To Tell You The Truth
Scripture: James 5:12
To Tell You The TruthJames 5:12
Sunday, January 15, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith
It is at epidemic proportions in our society. The cynicism is understandable. For some people we just feel like saying, "I can tell you are lying because your lips are moving!"
Is anyone telling the truth nowadays, especially when it is not to their apparent benefit? From politicians making campaign promises to salesmen doing whatever it takes to sell a product to professional athletes denying steroid usage to news reporters adding their bias to a story. How many people honestly file their tax returns? How many people cannot tell a story without exaggeration? How many people really uphold "until death do us part? How many people accept the fact that "white lies" are still lies? How many people keep their word? How many people still claim that there is an absolute truth and that to even tell the truth is a virtue to be honored? This suspicious attitude naturally fostered toward others has made many Christians wonder how to apply the command in 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says, "Love…believes all things." And sadly, even the Christians are not immune to lying.
It reminds me of the pastor who told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17." The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17. Many hands went up. The minister smiled and said, "Mark has only 16 chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying."
Deception is all around us because the ruler of this world (Jn. 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) is the evil one, also identified by Jesus as "the father of lies" (Jn. 8:44). Jesus said, "Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature" (Jn. 8:44). His diabolical, cunning and deceptive schemes go all the way back to the beginning. "You surely will not die!" (Gen. 3:5). And Satan's influence on people is seen throughout the Bible, even in the likes of godly individuals like Abraham and David and Rahab and Peter and my favorite, Aaron, when he made the golden idol. "I said to them, 'Whoever has any gold, let them tear it off.' So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf" (Ex. 32:24)! So if Satan has been effective on these folks, how much more is he able to influence those without Jesus? When Paul described the condition of those without Jesus he said, "Their throat is an open grave, with their tongues they keep deceiving, the poison of asps is under their lips" (Rom. 3:13; cf. Psm. 5:9).
The thing that makes the Bible so practical is the fact that God does not change. Who He was in eternity past will be who He is in eternity future. What He expected then, He still expects today. And in addition to God being unchanging, it is also clear that people are unchanging as well. The faces are different, but our problems are the same. And one of the problems today was a problem back then 2,000 years ago when James wrote this epistle under the inspiration of God. There was deception, a lack of regard for the truth! And that is our subject this morning.
Today we have developed several ways that we feel permit us to be deceptive. Many are forever looking for a way to enable them to say one thing, but not be obligated to keep their promise. "We didn't shake on it." "I had my fingers crossed." And the lame alibis continue. Back in the first century it was no different.
God permitted the Israelites to make vows. As a matter of fact, at times they were even encouraged to do so. Deuteronomy 10:20, "You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name." Jeremiah 12:16, "Then if they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, 'As the Lord lives,' even as they taught My people to swear by Baal, they will be built up in the midst of My people." Vows were not wrong as long as they were honored by the person making them (Num. 30:2; Ecc. 5:5).
Yet by the New Testament times, this practice became abused. Vows were being made in a careless way to back up any statement, and vows were made in an evasive way, swearing by someone or something other than God and thus creating a vow that was not binding. The whole system as God intended it was out of control, and the pure honesty of the heart that ultimately concerns God was being neglected.
Jesus also addressed this matter in His rebuke of the Pharisees. "Woe to you, blind guides, who say, 'Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.' You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, 'Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.' You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it." (Mt. 23:16-22).
Jesus' point is this, every vow is ultimately a vow to God since He is the Creator, Sustainer and Lord of all, and therefore nothing should be ginned up in an attempt to undermine or sidestep speaking the truth. Oaths were provided as a greater safeguard for the truth, and the people turned it around to use these oaths as a greater means to promote deception.
So James as he writes verse 12 is following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. He has already addressed several sins of speech (1:26; 2:12; 3:2-11: 4:11) and now in his final wrap-up of this letter he addresses another sin of the speech, the sin of lying. And is this one serious? The verse does begin with "above all, my brothers." And again, like Jesus says in Matthew 5:33-37, the command is not to "swear either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath."
An absolute prohibition on oaths? So am I wrong to have made every couple I have ever married take an oath? Perhaps you have taken an oath in a courtroom. Is this verse saying we should never make an oath? Many throughout the centuries like the Quakers and Anabaptists for instance have taken it that way.
At first it may seem like the right interpretation, but a deeper study proves this not to be the case. As I said, several verses in the Bible permit oaths in God's name. God takes oaths (Heb. 3:11, 18; 4:3; 6:13, 16; 7:21). Jesus honored an oath placed upon Him by Pilate (Mt. 26:63-64). The apostle Paul made several oaths (Rom. 1:9-10; 2 Cor. 1:23). And as the historical point of the verse indicates, the problem was not the oaths; rather, the problem was the people in the way they took the oaths in a frivolous, flippant and falsifying way. In other words, the problem is not with the purity of what God's Word has permitted. The problem is with God's people and what they sinfully wanted. Instead of promoting truth, God's Word was twisted as a means to promote deception.
So the heart of the matter as it always is in the Christian faith is the matter of the heart. This is what the rest of verse 12 gets at: "But your yes is to be yes, and your no, no." What does that mean?
Simple! We are to be men and woman of our word. We should not even need to make an oath because our words with others have proven to be truthful and dependable. Our simple speech should be as reliable as a signed document. What we say is what we mean and what we mean is what we say. And our "yes" and our "no" should suffice. We should need nothing else to validate them in the hearts of others.
The goal is for God's people to be known as people of truth. That is why I am careful not to say "to tell you the truth" in my conversations as if everything I have said up to that point has been a lie "to be honest with you!" Perhaps we can be more direct or blunt, but I hope there are not shades to our truthfulness. As John MacArthur once said, "A half truth is a whole lie and a white lie is really black."
I like the way Helmut Thielicke put it, the German scholar and pastor who resisted compromising his integrity during the Nazi era: "Whenever I utter the formula 'I swear by God,' I am really saying, 'Now I'm going to mark off an area of absolute truth and put walls around it to cut it off from the muddy floods of untruthfulness and irresponsibility that ordinarily overruns my speech.' In fact, I am saying even more than this. I am saying that people are expecting me to lie from the start. And just because they are counting on my lying I have to bring up these big guns of oaths and words of honor (Life Can Begin Again<).
Think about your own life, beloved. Are you committed to the truth, even in what we would deem the little things? Are you honest with the sales clerk as to why you are returning an item? Did you really finish all your homework as you promised your mom? Do you show up on time when you make a commitment? Do you keep your commitments even if something better comes along? Does God see any dishonesty in your income tax preparations? Does your resume accurately reflect your accomplishments? Do you fudge the evidence to make a point? Do you act knowledgeable when you have no clue what we are talking about? Do you offer to pay for items you accidentally break in a store? When you receive a prayer request and promise to pray, do you? Do you tell your spouse you paid less for an item than you really did? Do you tell your spouse to say you are not home when you wish not to speak with someone on the phone? Do you return the money when you are given excess change? Does the perception you give others about your spiritual maturity reflect who you really are? I can keep going, but I think this is convicting enough!
And this is another clear reason why we all need a Savior. Lying is a sin, and who after hearing this list can say they have been perfect in this area? We need the Gospel every day, we need forgiveness, we need Jesus Christ to be our perfect substitute to take the punishment for sin in our place. We fail but as the Scripture declares, "Nor was there any deceit in His mouth" (Isa. 53:9). He qualified to pay our penalty, Christian. With Him there is always forgiveness. And if you are without Jesus, I beg you to believe upon His name and trust Him as your Savior right now!
So why should I be so committed to the truth? Let me provide four reasons.
The first one is right here in this morning's verse. We should let our yes be yes and our no, no, "So that you may not fall under judgment." It is debatable exactly what judgment James is talking about. The way I see it, there are three possible choices and all three are true theologically, but I believe James had only one in mind.
Is James talking about an immediate judgment in this life? As I have personally learned in my lifetime, when we lie we almost always suffer consequences. There is an ongoing judgment in this world for disobeying God's Word. Lying is no exception. If you need a vivid example, turn to Acts 5 and read a little story about Ananias and Sapphire (Ac. 5:1-11).
Is James talking about the judgment that believers will face at what is called the Bema Seat when this world is over? He did in 5:9, "Do not complain, brethren, against one another, so that you yourselves may not be judged; behold, the Judge is standing right at the door." Is he speaking about that same judgment of accountability here?
Or is James talking about eternal judgment where people are separated in hell apart from God? You might be thinking, well, I'm off the hook for that one because I have Jesus Christ. To which I and the Bible would say, if you habitually tell lies and have no desire to repent, maybe…
The Bible is clear, "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8). Or, "Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying" (Rev. 22:15). Lying is placed right there with the most heinous sins. And again, we are not talking about the occasion lapse, but the habitual practice and love to continue.
A second reason we are to put on truthfulness is because deception steals our peace. Those who tell lies live in a state of fear and bondage. They are forever wondering if they will be caught. They tell more lies to cover their lies. The lies get bigger. Before long they are devoid of true joy because their life has become nothing but a façade that they have created that sadly drains their energy to maintain and leaves an empty shell separated from all reality. What a burden!
This is basically how a lie detector test operates. When we lie, we violate our conscience and when our conscience is violated, our body reacts. Lie detector tests are able to detect those reactions of the body. Why be a liar and put our body through this unnecessary stress! It is like the guys who wrote to the IRS and enclosed a check for $150 with a note to the effect saying, "My conscience has been killing me so I am paying you money I concealed on my income tax forms." Later in the note it read, "And if I still cannot sleep I will send you the rest!"
Third, truthfulness is in step with the Holy Trinity. The Holy Spirit is called the "Spirit of truth" (Jn. 14:17; 15:26; 16:13; 1 Jn. 4:6). Jesus is called "the truth" (Jn. 14:6). And while Satan is the "father of lies" (Jn. 8:44), our true Father is called the "Father full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). If we are truly children of the living God, we will show ourselves to be offspring of the Father of truth, guided by the Spirit of truth and doing all things to the exaltation of the Son of truth. Because of the Gospel, the word "overflow" comes to mind. A changed heart filled with the Word of truth (Jn. 17:17) overflows in a mouth that proclaims truthful speech (Mt. 12:34).
And fourth, when we act as God calls us regarding truthfulness, we will demonstrate to a dark world the light of Jesus Christ. Last week we learned the world complains, but we are to be patient with others. When we do, we will look different. And now we learned that the world is deceitful. Why? Because the world is selfish. We tell lies to cover our hide or make ourselves look better. But we are to practice the truth. Again, when we do, we will look different. You see, the world has little regard for honesty because they have little regard for truth. And they have little regard for the truth because they have little regard for Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of the truth. But we who are in union with "the Truth" can and are now able and must present to the world lives of integrity and credibility which show an incredible testimony of Christ in us (Col. 1:27), people separated from this world living for the glory of Jesus Christ.
So may God bless us with His grace to be people who love and speak the truth. May the overflow of our relationship with Jesus Christ proclaim the excellencies of Jesus Christ for our joy and the glory of His name.