Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

The 9th Commandment

The Ninth Commandment

I sat down and began to work on this commandment and quickly realized there were so many different aspects to this commandment we could just spend the next 15 minutes listing everything this commandment is trying to teach us. It was really hard to narrow down which of these nuances was most important.
Let’s start with the what is the most common violation in our society today of this commandment. And that is the idea of gossip - gossip appears in every one of what are known as ‘sin lists’ throughout the letters which make up a good portion of the last half of the New Testament. It is sometimes called gossip, but other times is listed as slander or ‘speaking ill of your neighbor’. Gossip is one of those easy traps to fall into - you are in a crowd of people and someone says “Did you know that so and so……” and your natural instinct of curiosity kicks in and you convince yourself that it is OK to listen cause you aren’t really doing the gossiping and you aren’t going to tell anyone else… At least that is your intention until you run into another mutual friend and “Did you know that so and so….” just slips out. And before long everyone knows that so and so did whatever even though you really don’t know if so and so ever did anything at all. And then it gets back to so and so that they have been the topic of today’s talk around the water cooler and you can imagine how so and so now feels.
We kind of walk a fine line in the church however when it comes to this idea of gossip. We gather for prayer and we lift up names for prayer and admittedly most of our prayers are because someone is having a problem. Is it gossip when we gather for prayer and say “We need to pray for so and so because they have lost their job”? And are we close enough as a congregation to be able to lift up so and so in a prayer request and not leave and go out to our everyday lives and say to a friend or a colleague or a family member - “Did you know so and so lost their job” - which means we have gone from a prayer request to gossip….. But it is easy to blur the idea of being concerned and in congregational prayer for someone who truly needs our prayers - and taking that prayer and turning it into improper conversations with others…. It is just a matter of thinking before we speak about someone and in what context we speak about someone and what we are saying about someone and maybe walking away from the water cooler when other people begin to talk about someone…
When you read this commandment in different versions of the Bible, there are a bunch of different words used. We are probably most familiar with “You shall not bear false witness….” But you also find translations that say simply, “You shall not lie”. or “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” “Don’t accuse anyone falsely”
In a Hebrew sense this commandment has two levels to it. The first level means exactly what the commandment sounds like - in a court of law, in a legal sense, don’t falsely bring charges against someone or if you are in court don’t lie on the stand against someone. Interestingly enough in Leviticus when there are comments about this commandment, the Hebrew law stated that if you bring someone up on charges falsely or if you testify falsely about someone and you get caught, you are charged with the crime you have falsely accused someone o, and you have to serve their sentence…… That sounds like a good deterrent.
Think about what characteristics you value most in someone you know or work with or have any kind of relationship with and I bet that honesty rates right up there near the top of the list. In order to really be able to have any kind of relationship with someone you have to be able to trust them - you have to be able to belief what they say. If you don’t trust them, if you can’t believe what they tell you, if you can’t rust their promises, if you can’t depend upon them then it is difficult to have any and of relationship…. Now we know that there isn’t a human we can depend upon 100%, but you quickly learn in life who you can trust and who you can’t. This commandment commands us to be the one that other people can trust; the person that other people can depend upon; the person that

other people know that if we are going to say we are going to do something - we are going to do it! Maybe we could restate the commandment to say, “Be trustworthy!”
But if we are to be trustworthy, is it ever Ok to tell a lie? We talk about ‘little white lies’ and we often think that there are instances where it is Ok to tell a lie. Biblically we have justification for this. The midwives Puah and Shiprah lie to Pharaoh to save the Baby Moses and other Hebrew babies the Pharaoh has ordered killed; the prostitute Rahab lies to the Jericho soldiers looking for Joshua and the other Hebrew spies in order to save their lives. So there are exceptions to the to what we would consider an untruth…. There is a Jewish law that states that ‘you are to tell every bride they are beautiful’. Which you could have to stretch the truth to do…. When I worked as a chaplain there were times when telling a patient or a family the whole truth at certain times was just not done - for the well being of the patient or the family. What the Old Testament nuances of the idea of lying is for us to think about whether we are withholding the truth because we are trying to create an advantage for ourselves or if we are trying to harm someone - or are we trying to do what is good for another person in that particular situation. To save a life, to avoid injury, to protect someone from being taken advantage of, to keep harmony. Again, the ethical dilemma is whether the ‘little white lie’ is for our personal benefit, or to help someone else.
According to Ephesians 4, even speaking the truth can be something that is contrary to living a Christian life. Verse 29 says, “
Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you.” All speech should be said in love. Truth used as a weapon at someone - friend or enemy - is never appropriate. The truth should never be used as an excuse to demean or demoralize or manipulate other people. The truth should never be used to create an unfair advantage over someone else.
When you look at this commandment in the Hebrew, the emphasis of the commandment is more on the word ‘witness’ than it is on the word ‘false’. We are being called to be a good witness so what does that mean when it comes to learning more about living this life God calls us to live which means in everything we do, God wants us to be a good witness.
If you are watching a legal show on TV and the witness is called to the stand we know that witness says they are going to ‘tell the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Being a good witness then is first of all telling the truth. We’ve talked about that. As followers of Christ we are to tell the truth. This reminds of what Jesus saying “I am the way the truth and the life.” To be a witness is to live like Jesus has told us - because Jesus shows us the proper ‘way’, and by following ‘his’ way we live the life Jesus asks us to live and when we live as Jesus calls us to we are being a good witness to people about what it means to be a Christian - a follower of Christ - someone who believes with all our heart that Jesus really is the true way to live.
A good portion of the books in the last part of the Old Testament are prophets telling the Jews to remember what it means to be a good witness to God - and over and over and over again the prophets say things like - treat each other fairly, be a good neighbor, show mercy to one another….. think about all the good things God has done for your and show those same kinds of good things to the people around you.
Maybe it would help us if we looked at the commandment in a positive way instead of a negative one - would it help if the commandment said - ‘Be a good witness to the life God asks you to live…. Be a good witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ’.
In other words - learn what Jesus tells us to do and then try to live that way. Don’t be a false witness - be a good witness to the truth of Jesus and what is possible when you listen and follow!
when you look at this commandment, “Don’t bear false witness: don’t tell lies; Be honest and truthful. Show people there is another way to live where you can be honest and trustworthy; where you don’t try to take unfair advantage of people or try to manipulate people; or try to do whatever is necessary to help yourself.
Treat your neighbor in the same trustworthy way you would like for your neighbor to treat you. Amen!