Summary: This study takes a look at the Ten Commandments from a New Testament perspective.

Do not bear false witness

Exodus 20 gives the commandment not to bear false witness, but the details of this command are given in Exodus 23:1-3

"You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness. 2 "You shall not follow a crowd to do evil; nor shall you testify in a dispute so as to turn aside after many to pervert justice. 3 "You shall not show partiality to a poor man in his dispute.

Most people understand that this commandment warns us not to give a false testimony against another, but there is much more to this commandment than testifying against another person. This passage speaks against gossip, leading people to believe a lie, following a crowd to do evil, following the culture who perverts justice and even showing partiality against someone. Let’s break these down into our common lives to see how this commandment applies to the New Testament Christian walk.

Unrighteous Witness

“You shall not circulate a false report. Do not put your hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.”

I once heard an illustration that compared our words to a tube of toothpaste. It is easy to get the toothpaste out of the tube, but impossible to get it back in. Once we launch our words, if they are destructive, the damage is done. Even if you apologize, the wounded trust does not heal. We can do many things to people that can be rectified, but tale bearing (or gossip) creates wounds that can last a lifetime. Violated trust is very difficult to regain if it is even possible to fully regain. The Bible says that an offended brother is harder to be won than a city (Proverbs 18:19). The Bible also warns us not to violate the trust of another and also not to trust a gossip. Look at these passages from Proverbs:

Proverbs 11:13 A talebearer reveals secrets, But he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter.

Proverbs 18: 7 A fool’s mouth is his destruction, And his lips are the snare of his soul. 8 The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, And they go down into the inmost body.

Proverbs 20: 19 He who goes about as a talebearer reveals secrets; Therefore do not associate with one who flatters with his lips.

The vast majority of the time gossip is based on false words, either by being an outright lie or an embellishment of the truth – which is still a lie. Once when I was a bit younger, I experienced the slander of my reputation. I had a friend whom I knew growing up that went to a woman’s house in the middle of the night with another friend of his. My name was spread as being one of the people involved because I was a childhood friend of one of the young men who were part of this incident. One of the women in the church heard this gossip at a beauty salon owned by my friend’s aunt and found out the rumor. Before long, everyone in the church knew ‘what I did’ except me. I was not able to persuade the whisperers that I didn’t even know what they were talking about – much less could I convince the church gossips that I wasn’t involved. It was very frustrating having people make comments about your behavior when the true problem was that certain women were excitedly spreading slander and none of them even knew what they were talking about. It wasn’t until after I left this church that I found out the details of this incident and why I was assumed to be a participant.

This is how gossip works. Good news travels at a snail’s pace but gossip spreads like a wildfire. James 3:5-6 says it well:

5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.

Once you start that fire, it is very, very difficult to put it out. We should heed the warning of Proverbs 10:18-19

18 Whoever hides hatred has lying lips, And whoever spreads slander is a fool. 19 In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.

Why does the Bible call the talebearer a fool? Because one of the basic commands given by God is, “You shall not bear false witness”. The gossip will be judged for their words – in fact, Jesus warned us that we will give an account for every word spoken. It is unfortunate that human nature is quick to believe something bad about someone and immediately attempts to spread the bad news. How would we do as a church if we were as eager to spread the good news about Jesus Christ?

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