Q How should we live in a culture that no longer values truth? From politicians to parents, everyone lies routinely these days. My friends think “little white lies” are no big deal. But didn’t the Ten Commandments forbid lying?
A The Bible takes lying seriously. God is not only true in his ways (Rev. 15:3) but also true by nature (John 15:26). In contrast, Satan is called the “father of lies” (John 8:44). God detests falsehood (Prov. 12:22). And liars are specifically mentioned in Revelation 21:8 as among those thrown into the “fiery lake.”
However, in this sinful world, Jesus told us to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16). We need to be both prudent and loving in our truth-keeping. For example, in order to protect his life, God instructed the prophet Samuel to disguise his true intentions of anointing a new king (1 Sam. 16:1-5).
The ninth commandment you referenced prohibits lying against your neighbor (Ex. 20:16)—connecting truth-keeping with love for neighbor. This is why neither Rahab’s lying to protect the spies (see Josh. 2:4-6; Heb. 11:31) nor the Hebrew midwives’ lying to protect the baby boys from Pharaoh (Ex. 1:15-20) were condemned. They acted out of fear of God and love for neighbor.
It was not wrong, for example, for the many Dutch families to lie to the Nazis about harboring Jews in their homes during World War II. “Speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) is not simply an injunction to tell the truth politely in every case. More important, our truth-telling always aims at the good of our neighbor.