God has given the gift of language so that communication can take place between members of the same species. Many animals communicate out of instinct, but man communicates through the gift of speech that God has given to him. The language of communication is given so that cooperation can take place between human beings. Through the use of words, men can cooperate in the process of building up society and getting God’s plan and principles to the entire world.
Language is a bridge between man and man. It is the circulating medium of human exchange—the exchange of thoughts, sentiments, and plans. God has ordained it so. One of the greatest joys that can take place between human beings is communication. Communication plays a very essential part in man being able to get along within the world in which he lives.
The gift of language, like all other gifts that God has given to man, can be exercised for good or for evil. We all know that. So, true to His great purpose for the human family and all that is good, God has placed a guard around language. That guard is found in the ninth commandment.
As we have studied the commandments that deal with man’s relationship to man, we have noted that several of them, as recorded in Deuteronomy 5, begin with “neither” rather than “thou.” Deuteronomy 5:20 states, “Neither shalt thou bear false witness against thy neighbour.”
The entire Bible really is nothing more and nothing less than an amplification of the Ten Commandments and their application to the human life. In the Scriptures, we find many encounters that are recorded concerning the human experience as it pertains to language. I have not counted them all, but it seems there are more encounters of experience concerning the ninth commandment than any one of the other commandments.
Why would that be? Because the ninth commandment is a delineation between truth and error. Truth and error are outlined in this commandment. It becomes the focal point of the entire great controversy, the great controversy between truth and error. It really has its roots and its focal point in this commandment!
A Universal Sin
Perhaps the reason for this fact is that bearing false witness is such a universal sin. It is how the devil launched his career of rebellion against God. The Bible says that lying originated with the devil; he is the father of all lies. (See John 8:44.) The Greek word, diabolis, translates into the English word, devil. If we were to give it a more literal translation, we would perhaps use the words accuser or slanderer.
The Bible says so much about lies because they have such a deadly nature. To tell a lie is even more criminal, morally speaking, than to counterfeit money or to forge a check. It is more deadly than those things because, if you write a bogus check, you can usually reclaim that check into your possession, but if you tell a lie, the words cannot be recalled. The lie may circulate and circulate, repeated again and again. An excellent illustration of lies is feathers that are blown in the wind—they are impossible to catch.
Lies are a poison. Once administered, the poison is absorbed into the very fabric of social mentality, never again to be reclaimed. We are told that there are poisons that are so deadly that if they are administered directly into the blood stream, they can cause death within three seconds. I believe that the death of a reputation can take place as rapidly as the administering of a poison into the blood stream.
The ninth commandment has an equally wide range as all of the other commandments. In past articles of this series, we have seen how the commandments presented so far have a spiritual application, a very broad perspective covering the issues of mankind. The ninth commandment is no exception to that.
Its scope forbids all slander, of whatever kind—not just perjury, of telling a falsehood in court. This is where many people have focused the application of the ninth commandment, and, perhaps, in its primary application, that is where this protection originated. God did not want man to swear falsely, to tell lies against someone, so that they could in turn benefit from some item of property or some circumstance of life. So He instructed to not take an oath, to not swear falsely against our neighbor.
This whole matter of telling the truth, in the economy of Israel, was quite a serious matter. This is one of the reasons the Bible says, “One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established.” Deuteronomy 19:15. This takes us right to the trial of Jesus, does it not?
This commandment was designed from the very beginning to vindicate Jesus from death on Calvary’s cross. If God’s Ten Commandments, as they were given on Mount Sinai to the children of Israel, had prevailed all the way down through time, Jesus would never have had to die on Calvary’s cross. It was only because of false testimony that Jesus was convicted and went to the cross. His accusers could not find two witnesses to tell the same story. That is, they could not until they bribed them to do so. It was the violation of this commandment that led to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. If God’s people had allowed this law, which is holy, just, and good, to prevail in their spiritual and practical experiences, Jesus would never have had to die in that way. If Jesus had not died on the cross, He still would have had to die, because the Lamb was to be sacrificed.
Those who gave such false testimony are going to be raised to face the consequence of their sin. They not only lied in a legal proceeding, but they lied to God as well, and the Bible is very clear about how God feels about being lied to Himself. The story of Ananias and Sapphira tells us how God feels about those things. (See Acts 5:1–10.)
When a false report is circulated concerning someone, it basically constitutes character assassination. Sometimes physical assassination with a gun would be much easier for a person to handle than to be assassinated by words. It is amazing how quickly false reports can circulate about someone.
Pastor John Grosboll shared with me a story about himself. Some people were trying to circulate false reports about him, so they took a photograph of a big, stone mansion, super-imposed pictures of him and his wife, Evelyn, onto it, and circulated the photo around, saying that this was their home, intimating that they were living quite extravagantly. There will be an answering for that false report in the Day of Judgment. It is those kinds of things that this ninth commandment is designed to guard against.
Character or Reputation
Human speech is such an important and precious gift that God has given to us. It is so important that He has given two commandments to help us deal with it.
The third commandment says, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.” Exodus 20:7. And then the ninth commandment deals with bearing false witness.
The third commandment safeguards the name of God, and the ninth commandment safeguards the reputation and the character of men. It has been said that character is what you are, and reputation is what others think about you.
False witness, in reality, can harm only a person’s reputation, but a person can damage his or her own character. Character can only be revealed and damaged when a person takes that into his or her own hands. Reputation is what others are saying about you, but your own character can only be damaged by your own self.
Every man can determine what his own character is going to be, but reputation is our neighbor’s opinion of us and is, therefore, wholly in his or her keeping. God has given this commandment to deal with safeguarding those who are our neighbors. In more ways than one, we are really our brother’s keeper.
This, we find, was the question that was asked in the beginning of time—“Am I my brother’s keeper?” Genesis 4:9. Cain asked the Lord this when God asked where his brother was.
We are our brother’s keeper, and when we bear false witness, we betray a very sacred trust for which we will be called into account at the judgment.
“I [Ellen White] was shown that when it is actually necessary, and they are called upon to testify in a lawful manner, it is no violation of God’s word for His children to solemnly take God to witness that what they say is the truth, and nothing but the truth.” Testimonies, vol. 1, 202.
In my years of ministry, I have, it seems, continuously run across people that have a problem with taking an oath to tell the truth. They have refused to go to court for they feel that taking an oath is a violation of the commandments. Yet we read here that Ellen White says that it is not a violation to take God as your witness as far as to tell the truth is concerned. It is the duty, really, of a witness to tell the truth, and if a person does not tell the truth, they bear a false witness or a false testimony.
The divine instruction of the ninth commandment is further amplified in Zechariah 8:16, 17: “These [are] the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbour; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbour; and love no false oath: for all these [are things] that I hate, saith the Lord.”
In John 18:37, an example is given about the Lord Jesus in this regard, fulfilling this passage in Zechariah. Jesus, speaking to Pilate, says, “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Jesus never minimized nor did he exaggerate the truth in His witnessing. He never bore false testimony nor did he stoop to telling what we might call half-truths, which are sometimes more dangerous than telling a lie.
The track of error lies very close to the track of truth. A half-truth is when you are walking down the middle of the tracks. If you have ever walked along a railroad, you know that the easiest place to walk is between the tracks, but it is also the most dangerous place to walk. A half-truth can be just as dangerous or maybe even more so than an out and out falsehood, because quite often a falsehood can be identified, but if it is coupled with some truth, identifying the error becomes more difficult.
We are living in a world in which not too much is any longer a sacred trust. We in the United States have come through a lot of political experiences—such as the Nixon administration (1969–1974) and Watergate (1972–1975) and the Clinton administration (1993–2001)—in which lies were told. We have come to realize that those who are of greatest example are telling falsehoods, providing a powerful message that it is not important to tell the truth anymore.
God and Lying
There are other texts that indicate how God feels about lying. Read Proverbs 12:22: “Lying lips [are] abomination to the Lord: but they that deal truly [are] his delight.”
“A false witness shall not be unpunished, and [he that] speaketh lies shall not escape.” Proverbs 19:5.
“These six [things] doth the Lord hate: yea, seven [are] an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness [that] speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.” Proverbs 6:16–19.
Black or White
It has been said that a lie does not have any legs but that it is carried along with other lies. There is no difference as to the quality of the lie. It still makes its way along.
Is there any difference between a white lie and a black lie? No, there is no difference between a white lie and a black lie. Some people think that it is all right to tell a white lie, but to God, it is all sin.
When I entered into the military service, the soldiers were checked very thoroughly for colorblindness. It was important that a soldier not be colorblind, because, on a battlefield, if somebody shot a flare into the air, he or she needed to know exactly what color the flare was. There were different colored flares for different kinds of situations. Good eyesight, and the ability to recognize different colors, was imperative.
It is said that serious automobile accidents result from people who are colorblind and cannot distinguish between green lights and red lights. The same thing can happen as far as spiritual eyesight is concerned as well. We can be blinded to such an extent that we cannot discern spiritual things very well. Then we have a tendency to skew the truth somewhat, because we are blind.
White lies and black lies are caused by spiritual blindness. Although there may be a tendency to excuse white lies because we think they are harmless, they are still an abomination in the eyes of God. There are people who will lie for their own convenience and for their own profit.
We must have the right estimation of sin, and when our hearts and minds are in accord with Jesus Christ, we will view all things as He does. We will be able to recognize sin and hate it the same way that Jesus does. We will be able to see it in its proper perspective, for, as far as Jesus is concerned, there is no such thing as a white lie or a little sin.
Hate the Sin
The Bible says that Jesus loved righteousness, and He who is the Truth hated iniquity. You know, the Bible says that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. To Him that is the Truth, lying is especially hateful; it is in that list of things that He hates.
The Bible tells us, in the Book of Revelation, that all liars, and whoever loves and practices lying, is going to be excluded from the kingdom of heaven. (Revelation 21:8.)
Words sometimes misrepresent character, and character can be revealed in ways other than words, but it still remains true that words are the chief revealer of character. If you want to know the character of a person, listen to him talk for a while. Character will usually be revealed in that way.
In Matthew 12:34, Jesus is talking to the Scribes and the Pharisees, and He says, “O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” From this text, we can see that words represent character; thus, words translate into a language that can be read by everyone.
Now, if we trace the word, character, back to its origin, we find that it means, “that which is marked, engraved, or lettered.” So, when we think about a person’s character, it is marked, engraved, and lettered. A man’s character is basically an inscription that is read concerning his habits and his lifestyle. His words characterize him; they give his characteristics. We are going to be judged by every word that we speak. Our speech is going to be a revelation of our character, and if our character is not in harmony with God’s Law, we are going to be closed out of the kingdom of heaven.
What About Your Speech?
Now, consider a few questions in the light of having to face the judgment. What is the character of your words, the tenor of your speech? Are you truthful in all things? Do your words always, and exactly, represent your opinions, your purposes, and your feelings? Do you avoid all lies—white or black? Do you avoid all false suggestions and double meanings?
Quite often we can be asked a question, and we can give an answer, thinking that we have not told a lie. But we have perhaps avoided answering the question, thinking that that is not telling a lie. However, if we are asked a question and we avoid giving a truthful answer, by giving another answer, that is telling a lie, and for that we come under the condemnation of God.
Control the Tongue
The tongue is a mighty, mighty power. It can be used for good, or it can be used for evil. Since it has these two barrels and two triggers, it needs to be kept under control. The Book of James has some tremendous things to say about this subject. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.” James 1:19.
And then consider James 3:1–10: “My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation. For in many things we offend all. If any man offend not in word, the same [is] a perfect man, [and] able also to bridle the whole body. Behold, we put bits in the horses’ mouths, that they may obey us; and we turn about their whole body. Behold also the ships, which though [they be] so great, and [are] driven of fierce winds, yet are they turned about with a very small helm, whither-soever the governor listeth. Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell. For every kind of beasts, and of birds, and of serpents, and of things in the sea, is tamed, and hath been tamed of mankind: But the tongue can no man tame; [it is] an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. Therewith bless we God, even the Father; and therewith curse we men, which are made after the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.”
The Bible says that the tongue is not able to be tamed, but it is talking about a natural man. It is talking about someone who is not under the control of God. God can tame anything that we submit to Him, whether it be our attitudes, our actions, or our tongues. He can deal with it. Our tongues are powerful things, and most of us struggle with it continuously. But if we get up each morning and submit ourselves to God, with His help we will be able to resist the devil, and our tongues will be controlled.
We know that God is going to have a people, and those people are going to be purified. Zephaniah 3:13 says: “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth: for they shall feed and lie down, and none shall make [them] afraid.”
Who are the remnant of Israel?
Is this the same as the remnant church? Yes, it is. The remnant are going to be virgins. The Bible ties this all together. The remnant are going to be God’s chosen who are going to go through the final end of all things. How do I know that? Because the Book of Revelation tells us that.
Revelation 14 begins by telling the story of the 144,000. They are standing there with the Father’s name written in their foreheads, and verse 5 says: “And in their mouth was found no guile: for they are without fault before the throne of God.”
Here are the qualifications for God’s people. God’s people are not only going to worship Him as their God, but they are going to be Sabbath keepers. They are going to be obedient to every aspect of God’s law, and that includes the ninth commandment, which, when properly addressed, allows the character to develop with no deceitfulness, no falsehoods, and no false witness. God’s people will have a lifestyle that is going to meet His high standard.
Of course, there is only one way that that can happen, and that is for us to submit ourselves to Him and allow Him to burn out the character defects in our lives, through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why the Holy Spirit has been illustrated with fire. The fire is to turn to ashes those sinful traits in our lives, so we can rightly represent the character of Christ.
Of Great Importance
The ninth commandment is a very important commandment. It is a special commandment that applies in so many ways across the experience and spectrum of mankind. Regarding it, Ellen White has written:
“The ninth commandment requires of us an inviolable regard for exact truth in every declaration by which the character of our fellow men may be affected. The tongue, which is kept so little under the control of the human agent, is to be bridled by strong conscientious principles, by the law of love toward God and man.
“False-speaking in any matter, every attempt or purpose to deceive our neighbor, is here included. An intention to deceive is what constitutes falsehood. By a glance of the eye, a motion of the hand, an expression of the countenance, a falsehood may be told as effectually as by words. All intentional overstatement, every hint or insinuation calculated to convey an erroneous or exaggerated impression, even the statement of facts in such a manner as to mislead, is falsehood. This precept forbids every effort to injure our neighbor’s reputation by misrepresentation or evil surmising, by slander or tale-bearing. Even the intentional suppression of truth, by which injury may result to others, is a violation of the ninth commandment.
“He [Jesus] teaches that the exact truth should be the law of speech. ‘Let your speech be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay.’ [Matthew 5:37.] . . . These words condemn all those meaningless phrases and expletives that border on profanity. They condemn the deceptive compliments, the evasion of truth, the flattering phrases, the exaggerations, the misrepresentations in trade, that are current in society and in the business world. They teach that no one who tries to appear what he is not, or whose words do not convey the real sentiment of his heart, can be called truthful. . . .
“Everything that Christians do should be as transparent as the sunlight. Truth is of God; deception, in every one of its myriad forms, is of Satan. . . . We can not speak the truth unless our minds are continually guided by Him who is truth.” Sons and Daughters of God, 64.
A retired minister of the gospel, Pastor Mike Baugher may be contacted by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.