Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias illustrated the many ways a person can tell the truth when he told the story of two brothers. Evidently the brothers were rather corrupt in their ways, even though they had both succeeded greatly in business. When one of the brothers became critically ill with cancer, the other one approached the local pastor with this proposal: He would donate a huge sum of money to the church if only the preacher would say at his brother’s funeral that his brother was a saint. On the day of the funeral, the pastor, having accepted the challenge, looked for a way to state those unlikely words before the congregation. Finally he said, “Before we close this memorial service, I want to say that, compared to his living brother, Joe was a saint!”
The bearing of false testimony is strictly prohibited by God, no matter how innovative we become! Any understanding of what God was saying to His children is greatly enhanced by a clear understanding of what it means to tell a lie. Bearing false testimony also carries with it the basic idea of fabrication, which, simply put, means to make something up. Exaggeration fits right in with God’s prohibition because any effort to stretch the truth is, in and of itself, a fabrication. When God said, “You shall not bear false witness” (Exodus 20:16), He was definitively pointing to the heart of man. Not even a person’s creativity with the truth is acceptable to God.
The verb to bear implies the act of carrying or transmitting something, while the adjective false describes content that is untrue. The speaking of an untruth renders what is said as unreal, thereby rendering it artificial and invalid. People can be greatly hurt by this malicious form of robbery. Bearing false witness robs the victim of the cloak of truth and is closely allied with God’s command not to steal.
Let’s take a closer look at this. Most cultures over the centuries have included this prohibition in their legal course. Justice can never be served by untruthful testimony. In our civilized world, all witnesses in our courts of law have to “swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth—so help me God.” This applies equally to both the prosecution and the defense, because accuracy can never be determined if false witness is presented as truth. One wonders just how many people’s lives have been destroyed because they were falsely accused of something they had nothing to do with.
There are several ways in which false witness can be borne. A person can help spread a rumor and thus join hands with a perpetrator. One can indulge false witness by turning a blind eye when truth is known. Someone can determine to bear false witness and therefore be guilty of premeditation. A person can simply fail to come forward with the truth or insinuate falsehood without actually saying it is so. And, perhaps worst of all, a person can spread gossip about another, thus engaging in some of the worst forms of character assassination.
God may well have been speaking to the children of Israel from the top of Mount Sinai, but I really believe He was looking into the heart of every one who calls on His name. The New Testament affirms all that God had to say on this subject. Jesus made it clear to His disciples that false testimony was a key indicator of an unclean heart (Matthew 15:16-20). He pointed out that those things that come out of the mouth are a direct result of a disconnect between man and God. Jesus Himself became the victim of false testimony when He was brought before the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees lied to Caiaphas the high priest, resulting in the call for our Savior’s indictment on charges of blasphemy (Matthew 26:57-68). The first Christian martyr, Stephen, was later accused falsely in Acts 6 and ultimately stoned to death.
The bottom line is that the bearing of false witness indicts the heart of man. This is so serious it is included in the seven things God hates (Proverbs 6:16-19). Perhaps God knew that a failure to adhere to this commandment would easily lead to a barrage of sin against His name.
The question is what to do if this sin has become part of your landscape. Perhaps four steps need to be taken. First, stop bearing false witness! Recognize this as sin before a holy and righteous God. Confess this to the Lord Jesus (1 John 1:8-9) and ask Him to forgive you for it. Second, recognize the damage it may have caused to another person. Take note of this and write it down. You will have a key part to play in the healing of someone who has been hurt. Third, go to that person. Ask them to forgive you and tell them you will do whatever you can to restore and make things right. Finally, open your heart to the Lord. He will enable you to conquer this propensity you have to bear false witness.
Finally, a word to those who are the victims of false testimony. Allow me, as a pastor and friend, to suggest five steps to healing: First, pray about it. It is not uncommon to feel hurt. Tell God everything. He loves you and identifies with your pain. Second, stay calm. Watch the Lord work. He will bring justice, and He will convict those who have hurt you. This is what His Holy Spirit does. Third, stay alert and be on your guard, and don’t forget the devil is “like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8). Fourth, stand firm in the Lord. Claim His promises. Someone once said, “The future is as bright as the promises of God!” Believe it! Finally, trust in God’s grace. He has not abandoned you, despite all that has been said about you. He has promised, “I will never leave you nor forsake you”! (Hebrews 13:5). ©2013 Don Wilton
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.