The Ninth Commandment: Tell the Truth
We often times think of telling the truth as a basic regurgitation of the facts. Truth tellers are honest and forthright. They don’t sugarcoat the unsavory details. They don’t downplay anything problematic about an event or belief. But, do we really appreciate such unfiltered truth?
I love courtroom dramas. To Kill A Mockingbird, A Time to Kill. But, one of my favorite movies in this genre is “A Few Good Men”. Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessup, defending himself on the stand. “You can’t handle the truth!” American Film Institute ranked this #29 on their list of 100 most memorable movie quotes. It’s an excellent scene, and it may be truer than ever before.
T. S. Eliot wrote, “Human kind cannot bear very much reality.” In 1987, Allen Bloom criticized higher education in his book The Closing of the American Mind. As a philosophy professor Bloom saw how the pursuit of truth had been replaced by the prevalence of relativism, which teaches that truth is not absolute. Instead of seeking objective evidence to determine ultimate truth, students were content to define their own personal preferences.
Today, an appreciation for relativism does not just challenge the existence of absolute truth, but encourages the protection of personal preferences against any alternative theories. In The Coddling of the American Mind, Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff explain how students are provided safe spaces to learn without fear of their worldview ever being challenged. The students focus on their feelings and professors are taught about “microaggressions”.
The average college student probably thinks telling the truth is the same as speaking your own truth. If 2020 has taught us anything it is that Christians are not exempt from these dangerous slides into moral compromise either.
The Ten Commandments are divided into two tables. The primary focus of the first table, commandments one through four, is our duty to love God. The primary focus of the second table, commandments five through ten, is our duty to love our neighbors. In the ninth commandment, the way we love our neighbor is by speaking truthfully to them and about them.
Read Exodus 20:16
Speak Truthfully To Your Neighbor
In order to understand the importance of the subject, we must think about it in terms of our vertical relationship with God. As with each of the commandments we want to think both vertically as well as horizontally. The vertical aspects ground the horizontal aspects. Truth is important because it reflects the nature of God. The honesty of God is one thing that makes him unique from mankind. God always tells the truth. He cannot lie.
Since we are all made in the image of God, we depend upon honesty in our relationships with one another. Any relationship that is based upon fraudulent claims is bound to be short-lived if not disastrous. We oftentimes depend on the testimony of someone we know in order to verify good character.
3 John 12 Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.
Notice the connection John makes between testimony and truth. Internal commitments impact the way we treat others. So after recognizing the connection of truth to the nature of God, we need to consider our own commitment to truth.
“A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Proverbs 22:1). We build our reputation by preserving and promoting whatever is true. We are careful about making commitments, but when we do we keep our word. We speak truth in comfortable and uncomfortable situations. We don’t seek conflict, but we are not afraid of it. We listen to others sincerely and we speak freely because we have nothing to hide.
Through consistent communication and behavior we develop that good name. And once we have a good name, it is more valuable than riches. Therefore, we need to defend our name whenever it is falsely attacked.
Many of you know that I was a viral sensation a few weeks ago. My thirty second video has been viewed more than 130,000 times. So it is officially considered a viral video. And it is utterly ridiculous. I was depicting Governor Newsom’s recommendation to wear your mask between bites. What was meant to be funny made some people furious. Most people got it, but others accused me of being a compliant sheep. Thankfully, I had some good friends who spoke up on my behalf. I’ve built my good name on sarcasm, and it finally paid off!
Do you have a good name among others inside and outside the church? Are you concerned to defend your own reputation? Are you willing to do the hard work to clear your name if a false accusation is raised against you? Confrontation and patient explanation will be necessary, but it must be done for the sake of preserving your name. If you love truth, you will defend yourselves against slander.
John 17:17 emphasizes the importance of God’s word in knowing truth, but truth is also a person. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the personification of truth that grounds our proclamation of the gospel. But notice what happened when Jesus spoke the truth. People were offended to the point that they sought to kill him, and eventually did.
Certainly, it would have been much easier for Jesus to remain silent or to say something less revealing about himself. But he was unwilling to withhold the truth from them, even if it would lead to devastating consequences. Speaking the truth will inevitably cause offense. Relationships depend upon honesty, but sometimes its our honesty that causes offense. Do you love truth to the degree that you are willing to face disruption in your relationships in order to proclaim it?
You should not only be concerned with speaking truth to preserve your own name, but you should also seek to…
Speak Truthfully About Your Neighbor
The text of the commandment itself is given in the context of the courtroom (Exodus 20:16). Providing false testimony could result in death for the one falsely accused. A lack of integrity in the judicial system leads to the breakdown of society. You cannot have a fair society where there is corruption in the courtroom. We will look at this in greater detail next week, but the call to be honest about our neighbor certainly goes beyond the courtroom.
We show our appreciation for our neighbors by treating them with respect. We don’t seek to find their faults, but we anticipate them to have many positive traits. We know the fall has caused total depravity, but that does not mean that we expect a person to always act on their worst instincts. We are hopeful that they will act according to God’s moral law because we know they are guided by a God-given conscience.
Unless there is evidence, we should refrain from impugning someone’s character. Rather, we want to promote their good name, and that involves responding with joy when they are recognized.
3 John 3-4 For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth. I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
Paul acknowledged the grace he recognized in the Christians at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:4-9). He had plenty of truth bombs to drop in their lap, but he began by thanking God for his grace in their lives. He was not joyful about their wrongdoing. He prayed for them with hopeful expectation that he would receive a good report of their perseverance.
We offer support to our neighbors who suffer from infirmities or injustice. That begins by weeping with those who weep. Weeping is not the only thing we do. We should ask questions to determine how we might help. In some cases, being present is sufficient. In other cases, we might be able to utilize the gifts or resources God has blessed us with to be an encouragement.
1 Peter 4:8 Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.
We put a stop to gossip because we know it will only erode relationships. We discourage flattery because it builds relationships upon a facade. We prevent the spread of slander, preserving the integrity of those who are wrongfully being attacked. We do this because we are beginning to love what God loves and hate what God hates.
Speaking the truth does not mean that you must say everything you’re thinking. I know one prominent pastor was at a conference with several other prominent pastors. When the conference host showed his library to his guests, one declared, “I would consider myself to have been a failure if this library was my legacy.” There is a place for boldness and honest accountability, but presumptuous statements betray an uncharitable spirit. We need to be careful that we aren’t projecting our own subjective values upon others.
In John 8, Jesus confronts the Pharisees and speaks truthfully about all who tell lies. Humans lie because they are following the pattern of the father of lies. We will unpack this further next week as well as consider what may or may not be exceptions to this commandment (e.g., Rahab, Hebrew Midwives). But we can reiterate the importance of honesty for maintaining order in society.
A good judge will rule based upon the evidence that is provided in a case. If the evidence has been manipulated or fraudulently provided, the decision will be wrong. The testimony of a witness is crucial. That is why they must be allowed to be questioned by the defendant. They need to be able to corroborate their evidence and show that they have integrity and commitment to speak what is true. If their witness account is found to be unsubstantiated, their testimony must be thrown out.
If this is true in society, then it is all the more important that we live this way within the context of the Church.
Our testimony is a crucial part of Christianity. Do you have a reputation among fellow believers of speaking truthfully to and about others? If not, repent and do what you can to restore the good name you have slandered. Christians have an appreciation for the truth because of their union with Christ.
Christ alone was always honest. He never entertained any gossip. He never slandered others. And when the very people he came to save turned their backs upon him, it was their false testimony that condemned him to crucifixion. Jesus died because of the vast corruption prevalent throughout the Jewish judicial system. The Satanic Sanhedrin held a rigged trial and then handed Jesus over to Rome to be put to death.
Jesus not only died because of a violation of the ninth commandment, his death also paid the penalty for all believers who have and will violate this commandment. When Satan stands beside us to accuse us of every false testimony we have ever uttered, God looks upon the perfect righteousness of his Son and silences the accuser.
When we recognize what Christ has done for us we are motivated to represent him as faithful witnesses. The proclamation of the gospel is motivated by and grounded in the personification of the truth. If you are a believer here this morning, you have received the Holy Spirit who emboldens and empowers you to be Christ’s witnesses. After giving his disciples the command to “make disciples of all nations” he promised to be with them “always, to the end of the age.” Then, just before his ascension he left them with one last promise. It is a promise that we all need to hear:
Acts 1:8 You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.
If you have been forgiven by the only perfect witness, then he has called you and enabled you to be his faithful witness.