Summary: The Ninth Commandment teaches that believers have been transformed from an old way of life to a new way of living, therefore our lives must be free from lying and false witness.
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.