A Lying Tongue (Dishonesty)

Original Date: 
Sunday, January 31, 2016

**Proverbs 26:28 Taming the Tongue: A Lying Tongue (Dishonesty)

“What I meant to say was…”
In 2003, the United States was invading Iraq. A group of Chinook helicopters was flying bridging material over the desert when they took fire. One of the helicopters took a hit from a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) and the convoy was forced to land.

Meanwhile, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was embedded with the Chinook unit and was flying with a helicopter on a different mission that day, departing about a half hour behind the birds that were forced down. When the helicopter he was on learned of what had happened to the first chopper, it diverted and set down with the others to await help.

Sometime shortly after, NBC news aired a segment with video of the downed aircraft and Williams describing it “as a close call in the skies over Iraq” and saying “the Chinook ahead of us was almost blown out of the sky.” Williams did not clarify that his helicopter was some 30 minutes behind the engagement.

At the time, some of the soldiers who were present in Iraq were off-put by the implication that Williams had been so close to the action. Some of them attempted to alert the news media that Williams had not been entirely truthful, but nothing came of it.

Then, in 2013, Williams did a guest appearance with David Letterman. As he sat on the Late Show couch he told a story about being on a helicopter that got shot down, adding that a crew member had been injured and received a medal. “We figured out how to land safely,” he said, “we landed very quickly and hard. We were stuck, four birds in the desert and we were north out ahead of the other Americans.” On another occasion, Williams said in an interview at Fairfield University that he had “looked down the tube of an RPG in Iraq.” Then, in early January of 2015, Williams was attempting to pay tribute a soldier on the Nightly News when he described “a terrible moment a dozen years back during the invasion of Iraq when the helicopter we were traveling in was forced down after being hit by an R.P.G.”

Again, soldiers who had been there took to Facebook and called reporters and Williams’ credibility took a huge hit. He issued an apology in which he said he “misremembered” and had conflated events. He lost his anchor chair on the Nightly News and was suspended for 6 months without pay. Tomorrow will actually mark his return to primetime television as he helps cover the Iowa Caucuses for MSNBC. (news accounts taken from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2948848/I-complained-Saturn-comp... and http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/06/business/brian-williamss-apology-over-...

In March of 2014 the Manhattan Jaspers were the toast of college basketball after making a run to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Their coach, Steve Masiello was a hot coaching prospect and the University of South Florida was prepared to snap him up. But they did a background check and discovered that he had not, in fact, graduated from the University of Kentucky, as it said on his resume. He lost the South Florida job, but Manhattan was only too happy to keep him around as that summer he acquired the necessary credits for his degree. http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/story/_/id/10675532/south-flo...

In 1998, Tim Johnson was the successful rookie manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. He led them to their first winning season in 5 years. His success was at least partially attributed to war stories he told his players about his experiences in Vietnam. But then, in the offseason, he admitted to a reporter that those war stories were all made up. He had spent the war as a marine reserve and minor league baseball player. He never served overseas. He has also never managed a Major League Baseball team again. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Johnson_(baseball)

And so it goes. George O’Leary lost the head football coaching job at Notre Dame after holding it for just a few days after “inaccuracies” were uncovered on his resume. Former Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards saw his political career torpedoed after it was revealed he had lied about an affair he carried on even as his wife battled breast cancer. Bernie Madoff went to jail, and thousands of investors were left broke, after it was revealed that his huge investment business was actually a Ponzi scheme and the largest financial fraud in U.S. history.

Lies are all around us. We misremember. We stretch the truth. We exaggerate for effect. We dodge and duck and dive and leave key elements out of our stories. We fabricate details and we fudge the truth.

Dishonesty is all around us. We see it in our news stories. We see it with the people we interact with every day. We see it in ourselves.

Why Do We Lie?
So, why do we lie? John Piper suggests that all lying springs out of two basic motivations: fear and greed. http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/speak-truth-with-your-neighbor

We lie because we fear something bad will happen to us if we are honest. We fear people will think less of us if they know the truth, or that there will be consequences for our actions. So we cover-up and prevaricate, we mislead or we spin the facts to paint ourselves in a better light.

Or, we lie out of greed. We want people to like us better, to be impressed by us. We want them to buy what we are selling. Or we want them to give us things. Brian Williams, apparently, lied so that people would be impressed by his bravery. Steve Masiello lied to get a job. Tim Johnson lied to motivate his players. Bernie Madoff lied to get rich.

Charles Colson boiled the prevalence of dishonesty in America down to the adoption of the utilitarian ethic. That is, the idea that if something works, if it gets results, then it is ok. It’s the idea that the ends justify the means. And in America these days, it is widely accepted that some truth stretching is just the cost of doing business. Colson wrote, describing our culture: “It's perfectly acceptable to reinvent ourselves, because what we say and do matter less than how people perceive us.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/march11/39.112.html

God, of course, does not like lying. It even made His top ten list of things not to do. It’s number 9 in the Ten Commandments, the one that reads:

16You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

What that means, specifically, is that you should not bear false witness in a court or judicial setting. But what it means generally is: “Don’t lie.” Tell the truth. God is a God of truth. He does not lie (Numbers 23:19) and He doesn’t want you to either.

In fact, God says explicitly that He hates lying. It’s in Proverbs 6:16-19. It says:

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 person who stirs up conflict in the community.

A list of seven things that God hates, and lying makes it onto the list twice. “A lying tongue” and “a false witness who pours out lies.” In fact, this verse says that these things are detestable to Him. Lying isn’t just annoying to God, He loathes it with a passion (The Message).

We are in the midst of a series called Taming the Tongue. We’ve seen, from James 3, that the tongue has an outsized influence on how we live our lives. Jesus said that out of the overflow of our hearts, our mouths speak. In other words, our tongues reveal a whole lot about what is going on inside of us. And so, we’ve been talking about getting rid of unwholesome language, rotten-fruit words in our lives. We’ve talked about grumbling and swearing and gossip. And today, as you have discerned, we are going to talk about lying.

Our passage for today, our key verse, is Proverbs 26:28. Here’s what it says:

A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Solomon almost brings the tongue to life here, doesn’t he? A lying tongue. It sounds like a dangerous animal. Like: “a poisonous snake” or “a rabid dog.” You can just picture a lying tongue waiting to bite somebody. Sitting in ambush, waiting to strike. Four times he uses that phrase in the book of Proverbs. “A lying tongue” is hard to tame.

And what a lying tongue does, Solomon says, is it “hates” and it “hurts.” When we lie, it is actually an act of hatred. When we lie, we are despising people. We are hurting people. God hates lying because when we lie, people get hurt.

So what I want to do today is ask the question: Who gets hurt when we lie? Who does a lying tongue injure? I have three answers.

Like a Madman with a Gun
First, a lying tongue hurts those who are lied to. A lying tongue hurts those who are listening to the lie.

Many of the Proverbs stand alone. The book of Proverbs, for the most part, is a collection of sayings from Solomon describing things that are generally true. Usually, the verse before and the verse after a Proverb are about completely different things. But sometimes, the Proverbs get grouped together, sort of thematically arranged. And that seems to be what is happening here at the end of chapter 26. The final 10 verses of this chapter are mostly about how we use our tongues. And verses 18 and 19 read like this:

18 Like a maniac shooting
flaming arrows of death
19 is one who deceives their neighbor
and says, “I was only joking!”

Imagine a man standing on the edge of a dry forest with a bow and arrows. And imagine him dipping those arrows in tar before he lights them on fire and then randomly shooting them into the forest. You probably want to imagine him laughing maniacally the entire time.

That, Solomon says, is what it is like when you tell a lie and then, when it gets discovered, you say something like: “Well, I didn’t really mean it…” or “I was only kidding around…” or “You didn’t really think I was serious, did you?”

When you tell lies, you are setting random forest fires. It’s like a madman with a gun shooting up a crowded restaurant. People are going to get hurt.

So how does a lie hurt those who are lied to?

For one thing, it devalues them. When you lie to someone, you are making a value judgment that says they are not worthy of hearing the truth from you. It means you no longer value them as people, but see them only as a means to an end.

Lies are selfish. You are trying to protect yourself or get something for yourself. So when you lie to someone you are essentially saying: “This lie will benefit me, and probably cost you, but I’m O.K. with that, because I am more important than you.”

Or, again, lies hurt the people being lied to because it weakens their ability to trust. When you lie to me and I find out about it, it makes it that much harder for me to trust you in the future. It undermines your credibility. I’ll talk more about that in a bit. But, more than that, it makes it harder for me to trust anybody. How many times have I talked to someone who has come out of a bad relationship where they say: “I just don’t know if I can trust anyone anymore”?

That, of course, was the reason Brian Williams’ fall was so hard. He was a representative of the news media, which trades in reliability. When his lies are found out, it chips away at our entire society’s ability to trust what we hear from the press. The more people are lied to, the more cynical they become.

Or, again, when you defraud someone, you hurt them. When you lie to somebody so that they will buy your car or so that they will do a deal with your business or hire you or whatever, you are costing that person money. He or she is paying you under false pretenses, getting less than they believe they are going to get.

And then, there’s flattery. Flattery is another form of lying, and it is hurtful as well. Look at our key verse again, and pay attention to the second line. Proverbs 26:28:

A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
and a flattering mouth works ruin.

Hebrew poetry usually works in parallel. That means that the second line is usually a repetition of and reinforcement of the first line. And you can see that here. “A flattering mouth” is another way of saying “a lying tongue.” And “works ruin” is another way of saying it “hates those it hurts.”

Flattery is a form of lying. And it is sinful. And it is hurtful.

So, what is flattery? Flattery is telling someone else how great they are when they are not great. My friend Matt, at the gossip seminar last week, quoted Kent Hughes who said that gossip is saying behind someone’s back what you would never say to their face, but flattery is saying to someone’s face what you would never say behind their backs.

This isn’t being polite. Being polite is good. We’ll talk next week about nice things we can and should say to people. But the motivation in flattery isn’t to be nice, it’s to get something. We call it “buttering people up.” We flatter people because we want them to like us or give us something or overlook some flaw in us. Verse 23, just a few verses up says:

Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware
are fervent lips with an evil heart

“Silver dross” is like a coating or a glaze. It’s smooth. But it covers up flaws. It’s like Eddie Haskell from the old show “Leave it to Beaver”. Always so nice and smooth when adults were around, but stirring up mischief when they weren’t. The outside looks nice, but inside, the heart, what matters, is evil.

And Solomon says flattery brings ruin. When you flatter someone you are telling them what they want to hear, but not what they need to hear. We think we are being nice when we flatter someone, but we are not. Flattery is not love. Flattery is a lie.

Wood to Fire
So, lying hurts those who are lied to. Second, a lying tongue hurts those who are lied about. We do great damage when we lie about others. Proverbs 26:20-22:

20 Without wood a fire goes out;
without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
they go down to the inmost parts.

Verse 22 is the key verse in my friend Matt’s book about gossip. Gossip can be hard to resist because it seems so delicious. And the worst kind of gossip, undoubtedly, is gossip that isn’t even true. When we spread lies about someone, when we give false testimony about someone, when we make things up and add fuel to rumors we are ruining someone else’s character.

The image Solomon uses is that of adding wood to a fire. Isn’t this so true? Someone is grumbling about someone else (which we already know is a problem) and then we slide in with the latest juicy rumor or speculation about what that person is up to. Another log on the fire. A little more fuel for the flame.

There’s a word for this: it’s slander. To tell lies about another person is to slander him or her. If you do it in writing it is libel. Both slander and libel are prosecutable offenses.

Proverbs 25:18 says this:

18 Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow
is one who gives false testimony against a neighbor.

Most of us would never dream of walking into church with a club in our hands, and just start randomly beating people over their heads. And yet, we think nothing of passing along the latest rumor about our friend, or stretching the facts of the story to make someone else look bad. Solomon says there is little difference. Stab them with a sword or assassinate their character, it’s assault either way.

In the last chapter of his book, Matt recounts this story as it is told by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

In a small Eastern European town, a man went through the community slandering the rabbi. One day, feeling suddenly remorseful, he begged the rabbi for forgiveness and offered to undergo an act of penance to make amends. The rabbi told him to take a feather pillow from his house, cut it open, scatter the feathers to the wind, then return to see him. The man did as he was told, then came to the rabbi and asked, “Am I now forgiven?”

“Almost,” came the response. “You just have to do one more thing. Go and gather all the feathers.”

“But that’s impossible,” the man protested. “The wind has already scattered them.”

“Precisely,” the rabbi answered. “And although you truly wish to correct the evil you have done, it is as impossible to repair the damage done by your words as it is to recover the feathers.” (quoted in Mitchell, Resisting Gossip, p. 141)

Telling lies about another person is like shooting a gun: once you hear it it’s too late to stop it. It’s like squeezing the toothpaste out of the tube, you can’t put it back again.

It is worth noting that when God gave the ninth commandment, this is what He was talking about. Instead of saying: “Thou shalt not lie”; He said: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.” He really does not like it when we lie about other people.

Falling into Your Own Pit
So, a lying tongue hurts those who are lied to and those who are lied about. Third, a lying tongue hurts those who are lying. When we lie, we hurt ourselves.

Again, we see this in the last few verses of Proverbs 26. Verses 24-26:

Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,
but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,
for seven abominations fill their hearts.
26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,
but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.

Eventually, lies get exposed. And when they do, the credibility of the liar crumbles. When people figure out that you’ve lied to them, it gets so much harder for them to trust you the next time.

Have you ever heard this phrase: “the cover-up is worse than the crime”? We try to teach that to our kids all the time. When they do something wrong, we tell them to just be truthful about it. Sure, there’ll be consequences for what they did wrong. But if they lie about it, and we find out they lied, then the consequences will get that much worse. Then they’ll have to pay for their mistake, and for the lie.

The next verse goes like this:

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.

You dig a pit to catch somebody, or you prop up a boulder as a trap for someone else. You tell a lie and think you’ve gotten away with it. And then, inevitably, you’ll fall into the pit of your own making. The stone will roll back on you.

And the thing is: once you start telling a lie, you’ve got to keep telling it, and probably more beside to make the first lie stand up. A Roman philosopher named Quintillian said: “A liar should have a good memory.” You’ve got to remember the story you told the first time, and you’ve got to remember who you told it to. As Sir Walter Scott said: “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” And Solomon puts it like this, in Proverbs 12:19:

Truthful lips endure forever,
but a lying tongue lasts only a moment.

You never have to walk back on the truth. You never have to apologize for being honest. But when you lie, even when you think you’ve gotten away with it, you need to realize it is only momentary. Proverbs 21:6 puts it like this:

6 A fortune made by a lying tongue
is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare.

Just ask Bernie Madoff. Eventually, profits made by dishonesty are going to be taken away from you. Empires built on lies will vanish like smoke.

And even if you are not found out in this life, you can be certain that your lies have not escaped God.

In fact, this is where lies will hurt the worst: at the final judgment. Revelation 21 is a description of the New Heavens and the New Earth. It is a promised reward for all who come to drink from the water of life. But it also contains a list of those who will not enter heaven:

8 But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

That’s quite a rogues’ gallery of sinners: murderers and adulterers and practitioners of the black arts. And then, right at the end of the list: “all liars.”

Lies are sins which are worthy of hell. God hates a lying tongue.

Four Steps
“A lying tongue hates those it hurts.” God hates lying, because when we lie, people get hurt. So what can we do? Let me suggest four practical steps:

First, Repent of your Hate.

The first thing we need to do is recognize just how bad lying is. Solomon says it is a form of hate. It hurts people. So we need to own that, acknowledge that, repent of it, and ask God to change our ways.

This means no more rationalizing or minimalizing. No more saying: “But it was just a little lie” or “nobody got hurt.” No more claiming it was a white lie or a victimless crime.

And I can hear the things some of you are thinking. The little lawyers in your head are looking for loopholes. I know, because I’ve got a little lawyer in my head to. So you’re thinking: “Aren’t there some cases where it is O.K. to lie? Aren’t there some cases where a lie is better than the truth, because if you tell the truth somebody is really going to get hurt?” You’re thinking: “What if I’ve got Jewish refugees in my attic and the Nazi soldiers come to my door, am I supposed to tell the truth to them?”

And I’ll admit, there are some cases where it seems that lying is a lesser evil. There are cases in the Bible: the Jewish midwives lying to Pharoah’s soldiers in order to spare the male babies in Exodus 1, and Rahab lying to protect the Israelite spies in the book of Joshua. What they did seems commendable. But I’ll say this: not many of us have Jewish refugees hiding in our attics. Not many of us are faced with telling a lie or watching someone be unjustly killed.

In most cases—in nearly every case—telling a lie is wrong.

Second, Love the truth.

Begin to love the truth just because it is true. What is true is good and pure and right. Even when it is the truth about some shameful action, at least the truth exposes that action to the light. And that’s good. Get things out of the darkness and into the light. And then love truth for truth’s sake.

The Apostle Paul puts it like this in 1 Corinthians 13, the Bible’s famous love chapter. He says: “love…rejoices in the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:6) Rejoice in the truth.

Third, Speak the truth in love.

Speak the truth. Speak the truth in love. (Eph. 4:15) Truth. Love. Those things can go together. They must go together. John says of Jesus that He came to earth “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) Those are not mutually exclusive ideas. We can speak with grace. And we can speak the truth.

We don’t need to speak the truth in brutality. We don’t need to use the truth to hurt people or bludgeon people. There is such a thing as tact. We can be gentle.

But we must speak the truth. Because a lying tongue hates. A lying tongue hurts. And a lying tongue brings ruin.

And then, finally, we should follow the One who is the truth.

In John 14:6 Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” Jesus never told a lie.

Jesus never gossiped or slandered or sinfully flattered anybody.

1 Peter 2:22 says about Him:

“He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

Jesus never told a lie, and they killed him for it. The next few verses in 1 Peter read like this:

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

There was no deceit in Jesus. It wasn’t his own lies that he bore on the cross, but ours.

It’s true that “all liars” deserve to go to Hell, and it is also true that we are all liars.

But it was for our sins—for our lying tongues--that Jesus died.

It is “by his wounds” that you are healed.

And so, receive that healing today.

Receive it for the first time or for the millionth.

If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your savior, I invite you to do that now. Yes, your lying is bad. Yes, your lying tongue is punching a ticket for you in Hell. But Jesus died so that you would not have to die eternally. You can repent right now, agree with Him about your sin, love the truth, and receive His righteousness. In Christ, lying tongues can be healed.

And if you are already a follower of Jesus Christ and have messed up this week by giving in to dishonesty or some other sin worthy of death, do not wallow in guilt and self-hate. Turn to the Lord again for healing. His blood is so powerful. His truth is so much stronger than falsehood.

So repent of your lying tongue and live in the truth and freedom that he purchased for you at the cross.