Monday, May 15, 2017

Lies and Double Lies - Matthew 5: 33-37

An American tourist bought a thousand-dollar Persian rug from an Arab trader in an Israeli shop.  The Arab promised to ship it to America if he paid shipping and handling in cash. They sealed the deal with a handshake.  There was no receipt, only a bill of sale for customs purposes.  When he got back home, the rug was there at his doorstep. 

In our culture, this would be a stupid thing to do. There’s no reason this Arab merchant couldn’t just pocket the money and forget the rug.  But he didn’t. He kept his word and shipped the rug.

That Arab lived in a different world from ours. In his culture, God judged liars. He and his fellow countrymen carried out their business every day on their word.  If he cheated a stranger, no one would trust him again.  It never occurred to him to cheat a stranger, or to be anything less than honest.

I am not suggesting that we should sell thousand dollar rugs in our country on a handshake—I’m just bemoaning the fact that we can’t.  Our culture too dishonest for that level of trust, so we must sign contracts for everything.  Our world is in bondage to liars. 

This Arab trader came from a tradition  that required he cultivate a reputation for honesty. Without his reputation, he couldn’t make a living. 

Consider how  we assure honesty in America.   Remember the last time you bought a car, checked into a hospital, or did your taxes?  Do you remember having to practically sign your life away to trade cars?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a society where paperwork is unnecessary to assure honesty-- where we could just shake hands and make a deal?  Something inside us tells says this is the way it should be, living together in a world of trust.

The Kingdom of God, it is totally possible to live in trust.  When God is the head, people tell the truth.

Everyone has some horror story of being stymied by paperwork and beaurocracy.  We are all caught up in a system that must assume that everyone is lying. There’s always one more form to fill out, one more step to take, one more affidavit to sign, one more report or request to write, until our culture strangles itself on its own red tape. Paperwork increases when trust decreases.  

But written assurances comes to nothing in the end.  Instead of guaranteeing the truth, they  guarantee lies. When we rely on written assurances,  we teach people that truth doesn’t count unless it is in writing. If it’s not on paper, we don’t have to tell the truth. 

But in the Kingdom of God, people tell the truth and believe the truth, because they trust God.  God is the mediator and assurer of all transactions between ourselves and others in God’s kingdom.

Before we get to talking about the truth, let’s talk about lies.  In our world we have lies, double lies, and triple lies.
Simple lies are when people deliberately deceive others.  Deliberately is a key word. If we are wrongly mistaken, we are not lying. Lying is a matter of the heart, not the lips.  That’s why we must be careful before calling someone a liar.

People lie all the time.  In the 1950’s an American named John Noble, lived for more than two years in Stalinist Russia.  He wrote that the most prominent feature of Soviet society was lying. The government lied to the people, and the people lied to their government. Everyone lied to everyone else. In such a society, laws didn’t mean a thing.  The Soviet  constitution assured the people they had all kinds of personal freedom—but it was a lie. o one believed anything the government said. 

Noble stated that he believed the reason for this culture of lying was official atheism. Without God to assure moral honesty, there was no reason to tell the truth.  God holds us accountable to tell the truth and to keep our word. 

In Jesus’ day, there were plenty of liars, too.  Society needed some way of assuring people were honest.  They had contracts and paperwork, but not as much as we do.  So, they depended upon people’s belief to keep them honest.  People were kept honest by swearing oaths.  If you swore an oath on God, then God would hold you accountable. 

Sometimes, they would swear that some catastrophe would befall them if they broke their word.  It worked the same way as a notarized contract today.  As long as people believe their God is real, they must obey it.

This prevented people from telling lies.  But then, there were double lies.  If you swear on something you didn’t believe, you not only lied, but you lied about what you believed in. This was a double lie—to claim you have a God that you don’t have.

It does no good to say “I swear to God” if you didn’t believe in God!  Unless you actually believe in God, there’s no point in saying it.   The swearing of the irreligious is a double lie—a lie before a God that they don’t believe in.    
Eventually, these oaths became jokes—mere swear words. Swearing is not the sign of an honest person, but a dishonest one.  It is a sign of a double-liar, not a teller of truth.

Our a society that does not fear God,  people swear on the government.  We require notarized contracts, endless signatures,  all to assure people are telling the truth. They may not fear God,  but they fear laws and lawyers.  A godliness goes down, bureaucracy and paperwork go up. There are no social bonds that keep people honest other than the fear of being caught.

 Just be honest, Jesus says.  Don’t swear by anything, just tell the truth. 

We have all lied at some time--sometimes we even think it’s a morally justified.  Are there times when a person a person must lie?  If there are, they are very few.  Let’s talk about reasons people lie.

We lie to gain an advantage over others. We lie to get more money, a better house, or a better job. If we are really in the Kingdom, we don’t have to do this. God is our Father.  We have what God has.  We live under His rule, and He is generous.  When we don’t have to lie to gain when we already have all we need.

We lie for attention. There’s a mental condition called Munchausen’s Syndrome, where chronically and constantly  lie for attention.  Such people are pitiful, not to mention untrustworthy. But most of us have lied for attention at some time. We exaggerate our accomplishments or hide our faults to keep a sfrom being embarrassed.  But if we are really submitted to God,  we do not need the attention of others—God is sufficient for us.

We lie for self-defense. The problem with defensive lying it is us taking the place of God.   sometimes we need punishment.  We rely upon lies to protect us, instead of God.  If we are attacked by a burglar, what is the wisest course. To go wrestle the burglar, or call the police?   We call the police,  because we are under their jurisdiction.  They are trained to fight with burglars;  we are not.  If we are attacked by people,  what is the better course—lying to defend ourselves or calling upon God?  To live in the kingdom of God is to live in His jurisdiction. Surely He can be trusted to defend us!

We tell “little white lies” to smooth over situations and keep from hurting feelings. The problem with little white lies or withheld information is not that we are denying God, but that we are playing God. It is a way of assuming that we know what is best for the person we are deceiving.  But if we withhold information or lie about difficult situations to spare a person’s feelings, then the next time we are in a similar situation they will not trust whatever we tell them. We have ruined our reputation for honesty.

Beware of keeping too many secrets from those we love.  It has been said that secrets are to relationships what plaque is to arteries.  If we hold too many secrets, it will clog all communication, and our relationships will break down.  Keep our paths of communication clear with openness and honesty.

Let me tell you a secret—we all lie.  Honesty is something we all must work on, for God’s sake. 
Let me tell you about the most dishonest man I know.   (I’ll call him “Fred”, not his real name.)  He is strong and genuine believer, always joking and pleasant.  Everyone liked him.  But underneath that happy exterior, he was a deeply troubled man.  Financially, he was having deep problems, but he pretended he wasn’t.  For years he went on pretending,  and hurting,  but inside he was in turmoil.

Then he was given the job as church treasurer.  The church had a half-million dollar budget.  Fred couldn’t pay his bills, but he was paying bills at church with money to spare.

So quietly, Fred began to borrow from the church to pay his bills. He intended to pay it back, but soon he was in so deep he couldn’t. Without accountability, he became a their.

This went on for almost thirty years.  He essentially split himself into two people—the seemingly sincere Christian and the embezzler, who by the end had taken tens of thousands of dollars from the church.  It was a shock to everyone who knew him when he was finally caught.

How could he live with himself—being a Christian and stealing from the church?  He did it by doing to himself what he did to everyone else—by lying to himself, like he did to others. One day he was stealing, the next day he was pretending to himself that he was right with God.  This went on until his lies caught up with him. 

We can’t lie to others and to God, and still be honest to ourselves. When we lie, we lie to everyone.

There is only one cure for self-deceit—confession.  We must admit to having a problem with lying. The apostle John calls “walking in darkness” telling the truth is “walking in the light.”

John says this  “If we walk in the light as He is in the light,  we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”  Lies break relationships.  Truth restores them.

In a world of lies,  we must protect ourselves, but we don’t have to be part of the lying. Others may not be trustworthy, but we should be utterly trustworthy, so when we give our word, we mean it, and we keep it.    

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