten Commandments remain important for our day:

1. The Ten Commandments communicate the character of God;

2. They show us the need for mediator;

3. They show us God’s grace.

In case you missed any of the series, here are the links to the series.

The First Command: You Shall Have No Other gods Before Me

Quick Summary: From the hit movie, The Life of Pi, to the gods of Mount Olympus, the Bible’s rationale for why worship should be exclusive.

The Second Command: Do Not Worship Idols

Quick Summary: Idols are not simply found on the silver screen of Indiana Jones movies or inside the pages of  National Geographic magazines.

The Third Command: Do Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain

Quick Summary: More than profanity, God’s name is trademarked and copyrighted.

The Fourth Command: Remember the Sabbath

Quick Summary: Remembering our need for rest.

The Fifth Command: Honor Your Father and Mother

Quick Summary: Exploring the biblical stories of Noah and Joseph in how best to honor our parents.

The Sixth Command: You Shall Not Murder

Quick Summary: Thoughts on the practice of suicide, euthanasia, and abortion in looking at God’s rationale to protect human life.

The Seventh Command: You Shall Not Commit Adultery

Quick Summary: God designed sex as act that glues two people together. Sex is relational cement that belongs only in marriage.

The Eight Command: You Shall Not Steal

Quick Summary: Ask any mother of a preschooler and she will tell you children possess a keen sense of ownership.

The Ninth Command: You Shall Not Lie

Quick Summary: From former Notre Dame coach George O’Leary to the famous court cases of Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman, a look at the level of honesty in contemporary culture.

The Tenth Command: You Shall Not Covet

Quick Summary: The command that places handcuffs on our hearts in addition to our hands.

The Ninth Commandment: You Shall Not Lie

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 the628x471 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.

The Eighth Command: You Shall Not Steal

The well-known painter, Norman Rockwell, often painted humorous scenes that resonated with American culture. Among his more memorable paintings is a scene from a butcher’s shop. Behind the counter is a jolly butcher, with his apron stretched over his belly and rockwall butcherhis pencil tucked neatly behind one ear. Also in the picture is his customer, a respectable looking woman of perhaps sixty. Like the butcher, she looks pleased. The two of them exchange a knowing smile, almost as if they were sharing a joke, but the joke is on them.

The painting shows what each is secretly doing. The butcher is pressing the scale down with his finger so as to raise the price. At the same time, the woman is trying to get a better deal by pushing the scale up with her finger. The reason both of them looked pleased is that neither is aware of what the other is doing.

The Eighth Command

Honesty is a rarity. Yet, even people who do not read the Bible respect the eighth commandment:

“You shall not steal.” (Exodus 20:15)

While the Bible’s promotion of honesty is simple and straightforward, it becomes more complex in real life. Stealing has become big business in our wireless age. A survey of 583 companies in the United States revealed ninety percent of those who responded said their organizations’ computers had been breached at least once by hackers over the past twelve months. More than forty percent of the businesses surveyed stated they had spent more than $500,000 in security measures in an attempt to stop the security breaches.

In the United States, someone steals another’s property every three seconds. (Source: Mark Rooker, The Ten Commandments). Stealing goes by many names in our society: burglary, robbery, larceny, hijacking, shoplifting, embezzlement, extortion, racketeering, pick pocketing, or purse snatching. Yet, no matter the name, it’s all the same – it’s stealing.

The Necessity of Integrity

The act of stealing is the secret taking of another’s property without the owner’s knowledge or permission. Put simply: to steal is take something that doesn’t belong to you. This includes withholding what rightly belongs to another. And, as if stealing itself were bad enough, often this immoral act is often followed with acts of deception and trickery.

Ask any mother of a preschooler and she will tell you children possess a keen sense of ownership. One of the first words each of our children learned was, “mine!”

The whole human race is a band of thieves. Stealing is when we underpay our taxes. Stealing is making false claims about disability and Social Security. Stealing is when the employer demands longer hours than agreed upon. Stealing is keeping some transactions off the books. Stealing is false advertising and deceptive packaging. Stealing is when a salesman exaggerates the value of their product. Stealing is a credit card company charging twenty percent interest.

Stealing happens at work. Stealing is filling out false time cards. Stealing is calling in sick when you want a day off. Stealing is when you fail to put in a full day’s work for your employer. Stealing is surfing the internet at work. Stealing is emailing your friends on company time. Stealing is playing computer games instead of putting in a hard day’s labor. According to some estimates, as much as one-third of a product’s cost goes to cover various forms of stealing that occur on it’s way to a retail store. Employee theft and shoplifting together account for the largest source of property crime committed in the US annually.

Stealing is insurance fraud. Stealing is plagiarism. Stealing is identity theft. Stealing is violating copyrights. Stealing is cheating on a test. Stealing is gambling. Again, the whole human race is a band of thieves.

Stealing in the Bible

In the Old Testament, dishonest acts included secretly moving boundary markers (Deuteronomy 19:14), the use of false measures and weighted balances (Deuteronomy 25:13-16), selling goods of inferior quality (Amos 8:4-6), and charging interest to poor people (Exodus 22:25). The Bible says, “A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)

There are all kinds of examples of stealing within the pages of the Bible:

Achan steals items that were devoted to God (Joshua 7:1). Micah steals 1,100 pieces of silver from his mother (Judges 17:1-3).

When Naboth, an average citizen of ancient Samaria, had a vineyard that King Ahab of Samaria wanted, Ahab’s wife Jezebel conspired to get the property for her husband (1 Kings 21:8-14). Jezebel colluded with false witnesses to charge Naboth and execute him for his trumped-up crime. As soon as Naboth’s body was cold, Ahab took possession of his property. The king is confronted by the prophet Elijah and it is Elijah who tells him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Have you killed and also taken possession?” And you shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth shall dogs lick your own blood’” (2 Kings 21:19). Just a short time later, dogs are licking up the blood of the king after his death (1 Kings 22:28).

The prophet Nathan tells the story of a man stealing a sheep from a poor family before King David. David is incensed and demands that the poor family be repaid four times the amount stolen. Nathan points his finger in the king’s face in order to tell him that David himself has stolen. Only the king has stolen another man’s wife, or as it is known today, committed adultery (2 Samuel 12:1-4).

Early in the pages of your Bible, Joseph is kidnapped by his brothers and sold into Egyptian slavery.

Luke tells us the story of Zacchaeus, the story of a short man who climbed up in a sycamore tree to see Jesus over the crowds. When Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ home, Zacchaeus turned from his sin and said he would restore fourfold anything he had stolen (Luke 19:1-10).

As the story of Jesus continues, we encounter more thieves. We discover that even one of Jesus’ followers is a thief; Judas stole from the moneybag when the money was supposed to be going to the poor (John 12:6). Jesus Himself was crucified between two thieves (Matthew 27:38). Jesus refers to Satan as “the thief” (John 10:8-10). People who steal have no part of the kingdom of God outside of experiencing Christ’s forgiveness on the cross (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

The Goodness and Importance of Hard Work

There’s more to the eighth commandment than meets the eye. This command not only forbids stealing and promotes honesty, it also encourages work. In the opening pages of the Bible, we witness God at work (Genesis 2:1-3). More than simply serving as a model for humans, God commands everyone to work. Prior to the first sin of Adam and Eve, God commanded Adam to work. After Adam and Eve’s first sin, work becomes harder, or drudgery. Nevertheless, work is seen as good in the perfect Garden of Eden. So, we see that work is not a bad thing (1 Timothy 5:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). The Bible teaches the value of honest labor. Work is God’s gift to us as we receive dignity and respect from our work.

Avoid Stealing by Giving Generously.

There is still more to the eight commandment than simply being honest. Listen, carefully to how the New Testament expands God’s eighth command:

“Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.” (Ephesians 4:28)

As Christ’s people, we know that we actually have no rights over property or wealth (Psalm 24:1; Haggai 2:8). Nothing is “ours” for it all belongs to God. I do not own my house or my car any more than I own library books or the latest Netflix DVD. Everything – in different ways – has been issued to me on loan. They remain the possessions of someone else and one day they will be returned to Him. The difference is that while the librarian may merely smile and say, “thank you,” God is going to ask me what I did with all that He loaned to me. So, we delight in being generous and we don’t make generosity a duty.

 

Programming Note: I will post on the Ten Commandments each Tuesday and Friday morning for the week. For the introduction to this series, visit: Three Reasons Why the Ten Commandments Remain Important. For previous posts, see the featured posts column on the right hand of your screen.