Ten Commandments Series
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour – Speaking the truth
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Exodus 20:16
John Wesley: This commandment forbids, Speaking falsely in any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising and designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to the prejudice of his reputation; And (which is the highest offence of both these kinds put together) Bearing false witness against him, laying to his charge things that he knows not, either upon oath, by which the third commandment, the sixth or eighth, as well as this, are broken, or in common converse, slandering, backbiting, tale - bearing, aggravating what is done amiss, and any way endeavouring to raise our own reputation upon the ruin of our neighbor's.
We are near the end of our series looking at the commandments of our God.
Jesus, as always, has been and is, our guide. He says “Do not think I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with… not until the end of all things.”
So… the Law stands.
Jesus does say that He has come to fulfill the law and we have looked at what that means – we have seen that of the 638 laws in the Old Testament, they can be identified as ceremonial (cleanliness) laws, ritual laws, and moral laws.
Ceremonial and ritual laws have been fulfilled in Christ – you don’t have to circumcise your boys, women who are menstruating can attend worship, you don’t have to confess your sins to me.
So, many of the laws are fulfilled and we are not bound by them. We can keep them, we can circumcise our sons if we want to, but we don’t have to.
The moral law remains in place in it’s totality. The 10 commandments and many other commandments, for example, “Love your neighbour…” these moral laws stand, even in 2012.
Now, the Law is not there to show us how to be saved, it is there to show us how to live as Gods people in Gods world.
Gods moral laws show us how to live ethically, they reveal moral behavior to us. I don’t think anyone would disagree that our nation has lost it’s moral compass… and we lost that compass a long time ago… a long time ago.
Never mind current affairs, many of us grew up in a nation where huge numbers of people were denied things, purely because of the colour of their skin.
We live in a nation where people who should have spoken out, remained silent while others put tires on peoples bodies and set fire to them.
We live in a nation where women and children were rounded up while their men folk were out at war, and placed in inhuman conditions in concentration.
This part of Africa where we live has been without a moral compass, or perhaps it’s better to say, has gradually lost it’s moral compass over many years.
I think, and I am not alone in this, that South African’s have forgotten how to act with moral integrity – we see it in government, we see it in industry like banking and mining, we see it in companies that print and supply schools books.
I saw it this week in our police service. Chris and I went to visit one of our saints in Thokoza. She said we would struggle to find her home because of missing street markings and numbers, so she asked another of our saints to meet us at the BP garage just down the road.
There was a police block just outside the Church and the car in front of me, which had a black driver, was stopped, I was flagged through.
We met the saint who is black, as the garage and followed her.
We went through another police roadblock and they stopped her, and told me I could go on.
I was embarrassed, why stop her in her nice care and not stop me in mine.
We came to a third police roadblock as we followed her…. They pulled her over, flagged us on. Each of these roadblocks just seemed to be checking licenses, number plates, and drivers licenses.
When we arrived, I told her how embarrassed I was (I was also angry, but didn’t tell her that) She said ‘Before… after… still the same… nothings changed.’
Gods laws impart morality and the more God is mocked in the way we treat the poor, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the foreigner, the more He is mocked as those in power and as those of us who have the ultimate power, the Holy Spirit in us, the more He is mocked by the way the poor, hungry, sick, vulnerable are treated by those of us with POWER the more immoral we become.
Gods laws impart morality. So what is the morality that underlies the command: ‘Do not bear false testimony against your neighbour.’
I suggest it is this: Speak the Truth.
Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth… always.
Who to? Your neighbour.
Who is my neighbour? Jesus was once asked this question and His answer was… every other person on the planet.
Speak the truth to everyone.
As says in our reading: ‘Let your yes be yes and your no be no.’
One of the areas where I think our immorality as a nation is clear is that we lie so easily.
Our most senior police officer was asked: ‘Did you receive a bribe from that gangster?... No!’ The evidence proved otherwise.
How many of us, when confronted by a beggar, say ‘I don’t have anything for you…’ but the evidence would prove otherwise.
We don’t like to say: ‘No’ – so we soften it.
Truth telling has never been what might be called an endearing virtue. The world seems to consist of 2 types of people – those who believe in principles like truth telling, and those who believe in people and lay more stress on manners, and courtesy and kindness.
There are still too few who emit both types in themselves and love truth and people equally well, or almost equally well. There are men and women who know the meaning of the text ‘Speaking the truth in love’ (Eph. 4:15)
Pascal said: “If all people know what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.”
This is a terrifying, though exaggerated truth.
This command speaks into what we call “skinner”…. Gossip.
Do not bear false witness against your neighbour.
Speak the Truth.
So as we’ve seen with all the other commandments there is an underlying morality behind Gods laws which shows us how to live as Gods people in Gods creation. There is more to ‘do not give false testimony’ than simply do not give false testimony.
Speak the Truth.
‘I require truth in the inward parts’ says God in Psalm 51
It is truth as opposed to falseness, it is true witness as opposed to false witness which imparts moral integrity, which is something which can only come from the inward parts.
Truth is so important that throughout the scriptures we find it stated that God is truth, that Jesus is the Truth, that the Holy Spirit is a spirit of truth.
Truth is so important because it sets free, says Jesus. Untruth, falseness, false witness; imprisons.
When I say: ‘You look so good in that’ when inwards I can think: ‘You look terrible in that’ I am bearing false witness to you, about you.
When we say (and this is what the incident with the roadblocks reminded me of)… ‘This is a new South Africa’ when actually, in the matters that really count, Godly morality, we are as immoral as ever before,.........we bear false witness to each other, to ourselves and to the world.
God’s moral commands impart and define our morality as God's people living in God's world.
This command is so important because in John's gospel, Jesus speaks about truth and lies and tells us that the lies in you and me, the false testimony, come directly from the father of lies. As we think of some of the other commandments, Satan is not the father of all murder, anger, the father of our adultery, lust, stealing. When we have false witness, lies in our midst, we have the very devil in our midst’s.
Do not bear false witness. Speak the Truth.
Jesus shows us of course, as He has shown us in all the other commands, how it is possible to live a life that does not bear false witness, that speaks the truth… particularly what many would call unkind truth. So He could look people in the eyes and say ‘you hypocrite, you viper, sons of snakes… so you are right when you say you have no husband, you have had 5 husbands and the man your living with now is not really your husband.’ Plain and simply, He spoke the truth, no false witness and in living the way He did He showed us just how abundant life can be, He showed us life in all its fullness and best of all He invites us into His life, into His way and into the Truth which is embodied in Laws of His Father who is our Father in Heaven.