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  • Writer's pictureDr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

Tell the Truth!

These are the things you shall do: speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your

gates for truth, justice, and peace.

— Zachariah 8:16

Question 144 of the Larger Catechism asks, “What are the duties required in the Ninth

Commandment?” The first part of the answer states, “The duties required in the Ninth

Commandment are, the preserving and promoting of truth between man and man, and

the good name of our neighbour, as well as our own; appearing and standing for the truth;

and from the heart, sincerely, freely, clearly, and fully, speaking the truth, and only the

truth, in matters of judgment and justice, and in all other things whatsoever.” Last time we

saw how we not only can know but do know the truth about many things. Today we

consider our duty to promote the truth that we know.

Because the truth is that which is real, there is a sense in which we cannot in any way

affect, alter, change, or deny the truth. Lying about what time I got to work cannot change

the reality of whether or not I was late and by how much. Nothing we say or keep from

saying can change history: the things that actually happened in the past. However, we can

change what is recorded, and therefore, what is believed. So, for example, the lie, “I arrived

at work on time,” when I was really two hours late asserts something happened that did

not in fact happen. Moreover, lying about arriving at work on time causes people to

believe something good about me: I am punctual and responsible in my duties, I keep my

word and do justly: putting in the full time for my pay. But the good that they believe is

false, for the information on which that belief is based is incorrect. I was not punctual and

responsible in my duties; in fact I was tardy and negligent. And this tardiness and

negligence, of which I am guilty, I cover up and hide with a lie. In this fashion, lying is how

sinful people promote false goodness and hide real evil. Thus, in order to preserve and

promote the truth, we must be careful not only in what we say but in what we do not say.

So, if I am late for work and do not lie by saying “I was on time,” good! But if I arrange

things in my office to make it look like I’ve been there for two hours, I am still promoting

what is false even though I do not actually speak a lie. Such activity is hardly preserving

and promoting the truth—that which actually happened. Consequently, the Catechism

points out our duty to not merely pharisaically avoid a technical false statement, but we

must appear and stand for the truth. That is, it is not enough to simply, passively not tell a

lie. Those who love the truth will actively seek to see the truth about a certain subject

declared and known when that particular subject is in question.

The classic example of not preserving and promoting of a truth that was in question is the

story of when Abraham led Abimelech the king of Gerar to believe that his wife Sarah was

merely his sister. I love this story because it reveals what sophisticated liars we fallen

humans can be! The Bible records, “Now Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister,”

(Gen. 20:1). Notice how clearly & starkly the Scripture puts it: he said “of his wife, ‘She is my

sister.’” The result was Abimelech believed him! And so he came and took Sarah to be one

of his wives (20:2). Why did Abraham do this? The Scripture tells us that as a nomad

traveling in various lands, he was afraid that when men saw Sarah’s great beauty they

would kill him, so he made her say “He is my brother,” (20:11-13). Abraham’s reasoning here

was twofold: first, Sarah actually was his half-sister, so he could have her say “He is my

brother,” and be consoled in his heart that there was some truth in the statement. Second,

Abraham rightly surmised that anyone hearing Sarah was his sister would conclude that

she was not at the same time his wife, for brothers and sisters do not marry, and this was

the whole point of making known they were brother and sister. Abraham wanted people

to make a false conclusion about his and Sarah’s relationship, and so he spoke in such a

way that they would. He said “She is my sister,” for the purpose of hiding the fact that she

was his wife. Thus, Abraham’s words were not to speak “clearly, and fully… and only the

truth,” but to speak in such a way that people would conclude that which was not true:

that he and Sarah were not married to one another. Abraham sought in a sophisticated

way to hide a truth and to promote a falsehood. In so doing, he bore false witness of Sarah,

himself, and his neighbors; for he thought poorly of them, concluding “They will kill me”

and did not promote their good names! May the God of truth grant that we examine our

hearts for any sophisticated ways we may be bearing false witness to the truth!


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