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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Langley Canadian Reformed Church
 Langley, B.C.
Title:The Ninth Commandment Forbids False Witness
Text:LD 43 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic: 9th Commandment (Lying)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Hymn 60
Hymn 1A
Psalm 15:1-3
Psalm 101
Hymn 47:5 (after offering)
Hymn 58

Readings:  Acts 6, 1 Peter 2:13-25, Rev. 14:1-5
Text:  Lord's Day 43
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus,


During the Second World War, the ninth commandment was a topic of a lot of discussion among our Reformed forefathers.  When the Nazis come to your door and ask whether you’re hiding Jews or not, what do you tell them?  Some insisted that you’re not permitted to lie at all.  They said you have to tell the Nazis the truth and let the chips fall where they may.  God will bless our faithfulness to his commandments.  The ninth commandment forbids us to lie, and so we ought not to lie, even when Jews are hiding in the attic and the Nazis have come to send them to be gassed at a concentration camp.


Others were of a different mind.  On Sunday January 24, 1943 the minister of the Reformed church at Amersfoort came to Lord’s Day 43 in his catechism preaching.  Though Rev. Holwerda was wise and didn’t directly speak about the issue of hiding Jews, it was clear that he was giving direction to his congregation on such questions.  Rev. Holwerda, who was later Professor Holwerda, took his starting point in the text of the ninth commandment.  It does not say, “You shall not lie,” but “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.”  He argued that this commandment is first of all about doing right for your neighbour, making sure that your neighbour is treated justly.  While he didn’t come right out and say it directly, Holwerda was arguing that Reformed believers for the love of their neighbour, can hide Jews and hide that fact from Nazis.  By the way, if you’re interested, you can find an English translation of this sermon on the Internet just by googling Holwerda and Lord’s Day 43.      


But that was a long time ago.  Today we don’t have Nazis at our door looking for Jews.  However, there are always issues that crop with us and the ninth commandment, even if they’re not life and death.  Issues like how do you file your income taxes – do you declare that extra income you received or do you keep it “under the table”?  Or what do we do with gossip and gossips?   Of course, we could go on.  The ninth commandment is obviously still relevant to our lives.  As part of our sanctification, our growth in Christ, our thankfulness for the gospel, we need to consider it again this afternoon.  So, we will consider the ninth commandment and its prohibition against false witness.  We’ll look at:


1.      The meaning of this commandment

2.      The perfect obedience to this commandment

3.      The challenges to this commandment


With the help of Rev. Holwerda, we’ve already noted that this commandment forbids false witness against your neighbour.  As we look closer, the first thing we need to note is that this commandment has a legal flavour to it.  In the Old Testament, false witness had to do with testimony in a court of law.  If you were a false witness, you made an untrue statement before a judge.  So, the ninth commandment is about what is just and right, promoting justice in human society. 


To take this further, we can note that there are three elements in this commandment as given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5.  First of all, there’s “bearing or giving false witness.”  Bearing false witness simply means reporting something that is not true.  Deceitfully passing on lies.  The second element sometimes captures the intent and motivation, but also and always the outcome.  That’s found in the word “against.”  This is communicating something that will hurt someone, that will be for ill and not for good.  Bearing false witness against means passing on information that does not defend and promote anyone’s honour and reputation.  Finally, the third element is there with the object:  “your neighbour.”  “You shall not give false testimony/witness against your neighbour.”  Then someone might ask, who is my neighbour?  And we all know the answer that the Lord Jesus gave to that question:  our neighbour is anyone whom God places on our path.


From the negative side, the ninth commandment is simply this:  we are never to speak words that will attack and hurt those whom God has placed in our lives.  The Catechism puts it in a neat summary, “I must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard.”  It’s not hard to understand.


It’s also not hard to find Biblical examples of people breaking this side of the ninth commandment.  We can think of what happened with Stephen in Acts 6.  The Jewish religious leaders were desperate to crush the infant Christian church.  They slithered around behind the scenes and found some men who were persuaded to bear false witness against Stephen.  They claimed that they had heard Stephen blaspheme Moses and God.  They were false witnesses against their neighbour and it was their testimony that led to Stephen’s death.


False testimony can still lead to death.  Here I’m thinking especially of what can happen with bullying among school age kids.  You know what happens when kids are bullied.  Besides the physical side, there are often nasty words, some of them are true, some of them are false, but it doesn’t matter – the words are meant to injure and do harm to the victim.  And you’ve probably heard of the news stories where a kid is bullied so badly that he ends up taking his own life because he can’t bear it any longer.  Thankfully that hasn’t happened among us, but bullying does take place and this could be the consequence.  We need to take it seriously and do what we can to eliminate it from school, home and church.  Bullying can have no place in a community of Christians.  There has to be zero tolerance.


So, there is the negative side of the meaning of the ninth commandment.  But there is also a positive side.  When God forbids something, he also commands the opposite.  When he forbids false worship, he commands true worship.  When he forbids murder, he also commands us to love our neighbour.  When he forbids sexual immorality, he commands sexual purity.  And so forth.  And so it is also with the ninth commandment.


In the ninth commandment, God commands us to love the truth, to speak and confess it honestly and do whatever we can to defend and promote our neighbour’s honour and reputation.  In the ninth commandment, God wants us to use our words to build up rather than tear down.  He wants us to serve our neighbour and his or her welfare.  And of course, all of that relates to the second great commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.  If you love your neighbour, you’ll be using your words and communication for his benefit, to serve his advancement.  Rather than being against your neighbour, you’ll be for her, on her side and that will be readily evident with what comes out of your mouth or what comes from your keyboard or whatever other means you use to communicate.  Whatever the means, there will be edifying words, words of encouragement. 


Like the others, the ninth commandment is not all that difficult to understand with regards to what it forbids and what it commands.  This is not surprising because Romans 2 says that the requirements of God’s law are written on every human heart.  The problem is that left to ourselves we just don’t like it.  Left on our own, we prefer to tear down rather than build up.  Left to our own sinful devices and the evil motives of our hearts, we are not for the people around us, but we’re more for ourselves.  Honesty begins at home and honesty requires that we confess our many shortcomings when it comes to the ninth commandment.  We have to be honest with ourselves and we must be honest before God.  We have broken this commandment and we have only a small beginning of the obedience that God expects from his children. 


To motivate us and lead us further in growth in our sanctification, we do well to reflect for a few moments on the only perfect human obedience to this commandment since the fall.  There has only been one man who has perfectly kept the ninth commandment, both in its positive and negative sides, staying away from what God has forbidden, and obeying what God has commanded.  Of course, that man is our Lord Jesus.


In all the years of his life on earth, the Lord Jesus never gave false testimony against anyone.  He did not ever twist anyone’s words.  He neither gossiped nor slandered.  He did not condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly or unheard.  He avoided all lying and deceit as the devil’s own work.  He actually exposed the devil as the “father of lies.”  He exposed those who follow in the devil footsteps as the devil’s own children. 


Wherever he went, our Lord Jesus Christ loved the truth.  In fact, John 14:6 says that he is Truth personified, Truth with a capital ‘T.’  He spoke and confessed the truth honestly – time and time again, you hear him saying, “I tell you the truth...” and he wasn’t exaggerating.  He defended and promoted his neighbour’s honour and reputation – just think of how he told his disciples in John 9 that the man who had been blind was not blind because of his sin or because of any wrong doing on the part of his parents – rather it was for the glory of God.  The Lord Jesus was the great truth-teller for the sake of his neighbour. 


In 1 Peter 2, the apostle Peter holds Jesus up as an example for his readers and he quotes the prophecy of Isaiah 53:9, “no deceit was found in his mouth.”  False witnesses were brought against Jesus, but he did not respond in kind.  Instead, he entrusted himself to God and so he suffered and died on the cross.  As he did so, he made satisfaction for all our sins, also our sins against the ninth commandment.  But there is more. 


Because all his obedience to the law of God not only qualified him to be the perfect sinless sacrifice, all that obedience is also credited or imputed to us.  The good news says that Jesus not only wipes the slate clean, he also fills it with all his perfect merits and righteousness.  So now when God looks at your slate, at your account or your record, he sees everything that the Lord Jesus has done for you.  You are right with him on account of what he has done in all his redemptive work. 


And it’s in that context that we look to Christ as our example.  As we look to him in faith, we long to follow in his footsteps.  We want to be filled with his Spirit and united to him, so that our lives reflect his life.  When it comes to the ninth commandment, we want to be like Christ who is the Truth.  We want to be people who hate the lie and love the truth.  We want to be people who use our mouths, words, and all our communication for the good of those around us. 


As we look to Christ in faith, trusting in his perfect work for us, the Holy Spirit will work change in our hearts and lives.  There will be growth and we will want to please our Father more and more.  It may be a slow process and it certainly won’t be completed in this life.  But look to the last book of the Bible and you know that it will be completed in the age to come.  We read from Revelation 14 and did you notice what it said in verse 5 about the saints standing with the Lamb on Mount Zion?  “No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless.”  No lie was found in their mouths!  The day is coming when what we are in principle will also be true in practice.  We will only be saints.  Some day we will stand with Christ and be free from all struggles against sin, including sin against the ninth commandment.


But for today, we have a peace that starts a war.  We have peace with God through Christ and now we are called to be soldiers in the spiritual battle against sin in our lives.  And that can be difficult because of all the challenges that present themselves.  Think just of the world in which we live.  Someone once said that our culture is false-witness friendly.  It’s true.  You see it all the time in media, entertainment and in politics – you see it with non-Christians and people who call themselves Christians.  We live in an age of spin.  The wages of spin is desensitivity to the destructiveness of the lie.  That affects relationships with people around us – with our neighbour.  So, it would be good for us to self-consciously pursue skills in critical thinking and discernment.  Those are skills best cultivated in the communion of saints, in fellowship with one another.  We do that through studying God’s Word together and discussing it, and that would especially be something that needs to be taking place in our homes and families.  Critical thinking and discernment is also established and strengthened through reading good Christian books and magazines.  Let me ask you:  do you have a subscription to Clarion and Reformed Perspective?  Those would be good places to start, also for getting a good idea of helpful Christian books.  These are the sorts of practical things that the Holy Spirit will use to help you to grow in discernment, so you can tell the difference between the truth and the lie, between spin and sincerity. 


But loved ones there are other challenges when it comes to the ninth commandment.  Think of the materialistic world in which we live.  The bottom line is often king.  The world says, “You can sacrifice the truth to make a little extra money.  Just don’t get caught.”  In the introduction, I mentioned income taxes.  Should we be honest and declare all our income?  Or can we withhold some since the government already gets so much anyway?  But here again, you need to think of your neighbour.  To be less than totally honest is harmful to your neighbour.  Your neighbour will end up paying more, or more likely his children will.  Think of what Scripture says:  “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor. 13:6-7).  “Love does no harm to its neighbour.  Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:10).


Love also needs to compel us when we consider the always-present challenge of gossip – destructive communication about others.  Again, whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter.  If it’s hurtful talk, it’s gossip.  The Word clearly instructs us to put it off – it doesn’t fit with a Christian life, it doesn’t belong in the life of someone who is united to Christ.  It’s not a fruit of faith, not a part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  So, what are some practical things that we can do to put gossip to death in our lives?  Let me make a few suggestions. 

First, we can cut gossips off.  When someone is going to tell you a juicy tidbit --“Did you hear what happened with so-and-so…?” – just say, “You know what?  I don’t want to hear about that.  I’m just not interested.”      

Second, there are those who want us to gossip.  They pry and probe, perhaps baiting you with leading questions.  Refuse to engage them on it.  Change the subject, walk away, do whatever you have to do, but don’t take the bait, don’t bite. 

Third, as much as it’s in your power refuse to read or watch gossip about others.  Many of us go through grocery checkout aisles every week and you can see plenty of gossip there.  Don’t buy those magazines, don’t pay attention to them.  Don’t watch the gossip shows. 

Finally, you can put off gossip by setting a good example for others.  Here think especially of your children.  So, for instance, if our children hear us on the telephone engaged in destructive communication about others, how are we to expect them to act and behave?

So, brothers and sisters, as part of your sanctification put off those dirty gossip clothes, and put on the new nature which is in Christ.  Use your speech, your words, your tongue, your lips for the good of your neighbour and for the glory of God.  This is all part of waging the holy war on sin in our lives.


Loved ones, our God is a God of truth.  His Word is truth.  His Son is truth.  In God, we see truth married to love and justice.  He wants his people to reflect his image. 


Let’s now pray for his help in that:


Our Father, God of truth,


By nature, we confess ourselves to be those who love the lie.  We confess that so often we have used our words and communication for evil purposes.  We have hurt our neighbours both with our lies and with the truth.  We thank you for our Lord Jesus who never did any such thing.  We ask you to forgive us through him.  Please show us your mercy and fill us ever more with your Spirit so that we hate sin and fight against it.  Help us to put the lie to death in our lives and to reflect your image.  Help us with your Spirit to be honest and people of integrity, people who are for their neighbour rather than against.  Please hear us in Christ our Lord, AMEN.                           




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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