Rethinking the Ninth Commandment: The Truth about Tale Bearing

Years ago, when I lived in the Midlands of England, a European friend of mine was falsely accused of stealing jewelry from an elderly couple’s house. The husband of the jewelry’s owner showed up one Sunday at church where we and other friends attended, and he brought this charge to the pastor. My friend was terrified, and I was furious.

I knew it had been a lie. For reasons I won’t divulge here, I had previously suspected this man to be bad news, and the moment he showed up in the church doorway and I figured out who he was, I was ready to charge at him. I positioned myself in the room between him and my friend, but he never came close. He disappeared into the pastor’s office, and my friends and I left the building.

For several hours, I boiled over with indignation that someone like him could accuse someone like her of doing something like that. She had been at his home the day before, ‘tis true, but she and a couple of our other friends were volunteering to help this elderly couple with yard work and other chores. They were being kind to him.

I never knew for sure what was his motivation for the scheme, but later that same Sunday, my friend received a phone call from the pastor. The jewelry has mysteriously reappeared right where the man’s wife had left it. Case closed. All was well.

But all wasn’t well.

So that’s it? We just let him go? What if he preys on someone else and gets away with it? Abiding under the authority of my leaders, I did let it go in one sense, but I still believe we should have notified the police of the man’s scheme, to at least put him on their radar.

A moment ago, I called the man’s story a lie. Some years later looking back, I came to terms with why that lie was so much worse than “normal” lies. His was a case more serious. He had borne false witness against his neighbor.

Isn’t bearing false witness against your neighbor just another way to say lying? Certainly, that’s how we often paraphrase the Ninth of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:16), but that Commandment actually says, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.” That’s more serious than just lying. Bearing false witness is murdering someone’s reputation.

I love Proverbs 22:1. It says, “A GOOD name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favour rather than silver and gold.”

I am not as fond of what we read in the first part of John 10:10. It says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy…”

My friend had a good name. She was well liked, because she was kind and honest and helpful. That man tried to kill her good name. He tried to destroy her reputation.

The good news is that God knows our real name. He will neither be fooled nor mocked by men.

Over the course of the next few years, I experienced some slander against my name as well, though nothing as serious as the charges leveled at my friend. Still, the words of the tale bearers hurt. They caused a lot of trouble.

One day, I drove down to Cardiff, Wales with some friends to attend an annual men’s conference. R. T. Kendall was the keynote speaker, and he preached from the Old Testament story of Joseph. That was a life-changing day for me.

If you’re not already familiar with R. T. Kendall, it may be interesting to know that he is a Tennessee, USA native, who succeeded the very British Martyn Lloyd-Jones in pastoring Westminster Chapel just a short walk from Buckingham Palace. He is a gifted, if not a bit of a controversial, Bible teacher.

R. T. Kendall’s message that day in Cardiff was titled “God Meant It for Good.” In a powerful manner, he took us through the whole life of Joseph, and he showed that, no matter how much his enemies tried, they would fail to destroy Joseph, and furthermore, God would raise Joseph up to what was arguably the most powerful seat of any human in the world at that time.

Joseph’s brothers, fueled by envy, sold him into slavery while telling their father he had been killed by wild beasts. Later, Joseph became a servant to a powerful leader named Potiphar, and Potiphar’s wife, fueled by lust and revenge, accused Joseph of trying to seduce her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown in prison. How would we have responded to such mistreatment?

Joseph’s response was to honor the Lord his God and become an honorable prisoner. He worked on that good name, and not long afterward, he was summoned into the presence of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The really great thing about Joseph’s story is that, while we know a good name is more valuable than financial wealth, Joseph was blessed by God with both. He was also given great authority, and he would go on to use his earthly power for the glory of God and His spiritual plan for humanity.

People, driven by selfishness, tried to destroy Joseph. God allowed all of that to happen, but not so that Joseph would be destroyed. God meant it for good. We read those words in Genesis 50:20. “But as for you,” Joseph says to his brothers, “ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

That’s what God is like: He takes people who will humbly serve Him, and He lifts them up, not for their own glory, but for the furtherance of His Kingdom and His glory.

In theological studies, people say Joseph is a “type” of Jesus Christ, which is to say a representation of Jesus. While the leaders of His time sought to destroy Jesus, God (and Jesus was God in the flesh) used it for the ultimate good of humanity. That’s the Gospel story, which is the crux of the whole Bible.

I sometimes wonder what happened to Potiphar’s wife, just like I wonder even now what happened to that man who accused my friend. Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are abomination to the LORD: but they that deal truly are his delight.” If they went to the grave unregenerate, we need not wonder what happened to them. Revelation 21:8 says liars will “have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.”

“Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth,” says Proverbs 26:20.

Let’s also look at Proverbs 26:27-28, “Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him. A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.”

God will not be mocked. He knows the truth. He is the Truth. Jesus, who is God, said in John 14:6, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Jesus identifies Himself as being The Truth. Satan is identified in John 8:44 as the father of lies.

People who bear false witness against their neighbors, whatever their motivation, are working against their Creator, and they are serving the purposes of the father of lies.

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