We are beginning a new series today, a series that I’ve been thinking about doing for quite some time now. If you read the newsletter article you know where this is headed. The series is called Into the Grey. Some of you are black and white thinkers. When it comes to almost every decision and every issue, you recognize that there is right and wrong. You are wired to see it clearly. Some of us however, think more in the grey area. When it comes to a decision or issue we don’t necessarily see a right and a wrong, we see how both decisions or both sides of an issue have good points and we exist somewhere in the middle…we think in the grey area.
The Bible actually has some stories, some teachings, some illustrations that are clearly for grey area thinkers. God has wired some of you to be black and white and of course there are issues and decisions that we can say as Christians are black and white. There’s a good decision and a bad decision. However, God knows that some of us are wired to think in the grey area and so he included some things in the Bible for us as well.
Now I am aware that some of you will have some push back to what I have to share this morning. And that’s okay. What I ask is that you just respectfully listen to the end, and if you still disagree by the end of it, that’s okay, and I would love to talk to you about it. My hope is that we have an open mind today to hear from God and maybe be challenged with some things.
The issue I want to talk about today is lying. Is lying always a sin? Is there such a thing as righteous deception. I think there is. Husbands, when your wife asks you: “do you like my new haircut.” If you genuinely like it you can say yes and not have to practice righteous deception. However, and you know what I’m going to say don’t you. If you genuinely do not like it you are at a crossroads. You can choose to not lie and think you are doing a good thing and suffer any number of consequences. Or, you can choose to practice some righteous deception and build her up by saying “I don’t care what your hair looks like, I think you are beautiful no matter what.” Rightly played sir.
There are several other examples where many of us have used righteous deception. If you have ever thrown a surprise birthday party you probably used a bit of righteous deception. You had to deceive the one you were throwing the party for so that they did not discover the surprise.
Historically, most of us would agree that it was the right thing to do when people in Germany and the surrounding countries lied to the Nazi’s to hide Jews in their homes before and during World War II. In that instance lying was for the purpose of saving lives. It was righteous deception. My belief is that when telling a lie does more good than harm, that its righteous deception and God endorses it.
Saint Augustine divided lying into three different categories. Playful lies, which are told in jest or performed on stage by actors. These are the lies you tell when you are telling a joke and using the first person even though maybe it’s not true. It’s fun and it’s in jest and it’s enjoyable and does no one harm, that’s a playful lie. Obliging lies are the ones told to protect someone else. These are the lies in the WWII scenario and the lies you tell when throwing a surprise party. These are lies that are done because they do more good than harm by telling them. Lastly, are the Destructive lies – these are the bad ones. These are the ones often associated when someone violates the ninth commandment. The interesting thing about the ninth commandment, however, is that it’s actually more about bearing false witness against someone than lying in general. The ninth commandment is a specific kind of lie.
Anyway, I like the categories. They make sense don’t they. I believe there wisdom in understanding lies in this way. If deception, if lying was a black and white issue, every single actor that has been in a play or a movie would be culpable of lying. Lying is not a black and white issue.
Some of you still may not be convinced. Maybe the Bible will convince you. There are several biblical accounts of people using righteous deception to do something that actually honors God and that is praised because they did it. Jacob’s deceives his father and his brother to get the inheritance of the first born son…he does this with his mother’s (Rebecca’s) help. Joseph, a little bit later on is sold into slavery and through a series of events becomes second in command in Egypt. There’s a famine in the region and Egypt has food (because of Joseph) and Joseph’s brothers who sold him to slavery come to Egypt for food. They don’t recognize Jacob and Jacob deceives them to be reunited with his father and welcome them into the Egyptian royal court.
The prophet Nathan deceives David to get David mad about an injustice. Then Nathan reveals to David that it’s exactly what David had done.
Rahab is a prostitute who hides Joshua and Caleb from the authorities when they scout the area to over throw it. She believes God is with and asks them to spare her and her family’s life when they conquer the city. How important was that…Rahab is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1. She’s a pretty important figure and she used righteous deception to save herself and her family.
Lets look at the scripture in your bulletin today. This is from Judges chapter 4. Sisera is the commander of the army of Jabin who is the king of Hazor. Jabin had taken the Israelites into slavery and treated them cruelly for 20 years. So the Israelites cry out to the Lord for help. Deborah is the leader of the Israelites at this time and with the help of a man named Barak, she is able to organize an army to oppose Jabin. Deborah and Barak’s army defeats Jabin’s army who is led by Sisera. However, Sisera escapes the battle. This is where we pick up the story. (Read Judges 4:17-24).
So Jael says to Sisera “c’mon in the tent.” She gives him milk and tells him to rest. Then she takes care of business. It seems harsh doesn’t it…talk about deception. First Rahab, now Jael, before that it was Rebekah helping Jacob...what is it with the women of the Bible practicing deception? I’m glad women aren’t like that today. Okay, I’m going to stop right there…don’t want to dig the hole any deeper.
What’s interesting though, in each instance they are actually accomplishing what God wants accomplished. Do you know what happens in the very next chapter. Deborah sings a song of praise to God and part of that song involves what Jael has done and Deborah sings this line “Most blessed of women be Jael.” The last line of Judges chapter 5 is a commentary that says the land had peace for forty years. Jael’s deception brought peace to the land for forty years. She decided to side with God’s army instead the pagan army and God blessed her and the land for her righteous deception. She lied to Sisera so that he would let down his guard and her actions led to peace in the land for forty years.
When a lie does more good than harm, that’s when it is righteous deception. That’s when it’s actually a good thing.
Now, there is such a risk in sharing this kind of teaching. The risk is giving any number of you license to lie. In most cases lying is sinful and destructive. I do not want to give anyone here the license to sin. There is a huge difference between lying out of convenience and lying that leads to something good. Lying out of convenience is when you know you have done something wrong and someone suspects it and calls you out on it and you lie so that you do not have to face the consequences of your actions. That’s not what I’m talking about.
The question then is this: how do we know when deception, how do we know when lying does more good than harm? In some cases it’s easy. With the example of hiding the Jews in WWII and lying to Nazi guards…most of us would agree that that saved the lives of human beings and it’s pretty obvious that was the right decision. But not all situations are that easy to determine whether or not to practice righteous deception. So how do we know?
I think it takes wisdom. Wisdom is the key for someone who is a “grey area” thinker. Not just some random worldly wisdom, but Godly wisdom. Wisdom that comes from God himself either through Jesus’ teaching or through the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Often times we find wisdom from other people. Righteous deception is something Christians can only practice through the wisdom of God from the Holy Spirit of God. If we ever practice righteous deception apart from that, it is not righteous deception, it is deception, it is a lying, it is sin. This comes down to believing so strongly in the Holy Spirit of God that indeed there are times and places where God will call us to practice righteous deception.
Now, to be in a place where we can hear from God clearly, we have to be in prayer regularly. We have to study the Bible regularly. We have to be in worship regularly. We have to have fellowship with other believers who build us up and help us live Christian lives on a consistent basis. We need the body of Christ, we need each other, in order to hear from God and follow God.
Righteous deception is not something we just go out and practice. It’s a rare thing that God call us to only when it does more good than harm. And we often need each other to determine whether or not a decision we make will do more harm than good. We need the wisdom from God, we need to be listening constantly for the Holy Spirit and we need to rely on each other.
I look at it like this, the loving thing to do is the most important thing to do. For Rahab, the loving thing to do was to hide the spies. For Jael, the loving thing to do in the long run, was to invite Sisera into her tent and take him out. It brought forty of peace. The loving thing to do is always the right thing to do.
If there is one word that defines who God is, that word is love. God is love and operates out of love. Therefore, we are called to operate out of love as well. The loving thing to is the most important thing to do, even if it means practicing righteous deception. Lets pray.