Exodus 20:26 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
The title of this post is borrowed from chapter nine of Dr. Albert Mohler’s excellent treatment of the Ten Commandments, Words From The Fire. Mohler makes the case that the worst possible lie we can tell is about God. If our theology is wrong we are, in essence, lying about God.
As we think about our responsibilities as it relates to the Ninth Commandment, we understand that not only should we not bear false witness against God, but we also should refrain from bearing false witness against our neighbor. In the broader sense, the Ninth Commandment forbids lying, but the primary focus of the commandment is witness. Consider question 112 of the Heidelberg Catechism:
Q: What is required in the ninth commandment?
A: That I bear false witness against no man, nor falsify any man’s words; that I be no backbiter, nor slanderer; that I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly, or unheard; but that I avoid all sorts of lies and deceit, as the proper works of the devil, unless I would bring down upon me the heavy wrath of God; likewise, that in judgment and all other dealings I love the truth, speak it uprightly and confess it; also that I defend and promote, as much as I am able, the honor and good character of my neighbor.
The Heidelberg Catechism’s explanation of this commandment clearly forbids lies and deceit, but does so in the context of protecting the good character of my neighbor. God is Truth and cannot lie, and His children should always tell the truth. That includes telling the truth about my neighbor.
This command is especially important when engaging others in social media. It is easy to forget this commandment when passionately defending a theological or political position. There are times, of course, when it is right and profitable to engage in debate. Jude urged his readers to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (v. 3). However, while contending for the faith, Christians should not bend, overstate, or twist the truth. Simply tell the truth and let the facts speak for themselves.
How should the Ninth Commandment govern our interaction with others?
- Never Compromise Truth. Psalm 86:11 reads, “Teach me thy way, O Lord, that I may walk in thy truth; unite my heart to fear thy name.” Jesus prayed for his disciples, “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth” (John 17:17). God is truth, his word is truth, and he requires his children to be truthful. Solomon wrote, “Buy truth, and do not sell it” (Proverbs 23:23).
- Speak The Truth in Love. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “Rather, speaking the truth in Love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:15). The context of this passage is unity in the Body of Christ. In verses 2 and 3 of the same chapter, Paul admonishes the Ephesians to “bear with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Truth is spoken not to win an argument or for the purpose of tearing down our brothers and sisters in Christ, but to edify the body so that it may grow and “build itself up in love” (Eph 4:16).
- Refrain From Gossip and Slander. David wrote, “O Lord, who shall sojourn in thy tent? Who shall dwell on thy holy hill? He who walks blamelessly, and does what is right, and speaks truth from his heart; who does not slander with his tongue, and does no evil to his friend, nor takes up a reproach against his neighbor” (Psalm 15: 1-3). A gossiping and slandering tongue has ruined the reputation and good name of many. Gossip and slander is a violation of the Ninth Commandment. Christians should be absolutely certain that what is spoken about others is a veritable witness.
- Realize That Not Everyone Who Disagrees With You Is a False Prophet. In a zealous pursuit of truth, it is tempting to label persons with whom we disagree as heretics or false prophets. Indeed, false prophets were a danger in the first century church and they remain a danger today. The Apostle Paul gave false teachers no quarter: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6-9). Men who pervert the gospel of Christ should be dealt with quickly and severely lest they lead the people of God astray. However, some bloggers are quick to ascribe the label of false prophet to people with whom they disagree over tertiary matters of methodology. For example, it makes me cringe to see a young pastor stand to preach while wearing an un-tucked shirt, jeans with holes, and flip-flops, but that doesn’t make the young man a false prophet.
The Ninth Commandment mandates that we speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. May we commit ourselves never to bear false witness against our neighbor by slander, gossip, falsely impugning motives, or blatant lying. May our speech be governed by the Ninth Commandment as well as the words of Ephesians 4:29 – “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear.”