THE 10: How to Live and Love in a World That Has Lost Its Way,

Safeguard the Reputation of Others | The Ninth Commandment

By Dr. Robert Jeffress

Politicians lie. There’s nothing new or surprising about that; it’s as old as the world—or at least as old as the existence of politicians. It’s the rare politician indeed who, if asked if they lie, would come right out and admit it. At best, they might admit to what Winston Churchill called “terminological inexactitude.”

However, the question isn’t whether politicians lie. The question is, Do you lie? Are you known as a truth-teller or a teller of tall tales? Do you engage in “terminological inexactitude?” To find out, let’s hook you up to a mental lie detector. As honestly as possible, answer the following questions:

  1. Do you have a secret life you don’t want others to discover?
  2. Would you agree to answer any question your spouse asked you if you were hooked up to an actual lie detector?
  3. Do you often say things you don’t mean for the sake of politeness?
  4. Have you ever lied about your age, education, or income?
  5. Would you tell a close friend that he or she had bad breath?
  6. Have you ever said “I love you” without meaning it?
  7. Do you really love and respect your in-laws?
  8. Did you lie on this test?

How did you do? If you were honest, you’ve probably lied in one or more of the scenarios on this list. If so, you’ve broken the ninth commandment, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

We’ll examine what the ninth commandment means, but before we do, let me point out something: as with the three previous commandments, the ninth commandment has to do with taking something from your neighbor. We could summarize commandments six and seven like this: don’t take your neighbor’s life or wife, and commandments seven and eight like this: don’t take your neighbor’s goods or good name. It’s interesting that the ninth commandment deals with lying because those who commit murder, adultery, and theft are all adept at terminological inexactitude.

As with commandments six and seven, dealing with murder and adultery, the ninth commandment gives us an extreme example of sin, but it also covers lesser forms of falsehoods, which we will take up first.

1. The Seriousness of Intentional Lying (Proverbs 6:16-19; Acts 5:1-11)

When talking about lying, it’s helpful to remember the difference between telling an unknown falsehood and telling a known falsehood. Not everyone who passes on an untruth is an intentional liar. Many times people are duped into believing (and spreading) things that just aren’t so.

Do you remember the former talk-show host David Letterman’s famous “top ten” lists? Well, God has His “top seven” list of sins He hates the most, and it’s found in Proverbs 6:16–19

Out of the seven things that God hates most, two of them have to do with lying. A lying tongue (v. 17) and a false witness who utters lies (v. 19). It’s clear that God hates lying.

2. Why God Hates Lying

The Bible is clear that lying is one of those sins the Lord especially hates—and I can think of two reasons.

In other words, God is absolute truth; He is the very definition or essence of truth. In fact, Paul said in Titus 1:2 that God “cannot lie.” So whenever Christians tell lies, we act more like children of Satan than children of God. Lying is contrary to who we are—brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. As theologian, J. I. Packer wrote, “There is no godliness without truthfulness.”

The Lord hates those who cause trouble and bring division in the church, in the family, or among friends. And lying is the primary vehicle for doing that. Most people would say the number one quality valued above all others in a friendship is honesty. I bet if you looked back over your relationships that turned sour, you would find that deceit or some form of untruth was at the heart of the breakup. Lying causes division among people.

3. The Ways We Lie

  • Contradicting the Truth
  • Twisting the Truth
  • Neglecting the Truth
  • Inflating the Truth

4. A Special Category of Lying (Exodus 20:16)

The ninth commandment, Exodus 20:16, is repeated in Deuteronomy 5:20. However, the emphasis in these two passages is slightly different because the Hebrew words translated as “false” are different in each verse. In Exodus, the word is sheqer, meaning “falsehood,” “deception,” or “fraud.” In Deuteronomy, the word is shav, meaning “empty,” “vain,” or “worthless.” 

Taken together, “bearing false witness” refers to any untruth, whether through evasion (“spinning” the truth), slander (passing on worthless tidbits about someone), or outright lying, with the intent to deceive or defraud someone. Bearing false witness against others has societal and individual consequences, both of which are detrimental and destructive.

Each of us lives and dies with our name—it’s the only one we have. So let’s control our speech and not rob each other of our reputations by bearing false witness.


Full Passage: Exodus 20:16