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Do Not Bear False Witness - Reflect God's Love in All You Do and Say


This morning we conclude our sermon series on the 10 Commandments as week after week, we studied each commandment one by one. And throughout this series, we’ve made a bunch of foundational claims.

First, we set out to show that the 10 Commandments, rather than being restricting and confining, were given and continue to be given to a people who have been set free, so that they might live free and be free. And should we obey them, challenging as they at times might be, we’ll find real freedom.

We’ve also shown how the 10 Commandments work in concert with the Greatest Commandments of Jesus, to love God and love our neighbors, and serve as a guide or roadmap towards that end.

We’ve also shown at various times how when we break one of the 10 Commandments, that we’re often in some way breaking the first, worshiping someone else or something else more than God himself.

And even more, as we wrap up this series, there’s one more claim that we must make, one more thing we must see, and that is each of the 10 Commandments reveals to us something about the heart and character and work of God that we are called to then reflect in some way.

In other words, we Sabbath, we work and rest, because the God who created the world in six days and rested himself on the seventh. We honor our fathers and mothers, we honor the God given authority placed in our midst, because we honor a greater authority in God even more. We are called to not murder because God breathed life into this world and into every single image bearer that has walked this earth. We are called to not commit adultery because God is a faithful, covenant-keeping God who makes and keeps his promises. We do not steal because God gives generously, giving even of his very self and invites us to do the same.

And finally, coming to our commandment for today, we do not bear false testimony against our neighbor, because as we’ll see this morning, our God is a God whose every word is true, who is true to His very core.

All in all, each of the commandments reveals to us something about the heart and character and work of God that we are called to then reflect in some way.

And so, this morning, for the final time, we’ll look at the ninth, “Do not bear false testimony against your neighbor.”

I’ll be honest, this message ended up going a very different direction that I thought it would go. Because, maybe I’m alone in this one, but throughout my life, I have always thought of this commandment as saying, “Do not lie.” And that’s not wrong per se, scripture does tell us not to lie and not lying does get at the heart of this commandment and yet, I was reminded by someone a couple weeks ago, that’s not quite what it says. For as it was read by Barb, just moments ago, it says “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Which as we’ll find out shortly, is a little different, or rather, a little more specific than simply “Do not lie.”

And so, for today, we’ll raise and answer three questions. First, “What does it mean to not give false testimony against our neighbor?” Second, “How and where does this play out in my everyday life?” And Third, “Why should I? Why is this all so important?”

First, “What does it mean to not give false testimony against our neighbor?”

To be clear, the ninth commandment is indeed about lying, and yet the commandment seems to emphasize a specific kind of lying, and that is lying about or speaking falsely about our neighbor. To speak falsely or lie to our neighbor’s detriment or at their expense. In other words, the ninth commandment is particularly social and communal in nature.

In fact, notice the very language being used here. Do not give false testimony, or in other translations, do not give false witness. Testimony, witness. The language here is that of a courtroom, where witnesses testify in a court of law.

And back in the day when the 10 Commandments were given, and really up until about a 100 years or so ago, eyewitness testimony was everything, it was the only thing you really had in order to decide a trial or dispute. No video cameras, no audio recordings, no fingerprints, no DNA evidence to influence or inform a judge or jury. All you really had was eyewitness testimony, with answers to questions such as, What did you see? What did he say? What did she do? Administering justice, a fair trial hinged upon whether or not someone would give false testimony against or a true testimony of their neighbor.

In fact, in so many ways, the ninth commandment here serves as the sibling of the third, to not take the name of the Lord in vain. And that in the same way that we should not speak of or represent Christ in a way that is false, we should not speak of our neighbor falsely either. And in the same way we should speak of and represent Christ well in both word and deed, we should also speak highly of our neighbor as far as it is possible to do so.

Now chances are, it’s not all that often that you and I are called up front to testify on the witness stand, and yet, in a much broader way, as followers of Jesus we serve as his witnesses, as his representatives, as his ambassadors, wherever we go.

And therefore, one of the questions you and I need to wrestle with is, “How are we speaking of our neighbor? How are we speaking about our families, our co-workers, our neighbors, our fellow church members, our online friends and enemies? Are we speaking about them in ways that are accurate and true, or in ways that are false and uncharitable? Even more, to emphasize the grand positive in this commandment, are we speaking about them and representing them in ways that are kind and gracious and honoring?

And here we can now turn our attention to that second question, “How and where does this play out in my everyday life? Here we’ll identify some specific application.

In my estimation, a lot of these moments happen when the person we’re talking about isn’t even in the room.

You’re with your kids and they tell you that they’re frustrated with something dad did recently. Truth is, you’re kind of frustrated with dad as well. So what will you say?

You and your boss are talking about another co-worker who is underperforming. Maybe highlighting your co-worker’s incompetency would ultimately be to your benefit. So what will you say?

Maybe you're frustrated with a decision that’s been made here at church and you find yourself in a conversation with other church members over coffee about this same thing. So what will you say?

In these moments, I think asking ourselves one question can go a long way, and that is, “Would I say what I am about to say if I was with this person face to face?” That’s probably not a bulletproof question that will work in every situation, but I know for me, it can go a long, long way.

To illustrate this in a bit of a humorous way, about 10 years or so ago, The Tonight Show, based in New York City, set up this stunt where they encouraged New Yorkers to boo a cardboard cutout of Robinson Cano, the former New York Yankee and all-star second baseman, who was returning to Yankee Stadium for the first time since unpopularly leaving the team to sign a massive contract with the Seattle Mariners.

And yet, what these fans didn't realize was that the real Robinson Cano was standing behind the cardboard cutout, waiting to surprise the unsuspecting and booing fans.

The reactions were both funny and predictable. They all booed and shook their fists and said some other things I probably can’t repeat here.

But then Cano would all of a sudden appear from behind the cutout. They each went from shaking fists to shaking hands from booing to hugging. One person went from saying, "Go home!" to "Hey, welcome back to New York!" in a single breath.

Put all together, the gimmick was a simple way of illustrating the things we are comfortable saying about someone when they are not in the room as opposed to when we are with them face to face.

Similarly, when you’re in those group settings when someone is speaking falsely or poorly of another, you can speak up and say, “Hey, I don’t think that’s a fair representation of that person.” or “I experienced the situation differently.” Or even, “Have you shared this feedback with so and so directly?”

This is part of the profound wisdom and genius of the bible’s conflict resolution plan. From Matthew 18, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” In other words, keep that fire as small as you can for as long as you can, between the two of you. And then, include and inform others where needed.

In addition, to that discerning question of, “Could I imagine saying what I’m saying about this person face to face?” You may also want to ask yourself, “Who’s benefiting from this conversation?”

I love that verse in Ephesians, verse 29, it says, 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Is what I’m saying helpful in building others up? Or is the information I divulge about someone helping those who are called to serve them serve them better? Or does it simply benefit me to get what I’m saying off my chest? All of these can be questions to consider.

Here’s one other application of this. Our Thursday morning book group was really struck by this example and guidance from Jen Wilkin’s book, 10 Words to Live By, where she’s talking about a particular family dynamic, some of you may know this well. Say you had a difficult relationship with your parents growing up, and now you’re a parent yourself, and therefore you’ve got a grandparent/grandchildren relationship. So what do you say to your kids about grandma and grandpa? Here’s what Jen says,

“Giving your children the gift of relationship with a grandparent unweighted by the baggage of your own childhood can be a way to show honor … and then she says, “sometimes we honor our parents by demonstrating forgiveness in what we leave unsaid.”

To be clear, maybe there are things we need to let our kids know about their grandparents, and yet sometimes we demonstrate forgiveness in what we leave unsaid.

Or as Paul says here in Ephesians in verse 32, Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Finally, one more life application example that will lead us right into our third and final question. This example is a bit more geared to our students but I’m sure it in some way translates to all of us.

Say you’ve been invited to a party at your friend’s house this upcoming Friday night and on Wednesday one of your classmates, who you know or suspect has not been invited, asks you, “Hey, what are you doing Friday night? Want to get together?” Ah! What do you say?

Chances are, you’ve been in this pickle before, and if chances are, if you’re like me and never really was Mr. Popular growing up, maybe you’ve been on the other side of this one too. So, what do you say?

Sure, you don’t want to lie. You also want to find a way to say something true in a way that is loving and gracious and honoring. So maybe you bluff and say, “I don’t know.” Or maybe you say, “I’ve got plans already, maybe another time” or maybe you even say, “I’m going to the party at Amanda’s. Maybe we can get together next weekend.” All of those might be fair ways to respond.

And yet, what I love about the commandment, “Do not bear false testimony against your neighbor” is that it invites us, it compels us to go one step further. Because to once again put this commandment in the grand positive, as it says in our Heidelberg Catechism, “I should do what I can to guard and advance my neighbor’s good name.”

And so to do that, maybe you go to Amanda or whoever is hosting the party, and you say, “Can we invite Josh to the party on Friday night?” And Amanda says, “No way! He’s so weird!” And in that moment you can say, “Hold on, you don’t know him like I do, he’s actually really great. You just need to get to know him a little bit. I think it’d be great to have him there.”

Maybe that helps, maybe it doesn’t. Maybe you hang out with Josh next weekend. Maybe you sit with him at lunch. Maybe you invite him to church, to youth group. Because here’s what’s great about the church – here there is always, always room for 1 more. Do what you can to guard and advance your neighbor’s good name.

Which now brings us to our third and final question “Why should we be diligent, why should we strive so hard to not speak falsely of or lie about our neighbor? Why should we go above and beyond in speaking about them in ways that are true and gracious and honoring?”

There are many benefits I suppose. Sure, churches would be more unified, our judicial system would be more fair and just, the media landscape and political discourse would be far more tolerable, family members would be given more honor, and online conversations would be edifying for a change.

But of course, there’s more. As we said at the top, every commandment tells us something about the person, the work, the character of God, and how in this instance we reflect the God who is true and communicates what is true at every turn.

And yet, even still, there’s more. For there was once one, who at great expense to himself, had false testimony presented against him, so that we might gain a better name.

It was nothing other than false testimony that was presented to Pilate and against Jesus on that Friday long ago. The crowds accused him, a poor, Jewish man, for falsely claiming that he was God when in fact he was.

Jesus’s own disciple Peter, put it this way, in his own New Testament letter, that 23 When they hurled their insults at him (that is, Jesus), he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.

Friends, when we entrust ourselves in the one who suffered on our behalf, we are given a better name.

From guilty to innocent, sinner to righteous, enemy to friend, child of the covenant, sons and daughters of the Most High King.

And it’s from this new name, this new identity, that the law, once and for all, can be put in its proper place.

No longer does it condemn us. No, Jesus has given us a new name, to redeem us from the curse of the law.

And it certainly doesn’t save us. Only Jesus can do that by his grace.

Instead, the law guides us in our life with Christ, not that we might earn God’s love, but to reflect it all the more.

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