We know lying is a sin (Leviticus 19:11; Proverbs 12:22). But what about those “little white lies” that involve an ever-so-slight stretching of the truth? Do the small lies matter, or are they harmless? What if telling the truth might hurt someone?
Lying is defined as “making an untrue statement with the intent to deceive.” A white lie is an untrue statement, but it is usually considered unimportant because it does not cover up a serious wrongdoing. A white lie is deceptive, but it may also be polite or diplomatic at the same time. It could be a “tactful” lie told to keep the peace in a relationship; it could be a “helpful” lie to ostensibly benefit someone else; it could be a “minor” lie to make oneself look better in some area.
Some white lies are common: lying about one’s age, for example, or the size of the fish that got away. We live in a society that conditions us to lie by telling us that, in many situations, lies are justified. The secretary “covers” for the boss who doesn’t want to be disturbed; the salesman exaggerates the qualities of his product; the job applicant pads his résumé. The reasoning is, as long as no one is hurt or the result is good, little lies are fine.
It is true that some sins bring about worse consequences than others. And it is true that telling a white lie will not have the same serious effect as, say, murdering someone. But all sins are equally offensive to God (Romans 6:23a), and there are good reasons to avoid telling white lies.
First, the belief that a white lie is “helpful” is rooted in the idea that the end justifies the means. If the lie results in a perceived “good,” then the lie was justified. However, God’s condemnation of lying in Proverbs 6:16–19 contains no exception clause. Also, who defines the “good” that results from the lie? A salesman telling white lies may sell his product—a “good” thing for him—but what about the customer who was taken advantage of?
Telling a white lie to be “tactful” or to spare someone’s feelings is also a foolish thing to do. A person who consistently lies to make people feel good will eventually be seen for what he is: a liar. Those who traffic in white lies will damage their credibility.
White lies have a way of propagating themselves. Telling more lies to cover up the original lie is standard procedure, and the lies get progressively less “white.” Trying to remember what lies were told to what person also complicates relationships and makes further lying even more likely.
Telling a white lie to benefit oneself is nothing but selfishness. When our words are motivated by the pride of life, we are falling into temptation (1 John 2:16).
Little white lies are often told to preserve the peace, as if telling the truth would in some way destroy peace. Yet the Bible presents truth and peace as existing together: “Love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19). Tellers of white lies believe they are speaking lies out of “love”; however, the Bible tells us to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Sometimes telling the truth is not easy; in fact, it can be downright unpleasant. But we are called to be truth-tellers. Being truthful is precious to God (Proverbs 12:22); it demonstrates the fear of Lord. Furthermore, to tell the truth is not a suggestion, it is a command (Psalm 15:2; Zechariah 8:16; Ephesians 4:25). Being truthful flies in the face of Satan, the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Being truthful honors the Lord, who is the “God of truth” (Psalm 31:5, ISV).