You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God, so that we don not lie about, betray or slander our neighbor, but excuse him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
A story is told of a young man during the middle ages who went to a monk, saying, “I have sinned by telling slanderous statements about someone. What should I do now?” The monk replied, “Put a feather on every doorstep in town.” The young man did as he was told. Then he returned to the monk, wondering if there was anything else that he should do. The monk said, “Now go back and pick up all the feathers.” The young man replied, “That is impossible! By now the wind will have blown them all over the town.” The monk replied, “So has your slanderous word become impossible to retrieve.”
Next to one’s own body, spouse, and temporal possessions, we still have another great treasure that God wishes to protect – honor and good reputation. As Solomon says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches.” We cannot do without a good reputation, for it is intolerable to live among people in open shame and contempt. Once someone’s name has been tarnished, it becomes almost impossible to restore it. If we learn something juicy about someone close to us, it becomes almost impossible to forget, yet we have no right to share it, unless called to do so in court.
To bear false witness is nothing other than the work of the tongue. It doesn’t only mean that one should not share false things about one’s neighbor, but not even sharing true statements about one’s neighbor. For if we are unwilling to go before a judge with the same information then why should we be willing to share these unkind statements with others. Unless our speaking results in the building up of his reputation, one should keep his mouth shut. Yet we cannot handle this. We would rather make ourselves look better than suffer the praise and adoration of one’s neighbor.
There are times when the Christian is called upon to admonish his neighbor, yet we would rather keep silent. Jesus says that if your brother sins go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he repents, you have gained a brother. Unfortunately, I fear that we are all too comfortable either keeping our mouth shut or too busy sharing the faults of our neighbor with those who have no reason to know. Instead we should only act when we have the reformation and love of our neighbor in mind. The same still rings true as we were told when we were kids, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
The law and its power have no means to rehabilitate. It only condemns. “Don’t lie.” it says, yet we lie anyway. By the grace of God, there is forgiveness for liars like us. Forgiveness does not come about by giving it our best shot, but only by the love that has been shown to us in Jesus Christ. “Father forgive them” Jesus said, “for they know not what they do.” Jesus yearns to give of Himself to you, so that you quit relying on your imperfect works and trust only in that which Jesus has already done. Only then can you truly begin to love our neighbor without the fear of the law.Almighty God, You have sent the Spirit of truth to us to guide us into all truth. Rule in our hearts, we pray, by Your grace and power, that we may be truthful in our thoughts, words, and actions. Keep us, merciful Lord, in Your fatherly care and protection, that no fear or sinful ambition may make us deceitful in our speech or behavior. Cleans us, we ask, from everything false and wrong, and bring us into the freedom of Your Good News in Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.