I was elected the chaplain of my college’s choir and we are doing a series of devotions on the attributes of God. Yesterday I talked about God being Truth and I used part of John Piper’s sermon on the subject. Here is a brief excerpt that I thought was really great.
“Let’s be specific and make ourselves aware of some of the deceitful desires that tempt us to lie. I think all the desires that lead people to lie can be summed up in these two: fear and greed. Two kinds of fear and two kinds of greed…
Let’s think first about fear. In Matthew 21:23–27 the authority of Jesus is challenged by the chief priests and elders. “By what authority do you do these things?” Before he answers them, he gives them a test question to see if they really love the truth or whether they are only trying to justify themselves and trip him up.
He asks, “The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven or from men?” Now we can watch a lie in the making. We can see what desires go into the making of a lie. It says (in v. 25) that the chief priests argued with one another and said,
“If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From men,’ we are afraid of the multitude; for all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The chief priests and the elders fail the test. They prove that their deep desire is not for truth. What is it for? It is for personal esteem and physical safety! They are controlled by fear. Two kinds of fear.
First, they fear getting egg on their faces and losing the esteem of the people. They fear being shown wrong. We see this in verse 25: they conclude that they can’t answer Jesus’ question by saying John’s baptism is from heaven. Why? Not because it is untrue—that is quite irrelevant to them. No. It is simply because if they answer that way, they will give Jesus a chance to show them in an inconsistency—”Why then did you not believe him?” So they are driven toward a lie by their desire for the esteem of men and their fear of having to admit an inconsistency.
The second kind of fear that controls them is fear of physical harm. Physical safety is more important than truth. We see this in verse 26: they can’t answer that John’s baptism is from men because the multitudes believe John was a prophet and so the people might get mad and stone the priests!
So instead of giving the answer that they believe is true (namely, from men) they lie. They are evasive, diplomatic, or (as some say) political: they say, “We don’t know!”
I said that lying is not just caused by two kinds of fear, but also by two kinds of greed—greed for money and all it can buy, and greed for praise and approval.
Ananias and Sapphira are an example of the first kind of greed. The sold a piece of property and kept back some of the proceeds for themselves and took the rest of it to the apostles, presenting it as the whole sum. Peter said (in Acts 5:3), “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Satan is on hand again in his usual role. How did he get Ananias to lie to Peter and to God?
He deceived Ananias into thinking that it is more blessed to keep than to give. And that is a lie—exactly the opposite of the word of Christ. Satan probably suggested to Ananias all the possible expenses that might be coming up, and all the legitimate pleasures that he and his wife Sapphira have gone without all these years. So a deceitful desire was born from a lie and gave birth to a lie. And Ananias dropped dead and so did his wife. And great fear came upon the whole church. The lying tongue is an abomination to God.
That is one kind of greed that produces lying—the greed for money and what it can buy. The other kind of greed that produces lying is greed for praise or power or position or approval. I will leave the examples here to your own imagination. We must hasten on to the positive half of the command in Ephesians 4:25.”