Do Not Lie

Matthew 5.37

Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one. 

If you were called upon to give a graduation speech at a local high school or college, what would you want to convey? 

I think that question is something we all think about whenever we encounter one of those speeches because we can’t help ourselves from wondering what we would say to those about to enter “the next stage” in their lives.

I can remember sitting in my rather uncomfortable polyester high school graduation robe when a classmate of mine stood before the microphone and said, “Kurt Vonnegut once said, ‘True terror is waking up one day and realizing your high school senior class is running the country.’” And all I could do was smile, because I shared that quote with her a week before graduation!

My former professor Stanley Hauerwas was asked to give the graduation address at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland in 2017 and he began by saying:

“Graduation addresses are in general all alike. The speaker must begin congratulating those for their achievement… Those graduating are assured that the education they have received has prepared them well for the challenges they will confront. The climax of the speech take the form of recommendations for how those graduating should negotiate the rest of their lives. These recommendations are commonplace generalizations that are difficult to take seriously because the speaker lacks the authority to say anything that has the ring of truth. As a result, you will discover if asked what the speaker has said you cannot remember anything. I know this because I estimate I have heard over forty-five of these addresses and I cannot remember any.” 

Hauerwas waxes lyrical for a while about the folly of such speeches and then challenges the audience to hear a piece of advice that is often overlooked completely: “Do not lie.”

That’s it.

All of these students, their professors, and their families, and the only thing Hauerwas wanted them to hear was “Do not lie.”

The irony, of course, is that we all know we’re not supposed to lie, and yet we do it constantly. We lie to ourselves, we lie to those we love (and those who love us), and we are perfectly content to lie to strangers.

But if the majesty and might of the church has anything to say about who we are to be in the world, it is that Christians are called to be people of truth.

Or, as Jesus put it in his Sermon on the Mount, “Let your word be “Yes, Yes” or “No, No”; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

However, living truthfully is not so easy. Not only have we become far too comfortable with the lies we tell and the lies that surround us, telling the truth will often require us to say things that others do not want to hear. Lying, oddly, is what we do to keep others happy. But happiness is not the same thing as holiness. 

Jesus was relentless with his truth-telling. So much so that it led to the cross. And yet, the grace of God gives us the strength to be at home in the truth, even though it will be difficult. 


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