Summary: Tell the truth and heal broken relationships, honor Christ, and help yourself.
At midnight, one spring evening in 1987, a terrible thing happened: Seven million American children suddenly disappeared. No, it wasn’t a mass kidnapping or a serial killer. It was the IRS. They had changed a rule for the night of April 15, which for the first time required a Social Security number for every dependent child listed on form 1040. Suddenly, seven million children – children who had been claimed as exemptions on the previous year's 1040 forms – vanished, representing about one in ten of all dependent children in the United States. (Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics, HarperCollins, 2005, p. 21)
Ooops! A rule change caught a lot of people in a lie, but does it really matter? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Exodus 20, Exodus 20, where God shows us what really matters.
A new nation is being established on Mt. Sinai, where God establishes the principles for a strong, healthy society. We recognize them as the 10 commandments, but they are foundational principles for all healthy relationships. This morning, we are looking at the 9th commandment.
Exodus 20:16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
The situation here is a court of law where a witness is called upon to testify about what he saw a neighbor do. In that case, the witness is called upon to refrain from any groundless or false accusations. I.e., he must not make any statements that are not based on fact. The integrity of our court system depends on witnesses who in fact “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
But God doesn’t want us to limit our honesty to the courtroom. Whether we’re under oath or not, God wants us to always…
TELL THE TRUTH.
God wants us to be honest; or as Jesus put it, “Let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no.”
A couple of years ago, I shared some research Dan Ariely conducted to try and understand why some people lie, cheat, and steal. Ariely and his team went to college campuses and offered to pay students for every math puzzle they could solve in five minutes. At the end of the five minutes, the students were asked to grade their own papers and shred them in the back of the room. Then the students stood in line and received money for every right answer. But the students didn't know that the shredder didn't actually shred their papers so the researchers could check to see if they were telling the truth. Ariely found that, on average, students reported solving six problems, when in fact they solved only four.
Over the course of their research, after testing 30,000 people, Ariely found only 12 “big cheaters,” compared to 18,000 “small cheaters.” The big cheaters stole a total of $150, while the small cheaters stole around $36,000 – just one or two dollars at a time. Ariely did this research project all over the world – in the United States, Western Europe, Turkey, Israel, China, and many other countries – and the results were always roughly the same.
Ariely concluded that most dishonesty happens among ordinary people who think of themselves as basically honest. But when added together, all this "little" dishonesty has a huge impact. Most of the problems faced by the human race are not rooted in the lives of outliers and psychopaths – life’s big cheaters. Our problems are rooted in the lives of typical, ordinary people who find ways to rationalize their own bad behavior. In other words, we want to think of ourselves as honest people while enjoying the benefits of dishonesty. (Adapted from Tim Suttle, Shrink, Zondervan, 2014, pp. 114-115; www.PreachingToday.com)
It is not life’s “big cheaters” who cause the most trouble – the criminals and psychopaths, no. It is typical, ordinary people, who find ways to rationalize their own bad behavior. It’s the “little cheaters” who in the long run cause the most damage. Telling the truth is very important even in the small matters. Exodus 20:16 is very clear: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Ephesians 4:25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
Why do we speak the truth? Because we belong to one another as believers in Christ. When Christ saved us, His cross broke down the barriers that once separated us and brought us together in One Body, called the church.
Now through His power, Christ wants us to maintain that “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” That’s what this whole chapter is all about according to Ephesians 4:3. It starts with the general admonition to live worthy of your calling in Christ by maintaining unity He purchased so dearly on the cross. Then as the chapter progresses, it gets more and more specific until you come to the detailed admonitions at the end: “Put away falsehood” and “speak the truth” (vs.25); “Be angry and do not sin” (vs.26); “Don’t steal, but labor” (vs.28); ending with “Be kind to one another, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”