Integrity. It’s an important word. It refers to wholeness of character; to that characteristic where what one says lines up with what one does. It refers to the quality of being trustworthy. It describes one whose word is their bond. Yet, sadly, integrity is an increasingly rare thing in our world.
We look upon our own political landscape and ask, generally, where is the integrity? The same can be said in the marketplace. Dishonesty, deceit and all manner of falsehoods abound in the workplace. Many marriages are dysfunctional because of spouses who lie to one another. Families are disheartened and divided because of deceitful parents and/or deceitful children. Broken trust produces broken hearts, which produce broken homes.
In 1991 a landmark study in America was published. It revealed that lying seems to be a way of life for many people. We lie at the drop of a hat. The book The Day America Told the Truth says that 91 percent of those surveyed lie routinely about matters they consider trivial, and 36 percent lie about important matters; 86 percent lie regularly to parents, 75 percent to friends, 73 percent to siblings, and 69 percent to spouses.
Sadly, such falsehoods—a lack of integrity—also invades the church. John Mackay long ago spoke of the travesty when there is a lack of integrity in the church. He aptly described lying in the church as “a stab into the very vitals of the Body of Christ. This is so because a lie is a sable shaft from the kingdom of darkness.”1
Though this is sad, it should not be surprising. After all, the first appearance of falsehood occurred in the most beautiful place on earth: the Garden in Eden.
There, the lying serpent spoke, quite literally, in fact, with what Native Americans used to describe as a “forked tongue.” And ever since, all of us have tongues that struggle with telling the truth. We are tempted towards the slithering propensity to falsehood; falsehoods such as lying, slander, deceit, manipulation, cooked books, broken vows, etc. Yes, such diabolical tendencies exist even in the body of Christ. But brothers and sisters, this ought not to be! This is Paul’s point here in v. 25. As one pastor has said, “Lying is the first foul, filthy garment that is to be cast aside for it has no part in the life of the new man in Christ. As new creatures in Christ we are to display the life and loveliness of the Lord Jesus in our everyday lives.”2
What we have come to expect in the world should never be so in the church. Those who have been justified by faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone have also been sanctified—set apart unto holy God—and the result is a life that manifests this. In fact, we have been so transformed that Paul says, “Having put off falsehood” (ESV). It has happened—now live like it.
John MacArthur writes, “The only reliable evidence of a person’s being saved is not a past experience of receiving Christ but a present life that reflects Christ…. New creatures act like new creatures.”3 I would add, they also speak like new creatures.
Those who are in Christ have been transformed from the old to the new (2 Corinthians 5:17). Literally, we are new creations in Christ Jesus. And this means that our tongues have been re-created as well. They are no longer forked; rather, they are whole; they have integrity. Our new tongues are in sync with our new hearts and so we “speak the truth with [our] neighbour” because, by the power of the gospel, the Christian has been translated from the domain of falsehood to the domain of truth.
In our last study, we looked at the dynamics of change that Paul reveals in vv. 22–24. We learned that we are to put off (the garments—lifestyle) of the old man as we put on (the garments—lifestyle) of the new man. What motivates this change is the putting in of a new mind.
Having established the principle, Paul now begins to apply this principle to some very practical matters (vv. 25ff).
John Stott helpfully observes that each of these applications, “concern our relationships. Holiness is not a mystical condition experienced in relation to God but in isolation from human beings…. The evils to be avoided are all destroyers of human harmony.”4 He begins by highlighting the importance of trust, as essential for this harmony, in the community of faith.
Truth-Telling and Trust-Building
The church of Jesus Christ is a community of trust. At least, it is supposed to be. The Bible makes it clear that the church is a body of people where truth matters; it matters a lot. Those who have believed the truth as it is in Jesus (v. 21) now have truthful minds (v. 23) that produces truthful mouths.
In this first of five practical injunctions to the faith community, Paul gives a negative injunction (“putting away lying”) followed by a positive injunction(“speak truth with his neighbour”), followed by the reason to do so (“for we are members one of another”). We are to put off (lying), to put on (truth-telling), and to put in (communal concern).
We Must Put Off Falsehood
Paul begins, “Therefore, putting away lying.” Ray Stedman comments,
The apostle begins with what is probably the most universal temptation in human experience, the temptation to lie, the temptation to misrepresent or exaggerate the truth. Now why does he start here? Because that is the most evident characteristic of the old life—lying. He has already said the old life is characterized by deceitful urges. These drives, these urges within us, are lying to us, they deceive us. Therefore, we find it easy to lie to others, to deceive others. Lying is the basic characteristic of the old life since it traces back to the devil. Jesus said, “He is a liar and a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).5
The word “therefore” connects to what was previously said. “Here is what I mean. Since you are a new community, a new man in Christ Jesus; reflect that Man” by “putting away lying.” This phrase is in the aorist tense, which suggests that because they have done so, they should continue to do so.
The word translated “putting away” is used in Acts 7:58 of those who stoned Stephen laying down their clothes at Saul’s feet. Paul uses it in Romans 13:12 to urge his readers to “cast off” works of darkness. The writer to the Hebrews exhorted his readers to “lay aside” those things that would prevent them from fully following Christ. Eadie notes that the word “was used literally of runners who participated in the Olympic games who cast off their clothes and running nearly completely naked in the stadium.”6
We too must lay things aside as we run the Christian race—beginning with laying aside lying or falsehood.
“Lying” translates a term that can literally be rendered “the lie.” It speaks of conscious and intentional falsehood. It speaks, in a broad sense, of whatever is not what it seems to be, of perverse, impious, deceitful precepts.
The antithesis of truth is anything that is false, anything that is contrary to reality as God defines it. A lie is anything antithetical to who God is. Falsehood is an affront to “God, who cannot lie” (Titus 1:2; cf. Hebrews 6:18).
As noted above, Paul uses a phrase that literally could be translated as “the lie.” This phrase carries a somewhat technical meaning.
In 1 John, the apostle speaks of “the lie” on two occasions:
I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth (2:21).
But the anointing which you have received from Him abides in you, and you do not need that anyone teach you; but as the same anointing teaches you concerning all things, and is true, and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you will abide in Him (2:27)
Here, John is contrasting that which characterises those who follow the God of truth and those who follow the god of this world—the devil—who “does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him … for he is a liar and the father of it” (John 8:44). Therefore, to be characterised as a liar is to identity your family connection with the devil.
Daniel Webster long ago noted, “The old adage says ‘Like father, like son.’ When we speak truth, we are like our Father, but when we speak falsehoods, we are more like our old father, Satan!”7
The word includes the category of false belief systems (false worship). Paul speaks of those “who exchanged the truth of God for [the] lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Romans 1:25). It speaks of false worship, even of idolatry. This would be of particular relevance to the saints in Ephesus, many whom had been delivered from the false worship of Artemis (Diana). In 2 Thessalonians 2:9, 11, it speaks of demonic deception to false worship.
Lying is a deadly serious sin. Listen to what Revelation says of those who are characterised by lying. After describing the glories of the New Jerusalem and the blessings of those therein, John writes, “But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” (21:27). Again, “But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie” (22:15).
Note in these two texts that liars—those characterised by falsehood—are excluded from heaven. Those characterised as loyalists to the domain of falsehood will get their rightful “inheritance.”
Why Do We Lie?
We lie because of deceit that lies in the heart; deceit that characterises the old man (v. 22). And this deceit is connected to fear, greed and hate—any one of which motivates people to lie, to be less than truthful.
Each of these three motives can be clearly deduced from Scripture: fear (John 9:18–22; 21:23–27); greed (Acts 5:1–10; Proverbs 20:17; 21:6)
Bryan Chapell concludes, “The pressures to gain advantages and avoid consequences always will tempt us to lie, even in the Christian community…. The opportunities to shade or hide the truth to avoid personal consequences or advance personal gain are constant challenges—and frequent causes of sin.”8
Christians are to be marked by transparency, by what is real, not by misrepresentation. We are new creatures, and we must communicate like it. John Piper says, “The lies of Satan that beget the lies of sinners have to be replaced by the truth of Jesus (21) that begets truthfulness of saints.”9
But what, precisely, must we put off? Let me suggest a few things.
We must put off any form of dishonesty, deceit, breaking of vows, manipulation. We must put off exaggeration and shading the truth. We must not lie to one another, plagiarise or cheat. We must not manipulate or deceive. We must be done with false claims—like T. B. Joshua’s recent “prophecy” that Hillary Clinton would win the US presidential election. We must put off false religion and false teaching. We must put off all false professions of faith. Christians must put off cooking the books. Let us remember that crossing our fingers has no metaphysical power to change reality. We must put off dishonouring our parents. We must put off saying one thing but doing another. We must put off any semblance of two-facedness.
Why must we put these things off? Because we are of the truth and therefore lying is diametrically opposed to all that we hold dear. Because falsehood mars God’s good creation. It is destructive. It is devilish. It is demonic. It is damning (Revelation 21:27; 22:15). As someone has well said, the ability to lie is a liability. To echo the question of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Is there anything, any single thing, I wonder, that causes so much unhappiness and misery in this world as lying?”10
Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson experienced tremendous relational breakdown. The cause, said Kennedy, was that “Johnson never tells the truth.” Several others who were close to Johnson echoed the sentiment. How sad!
Truth matters—a lot. It matters a lot because, ultimately, it matters to God. He is the God of truth. He defines truth. He declares truth. He sent His Son, who is the truth (John 14:6).
God is described as the sovereign who is “abounding in truth” (Exodus 34:6) and as the “God of truth” who is “without injustice” (Deuteronomy 32:4). He is true in all His actions and declarations.
In Psalm 33:4 we read that “the word of the LORD” emanating from God “is right” and that “all His work is done in truth.” We are on solid biblical ground to say that truth characterises God. Truth is an essential attribute of God. And God’s children should be like their Father.
Clearly one evidence that you are a new creature is that you have a new attitude for truth. You have a new appreciation and a new appetite, as well as a new aptitude, for truth. This is why the psalmist writes, “Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation” (Psalm 25:5).
The concept of truth is voluminous in Scripture. It occurs at least 110 times in the Old Testament and 105 times in the New Testament. It is vital that we love the truth because, as David said, “You desire truth in the inward parts” (Psalm 51:6).
The Christian’s Aspiration
The Christian should aspire to be truthful. “O send out your light and truth, let them lead me!” (Psalm 43:3). With the psalmist, we should cry, “I have chosen the way of truth.” This is, in fact, Jesus’ prayer for His disciples: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
On the flip side, the Bible condemns those who reject the truth:
And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.
God seeks those who will “worship Him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23). He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).
The Christian’s Appreciation
Christians ought to have an appreciation for truth. Again, the psalmist wrote, “Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness and Your law is truth” (Psalm 119:142) and acknowledged, “The entirety of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). The God of the Bible is a God who “keeps truth forever” (Psalm 146:6), and Jesus Christ is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
The Christian’s Assurance
God’s truth offers Christians great assurance. It is described as “your shield and buckler” (Psalm 91:4). God will “judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with His truth” (Psalm 96:13). The church is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). John had no greater joy than seeing his children walk in the truth (3 John 4).
Clearly, truth matters. Clearly Christians, those who are disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are to be characterised by what characterised Him. And truth is characteristic of truth (John 14:6).
More Than Moralism
There is perhaps nothing so antithetical to one’s profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as dishonesty, falsehood and outright lying. After all, the first sin, which plunged us and our world into chaos, was devilish deceit. Therefore, the motivation for our honesty, for our commitment to truthfulness, is a God-centred one. We do not want to be aligned with God’s greatest enemy. And this is an important point. Though later we will examine the motive that Paul reveals for being truthful, it is essential that we realise that this is not merely a moralistic exhortation.
Christians are to be truthful, they are to shun all forms of falsehood, not primarily because it is a nice way to live, nor because honesty is the best policy. In fact, in many areas, honesty may not always be the most profitable policy. Rather the reason is because honesty andtruthfulness reflect the character of God. And our desire is to glorify God. And that matters.
But when must we put off lying? The answer is, now—and again. As someone has well said,
All progress in the spiritual life comes from the simple apprehension of a fact already true in God’s plan and purpose. It is not something you have to make true, it is believing something God has already said is true, the apprehension of what has already been done in Christ. Not something to be done when we ask it, but faith laying hold of what already is, in Christ.
We must put of falsehood now and later—this morning, and this afternoon, and this evening, and again tomorrow.
And where must we put it off? At the foot of the cross where we received a new set of clothes.
We must put off falsehood immediately and completely. We must do so Christianly—i.e., because we are followers of Christ, not merely because honesty is the best policy. Because we are new creations in Christ, we are to hate the lie—to hate falsehood and love the truth.
As Paul says in Romans 13:11ff, time is short and living for Christ is of the essence. So, let us not waste any time in putting off falsehood.
We Must Put on Truthfulness
As we put away lying, “Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour.” Here, Paul quotes Zechariah 8:16–17: “‘These are the things you shall do: Speak each man the truth to his neighbour; give judgement in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbour; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the LORD.”
Zechariah prophesied after the Babylonian exile, and this specific prophecy had reference to the Messianic age. One reason for Israel’s earlier exile was their dishonesty. Now that they have been freed, they were encouraged to avoid that which had brought so much destruction.
The passage points to the future, the future that was now the present for Paul and the church of Ephesus, as well as for us.
The prophecy speaks of gospel days that will be marked by, among other things, truthfulness and justice among God’s people. We might call it the dispensation of integrity. This is what the church is commanded to put on. But what does it look like?
The word translated “speak” is a present tense verb, which instructs us that truthfulness and truth-telling is to be the habitual characteristic of the Christian. “Truth” literally means “non-concealment,” and indicates that which is real—things as they really are. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines the word as “the property of being in accord with fact or reality as defined by God.”
To Whom Must We Speak Truth
Clearly, our integrity, our commitment to be truthful, is not to be selective. And in this sense, everyone is our neighbour. But the original context of this quote, and its context here, points to those who are neighbours nearest to us—those in the church. We are called to be honest with one another (see 2:15).
What does all of this mean practically?
First, it means that we tell the truth.
Importantly, this does not mean that we always speak our mind. For example, if a church member asks what you think of her new (unusual) haircut, you need not be brutally honest. I once had someone say to me, “I just wanted you to know that, no matter what others are saying about you, I still like you.” I had no idea what others were saying about me, and I frankly didn’t need to know that others were speaking negatively of me! Pointing out all the faults of others is not called for here. Yes, we are to speak the truth, but we are to do so in love (2:15).
What this does mean is that truth matters, and we should assume that all those in the community of faith are of the persuasion that truth matters—and that it always matters. We must be honest with one another, living in confrontation and honest in confession.
Second, it means that we do not misrepresent ourselves, or others. Rather, we tell the truth.
It can be tempting to oversell your virtues, or to over-describe your testimony. The dean of a well-known university in the United States was recently relieved of his duties for this very thing. He concocted an elaborate background in which he had been converted from a Muslim background and forced to flee for his life. When the story was investigated it was found to be completely untrue.
Pastors can sometimes be guilty of “supersizing” their congregation, like the one pastor who, when asked the size of his church, replied, “It’s between one and two thousand.” Technically, he was correct: He had more than one church member, and less than two thousand!
Christians, on the other hand, can be guilty of romanticising their spiritual progress, while others can be guilty of under-describing their struggles. Many are easily tempted to the falsehood of slander. Be careful! Don’t misrepresent by saying either more or less than needs to be said. Sometimes, silence is golden; sometimes, it can be grievous.
Third, it means that we keep our word—we keep our promises.
I wonder how many promises made during the campaign trail during the recent American presidential election will actually be kept. When will the wall be built, and will the Mexicans really pay for it? Will President Trump overturn Obamacare? We’ve already seen some backing off on these and other promises; I suspect that there is a lot more retracting to come. As Dan Fogelberg sang, “Promises made and promises broken; measures of our demise.”
This is an area of great failure for many. But, brothers and sisters, it ought not to be! We need to be people of our word, whether in simple things like keeping appointments or in more serious things like paying our accounts. We need to keep our marriage vows and be sincere in our membership vows. We must fulfil our ministry commitments and keep the vows we make to raise a godly seed.
Fourth, it means that we must remain faithful to God’s truth.
We must tell the truth as defined by God’s Word. We must tell the whole truth of the gospel and we must do so often. Pastors and Bible teachers are to tell the full gospel and its implications. Churches are to carry out its God-given mandates. Another pastor was recently telling me that his church was involved in a church discipline issue. Someone involved, noting that several discipline issues had reared their heads in recent times, asked whether a pattern was beginning to emerge. One of his elders wisely answered, “Yes, there is a pattern here—a pattern of commitment to holiness and healthy church membership.”
Truth-telling is so important when it comes to counselling. We need truly biblical counselling; we are responsible for truly Christian counselling.
Fifth, positively, it means that we are lovingly transparent.
The community of faith is to be a transparent community. We are to tell the truth in love—always. This means being open about our struggles, doubts, failures and need for help. It means being open about what we really believe and about the offences we have either caused or experienced.
We Must Put In Consideration (Communal Concern)
Paul concludes with the reason for truth-telling: “for we are members of one another.” Falsehood is dysfunctional and destructive for any group of people—including the local church. Truthfulness matters if we will be holy, healthy and happy. And giving this due consideration is necessary if we will consistently be laying aside falsehood and putting on truth-telling.
You will remember the context of this exhortation: the dynamic of change. We are to put off the old way of behaving and to put on a new way of behaving because of what we are to put in—a new way of thinking.
Belief affects behaviour; ideas have consequences; thinking is related to doing. So it is when it comes to putting off falsehood and putting on truthfulness. That is, the motivation for the behaviour must arise, not from some culturally mandated norm, but rather from a biblical concern. This biblical concern is for the body of Christ.
Paul reminds his readers, and us, that we are “members of one another.” It is this union and communion that motivates us to form a trusting community. Anything less will prove frail because fraudulent. John Stott notes, “Fellowship is built on trust, and trust is built on truth.”11 Negatively, Augustine noted, “When regard for truth has been broken down or even slightly weakened, all things remain doubtful.” This is tragic in any sphere; it is especially tragic when this occurs in the church.
John Piper uses this illustration: If your brain lies to your hand while you are using your fork by telling your hand that your eye is your mouth, that lie will lead to inflicting harm on you. This is precisely Paul’s point. When you lie, you hurt the body of Christ to which you belong. Everyone suffers, including you. To lie to one another is to lie to and to ultimately hurt yourself.
When are tempted to fudge the truth, we must stop to consider the possible negative effect on the community of faith. When we are tempted to break our covenant with one another—in effect lying about loving one another—then we need to stop and think and repent! When we are tempted to go after the false gods of materialism, the idols of physical fitness, the gods of sexual deviation, we need to stop and consider the impact.
When we are tempted to live a duplicitous life, we must think about the consequences, not only to ourselves as an individual, but also to the corporate body of Christ. When we do, if we are the real deal, we will be moved to run from such destructive choices and the body of Christ in turn will be protected; it will be edified rather than torn down.
Let me ask: Do you give much thought to the body of your local church? Do you consider the effects that your actions of falsehood may have on the whole? You should. The effect that your words and deeds have on the church family should be a large consideration for you. The good of our brothers and sisters, and the glorifying of God, are powerful motivations for us to contribute to the development of a community of trust.
At the risk of (once again!) repeating myself, the Christian is to prioritise what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called life together. The community of faith is a family, a household, and a body. We need to develop and build on this mindset. As we renew our minds away from the old way of thinking—individualism and self-centredness—and towards a mind of corporate concern, we will be considerate about how we behave towards one another. Ultimately, such consideration is because we are concerned about the glory of our Father.
We don’t need to lie because, by the power of the gospel of Christ, we are no longer in bondage to fear, greed or hate. We trust our sovereign God, and therefore truthfulness becomes a way of life. The gospel is such good news! By God’s grace we have come to know the truth and therefore we have been set free indeed (John 8:32).
So, having considered this vital matter, and leaning on God’s grace, “having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another” (ESV). May we increasingly grow as a community of trust.
- R. Kent Hughes, Ephesians: The Mystery of the Body of Christ (Wheaton: Crossway, 1990), 148. ↩
- John Eadie, John Eadie’s Commentary on Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians and Philippians, https://goo.gl/eAOOlj, retrieved 13 November 2016. ↩
- John F. MacArthur, Jr., Ephesians: The MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 181. ↩
- John R. W. Stott, 184. ↩
- Ray Stedman, “Practicing Christianity,” https://goo.gl/IWCTwm, retrieved 13 November 2016. ↩
- Eadie, Ephesians, https://goo.gl/eAOOlj, retrieved 13 November 2016. ↩
- Stedman, “Practicing Christianity,” https://goo.gl/IWCTwm, retrieved 13 November 2016. ↩
- Bryan Chapell, Ephesians: Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2009), 219, 221. ↩
- John Piper, “Speak Truth with Your Neighbor,” https://goo.gl/OsyWD5, retrieved 13 November 2016. ↩
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Darkness and Light: An Exposition of Ephesians 4:17–5:17 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1982), 219. ↩
- Stott, Ephesians, 184. ↩