Is lying always sinful? Or are there times when lying can be the acceptable or right thing to do? What makes lying wrong? Find out in today’s Little Lesson!
Our question today comes again from one of our beloved listeners and I’m going to read it to you exactly as it was written:
“Lying is a sin. But what if you were lying and not harming others and it benefits you? Please, can someone explain this to me?”
Okay, well I’m going to try to explain that to you. I’m glad you start off with affirming that lying is a sin. We know that. And it’s always good to ask why lying is a sin. Well, generally speaking, the worst kind of lying is lying that gains an advantage that benefits me and hurts you. There’s the bigger principle behind why lying is wrong. God never, never lies.
However, that being said, this questioner (I’m glad they’re thinking a little more deeply here because they are looking for the bigger picture) is wondering, what if you tell a lie and it doesn’t harm others, but also imagine it benefits you? Well, let’s just talk about a lie that doesn’t actually harm others. It’s always kind of difficult to be sure about a lie not harming others. Because how could you know that your lie is not harming others? Because you’re telling someone something, they’re believing it and you don’t know how they’re going to act upon it based upon the fact that they trusted you.
I’m not endorsing lying at all, but there are cases where I can think of in the Bible where people lied and deceived and it didn’t seem like there was anything wrong with it from God’s perspective.
The first one that comes to mind is the Hebrew midwives. When Pharaoh had decreed that all the first born children in Israel should be killed, the Hebrew midwives were not obeying Pharaoh’s orders because they obeyed God, and God is opposed to the murder of babies born (and unborn, I might add). And when they were called on the carpet for it and were asked, “How come you’re not killing these babies during the birth process?” the midwives said, “Well, these Hebrews are not like the Egyptians. They have their babies so quick, they have them before we get there.” And it appears as if they were not telling the whole truth or maybe the truth at all. And the Bible says God blessed them for it.
I think that in some cases, lying and deceiving evil people for the purposes of good is actually okay.
I can think of an example of David. One time he was being pursued by Saul and I can’t remember the exact details of it, but he pretended to be a madman at the gate and he slobbered on his beard and so forth to try to disguise himself and to pretend that he wasn’t really David. And it worked. They didn’t believe it. That was an act of lying. It was a deception and a calculated deception, but it was to protect his own life. And so that’s something that’s good. And so to the purists who will say that, “Universally, it’s always wrong to lie,” I would say, “Hmm. Not totally, totally sure about that.”
And there’s even examples in the Bible of God intentionally deceiving people. Now, not intentionally deceiving sincere, good-hearted people, but deceiving people whom he had a marked for judgment because of their wickedness. I just read not so long ago a story about one of the kings of Judah and one of the kings of Israel who were getting together to go to battle (see 1 Kings 22:13-28). The King of Judah wanted to consult a prophet. And they finally brought in a bunch of yes men prophets who all said, “Yes, you will succeed. Go into battle.” And then the King of Judah said, “Well, is there a prophet of the Lord we can bring in?” “Well,” the King of Israel says, “Yeah, there’s this guy. But he always says bad things. Bring him in.” They bring him in and he kind of does a sarcastic bit first. But then he says, “You know what? I saw the Lord up in heaven and He said, ‘Who will work a plan here to defeat this King of Israel so I can bring him into judgment?'”
And one of the angels spoke up and said, “I’ll be a deceiving spirit in the mouth of the prophets and will mislead the King.” And God said, “Hey, that’s a great plan. Go for it.” Like so many stories in the Bible, it raises questions in our minds, but still it’s an example of where God intentionally wanted someone to be deceived who was a bad person, whom He was bringing judgment on.
I’m going to give a few examples. It doesn’t happen very often. It’s very rare. Let’s not build a doctrine that allows us to everyday of our life find an excuse to not tell the truth. But if someone came to the door with the clear intent of harming my family and asked the question, “Are your wife and children here?” And I could tell that their intent was to kill them, well, I think I’d say no. And I think that God would be okay with that. I think God would be pleased with that because I’m protecting people from harm and evil by misleading an evil person.
If it’s wrong to tell a lie in every single case, then it would be wrong to deceive on any level, even wicked people. And by not deceiving them, then we become, in a sense their accomplice. And so then we’re culpable and we’re not loving our neighbor as ourselves. The greater principal’s always, love God, love your neighbor. And of course all of our speech should be filtered. There’s some real purists out there who pride themselves on always telling the truth, but they lack any kind of tact and any discernment or any grace.
Well, the Bible tells us to let our speech be full of grace and seasoned with grace so that we don’t always just tell people the black and white truth. Someone asks you, “How do I look in this outfit?” And if you don’t think they look good, there’s a way of saying negative things positively. You can still tell the truth and say, “Well, I just think you’re much more beautiful in this other outfit.” You’re not putting them down, you’re lifting them up a little bit.
And I knew, well my late grandmother, one of my grandmothers in her older years, I’m not sure, maybe something was going on in her brain, but she had no filter and anything that went into her head came out of her mouth. And it’s funny now, but it wasn’t always so funny then because you always knew exactly what she was thinking. And we could say, “Oh, well that’s great. She always told the truth.” Whatever she felt like, she said. Well, I’m not sure that pleases God either.
We don’t have to tell people all the facts. We can let our speech be with love and grace and gentleness, and not quarrelsome and all these things. And it doesn’t mean we’re lying just because we’re not telling somebody all the facts, or telling them exactly how we feel or putting a guard on our mouth and our tongue. These are all biblical things.
Thanks for that question. That was a great question. Hope to see you next time. God bless you.