“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16
First and foremost, this commandment requires witnesses in any court of law to be truthful in all that they say; and it forbids any false witness or testimony against another (cf. Ex. 23:1-3). The Bible plainly warns: “A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who speaks lies will not escape” (Prov. 19:5). Under Old Testament civil laws, false witnesses were to be punished with the same punishment that the one they falsely accused would have received if their witness were true (cf. Deut. 19:15-21). Those who were not punished by man would come under the judgment of God Himself, who knows all!
Most people think little of speaking evil of others and spreading rumors and gossip about other people, but this commandment condemns this as well. Again, the Scriptures say: “Do not speak evil of one another, brethren…” (James 4:11); and, “A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter” (Prov. 11:13). When a brother commits a trespass, we are to first go to him privately in an effort to bring him to repentance (cf. Matt. 18:15ff.); we are not to go and tell everyone else what evil he has done.
The prophet Zechariah writes: “‘Speak each man the truth to his neighbor; give judgment in your gates for truth, justice, and peace; let none of you think evil in your heart against your neighbor; and do not love a false oath. For all these are things that I hate,’ says the LORD” (Zech. 8:16-17).
Rather than bearing false witness against our neighbor and speaking evil of him, we are to love him and defend him against false accusations and gossip. The Bible says: “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). Peter writes: “And above all things have fervent love for one another, for ‘love will cover a multitude of sins’” (1 Pet. 4:8).
In his Small Catechism, Luther explains this commandment: “What does this mean? Answer: We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.”
When we examine our own lives, thoughts, words and actions against this commandment of the LORD, we see again that we have fallen short and are in need of repentance and forgiveness. Messiah Jesus, God’s own dear Son in human flesh has kept this commandment for us; and He suffered our punishment when He shed His blood for us upon the cross. Acknowledge your sins and failings and turn to Him in faith for forgiveness and life everlasting!
Dear Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of man, forgive me for speaking evil of others, spreading rumors and gossip, and failing to love my neighbor and defend him against the evil words of others. I ask this for the sake of Your innocent sufferings and death in my stead and because of Your glorious resurrection and ascension. Amen.
[Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.]