The 9th Commandment; The Right Use of Our Tongues

April 7, 2024 / No. 4240

Dear Radio Friends,

The average human speaks 7,000 words a day, which is over 2.5 million words a year. For each word, we will answer to Jesus Christ when He returns to judge: why did we speak that word? What was our goal, or motive? Was it to draw attention to ourselves, to put us forward? Was it to glorify God? Was it to show love for the neighbor? Was it to speak truth in judgment?

How often our words put our neighbor down, throw him under the bus, make him appear to be a fool. How quickly our speech robs God of His glory, undermines His work of saving and uniting His church, and ignores His glory as reflected in our neighbor’s life! How many fires our words have started! How much happiness we have robbed ourselves of by our unkind words! And how often we have lied, deceiving the neighbor to think we were speaking truth when we were not!

We need the blood of Jesus Christ to cover these sins, and we need His grace and power to direct us in using our tongues aright. We need His grace to speak truth, in love. And we need His example!

The ninth commandment of God’s law teaches us not to lie, but to speak the truth. It is found in the second table of the law, the section of commands that regards love for our neighbor. So it teaches us to speak truth in love for the neighbor.

Jesus also enforces and exemplifies the keeping of this commandment in John 8. In speaking to the Jews, He says in John 8:12-16:

Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life. The Pharisees therefore said unto him, Thou bearest record of thyself; thy record is not true. Jesus answered and said unto them, Though I bear record of myself, yet my record is true: for I know whence I came, and whither I go; but ye cannot tell whence I come, and whither I go. Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.

As the conversation continues, Jesus makes plain that He is the Son of God, and the Jewish leaders seek to kill Him. Then we read in John 8:39-45:

Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham. Ye do the deeds of your father. Then said they to him, We be not born of fornication; we have one Father, even God. Jesus said unto them, If God were your Father, ye would love me: for I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me. Why do ye not understand my speech? even because ye cannot hear my word. Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. And because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.

From Him who is the light of the world, we desire to see the light regarding the ninth commandment as it regards the right use of our tongues.

The first matter to consider today is that the ninth commandment forbids lying and related sins. Specifically, it forbids bearing false witness, that is, giving a false testimony.

In two situations this prohibition applies–and yet these two situations encompass all of life. The first is that of an official investigation, either by representatives of the government (such as policemen, detectives, or judges) or by the elders of one’s church, or one’s parents, or anyone with authority to investigate a matter. In such a scenario, we must not lie; we must speak truth. Was the light green, or was it red? What time was it when it happened? Who hit whom first? The correct answer to these questions, when one is being investigated, is truth. And in such situations we are to speak the whole truth; it is not enough that everything we say is true, but we have omitted a specific detail that is also true. If our omitting a detail skews the investigation, we have testified falsely.

The second situation is whenever we are speaking about a person, whether that person is absent or present. What we say about him or her must be true, not a lie, and not a mischaracterization. Do you see why I said that these two situations encompass all of life?

In these situations, we must not testify falsely. In fact, we are likely to do so. Perhaps we hate the neighbor against whom we are testifying, so we speak to harm him. Or perhaps he is our friend, so we defend him even though he is in the wrong.

The prohibition of bearing false witness is part of a broader category of sin called lying. To lie is to distort or deny truth in any way. Humans have invented the idea that some lies are little white lies, that some are permissible if you are crossing your fingers, that some are not bad if at least most of what is said is truth. God has a different evaluation of anything that is not the complete and whole truth: it is lie. This prohibition against lying covers every circumstance, every word I speak or write, and even every thought that I think: even in my thoughts, I am not to believe or promote lies.

And lying is also a specific sin in a broader category. Like all other commandments, what the ninth commandment specifically forbids represents an entire category of sins. The ninth commandment specifically forbids lying; but any sin committed with the mouth, any words expressing hatred of the neighbor, are included in this category of sin. To be a talebearer, always speaking about other people’s matters; or a gossip, always ready to tell you what someone else did or said, is wrong. To slander, that is, deliberately to lie about another person, is wrong. To say things about other people that are true, but not said in love, is wrong. How often do we not make fun of the sins or weaknesses of other people?

The second point to be underscored is why the ninth commandment forbids lies, and what it requires our attitude regarding lies to be. Our attitude is to be hatred of the lie. And the reason is, in sum, that to lie is to show oneself to be like the devil.

This is the point that Jesus was making to the Jews. He testified truth about Himself: He testified that He was the Son of God, and the savior of the world. In a situation in which you or I might have exaggerated about ourselves, inflated the truth, boasted in an attempt to impress, He simply spoke the truth about Himself. The truth was that He was the Son of God, the light of the world, the savior of sinners. The Jews did not receive this word about Him. Was He lying, when He said He was the son of God? Or were they, when they said He was not the Son of God? They were. And in this way, according to Jesus in John 8:44, they showed that they were born of the devil, not of God.

For the devil is a liar. In heaven, as a good angel, he lied in thinking that he could be equal with God. When he approached Eve, he lied in saying that she could become like God if she ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Today too, he lies; he lies to you and me when he suggests that God’s Word is not true or reliable. He lies when he moves people to deny that Jesus is the only savior of sinners. He even lies when he incites someone on the witness stand to distort truth. Why does Satan lie? Because he hates truth, he hates God, and he hates Christ’s church. That we should be gathered into one spiritual body; that we should have peace with God, and unity with each other–these things He hates.

It follows, Jesus is teaching the Jews that every lie is the work of the devil, and everyone who is given over to the lie is a child of the devil. Of course, Jesus means that such a person is a child of the devil in a spiritual sense; the devil does not have physical offspring. But the liar resembles the devil in that he lies, and by lying he shows that the devil controls him. We speak of people acting like the devil, that is, being grossly immoral; but simply to love the lie is to be like the devil.

By contrast, one who loves and speaks truth is born again of God and loves God. In such a person Christ lives, and out of that person Christ has cast the devil, so that the devil no longer has spiritual power over one.

Remembering this must have two effects on us. First, it must make us hate all lying, so that we do not lie, and when others are lying we avoid them. This means walking away from a conversation, or admonishing those in the conversation when they lie or attack others. It means leaving the chat room, the Facebook conversation, or any similar group. Our nature is to stay to find out the dirt on a person; but that is not hating the lie.

Second, this must lead us to speak truth. And it leads us to seek power from God, in prayer. Such a prayer is based on the confidence that Jesus has atoned for our sins, and has earned  God’s favor for us. Such a prayer seeks from God grace more and more to live like Christ, and to show that we are His children.

The third lesson that this commandment teaches, then, is that we must not merely speak truth, but also love truth. What is truth? It is the opposite of the lie. But what exactly is truth, and what determines truth?

Truth is that which God says and determines to be real. It is not my opinion, or yours; it is what God determines. Therefore, truth does not change from day to day or culture to culture.

Truth encompasses both statements and propositions, as well as circumstances. To put it differently, a fundamental aspect of truth is that which God reveals. He reveals Himself as true (John 8:26), and reveals Jesus Christ as His only begotten Son, our Savior (8:12, 25). This truth that God reveals, says Jesus, sets us free. To deny that God exists, or that Christ is God’s only begotten Son, is to be in bondage to Satan. He, the father of the lie, seeks to trap us in the lie. But Jesus Christ sets us free by giving us to know truth.

The other aspect of truth regards the circumstances of our day-to-day life. Who said what, what happened first, and all other such matters that somebody witnessed and that an investigation seeks to uncover is also a matter of truth. Whether the light was red or green, and whether the driver of the car was on his phone or not, and how fast the car was going, is a matter of truth. This aspect of truth is not made known in the Bible; but God determines it by directing the circumstances of life. Even the strengths or weaknesses that a person has is a matter of truth: God created that person to be the person he is.

Now God, who determines truth, also speaks truth. He causes His church to know truth; He uses the writing of the Scriptures, and the preaching of the gospel, to that end. Also, He will speak truth in the day of judgment; in that day He will add His testimony to every court case ever held, and every investigation of a child by his parents, throughout the history of the whole world. We are to love truth, because God loves truth; and we are to speak truth, so that we show ourselves to be God’s children.

Therefore, we must love truth. I am not likely to speak truth if I do not love it; if truth is indifferent to me, I might as quickly not speak it, or decide whether or not to speak it based on how it will help or hurt me personally. But if God determines truth, I must love it. Love for truth will help me to be objective on the witness stand; it will keep me from wanting to testify against my enemy when he is right, or for my friend who is wrong.

Only in the way of loving truth will our speech and conduct promote true fellowship with others. For lying shows that we are of the devil in this regard too, that it separates friends. If your spouse or children or parents or friends or coworkers know that they cannot believe or trust you, they will not desire to keep company with you. But speaking truth promotes true friendship. To love truth is to love God, and it is to love one’s neighbor and desire his wellbeing.

Loving truth, then, we will speak it always, openly, readily, to our parents, to a judge, to a policeman. If speaking the truth puts me in jail or gets me a fine, I will speak truth. If it delivers my neighbor whom I don’t like from the misfortune that would otherwise unjustly come on him, I will speak truth.

This we will do in the power of Jesus Christ, who has redeemed us from sin, and created in us a love for truth, for God, and for the neighbor.

Finally, the lesson that we learn from this commandment, in light of John 8, is that in speaking truth, we follow Christ.

Christ knew truth; He knew God, that He alone is the good God. He knew the Scriptures. He knew what was in mankind, that apart from grace humans are sinners and prone to evil.

And He always bore witness to truth. In John 8 He declared truth: that He was the light of the world was and remains true; that in Him alone is freedom from bondage to sin; that He is our only hope–all this is true. So He said to the Jews.

And He would bear witness again. He would be lifted up, that is, He would be put to death on the cross. This too would be a speech from God about truth. It would manifest the truth of God’s justice, on the one hand, and His mercy on the other. God’s justice, which demands the death of His Son as our substitute if we are to be spared the everlasting torments of hell, and God’s mercy, which provides Christ for us in order to bring us into fellowship with God again, is the word of God from the cross.

And He will bear witness when He returns, in the judgment day. Then He will expose sin and lies. Words of men and women that we assumed to be true will be found to be false; wrong judgment that was based on lies will be exposed; and Christ will destroy lies, the lying tongues, liars, and Satan, all in the fires of hell prepared for this purpose.

This Christ we must and can follow. The blind will not; those who do not see Him to be the light of the world cannot; but those in whom His light shines, by grace, can and will.

Following Him, we will enjoy true freedom. The liar is in bondage. It may be that our lie enabled us to save face, or served some other advantage. But if we do not repent of our lies, we show that we are still in bondage. For one thing, the liar whose conscience is working properly experiences guilt, which eats us from the inside out. For another, the liar who persists in lying sears his conscience, so that it cannot and will not function properly. Not only does he go on in lying, but such a person is also liable to commit many other sins.

Freed from that bondage in Christ, we have peace, joy, and happiness. Christ Himself did, as He spoke to the Jews; though they hated Him, He knew His Father was pleased. So do we, who speak truth. And we enjoy fellowship with the Father, and with our brothers and sisters in Christ. May you enjoy the peace and friendship that is possible to enjoy only in the way of speaking and loving truth.