Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. – Exodus 20:16.
This is God’s Eighth Commandment. God forbids us to bear witness against our neighbor with a deceitful heart, to give testimony against him to his harm. The most obvious liars are those who spread vile deceptions about their neighbor. But those, too, are liars who withhold from their neighbor the truth which would benefit him. Tale-bearers are those who reveal the secrets of their neighbor. “A talebearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter” (Proverbs 11:13).
Those are slanderers and defamers who speak evil of their neighbor to others. Why not tell him to his face if you know that he is engaging in sin; and tell him with a true and loving heart? “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” says Christ (Matthew 18:15). Those are breaking the Eighth Commandment who injure or destroy their neighbor’s good reputation. An evil word spoken of the neighbor, how quickly does it spread! Nor should we assume the worst of our neighbor, and thus slander him in our heart. “Let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor” (Zechariah 8:17).
God earnestly forbids all these things; and He enjoins us to speak whatever is to our neighbor’s advantage. We must defend him against false accusations, especially when he cannot speak up for himself. “Open thy mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction. Open thy mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9). We should speak well of our neighbor as far as it is in keeping with the truth. Lovingly we should cover up our neighbor’s faults and failings, emphasizing his good qualities and being quiet about his shortcomings. Remember we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Oh, miserable sinners that we are! This is yet another commandment that shows plainly how sinful we are.
PRAYER – Each one of Thy commandments, O God, seriously accuses me. How often and in so many ways have I sinned against my brother with heart and mouth, through speech, but also by keeping silence when I should speak up in his defense. I cast myself into the dust, before Thee, O holy God! Be gracious to me for Christ’s sake. Graciously through Thy Word effect a change in me by the power of the Holy Ghost, and incline my heart and tongue to sincere love for my neighbor. Amen.
Bear not false witness nor belie
Thy neighbor by foul calumny.
Defend his innocence from blame;
With charity hide his shame.
Have mercy, Lord!
Hymn 287, 9.