This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Why is "telling the truth" stressed so highly among Christian believers?
Telling the truth is without question a primary biblical principle. Many of the ills of modern society are the result of careless handling or deliberate mishandling of truth. Being able to trust the truthfulness of family members, friends, and work associates is essential to wholesome interpersonal relationships.
The world of finance and judicial process is so aware of the importance of truthfulness that it requires many agreements to be in writing primarily so there can be no deceitfulness or misunderstanding. Yet God expects the word and promises of His children to be truthful in all respects, even without a legal document to substantiate the oral promise.
What is truth? Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, asked the question two millennia ago. The question is still being asked today. Some ask the question sarcastically, seeking to prove there are no absolute standards of truth. But personal integrity demands we look for a serious answer to the question.
Is truth a specific fact that can be proved? Is anything that works, or solves a problem, the truth? Is truth something different for every person? Or is truth something true even if no one believes it?
Truth is not relative. It does not vary from person to person or from situation to situation. As Christians, we must search for the truth that is universal, stand up for it even when the contemporary culture disputes it, and defend it "in love" (Eph 4:15). With so many voices in the world claiming to have discovered the truth, many are deceived into following counterfeit teaching. The only truth that can be trusted explicitly is the truth declared by the Creator of all things and recorded for us in His rulebook for faith and conduct, the Bible. Bible truth is both personal and practical. It calls on us to live the truth as well as to speak it. Bible truth is moral as well as factual.
All around us are deceit and falsehood. In advertising, politics, relationships, business and commerce, and even in personal living we see hypocrisy and outright determination to be dishonest and untruthful. Hypocrisy presents an outward appearance of truth and forthrightness but masks hidden wickedness and abuse of the truth. It is hypocrisy to pretend concern for the welfare of others when the performance is to gain applause and human recognition. It is hypocrisy to feign devotion to God and righteousness when selfish acts and evil habits rule the heart in secret.
Honesty is a matter of truth and truthful behavior. Openness or forthrightness volunteers truth even when it is not to the advantage of the speaker. Keeping a promise or pledge is an act of honesty; breaking a promise strips one of a reputation for honesty and truthfulness. Intellectual honesty is openness to all truth even to that which may contradict deeply held personal opinions. Sincerity is honesty in expressing oneself; Jesus described Nathanael as "an Israelite, in whom there is nothing false" (John 1:47). A person can be truthful in a superficial way without being an honest person. The truly honest person "rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:6) and is angered and saddened at falsehood and hypocrisy.
Fraud sounds like a dishonesty that would be found only in the world. But if the apostle Paul had to admonish believers to avoid the sin in his day, we must be doubly careful to do what is right and honest in our dealings with fellow believers. The unity of the church demands it. "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated [or defrauded]? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers" (1 Cor. 6:7,8).
Look closely at the words of Jesus to the rich young man recorded in Mark 10:19: "You know the commandments: 'do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.'" Mixed in with the fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments is "Do not defraud." That would include an intentional falsehood in order to take advantage of another person.
Some well-meaning Christians point to Old Testament examples of people who told lies that resulted in something good happening. They conclude from this there are exceptions when telling a falsehood is permissible. Hypothetical situations based on historical incidents are cited for further support. Wouldn’t it be right to protect the life of another person if a godless executioner were to knock on one’s door asking for a wrongly accused friend or family member? The Bible does not provide exceptions to the commandments.
It is never right to plan to tell a lie. To tell anyone it would be right to lie to save a life could encourage faulty selfish reasoning. Avoiding impending judgment for a personal misdeed is just as important to a person as life would be for someone he has never met. The slippery slope of justifying some forms of dishonesty has led to the diabolical relativism and situational ethics that are a major curse of our society.
Of special concern in the body of Christ is honesty and truthfulness between fellow Christians. In an attempt to "help" the Holy Spirit or to enhance one’s reputation as a spiritual leader, some have used techniques more humanly initiated than divinely prompted. When human manifestations are described as Spirit-prompted manifestations, truth is compromised. Each spiritual leader should be able to testify with Paul, "Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one" (2 Cor. 7:2).
Christians are called to model, both in word and in practice, truth that reflects the very character of God.
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.