The Ninth Commandment

Let us examine ourselves this morning in light of the ninth commandment, which is: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16).

The commandment specifically envisions giving false testimony in a court of law—and even more specifically, false testimony against an innocent man, which is designed to lead to his condemnation and punishment.

We ought to understand, however, that although the commandment has a very specific focus—protecting the innocent from unjust condemnation—it applies equally to protecting the guilty from just condemnation: lying so as to help a guilty man escape conviction.

All false testimony in a court of law is prohibited under the ninth commandment. God is very much concerned about the integrity of the law courts. He is concerned that justice be done, so that the innocent are protected and the guilty are punished appropriately.

But there is even more to the commandment. Traditionally, it has been interpreted (and rightly so) as prohibiting all slander and libel—that is, both spoken and written defamation of character. The most valuable thing anyone possesses is a good reputation. God sees to it that a good reputation is protected by the ninth commandment.

We can generalize the principles of the ninth commandment even further as prohibiting the speaking of lies, whether the lies attack a person’s character or not. The most essential ingredient for any relationship is trust. But there can be no trust unless the parties to the relationship are both committed to speaking the truth—being honest with one another.

We summarize by saying that God’s will for us in the ninth commandment is that we never falsely accuse anyone of wrongdoing in a court of law or anywhere else, nor speak lies, but rather love and tell the truth.

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