What did God mean when He said, “thou shalt not steal”?
Without hesitating we reply, “Well, He meant just what he said–do not steal.”
What did God mean when He said, “Thou shalt not kill”?
With equal confidence we say, “Why, he meant that we cannot murder.”
Very well then; what did He mean when He said, “Thou shalt not bear false witness”?
There is a moment of silence until someone finally says, “Well, He meant that we shouldn’t lie.”
“Shouldn’t,” I say, “or must not?” Is it a command or a suggestion?
We consider this question in silence. “Do not lie” is as much a commandment as “do not kill”. While we are quick to proclaim that the “big sins” like murder, theft, and perhaps adultery are wrong and unacceptable, we are a little less strict when it comes to telling “white lies”, wanting something that belongs to another (coveting), or holding a grudge against someone.
I’ve heard it said that we are experts at excusing ourselves, and such is certainly the case–anytime we do something that goes against our conscience we at once have a dozen convenient reasons why it was acceptable in our case. After all, if we weren’t deprived of so many pleasures that others are aloud to enjoy, we would not have been jealous of our coworker’s new car. If our cousin wasn’t always such a conceited jerk, we could forgive him for the snide comments he made about our clothing choices (one can’t be expected to overlook everything, you know!).
All we are saying is that if the wrong thing was not so convenient and the right thing was not so inconvenient, we would always do what was right. However, even worldly unbelievers who care nothing for God are of this mindset. Few sinners go about being nasty merely for the fun of it; they only go against God’s law because circumstances make disobedience more convenient than obedience. In situations when it would be quite as easy to do the right thing as to do the wrong thing, they will generally do what is right, and in doing so appear quite as righteous and selfless as your own pastor.
But the real Christian does not accept what circumstances make convenient; he accepts nothing less than what is right. He makes sacrifices out of love for God and others. If someone insults him, he forgives and turns the other cheek. If he finds himself in poverty while his neighbor is getting rich, he thanks God for what he does have and is happy for his neighbor. If he ends up in an awkward situation that could easily be escaped by telling a “little white lie,” he remembers that a lying tongue “doth the Lord hate” (Proverbs 6:16-17), and prays for grace and wisdom to get through the problem.
But most of us have accepted the fact that we aren’t really saints, and we think that as long as we support the church, listen to a sermon or two every week, and try to be decent people, we needn’t go to such an extreme as holy living. However, the God who says “do not kill” also says not to be “angry… without a cause” (Matthew 5:22). The God who says “do not steal” also commands “do not covet” and “do not lie.”
I do not recall that God ever makes suggestions, but He has given us several commands. And would He give us a command without expecting us to obey it? A command is a command, and one must be taken as seriously as another.