July 26, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Ephesians 4:25 (NRSV)
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.
Ephesians 4:25 is quite clear about the need to put off falsehood and speak the truth. But, in ordinary life, we often find ourselves in situations where telling the truth would be painful, even potentially damaging to our relationships or our career. So what are we supposed to do? One thing we can do is to take a good, long look at ourselves and our speaking. Are we committed to truthfulness? Or do we often compromise, resorting to saying what isn’t true for our personal gain? Truthfulness begins with our being honest with ourselves.
In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began to examine Ephesians 4:25: “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” I expect that most of us find this instruction to be rather obvious. Who would defend lying? And who wouldn’t be in favor of telling the truth?
But then reality rises up. A colleague at work asks, “How did you like my presentation?” In fact, you thought it was weak, but if you tell the truth it will make things at work very messy. It seems much better to say, “Oh, it was great,” while secretly crossing your fingers. Or perhaps your husband says to you, “Are these pants too tight?” and you know that saying “Yes” will make him feel horrible about his expanding waistline. (Not that I have any personal experience of this problem, mind you.) In situations like these and so many others, it seems best to say anything other than the truth. Are we really supposed to get rid of all falsehood and speak the truth? Really? Wouldn’t be better to embrace our inner Pinocchio, at least some of the time?
I’ve been getting questions like this for a long time. In 2002, I preached a series on truthfulness for Irvine Presbyterian Church where I was Senior Pastor. Each week, I wrestled with the challenge of living and speaking truthfully. I often received post-sermon comments that went something like this: “I hated that sermon. I needed it. But I hated it.” That sermon series became the basis for a book I wrote called Dare to Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty (WaterBrook, 2003). Since that book was published, I’ve received hundreds of comments or emails pleading for the necessity of being something less than truthful. I understand these concerns, because just like everyone else I struggle with what it really means to tell the truth in situations where lying seems so much more convenient.
I’m not going to settle these issues here. I admit that there are certain instances in which telling the truth seems utterly counterintuitive. But what I find telling is how quickly, when reading Ephesians 4:25, our minds race to defend our lack of truthfulness. Rather than thinking, “Hmmm. I wonder how I can put this into practice today?” we often think, “Hmmm. How can I avoid the obvious implications of this instruction?” We rush to think up extreme examples in order to let ourselves off the hook. If people were right to lie to the Nazis about the Jews hidden in their cellars, then I may think this gives me the right to keep wearing my garment of falsehood at work, at home, in my neighborhood, and among my friends.
While I know there are some tricky problems associated with truth-telling in certain situations, I want to encourage you–indeed, urge you–not to let this fact keep you from confronting what is real in your life. If you’re like most Christians I have known, you are much more comfortable with falsehood and much less committed to truthfulness than you might at first think. Don’t let extreme examples keep you from taking a good hard look at your life–so that, by God’s grace, you might strip off fibbing and put on the glorious garment of truth.
In what situations do you find yourself tempted to be less than truthful?
Have you ever gotten in trouble because you dared to speak the truth?
Do you think so-called “white lies” are really wrong?
Are there any patterns of deception in your life of which you are aware? How open are you to having God work on them with you?
Is there truth that you really need to tell today, even though you’d rather not? Are you willing to ask God to help you put on truth in this context?
If you pay attention to your life today, you may very well find an instance – or multiple instances – when you need to choose to take off falsehood and put on truth. By God’s grace, do it!
Gracious God, you know how much I like to think of myself as a truthful person. There are many times when, by your grace, I am able to say what’s true even when it’s awkward or difficult. Yet, you also know, Lord, how often I am less than truthful. You know when I fall prey to temptation, when I lie to others and even to myself. Forgive me, Lord.
Help me, I pray, to put off falsehood and to put on truth. Help me to have the courage and grace to speak the truth even when it feels risky. And help me to do this in love, always in love. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: There May Be Exceptions to Truthtelling in the Workplace
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
In the mid 1970’s, I had the opportunity to experience a debate by three prominent theologians dealing with this very issue. Dr. Norm Geisler held a “situational view” of ethical sinning which allows for lying to protect someone from being murdered. There is a hierarchy of sins. Dr. John Gershner took an “absolutist view” of sinning and believed it was always wrong to sin. God’s arm is never too short to do His will. And Dr. Carl Henry, who’s thinking and reasoning was always at a much higher level than I could understand, I think he took an “absolutist view”.