Words Are Weapons
The great 21st century philosopher Eminem once said "my words are weapons." I may say that tongue in cheek, but the reality is, he was on to something very true there. Jesus himself taught this truth to his disciples when he said, "Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person" (Matthew 15:11). Our words have great power. With our mouths we can build up and bless, but we can also harm and destroy. The Ninth Commandment focuses narrowly on bearing false witness against your neighbor, but the larger teaching on the command in scripture, as Cody pointed out in his sermon, greatly expands this focus to include all types of lying, of course; but also to provide us instruction for how we are to wield the great power found in our words for the good of others and the glory of God.
As a father, I have often sought to instruct my children on the importance of being men and women of integrity. I believe this is important because they will inevitably come to a day in their lives when perhaps all they have to lean on is their character. In this type of situation, your reputation is more valuable than gold. Little did I know that in teaching them, God was preparing me to face my day.
Last year, I found myself in a situation where I was having problems with a coworker. The situation deteriorated to the point that the president of our company came to sit down with both of us. Throughout the long process of working through this situation, I was honest. I admitted my own shortcomings and failures. As in any relational conflict, it's never completely one-sided; I know I was not without some blame. Other coworkers shared their own similar accounts of issues with this person. However, in the end, my coworker was able to lie and manipulate the situation to paint themself as the victim. I thought my long track record of hard work, integrity, and respect towards my coworkers would provide all of the evidence I would need in this situation. That wasn't the case this time.
In the end, I realized that it was time for me to move on from that company. I couldn't continue to work for an employer that didn't value integrity. Several others left as a result of the situation as well. In fact, the entire branch suffered a complete turnover of staff in a couple of month's time, save for the one employee who was at the center of the problem. Regardless of how that situation played out, I know that God honors my integrity, even when the world might not. I share my experience though, because I believe it teaches several important lessons in regards to the biblical teaching on honesty.
First, I think it highlights the important lesson that I continually try to teach my children about our reputation. How so? Didn't my experiences completely serve to disprove my beliefs? I don't think so, and here's why. Genuine character and integrity (personal holiness) is a fruit of the Spirit in the lives of believers. It is something that distinguishes those who are in Christ from those who are of the world. Why would we expect the world to value spiritual things, over and above the things of the flesh?
But if our character and integrity doesn't benefit us in our daily lives, why should we spend so much time and effort being concerned with cultivating it? We do so because we honor and serve God, not man. After all, Jesus was falsely accused, persecuted, and punished for crimes he didn't commit. Why would we expect to experience anything different? We don't live our lives for men, we live to bear witness to the glory of God. So, despite my experiences, I will continue to encourage my children to strive for integrity, and I will do the same.
Second, lying, like all sin, doesn't deliver what it promises. I believe at the root of all sin lies pride...and pride is best summarized as a "me first" mindset. So, when I face a difficult situation, pride tempts me to do whatever it takes to make things as easy and comfortable for myself as possible. In the example of my situation at work, I think we see that don't we? I choose obedience to God, and in the end I was the one whose life got turned upside down. I had to leave a job where I had invested nearly a decade of my life. I took a pay cut and had to start over somewhere else. My coworker choose the path of self preservation.
However, God honored my obedience. I am happier at my new job, and much less stressed (that is well worth the monetary compensation I gave up). I now get to work from home a lot of the time, so I get to see more of my family. And most of all, I can look myself in the mirror, knowing that (at least this time) I chose obedience. When we sin, it may seem, in the moment, like the easy path, but when the moment fades, we are left with little more than guilt and shame. On the other hand, choosing obedience may lead to momentary discomfort, but has eternal rewards.
Finally, our character benefits others as it serves as a testimony of the power of the gospel. My faith is central to my life. People who know me know that I am a Christian. They know that I serve in pastoral ministry at my church. So, I know that every choice I make carries with it the added weight of bearing witness to Christ. What they see in me will speak volumes to them about Christ and what it means to follow him. Everyone at my job who witnessed that situation play out knew the truth of what had happened. If I had chosen to be dishonest, they would have known that as well. What would that have taught them about the Christ I claim to follow?
As Christians, we serve as ambassadors for Christ. We are the visible representation of him to a watching world. What we say and do is what they believe to be true of him. That's an awesome responsibility for us to carry.
Even in this blog, my words have power. I have used them to paint a picture for you of who I am by highlighting a situation where I got it right. But don't put me on a pedestal. I get it wrong more than I care to admit. But in my failings, there is grace.
I think lying can be such a difficult command to be obedient to, because we can so easily rationalize it away. It was just easier to tell a little white lie, than to hurt a friend or loved one. It's not hurting anyone. No one even knows. You see, we even lie to ourselves.
Furthermore, honesty will almost always lead to a messy situation. After all, don't we typically feel the need to lie when we have already messed up in some way? It is often a case of sin begetting more sin. So, choosing honesty in those situations is going to put you smack dab in the middle of mess you were tempted to avoid by lying in the moment. Who wants that?
But when we choose obedience to God, he will always honor and bless that. It is his blessing, through the power of the Spirit that can, and often does, bring reconciliation and restoration to our relationships. Lying may carry the promise of keeping the relationship together, but eventually the tangled web of lies we tell always comes crashing down around us. It doesn't deliver what it promises. Honest words give life.
If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.
Part 9 - The Ninth Commandment
Questions discussed in this sermon:
1. How often do you lie?
2. How do we know when our speech is gossip and slander?
3. Is our speech a measure of our love for God?