By Mike Willis
The ninth of the Ten Commandments reads, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exod. 20:16). Whereas the primary thrust of this commandment addresses the testimony that is given in legal cases, we should not limit its application to such things. In a positive statement, this passage commands men to give accurate and truthful testimony about one’s fellow man in every aspect of life and, in this respect, its application is universal.
When one looks at the Ten Commandments as a positive statement of life principles look at what they say:
Thou shalt not kill: one should respect the life of his neighbor. Though shall not commit adultery: one should respect the marriage/ family of his neighbor.
Thou shalt not steal: one should respect the property of his neighbor.
In the same way, “Thou shall not bear false witness” emphasizes two truths: (1) Always tell the truth about one’s neighbor and (2) Do nothing that destroys his good name.
Giving False Witness Is A Sin
We notice the seriousness of giving false witness against someone by observing these facts about what happens when one gives or repeats false testimony against someone:
1. It is a sin against God. God is the one who commanded, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exod. 20:16). He who disobeys this commandment disobeys God.
2. It is a sin against the person whose reputation is destroyed thereby. Jesus said, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Surely among the violations of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is included the violation of bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.
The false testimony in court can result in serious consequences rang- ing from imprisonment, to punitive damage, and even death. False testimony told around the kitchen table can destroy a person’s reputation, his ability to earn a living, his family relationship, his relationship with his friends, etc. Surely one who gives false testimony against his neighbor is guilty of sinning against him.
3. It is a sin against the person who hears it. The one who hears false testimony will have his opinion of the one spoken about shaped by the false testimony. He will conduct himself toward a person based on the false testimony. Frequently, he will hold as an enemy the one slandered.
Sometimes, the hearer has a kindred spirit with the one giving false testimony (“birds of a feather flock together”). They are attracted one to another. We frequently describe such people as gossips or those who are gossip mongers.
4. It is a sin against the society in which it is tolerated. A society is rooted in justice; when justice is removed the society crumbles and falls. The same is true in the church. The church (society) that tolerates men who bear false witness against each other will be destroyed by the alienation, division, and separation that comes therefrom.
Ways in Which One Can Bear False Witness
There are a number of arenas in which one can be guilty of bearing false witness. Here are some of them:
1. In giving court testimony. We call this crime “perjury.” The Law legislated that the one who bore false witness against a neighbor was to receive the punishment he sought to have brought again his neighbor (Deut. 19:16- 20). Here is what the Law said:
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and hath testified falsely against his brother; then shall ye do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shalt thou put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
To protect against the danger of a false witness, no one could be punished on the testimony of one man (Deut. 19:15).
2. Malicious attacks against one’s character. David’s enemies were not so much those who took the witness stand and gave testimony as they were those who de- famed him before King Saul (Pss. 27:12; 35:11). There are many ways that people can give false testimony against another: (a) Speaking lies (Prov. 14:5). (b) Gossip: “to indulge in idle talk or rumors about others.” (c) Slander (Ps. 31:13; Prov. 10:18). Slander is “the utterance or spreading of a false statement or statements, harmful to another’s character or reputation.” Legally, slander is spoken and libel is written. (d) Whispering (Ps. 41:7; Prov. 16:28; Rom. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:20). The word “whispering” emphasizes the hidden manner in which the malicious speech is spoken. (e) Evil surmising (1 Tim. 6:4). This kind of attack against a man’s reputation gives the worst possible construction to everything he does. (f ) Innuendo. Innuendo is “an indirect remark, gesture, or reference, usually implying something derogatory; hint; insinuation.” (g) Fault finding (Mark 7:2). Fault finders are like buzzards who fly across a field looking for a dead carcass. They are oblivious to the green pasture, the farm lands, the cattle, and other good things that are there, for they are searching for something rotting. Some look at another’s life like the buzzard searching for something rotten.
3. In spreading reports without verifying their truthfulness. The reputation of many a preacher has been damaged by loosed tongued brethren. Someone hears something about a brother, perhaps even a brother who has been a friend for years and whose life has been above reproach. One’s first reaction is to believe the report and that without doing anything to verify its accuracy. Particularly gospel preachers need to beware of falling into this sin of bearing false witness against another.
A person has a moral responsibility to accurately rep- resent the position of the person whose doctrine he is reviewing. If he does not correctly represent that brother and then attacks the misrepresented position, he has destroyed a straw man. But what is worse is that he has slandered his brother and, slander is a sin. Sometimes those who are so concerned about preserving the purity of the church seem to forget that slander will send a soul to hell just as quickly as false doctrine will! How tragic that one who is so concerned about protecting and defending the purity of the church would lose his soul by slandering his brother, misrepresenting the beliefs that he holds! There are not many things about which I am an authority, but one of them about which I am an authority is what I believe. Nobody knows what I believe better than I do. When someone misrepresents what I believe, I know it. I know when I have been slandered and how I have been misrepresented. When someone starts telling me what I believe and then proceeds to describe a position that I reject, he is misrepresenting me. If he continues to misrepresent my beliefs after he has been told that does not represent what I believe, I have no choice but to believe that man is guilty of slander, bearing false witness against me. If one believes that slander/bearing false witness is a sin, we have the tragic situation of a man who thinks he is defending the truth to protect the purity of the church losing his soul because he misrepresents the position of his brother!
Some brethren apparently do not understand the difference between the logical consequences of some position and the position itself. For example, a brother may hold a position A that one perceives has logical consequences B. When asked if he accepts those con- sequences, he says, “No!” When a brother represents his brother as believing B, although the one so representing him may think that B is the logical conclusion to A (and it may be), still he has misrepresented his brother. In representing another, one must be careful not to charge that person with espousing the consequences of a position when he denies those consequences.
Remembering the Law’s punishment for false witnessing was that the false witness would bear the penalty he sought to have inflicted on the one about whom he gave false testimony, we wonder how quickly slandering a brother would diminish among brethren if that principle were followed among us. If those who leave innuendos, slander, and gossip about their brethren were thought of by brethren as if they were the ones guilty of the things they said about their brethren, soon such men would be without influence among us.
4. Bearing false witness involves these sins: (a) Telling a lie. What is represented as the truth is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (b) Repeating a lie without being sure that it is true. Sometimes men repeat things that they have heard without making any effort to verify the truthfulness of what they are repeating. Their repeating a lie, however innocently done, still produces the same damage to its victim. (c) Malice (Rom. 1:29; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 3 John 10). The motive behind false witnessing is evil. (d) Hatred (Pss. 25:19; 109:3; Gal. 5:20).
How Its Victim Suffers
In court cases, innocent people have suffered punishment (incarceration, fines, and death) because of false witnesses. The effect that false witnesses have in capital cases is death; that was the punishment false witnesses sought to bring on Jesus! In day-to-day living, men who are victims of false witnesses suffer these results: (a) Their reputation (good name) is destroyed (Prov. 22:1; Eccl. 7:1). (b) The good that they are able to do is reduced. (c) An occasion of stumbling has been put in their way. They will be tempted to revenge, bitterness, malice, hatred, strife, and other such sins.
What A Victim Can Do
A man who is willing to intentionally give “false wit- ness” is not an honorable man. Consequently, there is no way to reason with a malicious liar. Every explanation he may offer is inadequate. Such a man has the intention of destroying his brother’s reputation and will do so.
In a local church, the matter can be taken before the elders and the matter searched out to see if two or three witnesses can verify the charges made against another (Matt. 18:17). In such cases, sometimes the local church can exonerate the innocent. However, in many cases, the victim will have to depend on God to set the record straight. The party sinning against him may be unwilling to repent, be a member of another congregation, or un- accessible to church discipline. In such cases, the victim may have no choice but, like Jesus, to bear in silence the vicious attacks made against him by those who have malice and hatred in their hearts. He must leave to God the settling of accounts. The psalmist wrote:
Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.
Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.
Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue (Ps. 52:2-4).
Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy.
Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; from the insurrection of the workers of iniquity:
Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words:
That they may shoot in secret at the perfect: suddenly do they shoot at him, and fear not.
They encourage themselves in an evil matter: they commune of laying snares privily; they say, Who shall see them?
They search out iniquities; they accomplish a diligent search: both the inward thought of every one of them, and the heart, is deep.
But God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded.
So they shall make their own tongue to fall upon themselves: all that see them shall flee away.
And all men shall fear, and shall declare the work of God; for they shall wisely consider of his doing.
The righteous shall be glad in the Lord, and shall trust in him; and all the upright in heart shall glory.
How tragic that a person would allow his hatred of.