“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (NIV)
At one level, this commandment is clear. In a law court context, don’t be a false witness. Lying can cause a miscarriage of justice. However, we usually apply this teaching more widely to cover truth telling in all situations.
And problems arise. There can be extreme situations when we might withhold truth or even mislead. The Allies routinely and deliberately lied to the Germans about their own plans during the war. The Bible itself records some lies without clear condemnation of them.
When someone asks us how we are, we may not tell the truth in reply. If our child or grandchild asks if their drawing resembles an elephant, we may agree that it does even in the absence of floppy ears and a trunk.
And truthfulness is more than factuality. Years ago, a train plunged off a bridge in the USA with heavy loss of life. A railway watchman was asked if he had waved his lantern to warn the train driver of a washed away bridge. He said he did so. What he did not say was that the lantern he waved was not lit and so was useless. He stated a fact, but stated it out of a deceitful heart and so was not really truthful.
So telling the truth is not as simple as it seems. But it still matters. Elsewhere, the Scriptures urge us to be truthful because we are members of one another. If we can’t trust one another we can’t enjoy community with one another. And truthfulness is not just about guarding our tongues, but guarding our hearts.