St. Paul's Lutheran Church

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The Commandment: You shall not bear false testimony against your neighbor.

In the seventh commandment we considered the neighbor’s property and possessions. In the eighth commandment we consider the neighbor’s reputation and honor. In its simplest terms, this commandment calls us to intentionally work to protect our neighbor’s reputation in public and among the courts, that we not lie in court or call a man guilty who is innocent so that he be punished. But this commandment also extends to family, community, work, and church.

For it is the Lord’s desire that His children have a good reputation, a good name, an upright character, and that we should not try to strip or neighbor of these things before his family, his community, his church, or before the civil government. To strip a man of his honor before the judge will necessarily lead to punishment, and if the man is innocent and is wrongfully punished for our false witness, then we have done him grave harm.

Where this commandment is most often abused is regarding godly and faithful preachers of the Word. Godly preachers and Christians often bear upon their backs such labels as heretic, apostate, wicked, blasphemous, and shameful, not because they do anything deserving of such false judgments, but because they are rejected by the world and those who follow the world. Likewise, the true heretics, apostates, wicked and blasphemous preachers who distort the Word of God for their own gain, they are called holy and just and Christian because the world hate the truth but loves deceit. As God’s children, we must be all the more careful not to speak falsely against God’s preachers because God threatens judgment against such false testimony. Our words do damage, and we must learn to control our tongues and not speak falsely against those whom God gives us for our good, or against anyone the Lord calls our neighbor.

A third way this commandment is broken, which should unsettle us all, is when we speak lies or gossip behind people’s backs. Bearing false witness is the work of the tongue, and the tongue is the most wicked of the bodily organs, as our Lord says through St. James. Whenever our tongue speaks a word which is intentionally meant to hurt or harm our neighbor’s reputation, we have lost control of our tongue. Gossip, that is, talking behind our neighbor’s back, is the worst of an unbridled tongue because it has not the ability to stop, and like the telephone game, the words that roll off of one gossiping tongue flow to the next, getting worse with every gossip, and when all is said and done, easily paint the neighbor in a light completely untrue, undeserved, and leaves him destroyed. What Christian should wish this on any of his neighbors, especially those of the faith??

Now, we must not fear speaking the Scripture to the neighbor in order to correct or admonish him to right living. This isn’t bearing false witness but bearing the true witness – the Word of Christ – to the neighbor. If the neighbor sins, we have an obligation to speak the truth in love and draw the neighbor to repent. Bearing false witness would be using the neighbor’s sin against him so that his reputation be harmed in public. This is called slander in the court and should also be considered unacceptable in the house of God.

Bearing false witness, therefore, is speaking against the neighbor anything that cannot be proven, either in the court of law or the court of public opinion, or speaking against the neighbor from ignorance or a lack of understanding regarding the Word of God. And if we cannot bridle our tongues and not speak falsely against our neighbor, we should not speak at all. Instead, we should learn to speak the truth in love, to serve our neighbor with our words, to protect his reputation when possible, and to consider his reputation and honor above our own. For this pleases God and brings great blessings and the unity of faith and fellowship to His holy church.

Prayer: Dear Lord, You allowed the human race to speak horrible and wicked things against you, yet you did not say a word. Help us to bridle our tongues so that we do not speak unkindly against our neighbor but serve him with words of honor and forgiveness. In Your name, Amen.