“Back to the basics: You shall not bear false witness”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
Eight years ago, back in 2014, Elizabeth Holmes was on top of the world. After all, her startup company, Theranos, was valued at $9 billion, as Forbes magazine recognized her as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Her name appeared on eighteen U.S. patents and sixty-six foreign patents, and her face graced the covers of numerous business magazines. And after forming what was called, “the most illustrious board in U.S. corporate history,” (including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Schultz!), and signing partnerships with major pharmaceutical and insurance companies, she was unstoppable. Not bad for a girl who dropped out of Stanford at the tender age of nineteen!
But before anyone knew what happened, it all came crashing down.
Apparently, a reporter from The Wall Street Journal began a months-long investigation into her company, discovering that maybe her blood-testing device didn’t work quite as well as she said. In 2018, he even published a book called, Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup.
But denying any of his claims and promising to prove him wrong, Holmes said, “This is what happens when you work to change things. First, they think you’re crazy, then they fight you, and then all of a sudden you change the world.”
Well, let’s just say she didn’t change the world, for in January of this year, she was found guilty by a California court on three counts of wire fraud and four counts of defrauding investors. And while she awaits sentencing this September, she’s out on a $500,000 bond and faces a maximum of twenty years in prison and over a million dollars in fines and restitution.
That’s what happens when you lie.
And that’s why God gave us the eighth commandment.
I’ll read the words of Exodus chapter 20: “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth…You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain...Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy…Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor’” (Exodus 20:1-4, 7-8, 12-16).
So why did God give us the Ten Commandments? One author wrote, “They’re not an onerous set of rules we should follow out of fear or guilt. Instead, they’re meant to serve as signposts that point us to the straight and narrow path, while showing us a need for our Savior when we inevitably stray from that path.”
And He gave them to lead us to Christ. As Paul once wrote to the Galatians: “Before faith came, we were held captive under the Law, locked up until faith should be revealed. So the Law was our tutor, (our guardian, our schoolmaster), to lead us to Christ, that we might be declared righteous by faith” (Galatians 3:24).
And while the first commandment deals with our worship of the one, true God, the second commandment honors His name and the third commandment reverences worship, the fourth commandment honors authority, the fifth commandment protects life, the sixth commandment marriage and the seventh commandment human property, the eighth commandment deals with respect for the truth and other people’s reputation.
Luther wrote in the words of his Small Catechism: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. What does this mean? We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, think and speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
And he wrote in the words of his Large Catechism: “Over and above our own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we have another treasure, namely, honor and good report with which we cannot dispense. For it is intolerable to live among men in open shame and general contempt. Therefore, God wishes the reputation, good name and upright character of our neighbor to be taken away or diminished as little as his money and possessions, that everyone may stand in his integrity before wife, children, servants and neighbors.” And he wrote, “Here belongs particularly the detestable, shameful vice of speaking behind a person’s back and slandering, to which the devil spurs us on, and of which there would be much to be said. For it is a common evil plague that everyone prefers hearing evil to hearing good of his neighbor…as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with their snout…yet we cannot bear that the best is spoken about others.”
And that’s why God gave us the eighth commandment.
Back in Bible times, courtrooms weren’t like they often are today. Instead, back in the day, trials were usually held in public, by the city gates, where the accused was judged by the city elders. Even more, there were no DNA tests, no traffic cameras, no video footage of a crime, no forensic scientists and no forensic evidence. And for that very reason, witnesses played an outsized role in determining the outcome of a case. In fact, what they said on the witness stand often made the difference between life and death.
Remember Potiphar’s wife? All she had to do was scream and, right or wrong, suddenly Joseph was found guilty of assault.
So by this command, God meant to protect a man’s name, his status and his reputation. As He said: “You shall not bear false witness…You shall not testify falsely…You shall not tell lies about others (Exodus 20:16).
And that’s not all. Leviticus chapter 19 says, “You shall not go about as a talebearer among your people, nor shall you take a stand against the life of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16). Proverbs chapter 6 says, “Six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him: a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that are swift in running to evil, a false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19). Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 4:29). And the book of Revelation says, “Blessed are those who obey His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are those…who love and practice lies” (Revelation 22:14-15).
Do people lie? Now there’s a silly question! The Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology once published a study about lying, an experiment involving two strangers talking with each other for ten minutes, while recording their conversations. And while each subject believed they were telling the truth, after reviewing the footage, the researchers found that at some point within those ten minutes, sixty percent of all subjects lied, with an average amount of 2.92 lies per subject. Even worse, they suggested that while the number of lies told by an individual will vary significantly from day to day, on average, a person will lie more than a hundred times a day!
So why do we lie? I mean, why not just tell the truth?
There are all kinds of reasons. We lie to protect ourselves. We lie to gain some kind of advantage. We live to impress others, hoping to look better in other people’s eyes. And sometimes we lie to hurt or harm someone else.
To whom do we lie? Ironically, we lie to those we know and love the most, like our husbands or wives, our children, our parents, our best friends and those with whom we live and work.
And what happens when we lie? We destroy confidence, security, assurance and trust. We destroy relationships. We ruin reputations. We poison human relationships. And we break our fellowship with God.
As one author wrote, “Where there is truth and trust, there is freedom and liveliness; but where there is deceit and distrust, relationships are damaged and even destroyed. For what oil is to the engine of your car, truth and trust are to every human relationship.”
You’ve heard the poem, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”? Maybe a more accurate version would read, “Sticks and stones may make me curse, but cruel words will hurt much worse.”
Or think of a man who was well-known for his ruthlessness in his business dealings with others who said to writer Mark Twain, “Before I die, I mean to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will climb Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments out loud at the top.”
Twain replied, “I have a better idea. Why don’t you stay in Boston and keep them.”
And think of the countless ways in which we lie. News organizations pick and choose stories and how they present the truth, in order to favor one ideology over another. Companies manipulate statistics to make it seem like everything is going fine. Defendants hire expensive lawyers so that they seem to be the victims instead of the guilty. People tell stories about themselves in such a way as to diminish the negative and accentuate the positive.
You’ve heard the word “spin”? Once upon a time, it meant to tell a tall tale or an exaggerated story, coming from the old idiom, “to spin a yarn.” In time, it came to mean to tell information from a certain perspective, a particular point of view.
Commentator Walter Brueggemann writes, “Politicians seek to destroy one another in negative campaigning, gossip columnists feed off of misrepresentation and slander; and even in Christian living rooms, reputations are tarnished or destroyed over cups of coffee served in fine china with dessert. These de facto courtrooms are conducted without due process of law. Accusations are made, hearsay allowed, slander, perjury, and libelous comments uttered without objection, with no evidence and no defense.”
And if that’s not enough, within seconds it’s all over the internet on Facebook, texting, tweeting and emails. Lies on top of lies on top of lies!
John MacArthur wrote: “All of human life is filled with lies. Our whole society is built on lies. If all the politicians immediately spoke the truth, if all the advertisers immediately spoke the truth, if all teachers everywhere spoke only the truth, if all people in business told their customers and all salesmen told their buyers the truth about everything, our way of life would collapse and the whole system would fall apart.”
So where does all this lying come from? Jesus said in the book of John: “The devil was a murderer from the beginning, refusing to uphold the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, because he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Max Lucado tells of a time when his daughter Jenna was a toddler, and he took her to play in a nearby park. And as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice cream salesman came along. And after buying her an ice cream treat, he turned to give it to her only to find that her mouth was full of dirt.
He said, “Where I intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt. Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way. I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. So I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.”
So where is hope to be found? There’s only one place I can think of, and that’s our Savior Jesus. For as He once sat with His disciples on that fateful Maundy Thursday night, He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
And that’s the only place our hope can be found--in the One who washed all our sins away.
This past December, when 15-year-old Sydney Raley of Edina clocked in for her shift at McDonald’s, she had no idea she was about to become a hero.
You see, after she handed a customer their food in the drive-thru, she leaned back out of the window to let her know that the rest was on the way. That’s when she noticed the woman was choking on a chicken nugget.
Sydney said, “She was coughing like crazy and gagging. Her daughter was in the passenger seat and looked so freaked out.”
So what would you do if one of your customers was choking? Knowing she had to act fast, she jumped right through that drive-thru window and started the Heimlich maneuver. And with a little help from a bystander, she saved the woman’s life.
Our Savior Jesus did more than just jump through a window. He came from heaven to earth to die on Calvary’s cross. And for that we’ll give Him our everlasting thanks and praise.
Father in heaven, forgive us for words that are so often fraught with both big lies and little lies. Change us and make us to be a people who are resolutely committed to the truth, for the sake of Jesus. Amen