A few months ago, I had the opportunity to taste some exceptionally “wet” water. At least that’s what I was told. My friends pulled a bottle out of the fridge, poured me a glass, and watched as I took one tentative sip…and then another. Their eyes lit up with eager anticipation as they awaited my verdict.
I don’t know if this was a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, or if (as is quite likely) my friends, who have far more more knowledge and discernment in such matters, were detecting subtleties in the Alkaline ion water that I was not. Whatever the case, I began to feel very conspicuous. I willed my mouth to taste the extra wetness of the water, but it just felt like water.
And as their eyes continued to probe my face questioningly, I was sorely tempted to lie. Not necessarily an “outright” lie—just a few words carefully selected for their ambiguity, that would give the impression that I was enjoying the superior qualities of this particular water.
Mmmm…yeah…I think I might notice something a little different about this water…
The last thing I wanted was to insult my very good friends, or come across as a snob.
But, the truth was, I noticed nothing. And in the end, I made my confession. It was clothed in apologetic qualifiers, but it was the truth—I was unable to detect anything different about this water than any other filtered water I’ve tasted.
That time I triumphed—but sadly this is in contrast with the many other times that I have failed and taken the cheap way out.
We all have that one temptation that plays to our personality and shouts at us a little (or a lot) louder than the others. I think this is mine: compromising my character for the sake of avoiding conflict or losing the approval of others.
In situations where I think I might ‘be in trouble’ for my actions, disappoint someone, or appear flawed in a manner that I am not comfortable with, I am very tempted to cast, color, distort, or slant the truth in order to preserve my reputation and avoid tension. And if I feel especially cornered and the relational stakes seem high—I might just be tempted to utter a blatant falsehood.
This inclination is no kind of excuse for accommodating such wimpy, sinful behavior.
In fact, knowing this about myself should cause me to be on guard and take action—to pray for help, to determine to fight, to decide ahead of time to own up and be brave. I can avoid doing things I wouldn’t want to confess, but that only goes so far. There are just gonna be things I do that other people don’t like (right or wrong), and there’s also gonna be plenty of times when I just plain old mess up and do the wrong thing. I need to be able to call it what it is (even when unexpectedly cornered), repent and move on.
Any other course only confirms dishonesty (however masked and justified) as more and more a part of who I am. I don’t want that. I want to be like my Father in heaven, and he does not speak lies (Titus 1:2, Heb 6:18). We all know who does…(John 8:44, Acts 5:3)
So, in my case, I’ve no doubt that what I’m doing is wrong. I am not trying to be wise or diplomatic for the sake of some great good. I’m practicing deceit in order to ‘protect’ myself.
But it does seem that Christians find ‘lying’ to be a concept that has some grey around the edges. Over the years, I’ve observed otherwise descent and devout Christian folks practicing forms of business, leadership, and relational maneuvering that could easily be categorized as intentional deceit. The preferred label, however, is ‘wisdom’—and it is sometimes defended by these familiar words of Jesus,
Matthew 10:16 (NASB)
16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
The word translated “shrewd” here is phronimos, and according to the NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon, it’s range of meaning is intelligent, wise, prudent, mindful of one’s interests.
Given the Bible’s uncategorical condemnation of deceit and lies, what do you make of this? What does Jesus mean by being “shrewd” and how does this translate into our lives? Does this indicate that some form of deceit is sometimes justifiable for some ends—whether in ministry, business, or personal affairs? Or what is the difference between shrewdness and deceit?