The Ninth Commandment

Exodus 20:16

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
December 2016

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor”

We have been studying the Ten Commandments and we come today to the Ninth Commandment.  It is an important commandment.  It is guaranteed to offend everyone, as well as encourage us.  God spoke it audibly to the entire nation on Mount Sinai from a mountain that was on fire.

If this commandment were kept, it would completely transform society.  Imagine a world in which we heard only truth among our political candidates, truth in the legal system, truth in government, truth in the news, truth in churches, truth in the food we eat (labels and ingredients), truth in our commitments (promises, marriage vows).

You do not break this commandment by killing anyone or stealing anything but by saying some things that are not true.  This commandment does not deal with actions.  It deals with words.  It is the second of the Ten Commandments that deal with a verbal sin.  The first verbal sin was not to take the name of the Lord in vain.  It is in the first part of the Ten Commandments.

The second verbal sin is not to bear false witness against someone.  It is in the second part of the Ten Commandments. This one does not deal with our neighbor’s wife.  It does not deal with our neighbor’s life.  It deals with our neighbor’s reputation.  We are not to defame the name of God.  We are also not to defame the name of our neighbor.

We can hurt people in many ways and one way we can hurt people is by the things we say about them.  This is convicting.  We may never have taken a 357 Magnum and blown anybody away.  We may never have had an affair with anyone but it is very easy to try to make someone we do not like look bad by the words we speak.  We can say all kinds of things to trash that person’s character and reputation, so others do not like them.

Lying in America

This commandment is very relevant to the day in which we live.  When we think of lying in our own day, two things come to mind.  First, everyone seems to do it. We live in a world of lies and deception.  It is almost part of our culture.  In America, lying has become a way of life.

Parents lie

They lie to their kids about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny. They make promises they do not keep.

Governments lie

They fudge on statistics and make numbers lie (unemployment or the number of jobs added).

Politicians lie

These days, politicians are so corrupt that we almost expect them to lie.  Bill Clinton lied about an affair to the American people.  He held a press conference, and said, “I did not have sex with that woman, Miss Lewinski.”

Barak Obama lied about Obama Care.  He said, “No matter what you’ve heard, if you like your doctor or healthcare plan you can keep it period.”  That was a lie.  He promised over and over again that Obama Care would save them money.  He said that premiums would go down.  Instead, they skyrocketed.

Hillary lied about classified information.  She said that she took classified information seriously.  She said that she did not send to anyone any information that was marked classified.  The FBI said that was a lie.

Educators lie

Books have been written about it.  There are all kinds of lies in the textbooks that get taught to students. We call frogs turning into princes a fairy tales but we call frogs turning into people science.

Businesses lie

They say things like “This offer is limited to the first one hundred people who call in,” “lifetime warranty,” “one size fits all,” “satisfaction guaranteed.” I have seen stores with the sign “going out of business sale” but come back five years later and they are still in business.

We all lie.  Everyone in the country lies.  How many times have we told someone, “He can’t come to the phone right now” or clicked a box on the computer that says, “I have read and agreed to the terms and conditions.”  Psalm 116:11 says that “all men are liars” (KJV) and that statement was not written by a woman but by a man.  Psalm 116:11 is better translated “everyone is a liar” (NIV) or “all mankind are liars” (ESV).

The second point is that most people do not even think that lying is a big deal.  We even talk about little white lies.  They are harmless.  Our culture almost promotes lying. We glorify it.  We have artists who sing songs “Tell me lies.  Tell me sweet little lies”.

We have a television show called “Pretty Little Liars.”  They almost sound attractive.  They are pretty little things.  Someone called this America’s favorite sin.   That is how completely counter-cultural this command is.  To God, this is a big deal.  He put it on his top ten list of sins. Homosexuality did not make the top ten list but lying did.  Lying must be a serious sin to God.

The Bible says that liars will be excluded from heaven. “But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8 ESV).  They are not only excluded from heaven, they end up int he lake of fire.

John put this sin in a list right next to other very serious sins. Liars may not kill anyone or steal anything but they are still excluded from heaven. “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood (Revelation 22:15 NIV).

The OT said the same thing.  “No one who practices deceit shall dwell in my house; no one who utters lies shall continue before my eyes.” (Psalm 101:7 ESV) What does that mean? That would seem to exclude everyone, because everyone has told a lie.

When the Bible talks about liars not getting into heaven, it is not talking about someone who told one lie.  It is talking about people who are dishonest by nature.  They have a character defect.  For some people, lying is second nature.  There are habitual liars and pathological liars.  The Bible describes people who, not only lie all the time, but love to lie (Revelation 22:15).

The Bible says that God does not lie.  God never lies.  Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not human, that he should lie” (cf. Titus 1:2).  In fact, it says that He CANNOT lie.  Hebrews 6:18 says, “It is impossible for God to lie” (NIV). God is a God of truth. Truth is part of his nature. Lying is completely contrary to his nature.  Jesus is full of truth (John 1:14).  He is “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6).  The Holy Spirit is called “the Spirit of Truth” (John 14:17).

The Bible also teaches that God hates lying.  Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are an abomination to the LORD, but those who act faithfully are his delight” (ESV).  God hates lying lips.  They are an abomination.

There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict” (Proverbs 6:16-19 NIV).  Notice that two of the six things that God hates have to do with lying (a lying tongue and false witnesses).

What God hates, we should hate. We should hate lying as well.  If God hates lying, we should hate lying.  David said in Psalm 119:163, “I hate and detest falsehood but I love your law” (NIV).

The Importance of Reputation

Our reputation is important, especially in the shame culture of the Middle East. Ecclesiastes 7:1 says, “A good name is better than fine perfume” (NIV).  We all like to smell good but Solomon says it is better to not have any perfume or cologne on but have a great reputation than to smell great on the outside and have a rotten reputation on the inside and have a rotten, stinking character (Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden).  Most people are more concerned about how they smell on the outside.

Proverbs 22:1 says “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold” (NIV). This is a radical statement.  Most people today are more concerned about getting wealthy than we are a good name but Solomon says that it is better to have a good name than to have all of the money in the world.

The Power of Words

Words are a big deal in the Bible.  Jesus said, “By your words you will be justified and by your words, you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:37 NIV).  Proverbs 18:21 says “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (NLT).  We say today, “Loose lips sink ships.”

Words are important.  We can use them to build people up or tear them down.  They can bring life or death.  This last week, there was a story in the news of an eighteen year old woman who killed herself in front of her family after being bullied online.  Just saying some words online led to a woman committing suicide.  What we say matters. It affects people.

Witnesses played an important role in ancient Israel.  In the Bible, people were put to death based on witnesses.  People’s lives were at stake.  In the ancient world, they didn’t have finger-print evidence or DNA.  They had no forensics lab.  They used eye-witness testimony.

To convict a person of a capital crime, you had to have not one but two witnesses.  Deuteronomy 17:6 says, “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” (NIV).

It is too easy for one person to lie about a crime.  Two witnesses could also lie but it is much harder.  The evidence had to be clear before anyone was to be put to death.  The standard was high.  You may be the eye-witness to a murder and know who the perpetrator is but, if you are the only one who saw it, there was no case.  It is better to let the guilty go free than convict an innocent person of murder.

Witnesses played an important role.  That is why it was very important for witnesses to tell the truth. False witnesses caused Stephen to be stoned in the Book of Acts.  False witnesses caused Jesus to be crucified. Both were framed for crimes they did not commit by false witnesses.  That is why this commandment is so important.  It is also a little misunderstood.

Many think that this commandment means that we have to always say nice positive things about people.  Many people, including many Christians, have the philosophy from the old Disney movie Bambi that says, “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” That is not a biblical philosophy.

Sometimes, some harsh things need to be said to people.  Jesus said some really hard words to the Pharisees, and so did John the Baptist.  They did not go around praising everybody.  No.  If we always did that, we would be giving false testimony about many people.

Those are the two ways people break this commandment today.  Some take the stand and lie about someone who is completely innocent. Others take the stand and try to cover up and protect someone who is guilty.  This is counter-cultural.  The world says, “Don’t be a snitch”.  God says, “Don’t be a false witness.”

Is the 9th Commandment a Moral Absolute?

One of the big questions that everyone always debates is whether this command is a moral absolute.  Are there exceptions to the Ninth Commandment?  Must we always tell the truth?  Is a lie ever justified?  Is there such a thing as a righteous lie?  It is a deep philosophical question.  If there are times when it is permissible to lie, then it is not a moral absolute.

It seems like a really difficult question but the answer is very simple.  Killing is not always wrong but murder is wrong at all times and in all places, so is adultery and idolatry.  Is there ever a time when it might not be wrong to cheat on your spouse or worship a false god?  No. The Ninth Commandment is no different.  It describes something that is ALWAYS wrong.

Everyone agrees that the Ninth Commandment is a condemnation of perjury.  It condemns taking the witness stand and deliberately giving false testimony in a court of law.  That is always wrong at all times and in all places.  It is a moral absolute.  In fact, it is not only immoral.  It is illegal.  It is criminal.  It was a crime in the Law of Moses and is a crime today.  It is a felony in North Carolina.

Modern Day Application

The Ninth Commandment is found in the second part of the Ten Commandments.  The first part deals with our relationship to God.  The second part deals with our relationship to people

So far, we have learned that we are not to murder our neighbor (Commandment Six).  We are not to steal our neighbor’s stuff (Commandment Eight).  We are not to have an affair with our neighbor’s spouse (Commandment Seven).  We are also not to bear false witness against our neighbor (Commandment Nine).

As we meditate on this commandment, I want us to think about what we say about people.  During the political season, we hear each candidate running for president trying to smear the other candidate as much as they can with half-truths, exaggerations, unsupported rumor and blatant lies.  They use negative political ads to demonize the other person.

It is not wrong to say thing if they are true.  Jesus called some people hypocrites but in some cases this is just an attempt to demonize the other person (Crooked Hillary, Lyin Ted and Little Marco).  Do we bear false witness against people?  Sometimes, we bear false witness against fellow Christians.

  • If you believe in in-depth Bible study, you may be called “a Pharisee” by other Christians.  I know what it is like to be called this.
  • If you have strong convictions and say what you believe, you may be called “arrogant” or “insensitive.”
  • If you dare to take a stand on a moral issue or dare to call anything “sinful” or “evil,” you may be called “judgmental” or “legalistic.”
  • If you are passionate about worship, you may be described as too emotional. In the 1700s, a great revival took place in America called the Great Awakening.  When it first took place, many of the ordained ministers at the time criticized it.  We look back on it as a great revival but at the time many opposed it.  It led to fierce debates between people who believed in it, like Jonathon Edwards (called New Lights) and people who opposed it and thought that it did not come from God (called Old Lights).
  • If you believe that the charismatic gifts in the Bible are still around today and try to exercise those gifts today, you are called a false teacher, heretical, demonically inspired. That is what John MacArthur does in his Strange Fire book and conferences.  Some of his criticisms on the charismatic movement are valid but some are so extreme that they border on the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

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