Do not testify against your neighbor without cause, or use your lips to deceive. Proverbs 24, verse28.
There are many ways for us to deceive each other. We can deliberately tell lies; we can tell just enough truth so as to let someone draw their own conclusions. We can omit facts without twisting them, and we can lay out facts in truthful ways that are still meant to steer someone to a particular conclusion, thus leaving us feeling blameless. And then there is Congress. Yes, there are many ways for us to deceive each other.
We deceive ourselves, too. We can want something so bad for so long that it becomes our reality even when it hasn’t or hasn’t yet come to pass. We can talk ourselves into seeing things that aren’t really there. And we can convince ourselves of something, based on half-truths or out & out lies, then believe something to be true that is actually false.
Wanna know (what I think is) the spiritual answer? Answer: you’re missing the point.
The point that the verse is trying to make is about the heart. Adultery starts in the heart. Stealing starts in the heart. Murder starts in the heart. You get the picture. It is in the heart where we have the choice, make the choice, about whether or not to play God and put ourselves beyond the straight and narrow. Which is worse: the lie or the intention behind it? It makes me wonder because we can’t deceive God and we can’t lie to God. We may think we can, and we may act like we can, but we just can’t lie to an omnipotent and omniscient God. He sees every lie we tell ourselves, every lie against each other, and every intention we have to deceive others. He looks in our hearts and asks us to ask ourselves why we are lying to Him. After all, is it worse to actually lie about something, or is it worse to think of the lie before telling it? Which would you prefer: to have the love of your life lie to your face or have them lead you on and make you believe something is true when it really isn’t?
If we get wrapped around the axle on the semantics of the verse, we’ll miss the underlying point. It starts in the heart. Words don’t come out without thought behind them; the mind won’t think without the heart stating what it believes. “And my heart won’t tell my mind to tell my mouth what it should say.” So singeth Zac Brown. I agree with that. It’s actually a pretty Scriptural concept.
Notice the verse doesn’t say ‘do not testify against your neighbor.’ Even in cases of genuine misunderstandings or wrongs, we are and should be free to give our side of the story. Especially if we are wronged, or if people misunderstand, we should be free to address them in wise love. Nothing should be done out of selfishness, even though too often we do things that way. When something needs to be said, we should say it. But in all things truth and moderation, please. That’s what the verse is asking of us. It’s saying “speak in love” because love is truth. Like it says in 1st Corinthians 13, “love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Love is always the truth. Love never lies, no matter what form or intention that lie may take.
There are many ways that we deceive each other. In my own life, I have lied openly, lied slyly, lied quietly and lied with big, public whoppers. Lies cost me relationships, friendships I held so dear, and very nearly the love of my life. They cost me family, jobs, dignity, self-respect, and the respect of others. So deep did the lies become that I couldn’t face myself in the mirror sometimes out of shame and loathing for the mess I had made of my life, sometimes out of pathetic self-pity. Through it all, God made a happy ending. Through all the worst of the worst that my twisted heart could conjure, God set it right by forgiving my too obvious guilt and giving me one more last chance to try again. There are still many ways in which we deceive each other, and many ways in which my wavering heart is tempted to walk down the wrong path. In facing those times, He stands beside me, encouraging me by saying, “you can do better.” Open your eyes and I think you’ll see Him there with you, too.