Inspired by our presidential election, my last two sermons were on the two of the Ten Commandments most of us break every day. Thou Shalt Not Steal and Thou Shalt Not Lie.
Now you’re thinking “I’ve never robbed a bank or lied under oath in a courtroom so I’ve never broken one of those Commandments.”
And you’d be wrong. The Biblical definitions of “lie” and “steal” go beyond the act of robbing someone or telling a blatant lie.
Our economic system is based on the premise of not stealing. What you earn is yours. Taking something that is not yours is wrong. Likewise, our legal system is based on the precept of telling the truth – of not lying.
But lying and stealing can take different forms. For example, we steal people’s reputations by gossiping. We steal someone’s spirit and dignity by abusing them. There are several forms of lying. Of course, the first one is just flat telling someone an untruth. If someone does this often enough, then that person becomes totally unbelievable and no one will trust them to tell the truth or do the right thing.
Obedience to these Commandments is a requirement for building character. Character is the ability to recognize right from wrong and to always choose the right. This is because a man or woman is only as good as their word. One can have no confidence in a man or woman whose word is no good. What he or she says is of little value because they can’t be trusted.
Another form of lying is swearing falsely. Our every word should be trustworthy. The third form of lying is gossiping. This is the one Commandment that all of us break the most. Why? Because we all talk about people.
This is where the ninth commandment overlaps with the eighth commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steal. Gossip involves not only lying but also stealing. You’re stealing someone’s reputation or good name when you gossip about them, plus it’s likely you’re also lying about them.
One reason we gossip is it caters to our own pride. We like to make ourselves look better by bringing someone else down. It takes some of the sting off our failures if we can rub the glitter off someone else’s crown.
We assume a self-righteous attitude which we think gives us the right to talk about someone else’s shortcoming or sin, not realizing our sin is as big as whatever their sin supposedly is.
Another form of lying and stealing is the sin of listening to gossip. The law says that the person who receives the stolen goods is as guilty as the thief who stole it. The person who listens to gossip and doesn’t challenge the gossiper is as guilty as the one spreading the gossip.
Will Rogers said: “Live your life that you wouldn’t be worried about selling your family’s parrot to the town gossip.”
You say, “OK, Pastor, I get it about big fat lies. But what about white lies?” Isn’t it alright to tell a little, teeny white lie so we don’t hurt someone’s feelings? The Bible says no. As Paul wrote in Ephesians, we should always “speak the truth in love.” White lies are wrong; but tact, kindness and courtesy should always be
In Matthew, Jesus taught that obeying the Ten Commandments is essential for entering into eternal life. Why? Because God created these laws and they reflect His thinking. Disobeying the Ten Commandments shows a lack of love and respect for God and God’s creation - our fellow humans.
Breaking any of God’s Ten Commandments means we’re causing someone else’s suffering and creating broken relationships.
Remember, the first four commandments teach us how to love God, the last six teach us how to love our fellow man. Do we love our fellow man when we spread lies and untruths about him? Of course not.
Is there a preponderance of truth-telling in today’s society? Of course not. Anyone who’s ever served on a jury knows that lawyers and witnesses blatantly lie even after swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
These two Commandments are particularly relevant today as we face this depressing and polarizing presidential election. If you can’t believe anything anyone in public office says, then there can be no trust. And when government has lost its credibility and the trust of its citizens, then cynicism runs rampant and grave things will happen.
In closing, remember that stealing takes several forms – outright thievery, abuse of another person, and gossiping. Bearing false witness also takes several forms: blatant lying. Slander. Distortion of the truth. Gossiping. Swearing
Live your life so that the parrot has nothing to gossip about.
The Rev. Dale L. Chrisman is Rector of Trinity Anglican Church, meeting currently in Villa Antonia, six miles from Cedar Park in the hills between Jonestown and Lago Vista. They are building their new church which will be open in the Fall of 2016.