THE TEN COMMANDMENTS (9)
When we looked at the Tenth Commandment, ‘Do Not Covet’, I`m sure we were all convicted of how far we fall short of God`s perfect standard, especially in the area of coveting. We come now to the ninth commandment and let us see again how we measure up to God`s righteous requirement. Let us remind ourselves of it, remember I`m tackling them in reverse order.
“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.” (Ex 20:16)
We have to remember that this was given to a nation who had just been freed from slavery and were about to enter into a land that God had promised to give them. They were to be his special possession and to be a light to the nations. In the Bible God is often spoken of as the ‘God of truth’, (Isa 65:15) so His people must reflect that truth in all their dealings, especially regarding each other. To testify falsely means lying in court. God knew that Israel could not survive unless its system of justice was incorruptible. We know that unless communities are built on truth then they will not last long. Sadly, today truth seems to be missing from much of society. As this quote shows, ‘If you lie to people to get their money, that`s fraud. If you lie to them to get their votes, that`s politics.’ I remember the MP, Robin Cook, being vociferous in his criticism of Tony Blair who he accused of lying about Iraq. Cook didn`t seem as passionate about speaking the truth to his wife regarding his long term relationship with his secretary. Lying is a way of life for some people. I worked with someone who told so many lies that somebody said of him ‘He couldn`t lie straight in bed.’ Is this what has become acceptable, that ‘the end justifies the means’, or what is convenient?
Let us look at how the dictionary defines ‘Slander’, when used as a noun – defamation, falsehood, malicious fabrication, false spoken statement, distortion, misrepresentation. When used as a verb means to defame, malign, vilify, revile, smear, sully, soil, besmirch. In other words when we slander we are making a false declaration about another. We are lying! It is interesting how many different words we use instead of simply saying we are lying. Here are a few: fabricate, tell untruths, fib, embellish, embroider, romance, stretch the truth, fiction, invention.
To try and prevent a malicious charge being brought against someone, God put a safeguard in place.
“One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offence he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse a man of a crime, the two men involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against his brother, then do to him as he intended to do to his brother. You must purge the evil from among you. The rest of the people will hear of this and be afraid, and never again will such an evil thing be done among you.” (Deut 19:15-20). Perhaps if this was adhered too today the courts would not be so packed.
Was it written only for court cases or has it got wider implications. In the list of things that God hates, found in Proverbs, lying is mentioned twice. “There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Prov 6:16-19).
Although, in Deuteronomy, God had put in place a law that sought to protect the innocent from malicious false charges, people still found ways to get round it. Even kings, who should have been above this, were not, as in the case of King Ahab and Naboth`s vineyard. Ahab had asked Naboth to exchange his vineyard for another plot of land, something that God had forbidden, so Naboth refused. Ahab went home and sulked. Jezebel asked why, and when he told her she devised this plan. “Seat two scoundrels opposite him and have them testify that he has cursed both God and the king. Then take him out and stone him to death.” So the elders and nobles who lived in Naboth’s city did as Jezebel directed in the letters she had written to them. They proclaimed a fast and seated Naboth in a prominent place among the people. Then two scoundrels came and sat opposite him and brought charges against Naboth before the people, saying, “Naboth has cursed both God and the king.” So they took him outside the city and stoned him to death.” (1 Kings 21:10-13).
We should be honest in our private dealings as well as in our public statements. Why, when God hates lying and false testimony, and the commandment forbids it, do we still do it? It is important that we find out. Let us consider some of the things Jesus said. When he was debating with the Pharisees, who had accused him of being from the devil, this was his reply. “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matt 12:34-37). He was even more forceful to those who wanted to kill him and showed exactly who was behind all their speaking. “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44). Satan, who told the first lie that caused the first couple to sin, is behind all lying, but we are all responsible for what we say. This doesn`t excuse us. We can`t pass the buck. It is telling us where and how it happened. The Fall has caused us to have a heart problem. “For out of the HEART come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt 15:19). As with all the commandments, we don`t sin because someone does something to us, we sin because of our heart condition. It starts from within us.
Let us look at what James says about tongue. “We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check. When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:2-12). The tongue can destroy as surely as killing does. A malicious lie, idle gossip, half-truth, insincere flattery, remaining silent, even a raised eyebrow or shrugged shoulders, can be a form of bearing false witness and can violate this command. Certainly it can hurt or even destroy another person. Let me pick up on the matter of remaining silent. How can we be guilty of breaking this commandment by keeping silent?
Listen to what John Ruskin says. ‘The essence of lying is in deception, not in words; a lie may be told in silence, by equivocation, by the accent on a syllable, by a glance of the eye attaching a peculiar significance to a sentence; and all these kinds of lies are worse and baser by many degrees than a lie plainly worded; so that no form of blinded conscience is so far sunk than that which comforts itself for having deceived because the deception was by gesture or silence, instead of utterance.’ Or A W Pink put it like this, ‘The scope of these words is much wider than is generally supposed. The most flagrant form of this sin is to slander our neighbours–a lie invented and circulated with malicious intentions. Few forms of injury done by man to another is more despicable than this. But equally reprehensible is tale-bearing where there is no careful investigation to verify the evil report. False witness may be borne by leaving a false impression upon the minds of people by a mere hint or suggestion. “Have you heard about Mr. ———–?” “No.” “Ah! Well, the least said the soonest mended.” Again, when one makes an unjust criticism or charge against another in the hearing of a third party, and that third party remains silent, his very silence is a breach of this ninth Commandment. The flattering of another, exaggerated eulogy, is a false witness.’ Again Matthew Henry says ‘The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour’s good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation. Bearing false witness against him, or in common conversation slandering, backbiting, and tale-bearing; making what is done amiss, worse than it is, and in any way endeavouring to raise our reputation upon the ruin of our neighbour’s. How much this command is every day broken among persons of all ranks!’
The problem with telling a lie is that once it is said it cannot be unsaid. It has influenced someone`s opinion, usually detrimentally, and will colour their judgment of that person. Especially if it is a half truth. It has been rightly said, ‘A lie which is all lie may be met and fought outright, but a lie which is a part of truth is a harder matter to fight.’
Barclay said there are different kinds of lies: ‘The lie that comes from malice, of fear, for profit, of silence, of boasting, the lie which is a half-truth, the lie to self, and the lie to God.’
It has been said, ‘There is no word of the Decalogue more often and more unconsciously broken than the ninth Commandment’. King David knew how ‘It is easy to tell one lie, but not easy to tell just one lie’. He thought that nobody knew about his adultery with Bathsheba, and even though he tried by elaborate means to conceal it, God knew and sent Nathan to confront David. When David came before God in repentance, he fully realised what God desired, ‘truth in the inner parts’, not just looking good on the outside but a heart governed by truth. In his book ‘First Principles of Prayer’, Martin Luther said, ‘Don’t lie to God’. No wonder that David prayed, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Ps 141:3). How we need to pray that same prayer!
When the destruction was about to come upon Jerusalem and Jeremiah was telling the people why God was angry with them. Here was one of the reasons, “For every brother is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer. Friend deceives friend, and no one speaks the truth. They have taught their tongues to lie; they weary themselves with sinning.” (Jer 9:4-5). God did not turn a blind eye to this behaviour then, so He certainly will not today. In fact, a judgment far more serious than the destruction of a city is spoken of in Revelation when He judges those outside His kingdom. “There shall by no means enter it (the kingdom) anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” “The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” (Rev 21:27,8) “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” (Rev 22:15).
It is no good our saying, ‘That`s the Old Testament we are under grace’.’Remember God wrote these commandments on tablets of stone so they would endure. He still desires truth in the inner man. When Jesus summed up the Law into the two greatest commandments, the second one, “To love you neighbour as yourself”, must surely include the ninth commandment.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit and to the Apostles the judgment on them was swift. It shows us that God has not changed, He still hates lies and liars. There is always the temptation to tell a ‘white’ lie or not tell the truth for fear of hurting someone. Do we “testify falsely” by leaving something out of a story, telling a half-truth, twisting the facts, or inventing a falsehood? God warns us against deception. Even though deception is a way of life for many people, God’s people must not give in to it! Seeing the different forms that the lie takes, we immediately realize that the secret is honesty, an honesty that is worked at with all our might, because it’s so easy to deceive ourselves, to seek to deceive others, and even to try to deceive God by seeking to conceal things from Him. Yet, God knows our hearts, He searches them and detects our thoughts, as well as our words and our deeds. How can we keep this commandment, especially when everyone around us is breaking it?
Paul, when writing to the Corinthians, after giving a long list of actions that exclude people from the kingdom says, “nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God”. (1 Co 6:10-11). If we are Christians we have put on Christ who said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. (John 14:6). That is the only way we are able to be truthful and to live truthful lives. The Holy Spirit has come to reside in our hearts to enable us to withstand the temptation to sin by lying. He is changing us from the inside by putting God`s, “laws in their minds and write them on their hearts”. (Heb 8:10). Although He is changing us we still have the responsibility to, “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbour, for we are all members of one body”. (Eph 4:25). “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices”. (Col 3:9).
It isn`t always easy to be honest in every situation but it is far less complicated if we follow Jesus` instructions and, “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matt 5:37). You may be ridiculed and laughed at by the world. I`m sure you have heard the expression, ‘You`re too honest for your own good!’ Whatever that means. Jesus warned us, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12). The prophets spoke the truth to the people as they heard it from God. We should not be surprised that our honesty seems so strange to the world since we are no longer of this world. We are citizens of heaven but have to live here till we either go to be with Him or He returns.
Peter instructs us, “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit.” (1 Pet 3:10). If we want to fulfil the second great commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves then truth must be the essence of all our dealing. As Paul says “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Co 13:6).
If we spend all our time around people who lie, are dishonest, or gossip it will be hard not to fall to their level. But if we spend time in the presence of Jesus`, who is ‘the truth’, and his people then truth will become more natural to us. Lying and any other evil speaking should have no place in the life of a Christian. Rather we should take Paul`s advice, “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.” (Php 4:8).