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Lying—Is It Ever Justified?

Lying—Is It Ever Justified?

 The Bible’s Viewpoint

Lying—Is It Ever Justified?


THIS comment illustrates how many people feel about lying. Their rationale is that lying is not wrong if it does not harm anyone. Such reasoning even has an academic name—situation ethics, which says that the only law you need to follow is the so-called law of love. In other words, explains author Diane Komp, “if your motivation is right and your heart is right (then the) fact that you lied . . . is no big deal.”

Such a viewpoint is common in today’s world. Scandals involving lies told by prominent politicians and other world leaders have rocked society. Influenced by this climate, many people have relaxed their commitment to telling the truth. In some domains lying has even become official policy. “I’m paid to lie. I win sales contests and get rave annual reviews if I lie. . . . This seems to be the core of retail sales training everywhere,” complains one salesclerk. Many believe that there is no real harm in so-called little white lies. Is this true? Are there occasions when Christians may be justified in telling a lie?

The Bible’s Exalted Standard

The Bible roundly condemns all sorts of lying. “[God] will destroy those speaking a lie,” declares the psalmist. (Psalm 5:6; see Revelation 22:15.) At Proverbs 6:16-19, the Bible lists seven things that Jehovah detests. “A false tongue” and “a false witness that launches forth lies” are prominently included in this list. Why? Because Jehovah hates the harm falsehood causes. That is one reason why Jesus called Satan a liar and a manslayer. His lies plunged humanity into misery and death.—Genesis 3:4, 5; John 8:44; Romans 5:12.

Just how seriously Jehovah views lying is highlighted by what happened to Ananias and Sapphira. These two deliberately lied to the apostles in an apparent attempt to appear more generous than they really were. Their action was deliberate and premeditated. The apostle Peter thus declared: “You  have played false, not to men, but to God.” For this, they both died at God’s hand.—Acts 5:1-10.

Years later the apostle Paul admonished Christians: “Do not be lying to one another.” (Colossians 3:9) This exhortation is particularly vital in the Christian congregation. Jesus said that principled love would be the identifying mark of his true followers. (John 13:34, 35) Such unhypocritical love can only grow and flourish in an environment of complete honesty and trust. It is difficult to love someone if we cannot be confident that he will always tell us the truth.

While all lying is reprehensible, some lies are more serious than others. For example, one person may lie out of embarrassment or fear. Another may wickedly make a practice of lying with the intent to harm or injure. Because of his malicious motivation, such a willful liar is a danger to others and would be disfellowshipped from the congregation if he does not repent. Since not all lies are inspired by maliciousness, care must be taken not to condemn unnecessarily but to be sure one knows all the factors involved when someone has told a lie. Motives and extenuating circumstances should be taken into consideration.—James 2:13.

“Cautious as Serpents”

Of course, being truthful does not mean that we are obligated to divulge all information to anyone who asks it of us. “Do not give what is holy to dogs, neither throw your pearls before swine, that they may never . . . turn around and rip you open,” warned Jesus, at Matthew 7:6. For example, individuals with wicked intent may have no right to know certain things. Christians understand that they are living in a hostile world. Thus, Jesus advised his disciples to be “cautious as serpents” while remaining “innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16; John 15:19) Jesus did not always disclose the full truth, especially when revealing all the facts could have brought unnecessary harm to himself or his disciples. Still, even at such times, he did not lie. Instead, he chose either to say nothing or to divert the conversation in another direction.—Matthew 15:1-6; 21:23-27; John 7:3-10.

Faithful men and women mentioned in the Bible, such as Abraham, Isaac, Rahab, and David, were likewise shrewd and cautious when dealing with potential enemies. (Genesis 20:11-13; 26:9; Joshua 2:1-6; 1 Samuel 21:10-14) The Bible classifies such men and women as faithful worshipers whose lives were characterized by obedience. That makes them worthy of imitation.—Romans 15:4; Hebrews 11:8-10, 20, 31, 32-39.

There may be times when lying seemingly provides an easy way out. But Christians today do well to imitate Jesus’ course and follow their Bible-trained conscience when facing particularly difficult situations.—Hebrews 5:14.

The Bible encourages us to be truthful and honest. Lying is wrong, and we should follow the Bible counsel: “Speak truth each one of you with his neighbor.” (Ephesians 4:25) By doing so, we will keep a clean conscience, promote peace and love in the congregation, and continue to honor “the God of truth.”—Psalm 31:5; Hebrews 13:18.

[Picture on page 20]

Ananias and Sapphira lost their lives because of lying