Truth (Proverbs 13)

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Pinocchio is a puppet who just wants to be a normal boy.  You’re probably familiar with the story.  Whenever he tells a lie, his nose grows a little longer.  Most of us probably wish that this would happen to the people we were dealing with. Then we’d be able to tell if they are telling the truth. Mind you, I suspect we’re all secretly pleased that this doesn’t happen to us.

One of the themes running through Proverbs 13 is “integrity.” We particularly associate integrity with telling the truth.

Proverbs 13:5 says:

“The godly hate lies;
                the wicked cause shame and disgrace.”

Once again, where the NLT translates “godly” the word is “righteous.” Those who have a right standing with God, are justified by him hate lies. 

The wider context is the continued theme of a disciplined life. A fw chapters back, we saw that the good of the city depends upon having righteous people living and prospering there.  We are beginning to see how the righteous prosper. Instrumental in this is their upbringing. So the chapter begin and ends with parental discipline.

A righteous person loves truth and so takes time to listen to truth from those in authority over them, especially parents.  A disciplined life means not just that we love to tell the truth but also hear truth as well. 

The righteous hate lies and love truth because generally speaking, truth telling leads to good.  So verse 2 tells us

“Wise words will win you a good meal,
               but treacherous people have an appetite for violence”

The ESV gives us this literal and even more poetic translation

From the fruit of his mouth a man eats what is good.” 

This is the picture throughout the Proverb, there’s a link between what we say and do and what we hear and receive.  Practically, the Proverbs here teach us that those who deal honestly, speak truth and refuse to listen to and believe lies or join in treachery will be well provided for enjoying good food and even riches.

There are good reasons for loving and telling the truth.  We want to be able to rely on others and for them to rely on them.  How is a student meant to grow in knowledge if they cannot trust their teacher? How can a patient feel safe on the treatment table unless the doctor is known to be honest? At work and at the shops we rely on those we deal with to deal truthfully so that we don’t get ripped off.

And generally speaking we look to those who tell the truth and they do well. Politicians with a reputation for straight talking tend to be popular, businessmen you can trust should be more likely to get business. I know of at least one businessman who has had people give him work because they’ve told him they can rely on him to be honest.

It’s not always that way though is it?  Far too often people find it easier to be economical with the truth to close a deal or to get elected. And it seems to work doesn’t it. In a fallen world, the liars seem to prosper all too often.

Oh, and if we’re honest then even we struggle with the truth. We know that we should hate lies. We know that we should love truth. We know that this is not only the right way but the best way. But we end up telling lies because

  • We are afraid of hurting people’s feelings
  • We are afraid of being punished
  • We are afraid that the truth about who we are, what we are like and what we’ve thought, said and done will bring shame and disgrace.

Too often we back away from telling truth because we are scared of how people will react if they see the real us. We are afraid of losing friends, reputation, love.  Lying is a way of hiding and running from guilt.  Lying is all about shame.

Yet, Solomon is very clear here that it is the wicked who cause shame and disgrace. You see, if you lie and deceive then one day you will get caught out.  Someone will confess, your text messages will get read, the CCTV coverage will be published or after years of deceit you will forget the story yourself and people will spot the inconsistencies. Much worse to be found out against our will.  How many public figures have we seen fall into disgrace because they were proved to be lying? 

Even still, it’s so hard to do isn’t it. So how can we be truth lovers? Here’s another clue. Proverbs 13:7 says:

“Some who are poor pretend to be rich;
                 others who are rich pretend to be poor.”

We can all think of examples of both can’t we? In the hit TV drama series NCIS, Special Agent Tony DiNozo’s father is a bit of a wide boy. He lives the high life staying in 5 star hotels, driving around in limos and befriending the rich and famous. It’s all a lie though. DiNozo senior doesn’t have a penny to his name. He’s a conman. 

On the other hand, one of my friends tells the story of seeing a man get out of a Merc in the city centre wearing a fine suit. He then put on rags, went and sat down by the side of the road, put out a cup and started to beg. He was rich but he pretended to be poor.

Fascinatingly the Hebrew leaves the option open here. It could be as translated that the people are pretending but it is possible that they actually do make themselves rich or poor and yet in another sense the rich man is poor and the poor man is rich.

How can this be?  Well I think it comes down to integrity. True integrity is about having a life that is consistent. It means that what we are like on the outside should match what we are like on the inside. It’s possible to put on a respectable outer image, to appear confident, successful, moral etc and yet our hearts, minds and emotions can be poor, a mess of sin and struggle.   Jesus says

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?[1]

aTrue integrity comes when the inside is dealt with so that it matches the outside. We can make ourselves appear good and successful on the outside but we cannot change the inside. Only God can do this. 

That’s why it is the righteous who love truth and hate lies. As we’ve seen, we cannot make ourselves righteous. We receive righteousness by faith when God justifies us. We receive Christ’s righteousness.  This means we have a right standing with God and it’s not something we can do anything to earn.  This means, that we know God loves us permanently and unconditionally. It’s that right standing with God that gives us permission to be honest, to tell the truth about our sin, weaknesses, failings and fears.  We are safe to tell the truth because there is no fear of rejection or punishment.

The righteous can love truth. 

[1] Mark 8:36, New Living Translation.

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