This past Sunday I was speaking on Ephesians 4:25-32 where Paul exhorts the Ephesian believers to put away lying and rather speak the truth. When I got home my wife and eldest son, Caleb, had been talking about the message, and Joannie tells me that Caleb had a question about the message. What was his question you asked?
My twelve-year old son wanted to know, “Is there ever a time where lying is acceptable?”
His question reveals what almost everyone on planet earth would like to know when it comes to lying lips. Is there a time or place where lying lips may be acceptable?
I think we have all been in that place where someone we love or like has asked us, “How does this make me look?” Or, husbands, has your wife asked you, “How did my casserole or pie turn out?” Or our boss asked us, “What did you think about the presentation?” In such instances and others, we are faced with whether or not we tell the truth, a version of the truth, or lie.
So, what do we do? Tell the truth. Not only do we read in Ephesians 4:25 that God would have us speak the truth and not lies. We also read in places like Proverbs 6:16–19 as well as Proverbs 12:22, that God hates a lying tongue. I think it is pretty clear from these passages and others that God would have us tell the truth—even if we think the other person(s) can’t handle the truth. Now, I’m not saying that you don’t cloak the truth, if it may hurt, in softness, grace, and (if need be) constructive feedback. I’m saying that God would have us be truthful people.
If those moments—where it would be easier to lie, stretch the truth, or be dishonest—are off limits, is there any other time where it may be acceptable to tell a lie? Biblical ethicists and scholars point to at least two examples in Scripture where people of faith chose to lie when faced with a life or death decision.
The first example is the midwives in Exodus 1. Pharaoh commanded the Hebrew midwives, if the woman gave birth to a boy, to kill the baby boy. But, rather than obeying Pharaoh’s command, they let the boys live. When asked about why they did this, they responded, “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife can get to them” (Exodus 1:19). And then Moses pens the following, “So God was good to the midwives, and the people multiplied and became very numerous.”
The second example is Rahab in Joshua 2. Rahab had been enlightened that there was no stopping the Jews from taking over what we know as the Promised Land because the God of the Jews fought for them. Thus, dread came upon the inhabitants. But as Rahab gave aid to the spies sent by Joshua, the king of Jericho sent some men to Rahab’s house to inquire about the men and asked her to hand them over. Rahab responded, “Yes, the men did come to me, but I didn’t know where they were from. At nightfall, when the city gate was about to close, the men went out, and I don’t know where they were going” (Joshua 2:4–5). If you know the story, you know that God was gracious and showed favor to Rahab and all her household, as they were the only inhabitants saved from Jericho—not to mention that Rahab found herself in the lineage of Jesus.
These are two instances where people chose to lie rather than tell the truth.
It seems, from both accounts, that God did not condemn their false lips but blessed their faith-filled lives.
Why is that? Keep in mind that my answer to this question is just my projection.
To answer the question, let me first set up two particular things that summarize all that God hates. God hates idolatry and injustice. Both idolatry and injustice are the opposite of the two greatest commandments. You know the first, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” What was the second? “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Therefore, when God does not hold primacy in one’s life—He is angry. When an image-bearer of His is not treated with love, dignity, respect, etc., God is also angry. In sum, He hates when His glory is robbed and His reflected glory of within an (or a group of) image-bearer(s) is threatened or damaged.
With that said—in both accounts mentioned—people’s lives hung in the balance. In Exodus, the lives of innocent baby boys were being threatened. In Joshua, the lives of the spies were being threatened. Given that lives were on the line, both the midwives and Rahab chose to lie. They lied to protect life. And in both instances, it seems that God worked through those lying lips to not only protect lives but also bless the lives the lying lips sought to protect.
In conclusion, we know Scripture teaches that God hates lying lips—lying lips that seek to cover up, hide, divide, demean, deconstruct, destroy, damage, etc. We also know that believers, according to Scripture, should be people of truth. But, on the other hand, people of truth might be faced with a situation where lying—to protect the glory (and mission) of God or an image-bearer of God—may be acceptably used by God to accomplish His purposes in the world. Thus, if there was a loophole to lying lips, that would be it. Would love to hear what you think!