The commandment most frequently broken is the 9th. This commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour,” (Exodus 20:16). The reason why it is the most deliberately ignored commandment is this word translates as ‘false testimony,’ not just committing perjury. It is a word that means speaking anything useless, worthless and unfounded. It is speech full of innuendo, slander, gossip and lies.
The way we use our limited vocabulary to constantly break this commandment is an affront to God, and is a cause of much devastation in the world. A few words can destroy a relationship, a job, a reputation. James 3 warns of this destruction, of the destruction the tongue can do. It is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. The 9th commandment deals with the great many sins of the tongue.
Whilst we’ve been accustomed to lies playing a great part in our lives – politicians, advertising, tradesmen who say they will be with you at 8 a.m. the next morning but don’t turn up, the truth is it is not just other people who lie, it is me and you. We are all educated in the art of lying. A central part of our fallen nature is to lie as we follow the example of Satan (John 8:44). We may say ‘honesty is the best policy’ but we don’t live by that. There is a story that George Washington, as a young boy, on receiving an axe used it liberally. One day he took the hatchet to a beloved tree. It was so badly damaged that it could only die. Washington’s father asked who had done it. George replied, ‘Father, I cannot lie, it was me.’ The father embraced him and said his honesty made up for his action. This story about honesty, however, is not at all honest. It is a lie! It never happened.
We are all aware of what it means to lie, but we often justify its significance claiming it is necessary, only a white lie or we are only being economical with the truth. We can become so accustomed to lying we no longer recognise when we are doing it. We use lies to cover up embarrassment. However may justify it, a lie remains a lie. The uncomfortable truth is by nature and practice we are all liars – some more accomplished than others. What is more, we can become so used to telling lies we no longer realise when we are doing it. We convince ourselves we are justified.
The remedy to lying is to have a conscience that is welded to the truth. We must be godly, like God, whose word is truth (Titus 1:2). We are to be like Him. The only way we can be like God is to be united by Christ in faith. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, shaped by the teachings of God’s word so we can become godly. We will never be perfect until that day we are called home to glory. We can never be perfect in this world. We are to pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit as we commit ourselves to truthfulness in all our ways.
Slander and gossip. We all recognise slander as wrong yet we’ve all done it at some time or another. The Bible forbids it (James 4:11). The Bible also forbids gossip on the same basis. Slander and gossip are both relatives. They are often found together. Gossip is never totally true. There is often a grain of truth, but it’s always wrapped in layers of half-truths. Gossiping is lying, worthless, unfounded, idle speech that is destructive. The book of Proverbs has quite a few references to gossiping and its effect (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 26:20).
The best way to stop a quarrel is very easy. Stop speaking. It’s as easy as that. It is a grievous sin to slander and blacken another’s character through gossip. It is amongst the most dangerous and damaging of human activities. In engaging in it we break the 9th commandment. It is particularly sad that among Christians so much gossip is found. We have so much to speak of together – of God and His grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. How much more should we fill our conversations with glorious, heavenly thoughts rather than gossip? If we must speak of others, do so as little as possible and be totally sure we are speaking the truth. We must never speculate or give way to innuendo. Instead, we must give way to truth (Zechariah 8:16).
Scripture is always concerned that there be two or three witnesses to any accusation (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19). A good rule is if you haven’t spoken to the person concerned, don’t speak about it to anyone else.
Flattery and favouritism. One way to ensure lies are perpetuated is to show favouritism (Exodus 23:3). We are not to be people who show favouritism. There is a type of lie people wouldn’t recognise as so – the silent lie, the keeping quiet because you don’t want to upset a friend, not saying something in relation to someone you know who can promote your own cause (Leviticus 5:1). Equally, we are to avoid flattery – so we might gain an advantage (Psalm 12). It is a very subtle lie when we excuse some and condemn others for doing the very same thing, or highly praise some and not others. This is bearing false witness. We are to remind ourselves that all are created by God in His image and all are to be treated equally. Even if someone is our enemy we are to love them (Romans 12:17). The remedy for flattery and favouritism is respect and fairness for all. This is especially true in our church life. There have been many a minister who has made the grave mistake by showing favouritism to some in the congregation. It leads to division in the congregation. Whilst it is true for preachers, it is also true for everyone in a congregation. It is the responsibility of all Christians to avoid even giving the impression of favouritism.
Religious lies. This, perhaps, is particularly offensive to God. The third commandment warns of this. How evil it is to anyone to prophesy falsely in God’s name, not only to lie before God but to lie in God’s name. That is why in the Old Testament the penalty for this was death (Zechariah 13:3). There are many today who practice false prophesy, saying ‘In the name of the Lord …’ saying do what they suggest because it is the Lord’s will. It is not the will of the Lord at all. I doubt such people are conscious of the evil they are doing. Some manipulate people, knowing full well it is not the Lord who has spoken at all. That is a terrible, terrible thing. They are lying in the Lord’s name.
When we are sharing what the Lord has done, good things, perhaps we embellish it to make it better. It is not a good thing. The most dangerous day of the week for religious lies is Sunday (Acts 5:3). On Sundays we are tempted to pretend I have a piety and spiritual life I do not possess. Singing hymns of praise, singing wonderful experiences of Bible truths is wrong if we don’t mean it at all. Perhaps the biggest lie of all is when we abuse the name of God. We must always remember God sees everything and knows everything. We cannot deceive Him so why should we be so foolish to do so?
The remedy: Stand in awe of God, be slow to speak, ready to hear Him speak and quick to obey.
Forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross. Our Saviour died on that cross as a direct consequence of lies (Mark 14:56, Luke 23:2). The lies which sent Jesus to the cross are my lies and my breaking of the 9th commandment. He loved me so He willingly bore the punishment for my lying mouth and heart, that I might be forgiven of all these sins. The God of all truth desires to save me from my sin and sent His beloved Son to die that I should be truly forgiven. Praise be to the Lord. What a Saviour! “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).