What is your definition of truth? How often do you bend the truth to avoid trouble? Do you find yourself shielding truth from someone because you think it will protect them?
In this week’s Bible Study, taken as an excerpt from the NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible, we’re looking at the marriage of Abram and Sarai from Genesis and the consequences of the poor choices that were made, and lies that were told, that affected their relationship and their future. This week’s study is geared for our readers who are married, but we think even our readers who are single will appreciate these Scripture readings that reinforce that “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is important in all communication. We are all prone to believe and tell lies, even to ourselves, and we daily face a tempter who is the “father of lies” (John 8:44) and wants us to forget the danger of lies.
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Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you. – Abram to Sarai, in Genesis 12:13
The Need For Respect
Life can present a married couple with tough choices. Do you take the promotion at work if it means traveling with business associates who have no scruples? Do you keep having lunches with your friend of the opposite sex if it makes your spouse uncomfortable? The list goes on.
So it was with Abram and Sarai. Famine in the land put them into crisis: move or die of starvation. So the couple relocated to Egypt to find food. But Abram made some poor choices there. Sarai was so beautiful that she was sure to attract the attention of Egyptian rulers who wouldn’t hesitate to kill Abram to get his wife. So Abram told his wife to say she was his sister. After all, it was partly true; Sarai was his half sister (see Genesis 20:12). And Abram did need to survive for the covenant promises of God to come true, right?
According to the prevailing pattern for women in that era, Sarai had no say about the arrangement. But how do you think she felt about a husband who feared more for his own skin than for hers? Could you trust your spouse after being misrepresented as someone you’re not? That kind of betrayal can drive a wedge between a couple that only widens over time.
In the movie Love Story, Oliver tells his girlfriend, Jennifer, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Maybe that’s what Abram thought after telling a lie about his wife. Sure enough, the Egyptians praised her to Pharaoh, and Sarai was taken into Pharaoh’s palace. But God rescued Sarai out of that difficult situation by afflicting Pharaoh and his family with such serious diseases that Sarai was sent back to her husband—and Abram even got to keep the livestock and servants he had acquired in the process.
One problem with never saying you’re sorry after wronging your spouse is that you are then inclined to repeat your behavior. That’s exactly what happened. Some years later, Abram once more passed off his wife as his sister, this time to Abimelek, the king of Gerar (see Genesis 20). And years after that, Abram and Sarai’s son, Isaac, did the same thing with his wife, Rebekah (see Genesis 26). So one wrong left unresolved between a couple only succeeded in perpetuating the abuse, threatening the very calling of Abram to be the father of many nations.
The poor choices that Abram made affected his marriage and his future. A Christian married couple can learn from Abram’s life that choices have long-lasting ramifications. To deal with poor choices, own up to any misuse or disrespect of each other. Deal openly and quickly with the sin; come clean with each other and the Lord, and ask each other and God for forgiveness. Then resolve not to repeat the offense.
Questions for Discussion
1. Read Genesis 12:10-13 and Genesis 20:11-13: Did Abram actually lie about his relationship with Sarai? If he didn’t lie, then why does it feel like he did?
- Do we tell half-truths today? Think about this scenario: Someone you know calls and your spouse answers the phone. He/she tells you the persons name but you don’t want to talk to them. What do you ask them to say?
- Has our culture downplayed the telling of half-truths? What do we call them today?
- Read Matthew 5:37. Can we apply Jesus words to the half-truths we tell on a regular basis?
- What would life be like if we didn’t tell any of those culturally acceptable lies?
2. Given the cultural and gender roles of his time, should Abram have apologized to his wife for his treatment of her? What might have happened as a result?
- Why do you think Sarai went along with Abrams story?
- At one point, it looked like she was headed for a seriously compromising situation with the Egyptian leaders. If you were Sarai would you change your story?
- How have gender roles changed, and would a husband receive the same response from his wife today?
3. Can telling all the truth in a situation also be a form of using each other? How far should we go in telling the truth?
- Read Ephesians 5:25-32. Did Jesus always tell the truth? How should a husband love his wife based on this passage?
- Read Genesis 26:1-7 and Exodus 34:6-8. It is obvious that Abram’s own son told the same story as his father. By telling half-truths and white lies, are we setting our kids up to make the same mistakes?
- What does the Bible say about Satan, “the father of all lies” in John 8:44?
4. Do we agree or disagree with the statement “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”?
- What can happen to a marriage when one partner does not tell the truth?
- If we have withheld a truth from our spouse, should we always come clean?
- Read Hebrews 8:12. If a spouse confesses to a half-truth, or an all out lie, how should the spouse respond?
- Read 1 Peter 1:15-17. Knowing that we are called to be like our Heavenly Father, why is it so difficult to forgive when someone confesses to withholding or altering the truth?
What are your thoughts on the danger of lies, even white-lies and half-truths? Based on this discussion, what commitment will you make to “speak the truth in love” to your spouse or in your other relationships?
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Devotion by John R. Throop from the NIV Couple’s Devotional Bible (pg 14). The new NIV Couples’ Devotional Bible offers a full year of Bible readings and devotions to help you build your relationship on the one foundation you can count on: God’s Word. The 260 weekday devotions and 52 weekend devotions – written by bestselling writers, marriage therapists, and pastors – cover many topics, including communication, work and career, intimacy, money, fears, setting goals, parenting, forgiveness, and more. These devotions are a great way to gain wisdom from the Lord and open dialog with your spouse.
Original study questions prepared by Fred Bittner, FaithGateway Bible Study curator.