Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Thy Neighbor

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

Romans 13:9 makes it abundantly clear that the last five commandments have to do with our conduct and attitude toward our neighbor. “Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” And it is only those who are trying to change the subject and justify themselves, who have to say, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). It certainly goes beyond the people next door, because we can be sure the unfortunate Jew in the story Jesus went on to tell, in Luke, did not live next door to the Samaritan! Those people we rub shoulders with all through life have every right to expect that we will do them no bodily harm, steal from them, lie about them, nor violate their marriages. And we know by these last five decrees from God Almighty that He expects it, too.

What then can we safely say about this ninth commandment? Well, obviously, it has to do with lying about another person. It is planting in the mind of one individual, something about another individual, that is false. We know, of course, from other verses, that lying about anything is wrong (Col.3:9-10; Prov.19:22; Prov.6:16-17; Eph.4:25, etc.). You are aware, however, that there are instances in the Bible when someone actually did lie, but was seemingly not faulted for it (for example, Rahab). I do not pretend to be able to reconcile this with the clear teaching against lying, but I have never taken it to be justification for my own prevarication. On the other hand, I am not aware of any place in the Bible where giving false witness about another person was ever condoned. On the contrary, Proverbs 25:18 says of such an individual that he or she is a “maul [hammer or club], and a sword, and a sharp arrow.” Paul gives testimony of being “slanderously reported” of concerning his teaching about the grace of God (Rom.3:8); and we all know that, humanly speaking, our Lord was put to death because of two false witnesses, who could not even get their stories straight (Mk.14:56).

The slanderer is the most flagrant offender when it comes to this particular sin. It is a offense that costs the perpetrator little effort, either physically or mentally, yet it harvests the greatest havoc. More “bang for your buck,” so to speak. Hearts have been broken, homes destroyed, and lives ruined by a false witness who methodically or flippantly planted seeds of doubt against the character of his or her “neighbor.” In reality, though, it is only the reputation of the innocent victim that can be harmed. As G. Campbell Morgan has said,“To be right with God depends upon character, and character is not affected by reputation. Character is the engraving of the being upon a man, of the true facts concerning him. Reputation is the estimate which others form of him. The latter should ever be dependent upon the other." Besides slander, there are other means of violation, as well. For instance, insincere flattery, vague false impressions, incorrect attribution of motive, and even silence. When someone is wrongly accused in our presence, and we fail to set the record straight, we are guilty of condoning a false witness. When “devout Jews,” who had come to Jerusalem for Pentecost, began to speak in languages other than their own, they were accused by others standing nearby of being “full of new wine.” But Peter quickly rose to defend them against this slander by saying, “[T]hese are not drunken as ye suppose” (Acts 2:13-15). And, it goes without saying that giving false testimony about someone, under oath, is a breach of civil, as well as God’s, law.

As women, with our so called “intuition,” we are sometimes quick to prejudge and, worse, to pass along that judgment to others. I don’t know about you, but I have been wrong about people enough to be suspicious of my innate intuitions. In any case, as Oswald Chambers says, “God never gives us discernment in order to criticize, but that we may intercede.” The slanderer cares nothing for his neighbor, and little for his God. The latter says of such an individual:

“He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.”

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