The 10 Commandments Series : #9 Do Not Bear False Witness (Embracing Truth and Integrity)
The 9th commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," might initially appear as a directive relevant only in courtroom dramas or for those in political circles. However, if we simplify it to "do not lie," its profound significance becomes clear. In a world where lies are often dismissed as harmless "white lies," and the shadow of "fake news" looms large, this prohibition against lying carries a timeless truth: deceit is never morally justified. Even children, when caught in mischief, often resort to lying and shifting blame. They point to a younger sibling as the culprit behind the permanent marker on the wall, even though that sibling can't even walk yet. It's as if lying is an innate human instinct.
But why does God place such extraordinary emphasis on the commandment not to bear false witness against one's neighbor?
Understanding the Commandment
This commandment, which follows "You shall not steal," suggests a legal context. Bearing false witness against a neighbor implies a scenario where a false testimony could lead to unjust punishment. Such actions stand in stark contrast to the principles of righteousness and justice that God desires for His people. After all, God, who embodies truth (John 14:6), expects honesty and integrity to govern all human interactions. Jesus himself is described as the one who rules in justice and truth. Speaking falsely to gain an advantage at the expense of another person stands in direct opposition to God's divine rule.
In Exodus 23:1-3, God further clarifies the prohibition on false witnessing. He explicitly forbids spreading false reports, aligning with wicked individuals as malicious witnesses, and displaying partiality in legal matters. Essentially, making false statements to harm others while benefiting oneself is sternly condemned because it is fundamentally against God's character. God is never deceitful; He always communicates His instructions, commandments, and covenants straightforwardly.
The significance of this commandment is underscored by its appearance in both the Old and New Testaments, serving as a moral beacon.
*What Does the Old Testament Say?*
In the Old Testament, this commandment is found in Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20 as a fundamental decree of the Ten Commandments. Proverbs 19:5 warns that "a false witness will not go unpunished, and he who breathes out lies will not escape." It is among the things the Lord hates (Prov. 6:16-19). Proverbs 23:22 emphasizes the importance of truthfulness, particularly in the context of parental guidance.
*What Does the New Testament Say?*
The New Testament reaffirms the significance of this commandment through the teachings of Jesus and the writings of Paul. In Matthew 15:4 and 19:19, Jesus reiterates the commandment, emphasizing its continued relevance. Mark 7:10, Luke 18:20, Ephesians 6:1-3, and Colossians 3:20 all highlight the importance of honoring one's parents, which inherently involves truthfulness and honesty. Paul instructs the Church to "put away falsehood" and to "speak the truth with his neighbor" (Eph. 4:25). In Revelation 21:8, Jesus warns of severe consequences, saying that those who persist in lying will have their "portion in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
One of the most notable examples of the consequences of false witnessing is found in Acts 5. Soon after the birth of the New Testament Church, Ananias and his wife Sapphira tell a bold-faced lie to the community. After selling a field, they present only a portion of the proceeds as their offering. However, they deceitfully act as if it is the full amount. Peter confronts Ananias, saying, "Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?" Ananias dies immediately. When Sapphira repeats the lie, she too perishes. The issue here was not the amount they gave, but how they gave it. They presented something deceitfully for personal gain, seeking applause and praise while diminishing others. This is the essence of bearing false witness.
What It Doesn't Mean?
It is crucial to clarify that this commandment does not solely forbid perjury in a legal context. Its scope extends to encompass all forms of lying and deceit that harm others, regardless of the context. This commandment addresses not only false statements in court but also the everyday lies that damage trust and relationships.
Why God Commands It?
God's commandment against bearing false witness serves as a foundational pillar of moral integrity. It upholds the principles of truth, justice, and love for one's neighbor. Lying and deceitful actions erode trust and sow discord in communities. By adhering to this commandment, individuals reflect the character of God and contribute to a more just and harmonious society. God's desire is for His people to live in truth and love, promoting peace and righteousness.
We cannot go through life without integrity. The world often resorts to lying for personal gain, saying anything and everything to help themselves. Jesus calls us to stand out from the world, to be in the world but not of it (John 17:14-19). We must stand out and show others a true and better way.
Do you not feel the weight of guilt when you lie? When does it feel better? When you confess your lies in truth. Peter, who denied Christ three times, bore the burden of guilt until he confessed his sins. Jesus forgave and restored him, but only after Peter had admitted his falsehoods.
The truth sets you free. Lying holds you down like chains, restricting your movements. You may feel fine for a while, but if you are in Christ, lying separates you from the Lord. Loving the Lord with all your heart and loving your neighbors requires that you do not bear false witness.
The commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor," holds profound significance in both the Old and New Testaments. It transcends mere legal implications, encompassing all forms of dishonesty and deception. By obeying this commandment, individuals align themselves with the enduring principles of truth, justice, and love for one another, thereby reflecting the character of God. In a world often plagued by falsehoods and mistrust, upholding this commandment remains a timeless and essential moral imperative, guiding us toward a more virtuous and compassionate society. Bearing false witness is not just a legal concern; it is a matter of the heart and a testament to our commitment to truth and righteousness in all aspects of life.
Christian serves as the Director of Mobilization/Missions
as he leads the For the Nations ministry for The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN. He is married to his wife Danyel.
- Old Testament, The 10 Commandments