The Truth Matters
We are up to the ninth commandment in our series.
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour.
Which is actually not as simple as it sounds.
Imagine that you are a Christian who is living in Syria. ISIS has come to your door because they have discovered that you are a Christian. Then they ask you if you know the whereabouts of other Christians. Knowing these Christians will have to go through the same fate that you are about to face you say “no” … despite the fact that you are very aware of many Christians in your area. Is that a false testimony?
Something a little closer to home.
Your five year old comes to you and asks that question which all parents dread … “Where did I come from?”. You look at your child and think that they are too young for this so you say, “You came from your mother’s tummy”. They go away happy. You go on hoping they won’t ask for another 10 years. Is that a false testimony?
There is a whole host of situations we could start exploring. What does it mean to give a false testimony? Thankfully there are many resources which can give us some good answers to these questions. One of these answers comes from a document called the Heidelberg Catechism. It was written in 1563 by people who wanted to teach new Christians the truths of the faith. In helping people to understand the ninth commandment it says this:-
Not bearing false witness means …
that I never give false testimony against anyone,
twist no one’s words,
not gossip or slander,
nor join in condemning anyone rashly or without a hearing.
Rather, in court and everywhere else,
I should avoid lying and deceit of every kind;
these are the very devices the devil uses,
and they would call down on me God’s intense wrath.
I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it.
And I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbour’s good name.
That is a helpful definition because it is a definition that flows out of the Scriptures.
We are transformed people – transformed in Christ.
And that transformation is even able to effect the way we speak … from the old to the new.
We do this because we know the destructive power of false testimony.
But just in case we need more convincing let me give you a bit of a visual example.
Let’s imagine that this box of paper represents the whole life of Joe Bloggs. The green represents all the good aspects of his life and the red represents all the bad.
The first person Joe Bloggs talks to during the day is Mrs Half-truth. In this conversation Joe talks about himself and reveals four good (green) aspects of his life and three bad (red). Unfortunately Mrs Half-truth only takes in the parts of the conversation which really interest her … which just happen to be the real juicy bad things. So she leaves that conversation with one good and three bad pieces of information about the life of Joe Bloggs. This is the information which she uses whenever people ask here about Joe Bloggs.
You want to know something about Joe Bloggs? Well let me tell you exactly what he told me … (out comes the paper).
Has Mrs Half-truth lied? Technically no she hasn’t … but she hasn’t told the full truth either. She has twisted the words which Joe spoke to her by leaving out part of the whole conversation. This has caused her to give a false testimony against Joe … which is against the will of God.
Now its later in the day and another person hears about Joe Bloggs. Her name is Miss Busybody and she is talking to Mrs Half-truth about Joe … Joe is not even there. As Miss Busybody and Mrs Half-truth talk a fire starts … Miss Busybody now has some great ammunition about Joe. Whenever she runs into people and she feels like giving the conversation a little spark she says,
That is all very interesting, but let me tell you what I heard the other day about Joe Bloggs. If I tell you, you have to promise not to tell anyone else … (out come the pieces of paper, all red because who is interested in good stuff anyway?).
Miss Busybody is a gossip and a slanderer. She has deliberately – and even forcefully – passed on information about Joe which …
a) she has not confirmed if it is true or not.
and b) is not the business of others to know anyway, even if it was true.
As she gossips and slanders she implants into the minds of those around her a totally false picture of who Joe is and what he is like. This has caused her to give a false testimony against Joe … which is against the will of God.
Now a third person comes into the picture. We will call him Mr Self-righteous. He doesn’t really know who Joe Bloggs is as they have only passed each other at church … but he is one of these people who has heard what Miss Busybody said about Joe. On the basis of what he has heard Mr Self-righteous immediately decides that this Joe character is not really worth getting to know and he better steer clear of him.
On what basis has this judgement been made?
(Hold up three pieces of red paper) … only on what he has heard.
Joe’s character has effectively been assassinated by Mrs Half-truth and Miss Busybody. And Mr Self –righteous is tied up in the triad by judging without hearing or just cause. This has caused him to give a false testimony against Joe … which is against the will of God.
Three very different, but interrelated, situations are described here.
They are different because of the tactics involved.
They are interrelated because of the effect they create.
False testimony against Joe has taken place … which is against the will of God. So now the hard question … do you see yourself in any of these people? It’s the old nature, which we should have taken off, rearing its ugly head once again. Or it might be the old nature coming back in patches, sometimes we fight against it and resist the temptation, at other times the nature of the information is just so “important” that we can’t resist passing it on.
Now you might see yourself there. And you might be feeling a little guilty. So now you need to make some excuses. What is the common excuse with respect to false testimony?
“Well everyone does it!”.
Everyone judges without hearing the whole story first.
Everyone speaks against their neighbour.
Really … everyone is doing it so you are going to as well?
Aside from the fact that that is really poor logic let me put a text on the screen for you.
You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Do you want to be involved in the activity of speaking the native language of the devil on the basis of the logic that “Everyone is doing it?”.
It is important to think about these issues – and to be transformed – because if Satan is involved you can be sure he is up to some sort of scheme to destroy the Christian Community.
Put yourself back in the shoes of Joe Bloggs for a moment. Eventually he is going to realise that someone has been telling lies, or just partial truths, or even just leaving a little innuendo – but the damage has been huge for it has damaged his reputation.
Of course he will begin to wonder whether a friend he trusts did this to him, or someone else. But it’s almost impossible to find out who is the cause because people who spread gossip seem to have an unwritten "honour" code.
The code says something like “You can pass on the information, but don’t reveal your source because that would be wrong”.
Furthermore Joe begins to fear what else may have been passed around. He no longer confides in his friends. Many of his relationships change for the worse because others may not fully believe the gossip, but they do believe "Where's there's smoke there's fire." If he tries to straighten out the facts he looks defensive, and even less believable.
And what happens to those who passed on the information. Very rarely do they confess or admit what they did and why they did it. The far more usual route for people with loose tongues is to stifle the voice of conscience. "Oh, it wasn't a lie. Most of what I said was right. Anyway everyone else does things like this.”
And even if Mrs Half-truth, Miss Busybody and Mr Self-righteous did seek forgiveness the fact is that their words have gone out and their words have made an impact.
(Pick up box and start throwing out pieces, especially the red ones)
As the reading from James 3 makes so vividly clear: False witness and gossip is powerful in its effects.
It’s like a bit in a horse’s mouth.
It’s like a rudder on a ship.
It’s like a bush fire which is very difficult to stop.
When you make false witness you can taint someone to such an extent that people will always remember what you said against another.
No wonder the wording of Colossians 3:9 is so strong, Do not lie to each other since you have taken off the old self with its practices. Lying and false witness is part of the life which Jesus has come to set us free from … we have to be people who fight against its effects. Why? Because
When we are in Christ we are people who have been transformed from an old way of life to a new way of living. That transformation means we must be free from lying and false witness.
In Christ, and through the strength of Christ, we have the antidote. The antidote for false witnesses is the truth. Earlier we quoted from John 8:44 about the devil being the father of lies. In that same context in verse 32 Jesus also says, You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.(John 8:32)
Jesus and anything false cannot coexist.
If we honour Jesus as our Saviour then we too will come to a point where we will detest our tendency to shade the truth.
The presence of the Lord in your life will put a brighter gleam on the light of truth, and we will come to love it.
Putting on the new self which is being renewed in the knowledge of the image of its Creator.
But make no mistake ... Loving the truth … encouraging candour … valuing openness … it all comes with a price. Truth forces us to face facts, to face our neighbour as they really are, to face ourselves in all our twisted perversity.
For someone like Mrs Half-truth it means listening to the whole conversation, not just listening for titbits of gossip.
For someone like Miss Busybody it’s about recognising that that not everyone has the right to know everything about everyone else.
For someone like Mr Self-righteous it’s about not being so gullible as to think you can form a true opinion of someone without actually meeting them.
It is about us showing the same respect to everyone else as we would for ourselves.
Doing what we can to lift up and guard the good name of others.
Let’s put that in more practical terms.
What would happen if someone shared juicy gossip with you and you were to say, "Look, have you brought that up with them? If not, you shouldn't be telling me. And what's more we really should be letting them know what you are saying about them."
What would happen? False testimony … and twist of words … and gossip … and slander … and judging without a cause .. would dry up over-night.
The twisted words of Mrs Half-truth would be untwisted.
The gossip of Miss Busybody would go out.
The hesitancy of Mr Self-righteous would be diminished.
But more than anything else we would see an increased sense of freedom.
The freedom to enjoy our relationship with God to its fullest.
The freedom to feel safe sharing some of the deepest issues of our heart because we know it won’t be spread around.
The freedom to be honest about our struggles, our doubts and our fears.
The freedom to take off the masks we so often put on – even when we are in Christian fellowship.
To know the truth and be set free – no matter how ugly that truth might be at times.
That is true freedom.