Today we’re looking at the Ninth Commandment:
You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
Originally this is spoken in a legal setting. Do not lie about so-and-so. In the ancient world there was so such thing as forensic experts. There was no C.S.I. Jerusalem. The testimony of others was critical. Yet, then, just as today, finding multiple witnesses without personal attachment was hard to do. Everyone is personally attached—it’s difficult to remain neutral. That’s one reason I tell young couples not to get their parents involved in a marital conflict because parents have a hard time not taking sides with their child. If you need a mediator, parents are usually not the best choice.
The same is true in legal matters. Don’t bring in a family member who has a bias. Often times, you will see family backing up something they know to be wrong simply because they cannot go against family. You need to find an impartial person who is not going to give false testimony. People who give false testimony against others assassinate your character.
The character assassin is a crafty ninja. He goes around and starts telling untruths about others. He pulls out his ninja swords and cuts people down with his lies and deceit. God says, “This isn’t the way I want my community to function!”
A healthy society depends on people being honest. So in the Old Testament they actually had a law that said if someone lies about someone, the punishment that would have been on the accused now falls on the liar. It’s a reverse punishment (Deut. 19:18-19).
If someone is on trial for his life, a liar caught giving false testimony must pay with his own life. God is very clear that lying about others in order to damage or would someone is not okay!
Even Jesus says false testimony defiles a person. One time when the religious leaders were upset with Jesus because his disciples “defiled” themselves by not washing their hands before they ate, Jesus told them, “It’s not the food going in that defiles you. You’re not dirtied until the stuff comes out of you!”
Yes, even Jesus enjoyed bathroom humor.
But it was a double entendre. What comes out of a person’s heart is what defiles him, things such as evil thoughts, blasphemies, and false witness (Matt. 15:1-20) Lying about others doesn’t just damage them. The false things we say about others defiles us—makes us unclean.
While we may not find ourselves defending untrue allegations in court, we will find ourselves the victims of personal, false attacks on our character and behavior. This commandment carries beyond legal attitudes and into all of the ways we talk about other people
We can be character assassins without ever going to court. We can participate in gossip, rumors, and slander, and spread falseness without ever seeing the inside of a court. Rumors are a form of social bullying – to bring a person down and to put the gossiper up high.
You might have been the victim of a character assassin who is spreading false junk against you. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in the chain of passing along the rumor. There are really three ways to approach character assassins.
If you’re the one talking—Stop it!
It’s pretty clear, isn’t it? There’s no need for you to be spreading false garbage against other people, no matter what they may have done to you. It doesn’t matter how they have behaved towards you in the past, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
Jesus once said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus is truth, so speaking false junk is directly opposed to Jesus Christ. How can you claim to be a follower of Jesus if you actively participate in spreading falseness?
If you hear something about someone else—Stop it!
Call time out. You don’t need to be involved. But we love dirty laundry (Don Henley song), especially when it isn’t ours. Our own dirty laundry we hide, but we revel when we see other people’s. There’s no room for such behavior in God’s kingdom.
Ignorance is no excuse. Do you ignorantly pass on false info? We see so many do this with the internet. Now you have the opportunity to have tens of thousands of people passing on ridiculously bogus info (Lotto math; Obama curtains, etc.). If we looked at our online behavior through an OT lens and we were punished with the same punishment we’re asking for the person we’re speaking against, would we still be so quick to spread the lies?
If you need to be involved (like this is a life-or-death situation), don’t pass on information or act on information blindly—verify, verify, verify. When you spread stories about others, you can’t take it back. Labels stick, and are often impossible to scrub off. Think about what you say.
Words have power.
If you’re being talked about:
This is the hard one. You can’t control what comes at you, but you can control what you hold on to and how you behave. There are five ways we can behave when people bring false accusations against us:
- Live in such a way that, if people accuse you, others can see that it’s bogus (1 Pet. 2:12). Sometimes that means going above and beyond walking a fine line and not taking an easy road. It means our behavior is impeccable.
- Go to the source and try to reconcile (Matt. 18). This is dealing with it man-a-man. Keep it off FB!
- Never stop being polite to those who hurt you. Just because someone may have been a jerk to you doesn’t give us permission to be jerks back to them. We are called to treat everyone well, the way we want to be treated, in spite of the injuries done to us.
- Tell the truth to anyone who asks (without seeking to tell everyone!) Don’t lie. Don’t cover up. Don’t be vindictive. But calmly and simply be a truth-teller.
- Don’t give people more ammo to attack you with—be calm, honest, and discreet. When people spread false things about you, most people want you respond in an angry way. It adds fuel to the fire and justifies them in their own minds. You can’t feed the trolls. Starve the trolls.
These five things don’t leave us feeling satisfied when we’ve been wronged. There’s no justice being done. But Jesus calls us to be a new kind of community—a community that treats each other well and speaking only truth.
We don’t listen to falseness. We don’t spread falseness. We respond appropriately even if attacked. And even though we might want to fill their mouths of our attackers with superglue, that doesn’t seem like a very Christ-like thing to do.
Questions for Reflection
- Have I participated in spreading false things against others?
- Have I been passive while hearing other people spread false things about others?
- Have I lived with such integrity that people wouldn’t believe false things?
Photo via ShareFaith