Telling the Truth

Telling the Truth

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
—Exodus 20:12

Mark Twain once said, “When in doubt, tell the truth. It will astound your enemies and confound your friends.” That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Just about everyone lies. The majority of us find it hard to get through a week without lying—some people can’t make it through a single day without telling a lie. We lie to just about everyone, especially those closest to us.

Before you start thinking this commandment doesn’t apply to you, let’s take a little quiz, okay? Let’s see how prone you are to telling the truth:
1. Do you have a private life that you keep secret from others?
2. You break an expensive vase in an antique store. Nobody sees you do it. Would you tell the owner?
3. You are hooked up to a lie detector. Would you agree in advance to answer any question your spouse asks you?
4. Do you ever say things you don’t mean for the sake of politeness?
5. Have you ever lied about your age, your income, or your education?
6. Would you tell a close friend that he or she has bad breath?
7. Have you ever told anyone “I love you” without meaning it?
8. Did you lie just a little bit on this test?

Although lying is rampant and socially acceptable in our culture, it violates one of God’s most foundational principles for living.

The Ninth Commandment says, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16). It’s interesting that this commandment doesn’t just say: No lying. “You shall not lie.” Why does it talk about not bearing false witness against your neighbor? Remember, the Ten Commandments were given when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. During these wilderness wanderings many crimes would take place, and some of them would be capital crimes deserving of death. So God placed in His law the requirement that before someone could be executed for a crime, there had to be two or three witnesses who would testify against the person. Thus to wrongly accuse someone was to be, in fact, guilty of their murder. You would be testifying falsely against someone deserving of death.

In Deuteronomy 17:7, the law required that whoever accused somebody else of a capital crime also had to participate in the group for forming the execution. So if you accused somebody of a crime worthy of death, you had to be among those who would cast the stones. Therefore, to lie would also be to be guilty of murder. Now, this is the strictest meaning of this commandment—bearing false witness against a neighbor that would result in their execution.

But in Leviticus 19:16 God expanded the scope of this commandment to include slander; to speak out against someone falsely. And then when we get to the New Testament, this commandment is expanded even further to involve any kind of distortion of the truth.

Psalm 51:6 says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being.” God desires for us at all times to speak the truth.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “To Tell the Truth,” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960,1962,1963,1968,1971,1972,1973,1975,1977,1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.