Exodus 20:16 (NKJV)
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
Martin Luther writes in his Large Catechism, “Besides our own body, our wife or husband, and our temporal property, we have one more treasure which is indispensible to us, namely, our honor and good name, for it is intolerable to live among men in public disgrace and contempt. Therefore God will not have our neighbor deprived of his reputation, honor, and character any more than of his money and possessions…”
Even as we treasure our own reputation, we are to treasure the reputation of our neighbor and beware tarnishing his good name. So what does this mean? First, it means that in courts of law, we are obliged to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. A faithful witness, Solomon declares, does not lie, but a false witness will utter lies. We are not to be influenced by another’s money, power, influence, gender, race, poverty, or position to speak anything other than the truth when summoned to do so by a lawful authority. God declares in Lev 19:15 – You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor. God reiterated this need for truth in the halls of justice through the prophet Zechariah:
These are the things you shall do: 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.
When summoned to bear witness in a court of law or when summoned to sit on a jury judging our peers, our obligation in the sight of God is to tell the truth and to judge in light of the truth.
Second, not only are we forbidden to bear false witness in courts of law, we are forbidden to use our tongue to destroy the reputation of our neighbor. Leviticus 19:16 declares, You shll not go about as a talebearer among your people… God hates the one who slanders and gossips and back-bites. He delights in the truth, delights in the one who is willing to speak truth with his lips. So Paul commands us in Ephesians 4:25, Therefore, putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another.
Even as God is a God of truth so we are to men and women of the truth. Truthfulness is to characterize our interaction – with God and with others. So what of you? Is your life truthful? Or do you hide behind lies? Lie about others? Gossip? Slander? Malign?
Reminded of our calling to be men and women of the truth, let us confess to God that our courts and our culture have abandoned truth and embraced lies; and let us confess also that we ourselves often twist and distort the truth to serve our own ends. Let us kneel as we confess our sins to the Lord.