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Proverbs 6:16-19 (New International Version)
16 There are six things the LORD hates,
seven that are detestable to him:
17 haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
18 a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19 a false witness who pours out lies
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.
Tell the truth!
9 TELL THE TRUTH?
There was a young man who lived in the Middle Ages who went to a monk with this confession: “I have sinned by telling slanderous statements about another person. What should I do?”
The monk looked thoughtfully at the young man and then said, “Go get a chicken, pluck its feathers, and then place a feather on every doorstep in town.”
He didn’t quite understand why such a task should be given to him, but he did it and then returned. “What now?,” he said.
“Go back and pick up all of the feathers.”
“But that’s impossible! How can I do that? There were hundreds of feathers, and by now they’ve blown all over town!”
“And that is just what has happened with your lies,” said the monk. The damage they have done can never be retrieved.”
That’s the sort of story preachers love. If you remember nothing else from the sermon today, you’ll remember that story and there might even be an opportunity to tell that story in the next couple of weeks. We accept the truth the story tells, but our culture’s attitude to this story is a shrug, a yawn and an indifferent “whatever.”
Last December, the Josephson Institute, a Los Angeles-based ethics institute released the results of a survey involving almost 30,000 students at 100 randomly selected high schools across the United States, both public and private. The surveys were given in class and anonymity was assured.
Here are some of the findings:
•cheating in school is rampant and getting worse. Sixty-four percent of students cheated once in the past year and 38% did so two or more times;
•thirty-six percent said they used the internet to plagiarize an assignment;
•forty-two percent said they sometimes lie to save money—but boys are more guilty of this than girls, 49% as compared to 36%
One of the more interesting aspects of the survey was that despite what they admitted, 93% of the students said they were satisfied with their personal ethics and character, and 77% agreed with this statement: “when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know.”
Before we condemn these students, let’s look at the examples they have been given to follow. I know the New York Yankees make an easy target in the home of the Blue Jays, but Alex Rodriguez, the Yankee’s third baseman admits to taking illegal performance enhancing drugs and then lying about it, but as long as he can still park those hanging curve balls into the left field bleachers, he’ll get cheered in the Bronx.
For teens more interested in commerce than sports, there’s the wonderful example of Bernie Madoff, who on March 12 of this year pled guilty to defrauding thousands of investors of almost $65 billion. This, of course, involved a violation of the eighth commandment but the whole of the scheme was an elaborate lie, known in the investment world as a Ponzi scheme.
What are we going to do? Should we admit it is simply more realistic to talk about nine commandments? This business of telling the truth is a quaint carry-over from another era. Or should we take a good look at why God has made this part of The Ultimate Top 10? In the time we have left, that’s what I want to do. Let’s take a look at what it means to tell the truth in relation to others, ourselves and God.
9 TRUTH HAS CONSEQUENCES
God expects us to tell the truth about others. As you can tell from the way in which this commandment is spoken, there is something of the legal necessity for truth in the background. If you are called upon to tell what someone has done you are to tell the truth.
I learned the importance of this a number of years ago. A friend of mine asked me, along with a number of others, to take a day and spend it in
court at the trial of his son. This young man had had some brushes with the law and his parents were well aware he was no angel. But he had been charged with the armed robbery of a convenience store, obviously a serious charge with serious consequences. An eye-witness had fingered him as the culprit. His parents decided to make every effort to defend him because they knew on the night in Toronto when this crime was committed, their son had been with them an hour away from the scene of the crime. He was found not guilty. The truth was eventually told but with no thanks to that witness who thought he or she knew the truth.
The truth has consequences. So does the lack of truth. It is a sad commentary on western culture that one cosmetics company has built their advertising around the idea of the campaign for real beauty. What the Dove company is telling us is that this culture has allowed lies to be told about what constitutes beauty. What we see in advertising is not the natural beauty given by God. What we see is a fantasy sold as reality. Buy this you’ll look like that. It’s not possible, as you can see in this film.
9 TRUTH BLESSES
Last month at one of our Wednesday studies we were looking at the counsel from the letter of James dealing with the tongue. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing (3:10). The apostle says this ought not to be so and I suggested to the group that in telling our tongues can be a source of both, that James was also giving us a hint as to the solution. If your tongue can bless, then use it to bless—that was the direction I was going in.
But it was Brenda Bush who gave us all the text for our efforts. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14). Brenda told us she meditates on that verse as a way of asking God to give her words of blessing.
I want to suggest this is a good word for us as we seek to be truth tellers. “In the Christian tradition the prohibition against false witness has
often been interpreted as demanding not only that we avoid harming others with distorted speech but that we positively help them with loving speech” (The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians and Others, 186).
Let me suggest a simple experiment to conduct this week. You have the scripture card in your folder this morning with Psalm 19:14. Tape or pin that up where you will see it—the bathroom mirror, on the box of cereal, on your travel mug, or on the dash of the car. Say it and pray it several times each day. Then look for a situation at work, at home, at school, at church where you can choose to give a loving word, a blessing word, a word which as Luther put it, “benefits everyone, reconciles the discordant, excuses and defends the maligned” (quoted in Ibid.). I believe it will make a difference. If nothing else you will bless yourself through the truth, but I believe you will bless others also.
9 TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD
It should go without saying, but we need to hear it. God expects us to speak the truth about God. Proverbs 6:19 tells us that one of the things God hates and that is an abomination to him is a lying witness who testifies falsely. It seems to me the most important witness that a believer makes is to the reality of God in his or her life. We need to be sure we are telling the truth. We need to be sure we are telling the truth in a way that blesses those who hear our witness.
In the few minutes we have left I want to explore that idea with you. It seems to me that one of the things that has happened in churches like Blythwood is that we have recognized that much of what is thought to be a witness to God at very least strains the truth with the result that we have largely decided to keep our mouths shut.
Let me give you an example from many years ago. I was once paying a pastoral call on someone who was dealing with a particular illness. If memory serves me correctly, this was an ailment of some long standing. During the course of the visit, the person who was ill told me her own mother, also a committed Christian, had told her the reason she was still sick is that her faith
was not strong enough. If it had been she would have been cured. I think most of us know one of two things—either that is wrong or, if it’s right, we don’t like the sound of such theology. However we find the whole business of divine healing confusing and think the best way to deal with such tough issues is to say nothing.
There is also the lack of truth-telling to which I would make my confession. I confess that I conclude in reference to most of the people I know who are not active followers of Jesus Christ that they are content and happy just the way they are. It is impossible for me to know if this is true or not because I have not taken the time to ask or to explain why I believe any human life finds its ultimate purpose in knowing and serving God.
All of us know we must take care when we witness. It is as easy to get it wrong when we talk about God as when that witness wrongly identified my friend’s son as a thief. It is also possible that we will tell the truth in a way that blesses when we witness. To the grieving we can tell the truth about our hope. To the lonely we can tell the truth about the Saviour who is a friend and about a congregation of gracious welcome. To those estranged from God we can tell the truth about his reconciling forgiveness. To anyone we can tell the truth that the God we know is the God of love.