The Ninth Commandment
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Exodus 20: 16
We sometimes shorten this command to ‘you shall not lie.’ The Ninth Commandment deals with the principle of honesty, with truth.
Remember the Lord is preparing Israel to become a special nation. In Exodus 19 God tells Moses to tell the people of Israel: “Now therefore if you obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
What an amazing possibility to be considered by God to be a special treasure to Him. God was teaching Israel after 400 years in bondage in Egypt to be a special treasure to Him, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Peter says the same of us, who are Christians: “… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, belonging to God that you might declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”(I Peter 2: 9)
The Ten Commandments were not only God’s Blueprint for a happy life, they were the foundation for the moral laws by which a nation would be governed. Taken a face value, this commandment is a critical component of the justice system which must be based on truth. This commandment is still in force in the laws of the land and violation of this law is called perjury. Lying in the court of law. Remember in those days, there was no forensic science, no CSI crime lab, fingerprints, DNA, etc. Justice depended on the ability to discern the truth of eyewitnesses. God was forming in some ways the constitution of Israel with the moral laws the people must obey individually. And the morals by which a people would live and be judged must be absolute, not relative. Even today, the penalty for lying in court, giving false testimony, perjury is punishable by law and one can be sentenced to prison. Many of the laws of our country come from the Ten Commandments, even though they are changing to fit the sliding scale of morals which relative moralism operates under.
But if this law is applicable only to those testifying in court, it would be a very small number of people to which this law applied. I could say, I have never given false testimony in court about anyone and it would be true. But if this is about honesty. If this is about never telling a lie, I would have broken this commandment as we all have. But it even goes further than that, for we know it refers to injuring someone else with our words.
There is much said about the power of the tongue and it ability to destroy or build up. You can injure others with your words. Words can destroy lives. Now you may say- well, it’s not lying if it is true. This is factually correct. But the commandment here is about using your tongue, your words for good or harm. The Rotary Club has a great 4 way test for what we say:
- Is it the truth?
- Is it fair to all concerned?
- Will it build goodwill and better friendships?
- Will it be beneficial to all concerned?
Those are great guiding principles for what we say to others. Here is what Paul tells us in I Corinthians about our words and actions:
- Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
- Will what I say or do, build others up, edify them or bring them down?
- Will what I say or do, glorify God?
- Will what I say or do, cause others to stumble?
So consider what you say, not just if it is true or not, but what will it accomplish once you say it. Proverbs 6: 19 says: “ There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to Him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among his brothers.” Did you notice three of these seven involve the tongue? This small part of our body has tremendous power. Some have said in order to control it at times; they have had to bite their tongue. What comes out of the mouth comes from the well of the heart.
TAMING THE TONGUE
There is the best commentary on the tongue found in the book of James 3. James says in verse 2: “For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is perfect (mature) man, able to bridle the whole body.” If we can control our tongue, we can control our whole body. Our tongue is an indication of our spiritual maturity. In medicine, the doctor can look at one’s tongue and it can reveal health issues. Place a thermometer under the tongue and if provides us with the temperature of the body. So let us stick out our tongues and say “ahh” for the Holy Spirit to examine our spiritual well being.
James gives us six illustrations of the tongue: the bit in the horse’s mouth; the rudder of a ship; a fire; a poisonous animal; a fountain; and a fig tree. These six illustrations can be grouped in three distinct categories.
POWER TO DIRECT AND INFLUENCE
The first two illustrations, the bit in the horse’s mouth and the rudder of the ship illustrate the power the tongue has to direct and influence. Just a small bit can allow a 110 lb. jockey to direct and influence a powerful race horse and a small rudder can direct a massive ship at sea, the tongue can exert great influence. Word lead to deeds. Words reflect what is in the heart.
The bit in the horse’s mouth is controlled by the reins in the rider’s hands. We cannot control our tongues on our own. We must depend on Jesus to control our tongues. When we saturate our hearts with the Word of God, it takes root in our hearts and we give the reins to our heart to Jesus. The same principle is at work in the rudder of the ship in the hands of the pilot who can direct the ship. The pilot’s ability to guide the ship with the use of the rudder requires great skill. What we say in the midst of life’s storms determines the direction of our lives. Do you remember the storm on the sea of Galilee, when Jesus was asleep in the boat and the disciples, who were skilled fishermen ran into a fierce storm and feared for their lives? Listen to their negative words: “Don’t you care that we are perishing?” If we doubt God and His promises during the storms of our lives, our tongues will reveal our despair.
I remember when my mother, who had nursed my father through five years of cancer, was diagnosed with cancer six months after my daddy died. She said, “That’s not fair!” She immediately apologized. But I know what she felt, for I felt the same way, too. Life is not fair sometimes. But God is always fair. He is too wise to be mistaken and too good to be unkind. I have to trust Him with all my heart. For if I do not trust Him with all my heart, He cannot control my tongue. Sin on the inside and pressure on the outside are seeking to control my tongue. This means the reins of the horse must be under the control of an expert horseman and the rudder must be in the hands of a skilled pilot.
“Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? For your hope is in the God, for I will yet praise Him, My Savior and My God.” (Psalm 42) Speak to your soul, remind yourself who your hope is in- it is God.
POWER TO DESTROY.
James then uses two illustrations of the power to destroy. Fire and the bite of an animal or reptile.
Fire can be good or it can be one of the most destructive forces on earth. Adolph Hitler had the ability with his spoken works to ignite a country to commit atrocious acts which resulted in the death of millions. And on the road to Emmaus, the Resurrected Lord lit a fire in the hearts of the disciples which made their hearts burn within them through the Word of God. A fire can be destructive or it can be a fire which produces a zeal for good. To be burned by fire is one of the most painful injuries. A minor burn can create a blister. A severe burn can leave horrible scars so can destructive words. My father caught on fire when he was a little boy, four years of age. He was trying to light the stove and make some chocolate cake. He had horrible scars on his side and I can only imagine the pain. From that day until he died, my daddy was allergic to chocolate. Never ate it again. Our words can blister and scar and make people allergic to the Gospel of peace because our tongues have caused such pain.
THE POWER TO DELIGHT
The fountain and the tree are an illustration of the power to delight. Notice verse 8: “But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” No man can tame it- but the Lord can, for nothing is impossible for Him.
“With the tongue we can praise our Lord and Father and we can curse men who have been made in the image of God. Out of the same mouth, come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt flow from the same spring? My brothers can a fig tree bear olives, or grapevine bear figs? Neither can salt spring produce fresh water? “A fountain can provide cool water that quenches our thirst. And man must have water to survive. Water is necessary for so many things: drinking, cooking, cleansing, farming and many other things. Proverbs has a lot of verses about the tongue. “The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life.” (Proverbs 10: 11) And we are also told – death and life are in the power of the tongue.
The water in the laver in the OT Tabernacle was used by the priests to cleanse themselves before entering the Holy Place. Jesus said in John 15, the water of His Word cleanses us. Our words can help cleanse others. Our words can lift up or bring down. James also says the tongue is like a tree that provides fruit to be enjoyed. A tree can provide shade and comfort on a hot day. Do your words provide food for the hungry soul? Do you provide comfort? Trees help prevent erosion. The root system of a tree is the most important part of the tree. If the roots do not grow down deep, the tree will not be healthy. Psalm 1 tells us about the man who is blessed is the one who meditates on the Word of God day and night. His roots go down deep and produce fruit in due season.
If we are to have tongues which delight, we must have roots which go down deep into the Word of God. Paul prayed about being rooted and established in love. Our spiritual roots grow deep in His word, prayer, meditation and obedience.
In Exodus 15, Moses had brought the people out of Egypt into the Wilderness of Shur and they had no water for three days. Then they came to Marah and the water was bitter. “And the people complained against Moses, saying what shall we drink? So Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree. When he cast it into the waters, the waters were made sweet.”
The picture of the deliverance of the children of Israel out of slavery in Egypt is a picture of our redemption, our delivery out the bondage of sin. However even in freedom, we can find our lives filled with bitterness. We come to a place in our lives, where an event, a person, a hurt, an illness, a disappointment turns our life bitter.
Maybe what you need is for God to show you the “tree” again. Drink in through meditation the wonders of God’s love, grace and mercy that was revealed at Calvary, where Jesus hung on that tree.
Jesus said in His conversation with Pilate, Jesus said: “For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. “John 18
“Then Jesus said to those Jews who believe in Him, “If you abide in My word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the Truth and the Truth shall make you free. They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, ‘you will be made free.’? Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave to sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.”
Abide is a word which means to comply, to act in accordance, to obey. It also means to dwell. Jesus is telling us truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth shall make us free. Truth breaks the chains of sin.
The “Abiding Life” is explained in John 15. The abiding life describes our union with the Lord Jesus Christ. He uses the illustration of the branch which abides, is united, with the vine. This abiding life is all of grace. Jesus tells us His Father is the owner of the vineyard. He is the Divine Master Gardener. And He is a Constant Gardener.
Jesus through His Word cleanses us to make us fit for the union with Himself. You are cleansed through My Word, He tells us. The Master Gardener would never engraft a diseased, or dirty branch into the vine. Just as the priests always cleansed himself, washing with water in the bronze laver in the courtyard before entering the Holy Place, so we too are cleansed by His Word. And John reminds us in I John1: 9: If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
The Abiding involves responding to His teaching. “If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:7) In Colossians 3, we are told to let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. James says to receive the Word engrafted into your soul, which is able to save you souls. (James 1: 21) When the Word of God dwells, abides richly in you, you become filled with the Spirit. Then His Word can fill our minds, direct our wills, and transform our affections. This the power of the Word of God, which is alive and powerful and sharper than a two edged sword. It can direct, influence, build up and delight one.
It is the incorruptible seed which is life giving, life transforming and life sustaining. Your Heavenly Father, the Divine Master Gardener comes into His vineyard to prune in order to cut away all which might keep you from loving Him with all your heart, and therefore not trusting Him with all your heart.
Notice Jesus substitutes his name for the truth in verse 36. For He and He alone is the WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE.
The Truth shall set you free. The Whole Truth, which is the absolute truth and nothing but this truth can set you free. So our prayer is- So Help Me God!