The 9th Commandment "Nothing But the Truth" Exodus 20:1-16

There was a controversial report in the Lancet this month. Psychologists at London University have shown that people with brown eyes are statistically more likely to have low IQ's than those with blue eyes. They have also found that youngsters with brown eyes are more likely to be poor achievers at school, have a poor self image, are more likely to commit juvenile crime. In the context of tonight's theme, brown eyed people are statistically, less likely to tell the truth. Those with blue eyes tend to do better at school, are more honest and truthful and statistically are less likely to break the law... Actually I was having you on. The truth is people with blue eyes are statistically more likely to have low IQ's, be poor achievers at school and tell lies. Well actually there wasn't any such report in the Lancet this month. It was in last month's journal. No, to tell you the truth, it wasn't in the Lancet at all. It was in the Times. But the report didn't claim people with brown eyes were more likely to lie. It claimed that clever people lie more than others. Or did I make that up as well?

How did you feel when you thought I was telling the truth? How did you feel when you realised I wasn't? Did I confuse you? That's what deception does. It sows doubt and confusion. When you can't trust someone to tell the truth, how do you know when they are? When you can't trust someone you thought you could trust, how do you feel? Betrayed? Vulnerable? It makes you sceptical and then perhaps cynical. Especially of politicians and newspapers.

How much of what is reported about Kosovo is true? We are told every night that the reports filed by British journalists in Belgrade are monitored by the Yugoslav government. 'Monitored' is news-speak for censored. But what about the reports filed by British journalists with the NATO forces in Montenegro or Albania? How can we be sure they are trustworthy and not manipulated by the military?

Do you remember the Falklands War and the Belgrano affair? Was the Argentinian warship steaming toward the Falklands or away when she was attacked and sunk? Did the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher knowingly lie to the House of Commons? Do you remember at the start of the Gulf War, reports that Iraqi soldiers had stolen incubators from a special care baby unit in Kuwait? It was only later discovered to have been fabricated by a Kuwaiti journalist. The first casualty, they say, of any war is the truth, and both sides are invariably guilty of it. So civilian casualties in Serbia become 'collateral damage' and we sleep easier for it.

The most notorious past master of the art of lying was Dr Goebbels of the Ministry of Information in Nazi Germany. In his hands it became an art form. The most aweful place I have ever visited in my life was Aushwensum in Southern Poland. Over the gate of that concentration camp in wrought iron are the words, "Arbacht macht frie" - work makes you free. Standing before the gas ovens I realised perhaps it was true. It all depends how one defines 'freedom'. In George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four we have this bleak picture of the future that some would say has been with us for several decades...

The Ministry of Truth was startlingly different from any other object in sight. It was an enormous pyramidal structure of glittering white concrete, soaring up, terrace after terrace, 300 metres into the air. From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party: War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

When does truth become dangerous? When is it really necessary in the national interest to withhold the truth? To sanitise the truth? Its not just State security or the necessities of war that utilises propaganda. What about well timed press leaks designed to impact stock market share prices or company take overs or how about grossly misleading commercial advertisements? Are they always legal, decent, honest and true? Think of the battle between Coke and Pepsi or between MacDonalds and Burger King? Who will not play dirty tricks if they result in increased profits or global domination? Think of how long the tobacco industry held out denying that there was any correlation between smoking and ill health. How many medical researchers and health specialists were in the pay of the tobacco industry, bought off to distort the truth?

Tonight we come to the 9th Commandment. "You shall not give false witness." Remember the purpose of the Ten Commandments. God gave them to protect his people from harm and to provide them with a future - secure in their relationships. Rightly related to God and to one another.

This 9th commandment takes the form of a positive concern expressed in a negative term. The flat forbidding of giving false testimony against your neighbour expresses God's desire for his people to love the truth and live by it. Although the wording of this command suggests the giving of testimony in a court of law, other passages of Scripture make it quite clear God by no means limits it to that. Proverbs 6:16-19 states,

"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."

Notice that out of the seven, two have to do with being a stranger to the truth. We may dress it up, talk about it, excuse it, philosophize about it. Most of us would agree that lying is a bad thing, when other people do it. Even in a world in which other moral standards have shifted, the schoolboy who lies to his teacher, the husband who lies to his wife, the managing director who lies to the shareholders, the MP who lies to Parliament is still regarded with extreme disfavour. And yet it seems today what matters most is not whether one tell the truth or not, but whether one is found out by the Sunday tabloid reporters with their 500mm telephoto lenses. It is not hard to see why, because lying strikes at the root of all relationships. That's why I was grateful to discover an organisation committed to provide total piece of mind for me and my family. They are called the Alibi Agency. Listen to what they offer.

With the pressures of modern life many of us have occasion to stray from our long term partners and dally with a brief sexual or emotional relationship with a third party, this is often a short term affair, inconsequential to our long term plans and relationships, but with modern communications, and media, it has become increasingly difficult to be able to carry on such a temporary dalliance, without risk of detection, Any chance of such a relationship becoming public knowledge in any way whatsoever can put an incredible strain on all parties concerned. Family life, the home, business and children's welfare can all be put on the line for what may indeed have been a totally inconsequential short term flurry of sexual or emotional feelings. The Alibi Agency was established to provide a way out of this situation, we offer a Service which can help to protect your loved ones from undue anxiety, and help to ensure the stability of a long term relationship and financial security, by offering secure and professional handling of "Alibi's" for you. For instance:- we can provide you with invitations to corporate events, to cover your absence, we will provide telephone answering so that if someone tries to contact you, our receptionists will handle the call in the manner which was pre-arranged with you, as maybe a hotel receptionist, or a golf club secretary, she will offer to call your room, or have you paged, giving recognition to the fact that you are actually resident in the facility, Our operator has the ability to call you, explain the call and on your decision she may explain that you are not currently answering or she may divert the call to your "Room" which will be the number she has called you on. We can also offer the loan of discreet noiseless pagers, so that we can contact you without anyone having to know. We will telephone your partner to confirm a scheduled meeting or they can ring us to verify an appointment. Charge:- £15.00 per instance. We will tailor make an Invitation whether it be for Business or Pleasure and send this to you as confirmation of an event you have to attend. Charge:- £25.00 per instance. Accommodation Addresses and Hotels can be arranged throughout the country. Confirmation of Bookings etc can be supplied. Charge:- Price on application. We can make purchases on your behalf so that items cannot be traced back to yourself via receipts. Charge:- Price on application.

And the mission statement of the Alibi Agency? "Our aim is total piece of mind for you and your family." They make Goebells and Orwell sound like innocent children in a kindergarten. So it really doesn't take much to cover up the truth, if you can pay their price. Sir Winston Churchill was once faced with a dilemma. He believed another MP had lied in Parliament. In order to maintain an air of civility he accused them of perpetrating a 'terminological inexactitude'. I will try and avoid any more terminological inexactitudes this evening. Trust me...

Three questions I want to ask you this evening:
1. Why Does God Prohibit Lying?
2. Why Do People Lie?
3. How Can We Avoid Lying?

1. Why Does God Prohibit Lying?
In his gospel, John records some very powerful and scathing comments the Lord Jesus made to some very distinguished religious leaders.

"Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father's desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God."
(John 8:43-45)

Jesus' statement immediately put the dangerous business of lying into perspective. When we lie we are speaking the devil's native language. His mind is so warped, Satan doesn't know the truth, and Jesus says, when we lie, we become the mouthpiece of Satan. When we lie we connect ourselves to the devil, to the point where he becomes people's father. In John 10 we read that Jesus came to give us spiritual life in abundance. Why? Because Satan is at work in the world and his intention is to kill, steal, and destroy, and lies and deception are his principle weapons. How tragic when people, unknowingly become his voice.There is a cosmic struggle in the universe - its between truth and delusion. In 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 we learn,

"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake. For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ."

You may know some of the people Paul describes who have minds so blinded to truth that they live a delusion. The truth of God found in Jesus Christ is the light that shines in the darkness. When we speak and live by that truth, however imperfectly, our lives radiate the light of Christ to our world. Now do you see why God takes lying so seriously? "When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies." However white, however apparently justifiable, lying is Satanic in origin and generates darkness not light. Second question.

2. Why Do People Lie?
The simple reason is that we are not in a right relationship with our creator God.

"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1 John 1:5-6)

2.1 People Lie to Themselves
Romans 12:3 tells us we should not think about ourselves more highly than we ought, but that we should think about ourselves soberly. In other words we should use our God-given minds to think about ourselves as God does. If we begin to dwell on what we have done for God, if we have to rationalise or make excuses for our behaviour, if we begin to think God is lucky to have us on his team we are thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought and we are deceiving ourselves. We are walking in darkness. And although we may not notice it, others will.

2.2 People Lie to God
You may think trying to lie to God is absurd, unthinkable. He knows everything. How can we possibly lie to Him? Acts 5 tells a story of the early church. Some people had great need, and others had property. Some of the property owners sold their land and brought the proceeds to be placed in the common purse. Joseph was one of those who gave his land. The apostles gave him new name. They called him Barnabas which means the 'son of encouragement' because that is what he was to others. Two other people named Ananias and Sapphira watched Barnabas and thought, "We'd like to do something like that. That kind of recognition would feel good. We've got some land; we'll sell it. Then we can bring the proceeds to the apostles - well at least some of them. We can pretend we have given it all."But God knew what they were thinking and he tipped off Peter.

"Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:3-4)

What led Ananias and Sapphira to lie to God? On the one hand they wanted to appear in favour with God, to look good to God's people. But to do so would have cost them, would require decisions and change. They wanted the benefits without paying the price. When we pretend to honour God and love Him, but don't really want to do it his way, because it will cost too much, we not only lie to those around us, we lie to Him. We are living in a never, never land than doesn't reflect the real state of our faith. This is an insidious and disastrous trap. Maybe you come to church and sing a powerful hymn about serving God, but if you are not careful, and if you don't mean what you sing, you could find yourself very sweetly lying to God the whole time. Now that may not sound like a major crime, but it might signal the development of a mindset so far removed from reality that you lie both to yourself and to God.

2.3 People Lie to Other People
People lie in three different ways.

2.3.1 The Destructive Lie
The Sanhedrin decided Jesus was lying when he claimed to be God. They wanted to kill him for it. Having decided that he would have to die even before his trial, they got false witnesses to lie under oath about what they alleged Jesus had said about the temple. Perjury then as now is a very serious crime. Not uncommonly we find such malice in our own hearts, sometimes. The desire to destroy, hurt or hinder someone. The Monica Lewinsky affair or Mohamed Alfyad's attempt to obtain British citizenship are both full of claims and counter claims of destructive lies.

2.3.2 The Defensive Lie
Peter used this after his great confession, "Even if everyone else forsakes you, I will not." "Will you Peter?" said Jesus. "Before the cock crows you will deny me three times." Following the arrest of Jesus, Peter followed at a distance. When confronted he lied bursting into oaths and curses, calling on God as his witness that he was not one of the Lord's disciples. Why? Peter was afraid. He was afraid of arrest and he tried to escape by lying. Thankfully the Lord restored Peter. He was forgiven and eventually had the privilege of dying as a martyr for Christ. In the 1960's an up and coming young British politician, the Minister for War, John Profumo who was married to a glamorous actress Valerie Hobson, was charged with having an affair with a prostitute, Christine Keeler. Someone associated with the Soviet embassy. He was challenged in Parliament. He categorically denied it. But he lied, and when it was proven he resigned. Every year politicians and public figures see their careers similarly ended abruptly, all because of a simple defensive lie. The destructive lie, the defensive lie.

2.3.3 The Defective Lie
The defective lie is the lie of carelessness, boastfulness, silence or half truth. See article in Times for more evidence. I involve myself in the careless lie when, for instance, I pass on information without checking the facts. Out of carelessness we find ourselves, however unintentionally, in the lying business. Or maybe we lie out of boastfulness. Because we have a fragile ego, we make ourselves out to be something we are not. We stretch the truth, exaggerate, manipulate. I have this dilemma every time I travel to Israel.

The security services invariably interrogate you and want to know the purpose of your visit. Whom you will be visiting, where you will be staying. Do I tell them everything or just some of the facts. I'm coming to your beautiful country on a pilgrimage. Yes that's true, I am also here to monitor human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories. I've come to bring encouragement to Christians suffering under your governments apartheid policies of military occupation, land confiscation, detention without trial, torture, deportations. If I say that I won't be allowed in.

So I limit my answers and sometimes refuse to answer their questions. In such situations we need the wisdom of God to know how to answer. There are destructive, defensive and defective lies. 3rd question.

3. What is the Cure for Lying?
How do we overcome the lying tendency? Remember the first question? Why does God condemn lying? Answer: Realise its Satanic in origin. Second question? Why do people lie? Answer: Because they are not secure in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Deception and fantasy provide a poor substitute. Earlier I quoted 1 John 1:5-7.

"This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.

The passage goes on to say,

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:7-9)

Here is the ultimate, guaranteed, no nonsense cure for lying. Walk in the light. Allow the word of God to bring light to your world. Allow Christ to shape your understanding of God's love. Allow Him to determine your self image. Allow Him to be Lord of your relationships. Then you will have less and less need to lie or deceive, to doubt or feel insecure. Then you will become more and more like Jesus who said "I am the truth". As we are honest about our selves and truthful in our dealings with other people, we continue to experience his love and forgiveness, his cleansing and empowering. Paul described it as putting off the old self and putting on the new. Of nothing less than becoming like God.

So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts... You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body. Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:17-32)

Three questions. One answer. Become the person God intends - created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. And that's the truth.Let's pray.

P.S. Here is a moving story of how 'deception' may have a positive purpose in combatting evil...

The first serious book I ever remember reading as a teenager was "The Man Who Never Was." Sitting in the middle of the choke point of the Mediterranean, Sicily was the shortest route from North Africa to Adolf Hitler's Europe. It was also the base from which the Luftwaffe had pounded Malta for many months, as well as any convoy that tried to reach the beleaguered island. Sicily had to be taken, but its rough terrain favored the defender. Any attack against a well-entrenched force would be very costly, or might even fail. If the enemy only could be misled as to where the Allies intended to strike next, the attacking force might encounter something less than a fully manned defense. But how were the German general staff and intelligence service to be duped on such a grand scale?

The solution to that problem came from two relatively junior British officers: Lt. Cmdr. Ewen Montagu, a reservist who represented naval intelligence on the interservice XX Committee (XX for double cross), and Squadron Leader Sir Archibald Cholmondley, Montagu's Air Ministry counterpart. The plan was to plant false Allied documents on a dead body given the identity of a fictitious Major Martin and letting it fall into German hands giving the impression that an Allied courier had died in a plane crash at sea and whose corpse had washed ashore. Rather than attempting something as clumsy as feeding the Germans a bogus operations plan, the plotters decided on the more subtle approach of using an unofficial personal letter between two top-ranking officers.

The letter would only talk around what they wanted the Germans to believe, but it had to be done in such a way that no one could fail to interpret the meaning. For the key false letter, Montagu got General Sir Archibald Nye, vice chief of the Imperial General Staff, to write to General Sir Harold Alexander, the British commander in North Africa under American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The phony letter did two things. It suggested two operations would be launched in the Mediterranean (one in the east and one in the west). It also clearly identified Sicily as the cover for the true target in the west. That only left Sardinia in the west, and strongly suggested the Greek mainland and the Balkans for the target in the east. To corroborate the letter from Nye, Major Martin also carried a second letter from Lord Louis Mountbatten, chief of Combined Operations, to Admiral Andrew Cunningham, British naval commander in the Mediterranean. That letter established the purpose for Martin's trip; he was an expert on landing craft on loan from Mountbatten's staff for the planning of the Mediterranean operations. The Mountbatten letter also contained a side comment about sardines being rationed in England.

It was a crude joke by British standards, but Montagu correctly guessed the Germans would not be able to resist that piece of bait either. Major Martin left England for the last time on April 19, 1943. He traveled in a special canister packed with dry ice aboard the submarine HMS Seraph. Just before dawn on the 30th, Seraph surfaced about a mile off the Spanish coast near Huelva. After crewmen brought the canister up on deck, Jewell sent them back down into the boat, leaving only the officers topside. Up to that point only Jewell knew what the canister contained. He quickly briefed his officers, and then they prepared the body for launch. They blew up the major's Mae West and made sure the briefcase was securely attached to its chain. Then Jewell said a short prayer from the Navy Burial Service, and they slipped Major Martin over the side. The wash from the submarine's screws pushed the body toward shore. A few hours later a fishing boat picked up the dead marine and brought him into port. The local Abwehr agent did the rest.

After some delay and diplomatic shuffling, the Spanish government eventually returned Martin's briefcase, apparently unopened. Once the documents returned to London, however, microscopic examination of the paper revealed they had indeed been opened, and presumably photocopied. The body, meanwhile, received a quick post-mortem that confirmed Spillsbury's predictions. Major Martin was buried a few days later in Huelva with full military honours, surrounded by floral tributes from his heartbroken fiancée and family. Back in London, the June 4 edition of The Times noted Martin's death in the casualty lists. The German intelligence services bought Mincemeat whole. "The authenticity of the captured documents is beyond doubt," they reported. The German general staff bought it, too. When it finally got to Hitler, he played his part perfectly.

On May 12, 1943, he issued an order summarizing his estimate of the situation in the Mediterranean. The order concluded, "Measures regarding Sardinia and the Peloponnese take precedence over everything else." Hitler ordered the strengthening of fortifications on Sardinia and Corsica, and he sent an additional Waffen SS brigade to Sardinia. He sent his favorite commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, to Athens to form an army group. He sent one panzer division to Greece all the way from France. Perhaps most damaging to the German situation, he ordered two additional panzer divisions to prepare to move to Greece from Russia--at the same time the Germans were getting ready for history's greatest tank showdown at Kursk. When the Allies stormed ashore on Sicily they caught the German and Italian defenders almost completely flatfooted.

On July 7, 1943, only two days before the start of the landings, the war diary of the German high command did not even have an entry for the western end of the Mediterranean. The Allies assaulted the southern tip of Sicily, but the bulk of the island's defenses were oriented along the north coast, facing Sardinia. Many of the Italian divisions in Sicily folded immediately. Operation Mincemeat had been an unqualified success. It was a brilliant if bizarre example of successful deception. The 9th Commandment insists we tell the truth at all times but sometimes, in exceptional circumstances not necessarily the whole truth.

I am grateful, in particular, to Stuart Briscoe and his book The Ten Commandments, Playing by the Rules, (Carlisle, OM, 1986), for material used in this sermon.