Using Babylonian Kings
Dr. Jim Denison
Jeff Warren was a long-time staff member here at Park Cities, and is now the very effective senior pastor of First Baptist Church in McKinney. Shortly after I came to Dallas, Jeff taught me how to cuss and be a Baptist preacher: use Babylonian kings’ names. When you miss a three-foot putt say “Belshazzer!” When someone cuts you off on Central Expressway say “Nebuchadnezzar!” It works.
Jesus wants to talk with us about our language today. And we need the help.
Research indicates that 64% of Americans agree with the statement, “I will lie when it suits me, so long as it doesn’t cause any real damage.” 91% say they lie “regularly.” Only 31% believe that honesty is the best policy.
Enron was one of the great success stories of the 1990’s. The company set up 3,000 offshore companies which it owned but treated as business partners. It sold gas to these “partners” at inflated rates, then used these rates when it sold gas to states like California. The company then transferred financial obligations to some of these false companies, so that its bottom line looked even better. Finally, insiders dumped 16 million shares of stock, pocketing $1 billion. Meanwhile, its 15,000 employees lost $1 billion in pensions.
George O’Leary was head football coach at the University of Notre Dame, arguably the most prestigious such position in the nation, for only five days. He resigned in December of 2001 after admitting his resume claimed degrees and athletic accomplishments which were false.
Sandy Baldwin was president of the USOC, arguably the most prestigious position in amateur athletics in our country. In May of last year she resigned after admitting her resume claimed a doctorate she never finished.
The Psalmist complained, “…the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception” (Psalm 12:1-2). What was the last lie you told?
Today Jesus wants to talk with us about truth telling. We’ll focus on our words, because they both reveal and mold our souls.
Why tell the truth? (33)
Jesus begins: “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.'” Here he summarizes passages from Leviticus 19, Numbers 30, and Deuteronomy 23. And he agrees: lying is wrong.
So what is lying?
Speaking false words. Half truths, exaggerations, misquotes, slander.
Giving false impressions. Misleading about our accomplishments, or income, or relationships. Sometimes in spiritual garb: “Pray for the Smiths, they’re having trouble at home” or “Pray for the Joneses, their child is struggling in school.” Gossip in the guise of spirituality.
Withholding truth: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible” (Leviticus 5:1). Listening to slander or gossip without correcting it; agreeing tacitly to falsehood; refusing to pay the price of truth.
Why tell the truth? Because God consistently commands and commends truth-telling.
Without exception: “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts” (Zechariah 8:16).
Every one of us: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body” (Ephesians 4:25).
No matter how tempted we are to lie: “Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place” (Ephesians 6:14).
This is the key to peace with God and ourselves: “True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin” (Malachi 2:6).
Why tell the truth? Because God condemns lying:
Here is what the Lord thinks of lies: “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful” (Proverbs 12:22).
He warns us: “A fortune made by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare” (Proverbs 21:6). Enron employees can attest that God is right.
Lying breaks our relationship with God: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence” (Psalm 101:7).
God must punish those who lie: “You destroy those who tell lies; bloodthirsty and deceitful men the Lord abhors” (Psalm 5:6).
So God commands us: “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices” (Colossians 3:9).
Why tell the truth? Because our words reveal our souls. Jesus said, “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). Our words are windows into our souls, and a witness we can never retract. How do we unring a bell?
Why tell the truth? Because our words mold our souls.
James, the brother of our Lord and pastor of the first church at Jerusalem, makes the point clear: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
When we lie we become liars. Our words take on a power and life of their own. I don’t fully know why, but the words I speak shape how I think and feel. When I fail and then condemn myself, I become more of a failure. When I succeed and then encourage myself, I become more of a success. Our words reveal us, and they mold us.
Why do we tell lies?
Given their importance, the value of truth, why do we lie?
Comedian Jay Leno tells a somewhat embarrassing story about himself in his book, Leading With My Chin. The problem is that it didn’t happen to him, but to another comedian, Jeff Altman. When the deception was discovered, Jay told a reporter for the New York Post that he liked the story so much he paid Altman $1,000 for the right to publish it as his own.