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Ethics: Who Will Know...?

Lying, overcoming evil and our actions.

What Is Lying? Are "Little White Lies" Wrong?

Lying is a deliberate attempt to deceive by use of any form of untruth. By words, gestures, circumstances, or silence an attempt may be made to convince another that there is a reality different from what we know to be true.

The book of James tells us, "Let your 'Yes,' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No,' lest you fall into judgment" (James 5:12). Our word should be our bond. A person who feigns illness to avoid work is lying. A person who has his secretary say he is out, when he is in, is lying and forcing her to lie too. A person who fails to declare his income accurately on his tax return is lying. A person who falsifies his achievements or age is lying. A person who covers up or exaggerates facts is lying. A person who misrepresents merchandise is lying. A person who bears false witness against another breaks the ninth commandment by lying, and one who does so in court is guilty of the crime of perjury.

A woman came to evangelist Billy Sunday on one occasion and asked, "Reverend Sunday, how can I stop exaggerating?" He looked at her and said, "Call it lying." It is the same way with the "little white lies." There is no such thing as "a little white lie." Lies are lies.

Yet lying is a part of society. We train our children to lie. For example, suppose you go to someone's house for dinner, and they give you a delicious meal. If you say, "That was delicious," you have told the truth and everything is fine. But what if you go to someone's house and they serve you something that is absolutely terrible, and you say, "That was the most delicious meal I have ever had"? You are lying. You may have done it for a good reason--a white lie--but you still lied. Honestly praise something, or be silent; but do not lie! The Bible tells us that by "speaking the truth in love, (we) may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" (Ephesians 4:15).

People take little children to visit a relative and, by telling them to say certain things that they do not mean, teach them to lie. People go to church and sing hymns to God they do not mean. We sing a song called "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." One stanza reads, "let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also." This song was written by a man facing excommunication and possible death for his faith. Yet how many communicants in the church he founded--or in any other--are willing to make such a commitment? So we sing lies to God.

We must begin to be truthful to God and to one another. There is no way that the Holy Spirit can operate in someone's life if there is a lack of truth. The Spirit of God is the spirit of truth. Jesus Christ is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). It is a dreadful condemnation on us as evangelicals that the term evangelistically speaking means the exaggeration of attendance figures. We only honor God when we exhibit truth and integrity in everything we do.


What Does It Mean To Bear False Witness?

The ninth commandment says, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). Two or three witnesses were needed in ancient Hebrew law to establish a claim under civil law or a crime under criminal law. A false witness could lie under oath during judicial proceedings in order to establish guilt in a criminal case, or fault in a civil case. Since judgment based on false testimony could destroy the life or property of innocent human beings and discredit a country's system of justice, the penalty for perjury was very severe.

But the commandment against bearing false witness has a much broader application. Outside the context of the courts, it is termed slander. It is possible to bear false witness or slander by spreading rumors. For example, a well-known gospel singer was picked up in Los Angeles because of his careless driving. A search of his care revealed some white powder, and he was booked on a drug charge. It turned out that the white powder was a diet mix, and so the singer was discharged from his arrest and confinement.

It was too late to stop the false rumors that this man was involved in drug dealing. These rumors hurt the man's career and reputation. Those who spread them were guilty of bearing false witness.

Frequently people say untrue things about others. Marriages are broken up because of false rumors that someone has spread. Reputations of honest and honorable people are damaged. I can think of several times when rumors have started about me. Christian people not only believe falsehoods but also pass these stories on without even stopping to investigate. Starting lies about someone or spreading them is bearing false witness, a terrible offense in the sight of God.

A Christian might not be involved in drug addiction, drunkenness, fornication, adultery, or homosexuality, but a Christian may be big on slander and backbiting. I can think of no practice--other than deep-seated hatred and lack of forgiveness--that will so quickly cut off the blessing and power of God in a Christian's life.


What Does The Bible Mean When It Says, "Do Not Be Overcome With Evil, But Overcome Evil With Good?"

There is only one way that evil can overcome a Christian, and that is if the Christian returns evil for evil. If someone insults you and snarls at you, you are not overcome. You are overcome if you begin to snarl right back. Then the unpleasant person has become your role model. You are copying evil and evil is overcoming you. If someone hates you and you hate him back, then evil is getting the victory. If someone strikes you and you strike back, then you have become like the evil one.

The Bible says, "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good" (Romans 12:21). If someone reviles you, you are to smile back and say, "God bless you." The person will not know how to react to that, and you have overcome him. You have won. That person has not changed you, but you have gone on the offensive with the most powerful weapon in the world--love! If someone strikes you on the cheek, Jesus said you should turn the other cheek (see Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29). And that will leave your adversary totally confused! And then on top of that you should say, "I love you."

If someone forces you to go one mile, go two miles. If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well (see Matthew 5:40-41). Do so graciously, cheerfully, even assertively. God has given you the spiritual weapons to discern who your enemies are and then to conquer them by making them your friends. (Of course, as long as there are vicious criminals and international tyrants in the world, there must be a system of restraint through local or international police. In Romans 13, police and legitimate armies are considered by the apostle Paul as "ministers of God" to bring vengeance on lawbreakers.)


Is It Possible To Steal Without Knowing It?

The Bible says, "You shall not steal" (Exodus 20:15). Stealing is taking without permission what belongs to somebody else. It can involve tangible and intangible things. Stealing would include thefts from households, shoplifting, pilfering, industrial espionage, embezzlement, and similar acts.

Dishonesty of all sorts, including stealing, has reached epidemic levels in society. Many Christians are involved in stealing without knowing it. It is possible, for instance, even to steal time. In most businesses the payroll is the biggest expense. Yet studies have shown that the average worker gives perhaps thirty-two to thirty-three hours a week instead of forty. When long lunch hours or time spent at the coffee machine, gazing out the window, or visiting with neighbors are added up, the amount is staggering.

It is true, too, that people are careless with the use of company stamps, stationery, paper clips, tools, and parts. This is stealing. In one factory, where many hand tools were disappearing, management decided to have a search of the employees as they left for home at the end of the work day. When this announcement was made, as the workers were preparing to exit, there was the sound of metal dropping all over the yard. Because the workers did not want to get caught, they just dropped stolen wrenches, hammers, and screwdrivers, leaving the yard littered with tools.

People do not pay their bills on time, denying interest to the companies they owe. People take merchandise home and use it and then return it as if it had never been used. People borrow books and tools and never return them.

Not correcting clerks when they undercharge one for goods purchased is stealing. Claiming credit for someone else's work or achievement is a form of stealing. Company officers who divert corporate opportunities to their own personal gain are stealing. God desires complete honesty from His people. Any form of stealing should be forsaken as not worthy of God's children


Should Christians Have A Will?

Everyone should have a will. Even the penniless Bowery bum should have a will because he might be hit by a bus and his estate might have a claim against the bus company.

The prophet Isaiah told king Hezekiah, "Set your house in order, for you shall die" (II Kings 20:1). Any person, wealthy or not, male or female, has the privilege under law and custom dating back to Bible times of determining the guardians for his or her children, as well as the privileges they shall enjoy if the maker of the will dies while the children are young. Wills can provide for the care of the wife or husband, and gifts to religious organizations and others charities.

Without a will, the state might apply a rigid set of rules to give the wife only a percentage of an estate, usually one-third, and the children would get the remainder. If there is no surviving husband, wife, or children, the possessions of a lifetime may be given to brothers, sisters, or nieces and nephews. Usually, nothing goes to a charity unless it is designated in a will.

A will is a very simple document to write and to execute. For maximum protection against challenges in any state, a will should be signed and declared to be a last will and testament in the presence of two or three witnesses who are assembled at the signing and who are not beneficiaries under the will.

Without question, a valid will and a thorough estate plan are a vital part of stewardship for every Christian. Wills can be rewritten and re-executed as circumstances change. To write a will does not mean that death will soon follow, as many superstitiously fear.


Are Organ Transplants Permissible?

Surgical techniques to transplant a cornea, a kidney, a heart, or some other organ from a live or recently deceased donor to a needy recipient are of very recent origin. These techniques were not known in Bible days.

Jesus Christ said, "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). A donation of an organ to give life or better health or sight to another is like laying down a part of your life. It is an act of love.

For this reason I believe it is entirely proper for a person to will selected organs, such as the cornea of the eyes, to a donor organ bank for use in organ transplants, so that after the death of the donor, someone now blind may see, or someone sick may become well.


How Do I Get Over Depression?

Webster's dictionary defines depression as "a psycho-neurotic or psychotic disorder marked by sadness, inactivity, and feelings of dejection." I believe that one of the principal causes of depression is a sense of failure and frustration caused by unwillingness to do what should be done or to stop doing what should not be done. A person becomes ashamed and begins a process of self-depreciation. Then, along with personal shame, comes a loss of fellowship with God, either real or imagined.

Some years ago I knew a woman who was living with a man outside of wedlock. She was a born-again Christian, active in religious matters. She knew that cohabitation outside of marriage was wrong. She knew she was living a lie, that she was in a relationship that was wrong; yet she did not have the power to break it. She began to hate herself. You can imagine the depression that came about because of this sense of failure.

As a result, she had overdosed on drugs and was in a hospital in a near-death situation when I saw her. She had become so depressed that she had tried to commit suicide, which is what happens in the last stage of depression. Somewhere down inside her there was a voice saying, "I have failed myself and failed God." She wanted God, but she was to weak to break with sin. So she took what seemed the "easy" way out.

Depression can also be caused by a dietary deficiency. If you are lacking iron and certain of the B-complex vitamins in your diet, you can become seriously depressed. This type of depression needs to be corrected by wholesome nutrition along with massive doses of vitamins and minerals. Junk food and excess caffeine should be avoided, and you should exercise vigorously.

The worst thing about depression is that it makes its victims withdraw and lapse into inactivity. A person has to get going again and begin to help other people, going to church, going to work, or doing anything other than sitting around feeling sorry for himself. Becoming active is a key remedy for depression. Also, a terrible tragedy or personal loss can shock the system, bringing on a feeling of hopelessness and despair. Many times these feelings are compounded by a failure to eat well and a failure to exercise or get out among other people. As the withdrawal begins, a downward spiral takes hold that needs to be broken. But our question is: How do you get over the depression? You have to recognize what is causing it. If it is sin, you have to go to the root of the failure and do whatever it takes to get your life right with God. If it is merely a sense of failure, examine your expectations. If they are too high, change them to a more realistic level. If indeed there is a real failure to perform, then grasp the task and do it.

If the depression has to do with diet and exercise, begin to eat nutritious foods, take heavy doses of therapeutic vitamins and minerals, and begin vigorous walking or other exercises. In the case of someone who has suffered an emotional trauma, that person needs to reach out for the help and support of friends. Be frank about your problem; say, "I am terribly depressed. Will you please come and be with me? Will you pray with me? Will you help me?" Try to open up to other people and draw them in. It always helps to pray and read the Bible, which is the source of comfort and the source of life (see Isaiah 41:10, Jeremiah 29:11-13, Hebrews 4:15-16). Above all else, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Instead, reach out a hand of compassion to someone whose grief and tragedy exceed your own.


How Can I Tell Whether Or Not Something Is Sinful?

The best way to know whether or not something is sinful is to know the Bible. You need to be immersed in the Word of God. That means you need to spend hours carefully studying the Bible, memorizing verses, and meditating upon them. The psalmist said, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). If we do that, the Word will take care of the questionable situations that arise. To know what the Bible says is the best way of knowing what is right and what is wrong.

There is another helpful guide. The apostle Paul said, "Let the peace (soul harmony which comes) from Christ rule (act as umpire continually) in your hearts" (Colossians 3:15, AMPLIFIED). An umpire announces, "You are safe," or "You are out." When that peace inside your heart disappears, you know "you are out." Your heart is saying, "This course of conduct is wrong." When you begin to feel troubled within yourself, you know that what you are doing is ill-advised, improper, or sinful.

Paul made it even clearer when he said, "Whatever is not from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). This principle covers gray areas of conduct. To the person who lives in France, a glass of wine with dinner may be perfectly in order. That may be his lifestyle. Besides, the water may be impure and the wine helps his digestion, so there is no spiritual problem (see I Timothy 5:23). In America, where there is a high incidence of alcoholism and where many Christians have taken a strong stance against drinking any alcoholic beverage, a glass of wine might cause the downfall of someone for whom Christ died (see I Corinthians 8:8-13). When the Bible does not speak explicitly about something, whether it is sin depends, in many instances, on culture, on the person's status, and on the level of maturity in the Lord. In areas where there are no definite rules as to what is sinful, it is a question of faith. If you feel that something is wrong, if you have a question in your mind about it, and you cannot do it freely without regret or pangs of conscience, then do not do it. To you it is sinful.


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