The Destructive Power of Deception (3:9a)
Following the other sins of the tongue, and somewhat singled out from them, is this brief but crucial command: “Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3:9a). So easily written. So easily recited. So easily ignored.
I don’t want to commit another sin of the tongue by giving myself to overstatement, but it’s hard to imagine a more destructive force in the body of Christ (or in marriages or in routine relationships) than lying. Virtually everything else we do to and against one another can be healed, but deliberate, conscious, pre-meditated deception is perhaps the most devastating of all.
Something truly sacred is shattered when we lie to one another. The confidence we have in another person, so essential for life in the body of Christ, cannot be easily repaired. The safety we feel because of a shared commitment to the truth is violated when deceit is embraced. It makes us feel vulnerable and tentative in our relationship with others.
The phrase “to one another” (Col. 3:9a) shows that “the exhortation has particular reference to believers in their relations within the Christian community. This, of course, in no way suggests that Christians could take the question of truth less seriously when speaking to outsiders” (O’Brien, 188). But Paul specifically has in mind our obligations toward one another in the church. In Ephesians 4:25, the reason for this exhortation is not simply because lying is sinful and thus an offense against God, but because “we are members one of another” (v. 25b). We must remember that “fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth” (Stott, 185).
When someone lies to us we feel abandoned by them, even abused. Someone can be guilty of any number of sins and we can forgive them when they repent. But rebuilding trust in someone who has deceived and misled us is a monumental task.
So, why do we do it? What makes lying such a powerful temptation? What do we hope to accomplish by means of a lie that seems to trump all the reasons why we should tell the truth? There are countless answers, no doubt, but I want to focus on three.
(1) One reason we lie is that we simply don’t trust the truth to get us what we want. In fact, telling the truth may be costly and painful and lead to hardships we’d rather avoid. Perhaps the underlying problem is greed and telling the truth will cost us business or lead to the loss of a job. Lying on one’s tax return is certainly one example of this (and, in the minds of some, so easily justified).
(2) A related factor is power. People frequently lie to gain an advantage over others that would rarely if ever occur had they chosen to be honest, forthright, and humble. This power-grab may be in the form of authority in the local church or a promotion at work or prestige among one’s peers, regardless of age or context. And why is such power so appealing that it would prompt one to lie to gain it? Simply because we’ve bought into the false belief that personal value and worth is based on the perception of others and the sort of achievement that wins the applause and approval of society at large. If our identity were more wholly wrapped up in Christ and who we are in him, we would be less tempted to lie to gain from people what only he, ultimately, can give.
(3) Perhaps the most powerful energy behind lying is pride. We lie to protect ourselves from whatever embarrassment the truth might bring. The truth would expose us in our weakness and sinfulness and failures. So we lie to make ourselves appear to others different from what we really are. People are terrified that if those whose respect and acceptance they can’t live without were to see them stripped of every façade and false front, they would suffer irreparable loss. Not so much financial loss, or even of power, but loss of status, respect, honor, praise, and the simple enjoyment we want people to have whenever they are in our presence.
The thought of people knowing the truth about us or seeing what we know but are ashamed to confess, drives us to lie in any number of ways, whether by direct verbal prevarication or by the creation of a public image that bears little correspondence to our true, inner selves.
Tragically, even the church has created a value system in which being perceived as competent, right, highly favored by the leadership, and most important of all, “anointed”, is prized more than humility and brokenness and service and poverty of spirit. In this sort of atmosphere, telling the truth becomes an obstacle to advancement. Authenticity and honesty threaten the image we project to those whom we want to impress or whose favor we desire.
Related to this point is the powerful temptation to lie to cover our sin. We want to be thought of by others as spiritual, as truly committed, as lovers of God, and the truth would reveal that we aren’t quite what we promote ourselves to be.
But is it really all that serious? Well, yes. In Revelation 21:8 (cf. also 21:27), John provides a partial list of those whose “portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8b). They include “the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, . . . murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, AND ALL LIARS” (Rev. 21:8a).
As if to make the point even more pointedly, John virtually repeats himself in Revelation 22:15. Those who are outside the gates of the New Jerusalem, who will never gain admittance, include “the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, AND EVERYONE WHO LOVES AND PRACTICES LYING” (NASV).
So, how important is speaking and living the truth? Eternally important!
Writing the truth (I pray),