Sermon: Sanctified Reputation

Exodus 20:1-17

I want to begin with three famous quotes. They are all from American President’s and I am sure that you have heard them before, but I want you to think about what they all have in common.

“Read My Lips, No New Taxes.” – George Bush

“I do not know that woman.” – Bill Clinton.

“The American people have a right to know that their president is not a crook. And I am not a crook.” – Richard Nixon

What do they have in common?

They are lies. Each one breaks the ninth commandment, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The word translated as “False witness” or “false testimony” refers to all kinds of false speech – perjury, innuendo, lies, deceit, falsehood and gossip.

We read in Proverbs 6:16 – 19 a list of seven things which God hates. “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

Virtually all of them touch on some aspect of false speech.

And our never changing God carried that thought over into the New Testament when He led Paul to write in Ephesians 4:20 25 the implications of living as children of light. Listen to how much of this passage is devoted to truth and to avoiding deceit.

” But that’s no life for you. You learned Christ! My assumption is that you have paid careful attention to him, been well instructed in the truth precisely as we have it in Jesus. Since, then, we do not have the excuse of ignorance, everything—and I do mean everything—connected with that old way of life has to go. It’s rotten through and through. Get rid of it! And then take on an entirely new way of life—a God-fashioned life, a life renewed from the inside and working itself into your conduct as God accurately reproduces his character in you.

25          What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.” THE MESSAGE

I doubt that there is another commandment, other than the first, which is so routinely violated in our culture these days. And it’s not just these days. You probably can’t find another topic so thoroughly covered in the Bible. Scripture’s prohibitions against lying, and its commandments to tell the truth, are found in both Testaments and in almost every book. Clearly, human beings have had a problem with telling lies when the truth would have done better since the very beginning.

The most direct application of the ninth commandment involves perjury in a formal judicial hearing. And the Law of Moses took perjury very seriously.

Listen to Deuteronomy 19:15 – 21.

15 One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

16 If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, 17 the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. 18 The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, 19 then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. 20 The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

God knew that when testimony is given in a court of law, more than fortunes are at stake. Lives may be on the line. But we must not limit this law to legal proceedings. It covers far more than the testimony people give under oath. This commandment seeks to protect the sanctity of a person’s reputation.

Solomon writes in Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.”

When we falsely accuse someone of something, we have taken from them something that cannot be returned. Ask anyone whose ever been accused of dishonest business practices if they’ve ever lived down the false charge? Or of those falsely accused of sexual crimes.

And its not just false testimony about someone’s character that robs them of their reputation. Anytime we gossip about someone, even if it what we say is true, we are violating at the very least the spirit of the 9th commandment, if not the letter. Gossip is simply the vice of confessing someone else’s sins.
Let me suggest something you can do to stop gossip. The next time someone sidles up to you and says, “Hey, did you hear about …. “, say this; “No and I don’t think I want to hear about it. I’m sure you’ve carefully researched all the facts, but in the unlikely event that you are wrong, what you are about to tell me will forever change how I feel about this person. And even if it is true, I don’t need to hear it. You need to speak directly to the person concerned.”

Or you could simply quote scripture to them. James 4:11 says, “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against or judges his brother or sister, speaks against the law and judges it.”

Now I know that’s pretty strong language and we might have a hard time saying that. But I’ve found that you virtually have to hit gossips over the head with a plank to get the point across. And if they talk to you about someone else, you just bet that they are probably talking to someone else about you.

Don’t think you are jeopardizing a healthy relationship by being blunt. In fact, you may be saving their soul by wounding their pride. Remember, one of the things God hates is someone who stirs up dissension among brothers and sisters.

A good rule to deal with issues which we feel are offensive is found in Matthew 18:15-18. “If someone has offended you, tell them privately. If that doesn’t help, take one or two others along as witnesses. And if you are still frustrated, tell it to the church. If even that doesn’t help, then no longer treat him as a brother.”

Perjury and gossip are covered by the 9th commandment and so is good old fashioned lying. There are many different ways to tell a lie. Sometimes we lie by intentionally using inaccurate words.

But there are other ways of lying. Someone once said, “The essence is in deception, not in words. A lie may be told by silence, by hedging, by the accent on a syllable … and all these kinds of lies are worse than a lie plainly told.”

Perhaps a workable definition of what it means to lie would be like this – anything we purposefully say or do that is intended to mislead another person.

So does that mean that not telling everything you know is a lie? Not necessarily. Honesty means that everything you say must be true, not that everything that is true must be said.

If I think your new hairstyle is funny, I’m not going to volunteer an opinion. But if you ask me what I think of your new hairstyle, we both have a problem. I must be quick enough on my feet to give you an honest, but gentle answer and you must be brave enough to accept the answer you asked for.

On the other hand, if you have information that you are morally obligated to share, your silence is a lie.

And let me add this just here. Lies don’t come in colors. There is no such thing as a white lie. What we mean by a “white lie,” is apparently one that doesn’t hurt anybody. One that doesn’t involve important issues. One that simply spares someone hurt feelings or avoids a potential confrontation we have deemed unnecessary. But there is no such thing.
In real life people’s feelings are wounded, their trust in what we say is eroded, our relationship is made cheap.

Jesus said something haunting in Matthew 12:36, 37. “But I tell you that men and women will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted and by your words you will be condemned.”

Dallas Willard writes about a two-year-old girl in the backyard who one day discovered the secret to making mud (which she called “warm chocolate”). Her grandmother had been reading and was facing away from the action, but after cleaning up the mess, she told little Larissa not to make any more chocolate and turned her chair around so as to be facing her granddaughter.

The little girl soon resumed her “warm chocolate” routine, with one request posed as sweetly as a two- year-old can make it: “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Nana of course agreed. Larissa continued to manufacture warm chocolate. Three times she said, as she continued her work, “Don’t look at me, Nana. Okay?”

Then Willard writes, “Thus the tender soul of a little child shows us how necessary it is to us that we be unobserved in our wrong.”

Any time we choose to break the 9th Commandment or any of the Commandments in fact, we choose hiddenness as well. It may be that out of all the prayers that are ever spoken, the most common one-the quietest one, the one that we least acknowledge making-is simply this: Don’t look at me, God.

It was the very first prayer spoken after the Fall. God came to walk in the garden, to be with the man and the woman, and called, “Where are you?”
“I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid, … so I hid.” Don’t look at me, God.

When we cheat on our taxes or deliberately make a coworker look bad, or when a student who looks at somebody else’s paper during an exam. A church member who looks forward to the chance to gossip.

All first must say a little prayer. Don’t look at me, God.

We don’t say it out loud, of course. We probably don’t admit it even to ourselves. But it’s the choice our heart makes: Don’t look at me, God.

After a while this prayer can become so ingrained that we’re not even aware of it.

When we lie, by our silence, by intentionally misleading someone, by outright deceit, we erode the foundation of trust on which community is built, and our prayer becomes Don’t Look At me God.

Lies are the deeply hidden fault lines beneath our lives. Even the slightest movement away from full and total honesty sends a tremor to the surface where we live, shaking everything we have labored to build.

It takes decades to build a citadel of trust. It takes just one lie to tear it down.

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