“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
I cannot imagine how Simon Peter must have felt the night he denied his Lord three times. To have spent time with someone, to have shared bread and wine with Him, to have been empowered by Him to perform miracles and healings, to have seen the hope and the future that was promised–and then to deny it all with “I do not know the Man!” (Matthew 26:69-75) That must have been painful, tearing at his heart and mind and soul. It is no wonder he wept bitterly.
Peter wept because he felt conviction for what he had done, for having abandoned his Master in the hour of greatest need, for having been shown once more that he was one of little faith. Peter wept because he knew the sin he committed, and he hated that sin. But how often do we deny our Lord every day with the way we live and the way we speak, and yet we never feel a twinge of guilt? How often do we lie and gossip and speak evil of others behind their back? How often do we lay charges against someone without ever hearing the whole story? How often do we blame others for our own misfortune, and in so doing, deny our own responsibility for our lives? How often do we deny our Lord by not putting off the old man, by not allowing our hearts and mouths to be renewed in the likeness of God’s Son, Jesus Christ?
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
What then should we say to this? If we bear false witness–literally, if we heed the testimony of someone who speaks falsely–then we ourselves are false. And if we bear falsehood in our hearts toward our fellow man, then what do we bear toward our Lord? As Jesus said, what we bear in our hearts is what comes out of our mouths. The fruit of our falsehood is lies, deceit, gossip, slander, and prideful boasting. We think in our hearts and say with our mouths, “Well, I am not so bad as that one,” and yet we are. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) How then can we think that we have permission to speak evil and yet not be judged?
I ask so many questions today because I know the Lord wants us to examine ourselves. If we are to repent of our past ways, if we are to cease stealing and lying and adultery and murder and covetousness, we must start by knowing ourselves and the sins we commit.
We may lie about something and look at this commandment and think to ourselves, “My lie is just a little white lie”–as if a “white lie” does not harm anyone. We think that so long as we don’t directly harm anyone with our lies, then God won’t mind. But if, as Jesus said, we ought to do to others as we would have the do to us (Matthew 7:12), then when we lie, then we are giving people permission to lie to us. We would then live in a society of falsehood and deceit, a land full of half-truths and distortions. And so we do live there. We actually do live in a place where people have abandoned their faith and denied their Lord and speak falsely every single day. We are a people who conceal our fears and shortcomings by saying, “I do not know the Man!”
If I am to love my neighbor as myself, then I must not bear false witness against him. If I am to love the Lord my God with all my heart and mind and soul, then I must not deny Him. If I am to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, then I must not blaspheme and deny His work in my life. If I am to repent and believe in the good news of the salvation bought by Jesus Christ, then I must uproot the false witness of my life to become a true witness of the gospel of Christ. If the commandment is to not bear false witness, then the positive side of that commandment is this: you shalt only bear true witness in favor of your neighbor.
When we bear the truth and call a lie a lie, when we stand up for the righteousness of God by speaking only what is edifying to those who hear, when we speak the name of Jesus Christ with love and conviction, we will be reviled and hated. People cannot bear the truth because it shows how little they love themselves, their neighbors, and their God. And yet we must bear the truth, must not deny the gospel but rather proclaim it.
Every day since I gave myself to Jesus Christ, I have been working and working on this in myself. I know that I deny my Lord every time I speak falsely or speak only half the truth. But I also know that I am being perfected in Christ, that His Spirit works within me to convict me of this sin and to bring me to repentance. Like Peter, I am anguished every time I allow my own fear and doubt to lead me to lie. What then can I do? Not only must I tell the truth in the future, but I must also repent of the lies I have already told. I know all too well how lives can be torn apart by lies and secrets, by bearing false witness with loved ones, by not being the same man in all situations. You see, this commandment–actually, ALL of the Ten Commandments are about integrity and character. They are not just encouragements to honor the Lord and prohibitions against harming others, they are guidelines to integrity, to showing our love for God and our love for our fellow man in ALL of our lives. So whether we are commanded to worship only God or honor our parents or not to steal or not to lie, we are being told to be the same men and women of integrity in all things.
8 But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth.
9 Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds,
10 and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,
11 where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
12 Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;
13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.
14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.
We are the elect of God, and we should be living that way! How can we say it is alright to lie in one circumstance and not another? How can we lie to one neighbor and not another? How can we love our Lord Jesus among friends and deny Him in public? If the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord is to be the “bond of perfection,” then we must allow that bond to perfect us, to make us the same man through and through so that no corrupt word proceeds out of our mouth at any time. (Ephesians 4:29)
I will join Paul in saying that I am not yet perfected, that I am still being perfected in Christ as I forge onward. (Philippians 3:12-14) I refuse to allow the lies to reign in my life but instead hold fast to truth of the gospel. Jesus told His disciples, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6a) How can lies and falsehood coexist in our hearts with the very Truth of God? They cannot, and so we must not allow them there.
Today, I would challenge all of us to start speaking only the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I would ask that we really allow the Spirit of God to transform our lives so that we proclaim the truth that is Jesus Christ. If we love our friends and family, and if we love our Lord, then we will honor them by speaking only what is good and noble and pure and true, by repenting of our petty and selfish deceits. We would instead life up the Word of God and speak its truth with honesty and integrity, and we would allow our love of the Lord to prompt us to heed these commandments. Yes, we shall not bear false witness against our neighbor. Instead, we shall bear only the truth that is Jesus Christ–a truth that will change our lives and enable us to truly love our neighbor as ourselves.
Holy Lord, Your truth is all I wish to know. Yes, I want my eyes opened to the lies and deceit in the world so that I am not fooled, not led astray. But more than that, Lord, I wish my mouth to be purged with a coal from the altar of God, so that only Your Word is proclaimed, so that my unclean lips are clean for You. I wish to eat the bitter scroll of conviction and speak forth the sweet truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Cleanse my heart and my mouth, O Lord, so that I am more and more like Your Son, who is all the truth I need ever know. Amen.