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“This is the first false thing that has been in my mouth.”

(Spurgeon preaching after being fitted with a false tooth.)

What a blessing it would be if this was true of all public figures including preachers.

It seems that the news recently has been full of stories of falsehood from Number 10, the BBC, the royal family and the church.

Not all lies are equal. Lies come in various forms.

· Error — a lie by mistake. The person believes they are being truthful, but what they are saying is not true.

· Omission — leaving out relevant information. Easier and least risky. It doesn’t involve inventing any stories. It is passive deception and less guilt is involved.

· Restructuring — distorting the context. Saying something in sarcasm, changing the characters, or the altering the scene.

· Denial — refusing to acknowledge a truth. The extent of denial can be quite large — they may be lying only to you just this one time or they may be lying to themselves.

· Minimization — reducing the effects of a mistake, a fault, or a judgment call.

· Exaggeration — representing as greater, better, more experienced, more successful.

· Fabrication — deliberately inventing a false story.

One of the trends of the past half century is that many in public life have lost the sense of valuing truth or feeling the need to engage in speaking the truth.

There has been a proliferation of what the former Cabinet Secretary, Sir Robert Armstrong described as being “economical with the truth.”

How do you tell if a preacher is lying?

If we could reliably answer that question, our lives would be lie-proofed.

Preachers are not fitted with internal lie detectors, nor do their noses grow each time they are less than candid. How long is your nose?

Hearers of sermons need to learn how to exercise discernment.

I believe that we need to give preachers the benefit of the doubt but not let them pull the wool over our eyes.

There’s no internal lie detector fitted to preachers but Jesus does suggest that who we are will ultimately become clear. He said, “By their fruits you shall know them”. (Matthew 7:20)

Preachers can tell lies but they can also be a lie. A great deal hangs on the truthfulness of the preacher. If the preacher has deceived us, who can we trust?

Falsehood undermines trust and can lead the hearer to doubt everything including the faithfulness of God.

How do preachers avoid lying?

Check the facts: Don’t pass on any piece of information unless, to the best of your knowledge, you know it to be true.

Reflect on your motivation: Why do people lie? Often it is an attempt to make us look better than we actually are.

Eliminate the Spin: Take the use of percentages. If a preacher says that their church has grown by 150% in six months be aware that there’s a difference of scale between the church having a membership 6 and one having a membership of 600.

Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

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