You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. So says God. Exodus 20:16The more I think and ponder about this commandment, the more impressive and insurmountable it becomes. Granted, I lived for more than twenty years in almost complete violation of this one, so my perspective is perhaps different than most. But the years living in falsehood have taught me things about God’s nature and will that I’d like to discuss now.
What this commandment proscribes might be argued. At one time I practiced law and upon reading it I am immediately brought into the courtroom cross-examining a witness who is accusing or defending a matter. As I question the witness and know that they are lying my eyes wander to my client and their frustration is palpable. I will never forget the feeling of helplessness when confronting a witness who is lying, but against whom I have nothing with which to contradict them.
But that is such a narrow reading of the commandment. To bear false witness is to carry an untruth. I doubt that God intended this commandment to be limited to courtroom scenarios. In following Jesus’ example of seeing the heart of a command (See Matthew 5:20-21) it is best to look at what is being prescribed in the heart.
A false witness, is a false report. This can be done verbally or non-verbally. I might deceive someone with a look suggesting affirmation when in fact I either know the matter to be false or have insufficient evidence to support the assertion. The report may be patent or oblique. That is, I may intentionally put forth a report so as to mislead or deceive or I may simply fail to correct someone who is mislead or deceived. In either case, the intent of my heart is to have the other person – my neighbor – be misled, to persist under and/or act from bad information. My heart’s intent is to manipulate the actions or state of my neighbor with information that is not true.
James warns us that if we know to do good, but fail to do it, to us it is sin. Accordingly, I find an affirmative duty within every believer to insure that his fellow believer is not deceived. And this is where it gets difficult. How many of us have allowed someone to persist in a misunderstanding of the facts so as to protect their heart? How many of us have stood by and not said anything because it is not our business? How many of us have allowed our brother or sister in Christ to be deceived because they would be angry with us, or might sin, if they knew the truth?
One last thing about the 9th commandment. I observe throughout Scripture and throughout creation that there is only one creator. One one speaks things into existence. Whenever God speaks – if it is not already true, it will be because He is God. Witchcraft undertakes to replace that creative power within God with power within man. By magic incantations men may (according to their beliefs) speak into existence something that was not before. This is a direct usurpation of the power and authority of God. It is an attempt to be God. In this way, witchcraft is one of the most serious blasphemies because it makes us to be God.
And while we might not intentionally partake in the sin of witchcraft, whenever we lie or deceive, that is practically what we are doing. We are creating a new truth in the heart and mind of the one being deceived. We are elevating ourselves above God and saying ‘the truth that God has allowed or dictated through Providence or otherwise is not sufficient – I will create a better truth and pass it along.’ Our intent might be bad in that we are trying to protect ourselves from the natural consequences which would otherwise flow from our own sin; or the intent might be seemingly good in that we are trying to protect another from a perceived harm from knowing the truth God has allowed or dictated. In any case, we are usurping the authority and Providence of God. We are storming the throne room of God, throwing him to the ground, and violently attempting to kill him to set ourselves upon the throne and assume his creative prerogative.
A lie is so much more than a simple deception. When we examine the heart behind a lie we can see the true depravity and sinfulness therein. I have learned the hard way that truth is your best friend. Truth teaches me by providing the necessary discipline to correct my sinful ways. Truth protects me by upholding my character when it is impeached. Truth is always faithful in ministering to my heart. When I replace Truth for a fiction of my own – my own attempt to be God and impose my providence on His creation – I am depriving myself of my own faithful friend and tutor – Truth.
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6 ESV