Rev. Kit Billings
March 7, 2004
Our journey through the Lord's Ten Commandments is nearly complete in terms of our treatment of them in Sunday worship. This is a journey into the Light, into “the truth that sets us free.” Jesus spoke about spiritual life and spiritual death, and He said, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” (19:17) His words bring thoughts of a special land or terrain God would have us inhabit. The Jews of Jesus' day thought this was about gaining ownership of their physical land of Judea. But Christ did well to teach that His Kingdom was not of a natural degree, marked by physical walls or streets. God's Kingdom is one we can only find within—the “real estate of love, the high walls of useful doctrine.” Heaven, we can say, is actually spiritual terrain, so to speak. It is the geography of the spirit made up of goodness and the truth. The Lord understood fully that for His disciples to enter into life in His Kingdom, which He Himself brought in abundance into our world (remember how Jesus said: “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”), then they would need to learn, understand and follow the commandments.
The purpose of religion is to help people reconnect with God as well as one another, and re-discover the promised land of kindness, faith in God, purity and peace, which the geographical region called “Israel” represents. It is a kingdom which dwells deeply within us all.
Attaining entrance into the “spiritual promised land” will call you to do what the ancient Hebrews did—personally accept a way of life in accord with God's commandments. The Israelites struggled a lot with this task, in part because they noticed tribes of giants living in the Land of Canaan. After spying out their new “land of milk and honey” they were afraid to enter where God was calling them. Often times, we too will meet up with certain mental and emotional and spiritual character weaknesses which can appear to us to be gigantic, yet are still in truth no match for God's power if we will trust in the Divine and make our way into helping the Lord to defeat or transform the enemies we discover within.
For the ancient Hebrews to live according to the Ten Commandments, this meant giving up worshipping anything other than God. This meant recognizing the Lord as their personal and spiritual deliverer. The spiritual meaning here is plain for our spiritual journeys today—if or when you find yourself worshipping your self, or perhaps any fearful (non-useful) way of thinking, or anything material above the Lord our God, then it is up to you to recognize this and put such idols away. “You shall not bow down to idols…worship only Me,” says the Lord. There is a profound peace of mind that comes, a beautiful and marvelous land of holiness we gain access to, when a human being embraces this highest of all divine truths. For God is real. God is goodness Itself. The Lord is all-loving and He is our protector and giver of great blessing! He is the One who delivers us from slavery to sin and self-centeredness and evil. God is much more powerful than the hellish spirits and forces who want to drag us down into the very “low states of being” or dark territory which opposes the Great God of Love. In the time of Moses, the evil Pharaoh and his fellow Egyptians represented the selfish, materialistic part of us that wants to keep us in bondage to a non-satisfying way of life. But we know how that ancient story went, don't we?! The Lord said, “Let My people go!” And God provided the power and way to overcome Israel's enemies, every kind imaginable! So too will He help you overcome your inner enemies. The Hebrews were delivered from slavery; God delivered them into a much higher pathway of life. He led the people to Mt. Sinai to learn and follow the ten basic rules of spiritual life.
The Ten Commandments are a spiritual roadmap. They show us that the Lord has given us the truth we need to follow Him and reach out to Him in prayer, and rise above a shallow, hopeless, or faithless kind of living----for true my friends, the Lord's perspective is that with His support we can fly as high as an eagle and gain regular living within His spiritual promised land.
This morning we delve together into one more of these holy truths—that we are never to bear false witness about our neighbor, nor involve ourselves in lying of any kind. All ten of these spiritual laws are crucial. Each one addresses areas of inherent weakness, which the natural degree of our humanity may well enjoy. The core of today's lesson is, hold fast to and walk within the truth in every aspect of life. Or as the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 6:13-15
13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
We are called to wear God's truths, as well as truth-telling upon us as a belt. The Ninth Commandment, as do all of the Commandments, has many layers of meaning to it. Literally it calls for anyone interested in being blessed within the holiness of God must always tell the truth in legal trials of any kind. We shall not bear false witness against our neighbor. But clearly it is also a principle of Heaven that we must avoid telling a lie of any substance—to do so separates us in effect from God who is living Truth to be sure.
The One True God of the universe is ever so serious about this law of His Kingdom, so much so that He made sure to address it in every major religion on our planet. Two examples are: in Hebrew Scripture we read in Proverbs 12:12, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal truthfully are His delight.” And the Buddha taught, “Right speech is to abstain from lies and slander, from reviling, and from tattle.” In The Book of Revelation chapter 21:8 we read that “…all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone,” which our theology helps us understand to mean that people who ultimately fall in love with lying and falsity shall burn with the fires of hatred and evil in realms that shut out the Light in favor of the darkness of hell.
Lying is something we discover at an early age. At first it can appear less serious as when a young boy the age of four was literally caught by his mommy reaching his hand into the brownie dish on their kitchen table, his mouth adorably smeared with chocolate. His mother caught this whole thing on videotape and was aired on “Funniest Home Videos.” I watched that episode and what the boy said after his mother asked him what had happened to all of the brownies she was saving for their party that night. The boy replied, “Oh Mommy, a bird flew in the window and just ate it all up.” As he explained this, his cute little hand just kept reaching up and taking more bites of brownie. His mother said to him, “You mean, a real bird flew in here and at up the brownies?” With his paw still committing the deed red-handed he replied, “Oh yes Mommy, it came right in and at up your brownies.”
The unregenerate, natural part of our minds has no problem at all twisting the truth. The price we pay is a guilty conscience, not to mention temporary expulsion from the paradise-like inner garden which we're calling God's “spiritual promised land.” The issue here is that the Bible teaches us as in John 3:33 that “…God is truthful.” Later in the same Gospel we read that the Lord our God said of Himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (14:6) To think and speak counter to the truth draws us spiritually away from Heaven and toward some society in hell.
Defensive lying is one of hell's favorite ploys I have found. In order to not appear uninformed, or to pretend that life is “honky dory,” we can suddenly find ourselves in spiritual quicksand, sinking into the trap of telling a lie, when it would be just as well and perhaps better to speak the truth, which sets us free. Even something as simple as when a person asks us how we're doing, if our day isn't going so well we could respond, “Well, I've had better days” or “it's not a wonderful day for me, but I know that God is with me.” In his published journal entry a prison inmate recalls his choice to hide the truth about how many cigarettes he really had, in order to keep more of them for himself. He writes:
I was reminded of how I had lied earlier in the day. An inmate asked me for a “cadillac” [a cigarette], and I said to him I only had a few. I was telling a lie because I was sitting on a whole pack of them. I stood in my cell thinking about this lie I just told. It made me feel bad, and I thought about why I did it. I know it wasn't right, and I still feel bad about this, and I really want to get this burden off my chest. I am starting to realize how lying can really damage your relationship with others. I know this because it took me forever to get my parents to believe me. I want people to believe in me, and I thank God for giving me a second chance to be honest in my relationships with others. (Rise Above It, p. 174)
Honesty and openness deliver deep and meaningful connections, a warm feeling of trust, with God's Love living down inside of it. Lying and deceit only take away the Lord's divine Light from Heaven and disconnect us from ourselves and others.
The root choice seems to be, in trying to live up to this sometimes challenging commandment against serious lying in any form, is to be scrupulously honest with one's self first, and examine one's self in the Light of the Ten Commandments, as well as in every vital area of the Lord's holy Word. We must personally choose to avoid self-deception, which enables us then to be truthful with others, as Shakespear wrote in The Tragedy of Hamlet:
This above all. To thine own self be true.
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
The Ninth Commandment calls us to a profound commitment to the truth, on every level of life. One of the most dangerous areas of attack, which the spirits of hell sling our way, are the many forms of temptation to sink away from the comforting divine truths that God has taught us in the holy Word. For example, that we are precious in His sight. That He is real, ever-present, and leading us into His Kingdom of Heaven every day. The demons of hell work very hard to try to destroy our confidence in God, to completely discourage and dishearten the spiritual pilgrim, and to lead us into their darkness, and the torment which they enjoy.
As one New Church minister once wrote, the spirits of hell want you to accept as true that “there is no hope,” “it's a losing battle,” and even more sinister, “God doesn't care about you at all.” These diabolical spirits are bearing false witness to our minds, and they are hoping that you will join with them and lose contact and momentum in the truth which God has provided. It is at such times of inward despair that finding and calling forth the truth of God's Word can win the battle, vanquishing our spiritual foes. Christ demonstrated this art of spiritual warfare powerfully in our Luke lesson this morning.
The devil came at Jesus with some of the toughest temptations anyone could face. But the Lord overcame the demon's lies with the truth we have in God's holy Word. Christ described the real nature of devils John 8:44 when He said: “He [the devil] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” And if we choose to do this and stand firm upon the truth God provides, then again we allow the Lord to bring His miracle of deliverance, and the evil spirits run away. The Lord hears our prayers and delivers us from what the Qur'an calls “the slinking whisperer.”
In conclusion my good friends, God calls you to be true to yourself and to your neighbor, to keep your promises, clear up misunderstanding and counter false witnesses. Stand firm in the truths of God's Word, wear them as a truth around your waist, and give glory to your Father in Heaven.