Go to Home Page

Sermon 10-18-09
Exodus 20:16 - Witnessing

Audio Sermon


"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16)

Today’s sermon is a look at the Ninth Commandment, which is all about truth (or its lack) in our words concerning other people. The main setting of this verse is about the courtroom. Someone has been accused of a crime and someone else is witnessing against the person who has been charged. There is no problem with your statements as a witness if those words are true. But if they are not true, you have become a “false witness against your neighbor.”

From a merely human perspective, if you are caught lying in a Court of Law, you will be charged with the crime of perjury – lying while under oath - and you might pay a fine and spend some time in jail. That’s what was happening at the trial of Jesus. He was innocent of EVERYTHING. He was the only sinless person who has ever walked this earth, and “the chief priests and the whole Council kept trying to obtain false testimony against (Him) so that they might put Him to death” (Matthew 26:59). He was not guilty, but the leading religious people of that time hated Him and were willing to lie in order to bring Him harm. They had become false witnesses in a court room setting.

But most of the words uttered by a “false witness” are more subtle and a Court of Law is not what’s involved. We call the problem “gossip” and many lives have been ruined by it.

One of the most important lessons in life for us all to learn is that there are times when we should not say anything. Usually when we dislike somebody, it is for superficial reasons. Often it’s because they remind us of someone who has harmed us in the past. When we meet a new person, they should be like a blank slate to us, neither good nor bad because we don’t know them yet. And those “new” people don’t know us either. If you’re in the church or not, it’s a good idea to accept others because God expects it of you. And we should all live a clean life, not giving others reasons to reject you or gossip about you. As Will Rogers said, “Live so that you wouldn't be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.”

In humanity we tend to talk too much. William Redpath in “A Passion for Preaching,” said, “I once formed a mutual encouragement fellowship at a time of stress in one of my pastorates. The members subscribed to a simple formula applied before speaking of any person or subject that was perhaps controversial” ---

  • T - Is it true?

  • H - Is it helpful?

  • I - Is it inspiring?

  • N - Is it necessary?

  • K - Is it kind?

Redpath continued: “If what I am about to say does not pass those tests, I will keep my mouth shut!” And he went on to say: “It worked!” How do we learn to “think” like he did?

The answer is that we are to trust in the Lord, and learn to pray as we speak, giving our hearts and our conversation to Him who made us. Romans 1:29 and its context contains a listing of many of the problems found in the hearts and actions of humanity. That verse ends with the word, “gossip.” The context continues, “Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:32). It’s time for us to prayerfully say less and to love more.

The book “Hooray for Yiddish” gives us good advice: “If you don't say it, they can't repeat it. Yiddish folklore offers a story about gossip-makers. One such man had told so many malicious untruths about the local rabbi that, overcome by remorse, he begged the rabbi to forgive him. ‘And, Rabbi, tell me how I can make amends.’ The rabbi sighed, ‘Take two pillows, go to the public square and there cut the pillows open. Wave them in the air. Then come back.’ The rumormonger quickly went home, got two pillows and a knife, hastened to the square, cut the pillows open, waved them in the air and hastened back to the rabbi's chambers. ‘I did just what you said, Rabbi!’ ‘Good!’ was the reply. The rabbi smiled. ‘Now, to realize how much harm is done by gossip, go back to the square...’ ‘And?’ ‘And collect all your feathers.’

How many times have we violated the Ninth Commandment through our careless and perhaps mean words? "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16) must be taken seriously by us all. And it is far more than just hurting someone’s feelings.

Have you ever had something said about you that simply was (and is) not true? Do you remember how it felt? It feels like your soul has been flooded with abiding embarrassment. It becomes difficult to leave the house for many. Some become VERY angry to the extent that they might actually do harm to the one who spread the gossip in the first place. Worse, you can become so angry that the next motorist who cuts in front of you might be run off the road. A violation of today’s commandment can lead to a violation of the Sixth – “You shall not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13), in your thoughts as well as your actions.

We learned from Jesus in Matthew 5:21-22 that if you have anger in your heart to the extent that your thoughts are murderous toward others, you are guilty of murder in the sight of God. That’s what James said in quoting the Law – “He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not commit murder.’ If you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the Law” (James 2:11). If you “bear false witness,” you are capable of more. If one Commandment is broken, you are guilty of them all.

Through gossip, through bearing “false witness,” we have become Lawbreakers in the sight of a Holy God. Even worse, that very God who can see better than we can, knows that your work in harming others leads them to break the Law also. A person who is the victim of a “false” witness is to become like somebody who carries a deadly disease. The injured person will injure others, infecting everybody they meet.

James continued in his discussion about the Law, stating what we have seen; that if we have committed one sin we are guilty of all. He said that “judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy,” and he continued,Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13). It’s time to seek God’s help and show “mercy,” for in doing so, you make the world a better place.

If you have ever said an unkind word about anyone, you are under God’s judgment. Is there no escape? Yes there is. You can’t go back and change what was done, but you can be forgiven. Romans 6:23 recognizes our condition by stating, “the wages of sin is death;” and of course, to “bear false witness against your neighbor” is sin. But praise the Lord, the verse in Romans continues, “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amazingly, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the Law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the Law of sin and death” Romans 8:1). Praise the Lord!

Lord, I am condemned by the Law of God. I am sorry for my sins, and I confess them. Please forgive Me. I trust in the Son of God & receive Him now. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

Write to: Letters@FridayStudy.org

"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)

Donations to this ministry are greatly appreciated and may be sent to:
Friday Study Ministries
P.O. Box 92131
Long Beach, CA 90809-2131 USA