You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)
After telling His people not to steal, God followed up with the commandment above. “Neighbor” in this verse is from a Hebrew word meaning “brother, companion, fellow, or friend”; i.e., it means anyone. So we’re not to “give false testimony” against anyone.
In its most restrictive use, the phrase addresses the literal need to speak truthfully when called upon to testify in a courtroom; and certainly that would be included. But there is much more intended. Maybe some of you learned this commandment as a child the way I did… “do not lie.” The way I had always understood it, the emphasis was on not lying TO your neighbor.
But I now believe the emphasis is not lying ABOUT your neighbor. The idea behind this command is not to bring injury or harm to another by saying things either publicly (as in a court of law) or privately (as in slander, gossip) that are false about them. About this command, Mathew Henry wrote, “The ninth commandment concerns our own and our neighbour’s good name. This forbids speaking falsely on any matter, lying, equivocating, and any way devising or designing to deceive our neighbour. Speaking unjustly against our neighbour, to hurt his reputation.”
While the eighth commandment forbids stealing our neighbor’s stuff – this one forbids stealing his good name. Shakespeare’s character Othello said it well:
“Who steals my purse, steals trash,
But he who filches from me my good name,
Robs me of that which does not enrich him,
Yet leaves me poor indeed,”
Before you speak ask yourself if what you are going to say is true, kind, necessary, and helpful. If the answer is “no,” maybe what you are about to say should be left unsaid.
Are you stealing anyone’s good name with your words?
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