Today Pastor Choi talks about one experience we all have: lies. Through the story of Abraham, he points out that the root cause of Abraham’s lies was lack of trust in God. He exhorts the congregation to learn a lesson from Abraham: put trust in God daily in everything so that we may walk uprightly before God (Psalm 84:11).
Following is a summary of his sermon:
Distrust and Lies
Genesis 12:10-20 New American Standard Bible (NASB)
10 Now there was a famine in the land; so Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there, for the famine was severe in the land. 11 It came about when he came near to Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “See now, I know that you are a beautiful woman; 12 and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. 13 Please say that you are my sister so that it may go well with me because of you, and that I may live on account of you.” 14 It came about when Abram came into Egypt, the Egyptians saw that the woman was very beautiful. 15 Pharaoh’s officials saw her and praised her to Pharaoh; and the woman was taken into Pharaoh’s house.16 Therefore he treated Abram well for her sake; and gave him sheep and oxen and donkeys and male and female servants and female donkeys and camels.
17 But the Lord struck Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai, Abram’s wife. 18 Then Pharaoh called Abram and said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me that she was your wife? 19 Why did you say, ‘She is my sister,’ so that I took her for my wife? Now then, here is your wife, take her and go.” 20 Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him; and they escorted him away, with his wife and all that belonged to him.
Let me begin with a pop quiz: who was the first human being in the Bible ever told a lie? The answer is Cain. He was the eldest son of Adam and Eve. He was a farmer. His brother Abel was a shepherd. In due time, when both of them brought their offerings to the LORD, He accepted Abel’s but not Cain’s. Out of jealousy and anger, Cain killed his brother. Later, when asked by God where his brother was, he said he didn’t know (Genesis 4:9).
Everyone lies: The Bible declares that everyone is a liar (Romans 3:4). Although many of us don’t want to believe that, somehow we know deep in our heart that’s a truth. Throughout human history, people lied. They did. They do. They will. East and west, old and young, male and female, we all lie. It is not surprising (and strangely comforting) to discover in the Bible that even the people of faith lied, too. In fact, that’s why I love and trust the Bible. God’s Word doesn’t hide or embellish. It calls a spade a spade. When the people of God lied, it says they lied. It never justifies lying. Rather, it painfully reveals both the good and ugly side of God’s people.
Here’s the list of the people in the Bible who lied: Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, Saul, David, even Peter the apostle (he denied the Lord three times in one night). It tells me that we are all human and no one is perfect except Jesus who was sinless and never told a lie. Everyone else lies from time to time.
My own records: Looking back at my own life, I remember several instances when I lied. Five times I lied when I was a child under the age of ten. Twice I did after I became a believer (I was over 30 years old, too!). The last one I did was twenty three years ago. One day a member of the church whose car was very old asked me if I got a new car. I said instantly “no” in order not to hurt her feelings. I told her a half-truth, but still a lie (it was a replacement car under the Lemon Law in NJ yet still a new and upgraded one).
Definition: I looked up the definition of lie: “Statement that one knows to be untrue” (Oxford). Here’s my own extended definition: to lie is to say two different things with one tongue: to tell only what benefits and omit the rest. To alter the facts due to fears, desires, or feelings such as hate, anger, and etc.
The name Abram: Some of you may wonder why the name of Abraham in today’s text is spelled Abram. It is not a typo. Today’s story took place long before God gave Abram a new name Abraham. Abram means an exalted father. Abraham means a father of multitude. God first called him, when Abram was 75 years old. God didn’t give him the new name until he was 99 years old. So, whenever you read his name Abram in the Bible, that means, he wasn’t given a new name yet (same with Sarai).
The life style of Abram: one more information to help you understand the text better. The life style of Abram wasn’t a settled one. He was not a farmer. He was a shepherd. He had to be on the move always. He had hundreds and thousands of sheep and cattle. He had to move around wherever he could find grass and water for his flock. Keep in mind too that he was a foreigner—someone from outside who had to be on his toes always. The Bible recorded three places Abram traveled over 25 years.
- Egypt (Genesis 12:10-20). Abram was 75 years old when God called him out of his homeland Ur (modern day Iraq–close to Kuwait border) and commanded him to go to the land of Palestine. He traveled over 1,000 miles to Palestine. There was a famine in the land. He had to move. He kept going south until he reached Egypt. Note here that he was a foreigner (non-documented and even illegal in today’s terms) in the land of Egypt. He had enough challenges, but the biggest trouble was that his wife Sarai was so beautiful that he was afraid the king in the land would kill him and snatch his wife. So, Abram came up with a self-protection mechanism (v. 11- v.15); pre-meditated, well-planned-out, and mutually agreed between him and his wife: let’s call you my sister then they would not kill me. Sarai his wife consented. At first, it seemed working. His life was spared, he was rewarded with lots of gifts, and Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace to be his wife. Later, before it got too late, God intervened and revealed the truth to Pharaoh. This was Abram’s first lie. Did he learn a lesson here? Not really, because he repeats the same mistake twenty four years later.
- Mamre (Genesis 18:1-15). Move your time table 24 years. Abram was 99 years old. He was back in Palestine. God appeared to him and gave new names to him and his wife—Abraham (Genesis 17:5) and Sarah (Genesis 17:15). God also gave him a promise of a son by Sarah. Later, God appeared to him again and reassured of the son by Sarah (Genesis 18:10).
- Gerar (Genesis 20:1-18). Two chapters later, Abraham was still 99 years and residing in Gerar (capital city of Philistines). He was still a foreigner. He faced the same challenge and the same fear—the fear of losing his life due to his beautiful wife. So, he dug out the same old plan, self-protective action (v. 11-v. 13), pre-meditated and mutually agreed plan. The old plan almost worked twenty four years ago in Egypt until God intervened. Sarah condoned again. The truth of the matter was she was indeed Abraham’s half-sister— the same father but different mother (Genesis 20:12). Abraham was telling the half-truth. He just hid that she was his wife. The king of the land took Sarah to be his wife. Once again God intervened. This time Abraham learned a lesson: trust in the Lord, not in your own wisdom.
We would be gravely mistaken if we called Abraham a coward. Rather, we can learn a lesson or two from his mistake and apply it to our lives.
- God always reveals the truth: nothing will stay hidden forever. We’d better not believe that our lies will stay hidden forever. Lies are never good for God’s children in the first place, and they never work, either. Choose to tell the truth.
- Lack of trust in God causes us to lie. Consider Abraham’s case again. When he first lied under the hostile circumstance in a foreign land, it is very understandable: he was afraid to lose his life. Perhaps, under the same condition, I would have lied, too. But, when he did it again twenty four years later, that made me realize that Abraham lacked trust in God (for the same matter God tested him later: near sacrifice of his own son Isaac—Genesis 22). He forgot that the LORD was his shield (Genesis 15:1). Twice he lied because he was afraid of losing life. Twice God convinced him that it was God who protected him from threats, not his own plan. Had he chosen to tell the truth from the very beginning, I am convinced, God would have protected him. Remember God’s way is always better than our ways. His wisdom is far greater than ours. What’s the lesson here? Put trust in God every day in everything. Learn to trust in God to avoid lies. E.g. In 1985, God helped me to secure my visa to America through honesty.
- Family: parents, how do you help your kids to stay away from lying? Do not choose the “fear of punishment” approach (e.g. my personal experience: the fears made me lie). Rather, take the “assurance and love” approach. Reason with them. Explain the consequences of lies (that is, the disappointment to the parents).
- Self: none of us may ever be completely free from lying. However, when it happens, we repent and ask for forgiveness. At the same time, to avoid more lying in the future, we can train ourselves to tell the truth and to describe things accurately without omitting. We can also surround ourselves with trustworthy friends for accountability. E.g. When I was accepted to the Korean Air Force officers program by an administrator through an unsolicited practice of favoritism, a Christian friend gave me a verse in the Bible Psalm 84:11, which reads “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord gives grace and glory; No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” So, I ended up going to Army as a private and that helped the person who was wait-listed because of me to enroll.
Are you in a situation you feel you have to lie? Don’t be afraid. Trust in God and tell the truth. God is your shield. He will keep you and protect you. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. Amen.