In a recent sermon, I opened by asking the question, "Does anyone tell the truth anymore?" Between Hollywood, Washington D.C., and even our own communities, it seems like the news is full of people being caught in lies about their behavior, lying to cover up their crimes, or lying to get ahead in life. So, I asked that question out loud knowing that even as I asked it, I would have to be honest and admit that, yes, I too have lied. And potentially could lie again and again and again. Why is that?
While many websites I visited researching this topic listed numerous types and manner of lying, I would like to focus on just three: the "half-truth," the "white" lie, and "exaggerating." Jesus talked quite plainly and directly in Matthew 5:33-37 in stating that the then-current practice of "swearing an oath" in life were not ever needed as long as "our yes was yes and our no was no." I know of three situations where an oath is spoken:
- The President, upon taking office, raises their hand and pledges to uphold and protect the Constitution of America;
- a witness is asked to raise their hand and swear to tell the truth and nothing but the truth while taking the stand in court; and finally,
- when I enlisted into the US Navy, I raised my hand and swore to protect the United States from enemies. I know that when I gave my word, I meant it - and I would fulfill whatever I had just pledged to say or do. Why do we even need oaths?
So, why did Jesus have to remind us to tell the truth? In fact, His point is that if we only always told the truth, we would have no need to swear to anything. With half-truths, we admit or reveal only a portion of the truth to escape detection or punishment. In white-lies we fear that telling the truth might be hurtful to others or ourselves. Finally, with exaggeration, we embellish or glamorize something beyond the facts. No matter what we call it, or the reason we go about doing it, I have yet to find a specific example in the Bible that justifies the practice, no matter what the cause or result. No matter the pain.
I have learned three Life Lessons that have guided me many times through the difficult choices of telling the truth - even when literally telling the truth will "hurt." They are:
- "Telling the truth is foundational for building and maintaining trust." Being caught in a lie can tear down years of trust and respect - and take even longer to rebuild or renew that trust.
- "Words have meaning." My sister explained to me that her recent diagnosis of returning cancer in her body was "treatable but not curable" - she spoke the truth, but chose her words carefully. It was not lost on me what she was really saying, as much as it hurt to hear.
- "Don't ask the question if you don't want to hear the answer." If you really want to know what I am thinking, why would you be offended if I told you the truth? Think before you ask.
Probably the most profound thought we all should ponder is this: If you stop lying, you can stop remembering what you told to whom. This is the heart of what I believe Jesus was telling us in His sermon. If we all told the truth, there would be no need for oaths. How would your life change if you were able to stop this behavior? What weight would be removed from your shoulders from the burdens you've been carrying - or worse, hiding? Imagine being known as a truth-teller, someone you can trust and their word is good? Let your "yes be yes and your no be no" - be a person known for truthfulness. No matter the cost.