There is a terse command in 3:9a – “Do not lie to one another.” That was so easy to type, so easy to recite, but sometimes so easy to ignore. I don’t want to commit another sin of the tongue by giving myself to overstatement, but it’s hard to imagine a more destructive force in relationships than lying. Virtually everything else we do to and against one another can be healed, but deliberate, conscious, pre-meditated deception is perhaps the most devastating of all. Something truly sacred is shattered when we lie to one another. The confidence we have in another person, which is so essential for life in the Body of Christ, cannot be easily repaired. The safety we feel because of a shared commitment to the truth is violated when deceit is embraced. It makes us feel vulnerable and tentative in our relationship with others.
The phrase “one another” in Colossians 3:9a, shows that the exhortation has particular reference to believers in their relationships with the Christian community. But Paul has specifically in mind our obligations toward one another in the church. In Ephesians 4:25 we read, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” The reason for this exhortation is not simply because lying is sinful and thus an offense against God, but because “we are members of one another” (of one body). We can’t lose sight of the fact that fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth. When someone lies to us we feel abandoned by them, even abused. Someone can be guilty of any number of of sins and we can forgive them when they repent, but rebuilding trust in someone who has deceived and misled and lied to us, is a monumental task.
So why do we do we lie? What makes lying such a powerful temptation? What do we hope to accomplish by means of a a lie that seems to trump all the reasons why we should tell the truth? I’ve heard many answers to this question – but let me share just a few. One reason we lie is that we simply don’t believe that telling the truth will get us what we want. Perhaps the underlying ‘conflict’ is fearing that if we tell the truth, it will cost us to experience some kind of pain or loss. One established motive as to why anyone does anything is that they want to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. One of the cold realities of telling the truth is that it may be costly and painful and lead to hardships we’d rather avoid – but grasp the thorn, we must! A related factor that influences people to lie is power. People often lit to gain an advantage over others that would rarely if ever occur had they chosen to be truthful. This power grabbing reality may be in the form of authority in the local church or a promotion in the workplace or prestige among one’s peers, regardless of age or context. What is it about power that is so appealing that it would prompt one to lie to gain it? Simply because people buy into the false notion that personal value and worth is based upon the perception of others and the sort of achievement that wins applause and approval of society at large. If our identity was more wholly derived from Christ and who we are in Him, we would be less tempted to life to gain from people what only He, ultimately, can give. Perhaps the most powerful driving force behind lying is pride. We lie to protect ourselves from whatever embarrassment the truth might bring. The truth would expose us in our weakness and sinfulness and failures. So we lie to make ourselves appear to others different from what we really are. Appearance management strategies are in never-ending supply. Sadly, people are terrified that if those whose respect and acceptance they can’t live without were to see them stripped of every façade and false front they would suffer irreparable loss. This loss of which I speak, is not so much financial or even loss of power – but a loss of status, respect, honour, or the simple enjoyment we want people to have when they are in our presence. Tragically, even the Church has created a value system in which being perceived as a gifted leader or speaker, highly favored by those in positions of authority, or “anointed” is prized more than living justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with God. Related to this matter is the powerful temptation to lie to cover our sin. We want to be thought of by others as spiritual, truly committed followers, lovers of God and His truth and the truth might reveal that we are not quite what we present ourselves to be.
So let’s be honest. Is being committed to the living and speaking the truth all that important? Peruse Revelation 21:18, as John provides a partial list of those whose “portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev.21:8b). They include: “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable…murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars” (Rev.21:8a). As if to make the point even more jaggedly sharp, John virtually repeats himself by saying that those who are outside the gates of the New Jerusalem, who will never gain admittance, include: “the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying” (Rev.22:15).
Personally, I find that sobering beyond words.