Tell the Truth

The 9th Commandment

The ninth commandment is, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

Most would summarize this commandment as “don’t lie,” but in reality it contains much more than this. It implies “Tell the truth.” Ever stop to think about why God wants us to tell the truth? Is it simply so that our situation will work better? Certainly that’s part of the reason, but ultimately it’s because God loves the truth. He loves it because it’s an aspect of Who He is, (“I am the Truth”) and therefore it is sacred! We have a moral obligation to love the truth, and consider it to be sacred. When we lie, or do not live by the truth, we do much more than harm each other – we positively assault God!  Need I say that it implies that there is such a thing as real, objective and absolute Truth. Need I say that this Truth is Holy? When we lie, suppress, ignore, refuse to stand up for, alter, or deny the truth we are being immoral and offending God.

We have to also remember that the Ten Commandments are themselves “heads of the Torah” or in other words, the 9th Commandment is a summary statement covering a broader area of morality.

Knowing this, the Westminster assembly divines wrote the shorter catechism questions 77-78 to tell us: “The ninth commandment requires the maintaining and the promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor’s good name, especially in witness bearing” and it “forbids whatsoever is prejudicial to truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbor’s good name.”

What the Ninth Commandment Requires of us:

Aside from the basic assumptions that it makes concerning God and His sacred truth, the 9th Commandment requires some general things and some particular things of us. [i]

“The general requirement of the ninth commandment is maintaining and promoting truth between man and man. We do this by speaking the very truth to, and of one another, from the heart.” “These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; do not plot evil against your neighbor, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the LORD.” Zechariah 8:16 and “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” and Ephesians 4:25 “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart”

“The particular requirement of the ninth commandment is in reference to our own, and our neighbor’s good name.” At first it may be difficult to see how this is required; but if you think about the legal context of the command, it becomes clear. Someone who bears false witness does so in order to give their neighbor a bad name. God wants us to be witnesses who testify truthfully at a trial, or any other time, regarding the behavior/character of our neighbor.

It should also be fairly obvious that God actually wants us to maintain and promote the good name of every human being as far as possible, including our own good name. “All ought to maintain and promote their good name, especially believers; chiefly magistrates and others to whom public trust is committed. Also ministers unto whom is committed the charge of souls.”

But how do we do this? According to Vincent, we maintain it by deserving it and defending it.

We should strive to deserve a good name before men. “Although we can do nothing to deserve a good name in the sight of God, yet we may deserve a good name in the sight of men, by being good, and by doing good. In order to deserve a good name among men we must be holy, humble, harmless, wise, loving, and patient, meek, just, righteous…”

It’s worth mentioning that some well meaning, intelligent Christians disagree with this. They think that they ought not to maintain or promote their good name, or defend themselves from false accusation, but rather be silent because Christ was silent before his accusers. They forget that his silence was a part of a specific plan, and the set foreknowledge of God; That plan was for him to die by there hands. Our situation is not His situation.  God’s plan for us is to live among them as His witnesses.

Why should we maintain and promote the good name of ourselves and others?

1st) For the glory of God. It is everyone’s principle duty to aim at this, and they ought to design their own honor only in subordination to this. Mat 5:16, 1 Pet 2:12

2nd) A good name is a precious thing. “It renders men more useful to one another, causing mutual love unto, and confidence in one another, whereby their mutual concerns and advantage, both civil and spiritual, are exceedingly promoted.” It seems to me that many Christians today do not understand this truth. Many don’t seem to care about their honor or the honor of their brothers and sisters, or the honor of their LORD. “Well I guess I’m just a big sinner, saved by grace” they say, and leave it at that. But is that attitude in accordance with God’s word?

“We may defend the good name of ourselves and others by:

1. By clearing ourselves from false aspersions, and vindicating our innocence the false accusations of our adversaries. Acts 24:10-13

2. By speaking sometimes in commendation of ourselves, but only when there is need, and that very sparingly, modestly, and humbly, and unwillingly, always abasing ourselves, giving God all the glory for anything in ourselves that is praiseworthy. Eccl 7:1, Prov 22:1

*It is not good, as some Christians do, to say only negative things about yourself, and never say any positive things. This is presenting a half-truth, which is a whole lie.

3. By looking after, and having a good esteem the worth and the good things which are in our neighbors. Phil 2:4, 1 Thess 5:13

4. By liking, loving, desiring, and giving thanks to God for our neighbors’ good name and fame. Rom 1:8

5. By a ready receiving of a good report concerning our neighbors and rejoicing in it. 3 John 3, 1 Cor 13:6

6. By deafening the ear against, and discouraging tale-bearers, backbiters, and slanderers who speak evil against their neighbors. Ps 15:3, Prov 25:23.

7. By grieving at their faults, which expose them to disgrace, with desires and endeavors to promote their amendment and the recovery of their reputation. 2 Cor 2:4”

Doesn’t love tell us that if we know of someone who has fallen into disgrace, we should be grieved for them, help them mend their behaviors, and try to do whatever we can to help them recover their good name? I thank God for the people in my life that have been willing to love me like this.

8. By giving them the honor they deserve when we speak of them, speaking well of them behind their backs, freely acknowledging their gifts and graces, and good things, and preferring them in honor before ourselves. 1Peter 2:17, 3 John 12, 1 Corinthians 1:4, 5, 7, Romans 12:10, Philippians 2:3

9. By defending their reputation and good name and trying to prevent or stop any evil or false report concerning them, and to vindicate them so far as we can; especially when we are called before a magistrate to bear witness of their innocence so far as it is consistent with the truth. 1 Samuel 22:14,

10. By concealing and covering their faults and infirmities when we may, with unwillingness to expose them to disgrace; in the spirit of meekness endeavoring to restore them when they are overtaken and fallen into sin. 1 Peter 4:8, Matthew 1:19, Galatians 6:1,

11. By reproving them privately, and before others only when there is need, and that with respect unto their condition, and remembrance of what is praiseworthy in them.  Matthew 18:15, 16; Revelation 2:2, For example, “You know son, you’ve been doing a great job lately getting yourself dressed in the morning; However, you still need to brush your teeth.”

What the Ninth Commandment forbids:

“The Ninth Commandment forbids whatever is prejudicial to the truth, or injurious to our own or our neighbors good name. There are two general prohibitions in this commandment:

First, whatever is prejudicial to the truth: “This includes all falsehood and lying whatsoever, whether it be lies to make mischief, like false accusation of others; or lies to make gain, like falsifying our word, over-reaching our neighbors for advantage to ourselves; or lies to make wonder, as in the inventing of strange or false news; or lies to make sport or jokes; or lies to make excuse, such as in all lies for the covering of our own or others faults.” Colossians 3:9, Revelation 21:8

It may sound overly philosophical to say as Josiah Royce says that a liar is “a man who willfully misplaces his ontological predicates.”[ii] Lying is as simple as saying the opposite of what one thinks or believes to be true. “Speaking truthfully” is making our speech conform to our concept of truth. Ex: Saying “red” when you think “green” is a lie. It may be quiet different than “Speaking the truth” which is making our speech conform to reality. Speaking what we believe to be true does not guarantee truthful speech. We could be in error in our concept of the truth. Some distinguish between “moral” truth – speaking consistently with what we believe, and “physical” truth – speech that lines up with reality. There has been an ancient debate in philosophy regarding if and how man can objectively know and “speak the truth” at all. It was a reference to that debate when Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Little did he know that the Truth was standing right in front of him. In the case of extreme sophistry or skepticism like you see in the popular postmodern thinking the distinction b/w true and false is actually denied, or puts truth utterly beyond the reach of man.[iii]

Many people today see ultimate truth as relative or even unattainable. But God says that truth is absolute. We need to conform our thought lives and our speech to it. The more consistent we are with God’s Truth the more consistent we are with reality, and blessings inevitably flow. The opposite is to do as Francis Schaeffer put it “When you go against the grain of the universe you get splinters.” Remember: All of public and private reality belongs to God, and is a part of His Truth. Truth is one of God’s attributes and therefore it is sacred and absolute. The implications of this are huge, and far too much to delve into here, but suffice it to say that there is only one correct worldview: the Biblical Christ centered one. By necessity therefore all other worldviews should be at some point inconsistent with reality and fatally flawed. A large part of the apologetic endeavor as Francis Schaeffer has pointed out is to lovingly show our lost friends how their worldview doesn’t hold water.[iv]

We live in a culture dominated by pragmatism. Pragmatism teaches us to value things by only their effectiveness at achieving the goals we set. Deep theological training, teaching, or preaching is tolerated only in so far as it is seen to work. But what happens when the goals we set fall short of the command and purposes of God, or our observational powers fall short of the depths of its workings?

2) The second general thing that the ninth commandment forbids is: “Whatever is injurious to our own, or our neighbor’s good name: This includes:

a) doing anything that is a just cause of an evil report, and may prejudice our reputation among men, such as committing adultery, theft, fraud and any kind of baseness and wickedness which is not only dishonorable to God, but also dishonorable to ourselves. Proverbs 6:332,33; 1 Samuel 2:24, 30.

b) All boasting and vain glory, and that whether we boast of a false gift, or those gifts which we really have, whereby we really debase and render ourselves contemptible in the eyes of God, and of the more judicious Christians. 1 Corinthians 13:4,5; Proverbs 25:14, Matthew 23:12

c) bearing false witness against ourselves, in accusing ourselves of things we are not guilty; or by denying the gifts and graces that God has given us, endeavoring to lesson our esteem so that we might identify with those from whom we have been redeemed.

d) imprudent and unnecessary telling or displaying of all real weaknesses, leading to the scorn of the wicked and ungodly.”

There is so much that needs to be said here regarding using gifts and graces; but I’ll restrict my words to considering that Vincent points out “bearing false witness against ourselves.” Not only is this true externally in a court of law, but in all relationships, and especially in ourselves.

M. Scott Peck says that “sanity is a commitment to reality at all costs.” Sanity is costly because reality about ourselves can be painful. It can be painful to honestly admit and face our glory or our depravity. True acceptance is only possible when we are truly known by another, even if not fully. That’s what makes intimacy so difficult for so many men and women.

In addition to all this the 9th Commandment also forbids:

a. Perjury, or false swearing and false accusations, or anywise bearing false witness our selves, or suborning  others to bear false witness against our neighbor. Zechariah 8:17; 2 Tim 3:1-3; Ps 35:11; Proverbs 19:5; Acts 6:12,13

b. Judging, evil speaking, and rash censuring of our neighbors for doubtful or smaller matters, especially when we are guilty of the same or greater faults ourselves. Acts 18:4; Mat 7:1,3; Romans 2:1; James 4:11

c. Scoffing, deriding, reviling and reproachful speeches unto the face of our neighbors, and all backbiting of them which may wound or detract from their due reputation. Ps 1:19,20; Ps 15:1,3; Lev 19:16; 1 Tim 5:13; 2 Cor 12;20;

d. Raising or taking up evil reports against our neighbor, without good proof. Exodus 23:1; Ps 15:3; Prov 29:12

Doesn’t love tell us that this is the case?

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.” 1 John 5:2-3 (NKJV)


[i] Thomas Vincent was a contemporary of the Westminster Assembly of Divines. He wrote and excellent book called, “The Shorter Catechism Explained from Scripture.” In this article I have taken what he wrote and attempted to modernize, expand, comment on, and apply it to situations from today.

[ii]Josiah Royce was an influential American philosopher who lived from 1855–1916. His major works include The Religious Aspect of Philosophy (1885), The World and the Individual (1899–1901), The Philosophy of Loyalty (1908), and The Problem of Christianity (1913). He was a contemporary of William James. Source: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/royce/

[iii] P.915 The Great Ideas: Vol 3, Mortimer Adler ed. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Brittanica;1952), p915

[iv] Francis Schaeffer implemented a technique he called “taking the roof off” of the unbelieving worldview, in which he performed a reductio ad absurdum showing the logical impossibility and self-contradictory nature of other worldviews.

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About Gary Stiltner
The LORD Jesus is the foundation, focus and purpose of my life. My God has truly blessed me, and done great things for me! I am loved by a wonderful wife, Elisabeth, and we have four beautiful children. Even though I'm a very sinful and weak person, His blood has washed me whiter than snow, and his love has made me filled with eternal happiness! I want to share His grace and truth with every person I that come into contact with. I received my BS (Molecular Biology) at Louisiana Tech University, and my M.Div at RTS in Charlotte, NC. I've had the privilege of serving as an outreach and evangelism pastor, a church planter and now as a teacher. I teach worldviews and apologetics, chemistry and physics to high school seniors. I also enjoy preaching at various churches as the LORD gives opportunity.

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