Feb 18

The Ten Commandments: Part 11 — Tell the Truth Exodus 20:16

You shall not give false witness against your neighbor.

The first most obvious application of the Ninth Commandment is the prohibition against giving false testimony in a court of law. This commandment would be repeated to Israel on various occasions. Judges were forbidden from taking bribes and from favoring the rich over the poor. An honest judicial system was absolutely necessary for the peace and security of the nation. Witnesses must not lie and judges must be impartial. If a nation’s judicial system, press, politicians, banks, and insurance companies are not honest the security of that nation is put at risk. One of the primary reasons many Third World nations governed by corrupt tyrants remain in poverty is because other nations will not lend to them precisely because their leaders cannot be trusted. As a result, the people of those nations suffer greatly.

Like the other commandments, a narrow and reductive approach to the Ninth will render most of us seemingly innocent. After all, how many of us have perjured ourselves in court? Very few no doubt. But the Ninth Commandment governs far more than court proceedings. It governs all of life. We are commanded to be honest in all things. All lying is forbidden.

A rejection of truth is characteristic of the fallen world. In the garden the woman was deceived in part by a subversive question from the serpent: “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1b). While not calling God a liar outright, the serpent craftily planted a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind about the trustworthiness of God’s Word. Only later did he openly call God a liar: “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). God has turned sinners over to their own lusts precisely because they “exchanged the truth of God for a lie…” This, the Apostle writes, is the seedbed for idolatry: “…and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator…” (Romans 1:25).

Lying is antithetical to the nature of God. As it is written in Numbers: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and he will not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (23:19). Jesus proclaimed himself to be “the truth” (John 14:6). In Revelation 3:7 he is called “holy and true.” He is “the Amen, the faithful and true witness” (Revelation 3:14). Likewise the Holy Spirit is the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:16).

Every time Christians approach God’s eternally binding moral law we must do so with Christ at our side and in our hearts. Otherwise we will despair at our own disobedience. Though we lie, exaggerate, conceal, and deceive, our Lord is he in whom no deceit was found. It is Jesus who fulfilled every demand the law required. Let us strive for truthfulness in all we do and say. Let us put away all lying and deceit. And as we do let us never lose sight of the fact that it is not our righteousness which justifies us before God. What justifies sinners is the righteousness of Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.