Lying was a sin in the old testament and it is a sin today. It was called bearing false witness in biblical times. Today, it is commonly called stretching the truth, exaggerating the facts, perjury, lie of omission, or just plain lying. The ninth Commandment reads, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex 20:16), a law which still applies in the New Testament (Mt 19:18 f; Rom 13:9). Whereas the primary thrust of this commandment addresses the testimony that is given in legal cases, we should not limit its application to only that. When we tell lies against our neighbor, we destroy lives, fortunes, their good name and reputation. When we tell the truth about our neighbor we save him from such destruction.
Bearing false witness is a sin against God. God is the one who commanded, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Ex. 20:16). He who disobeys this commandment disobeys God.
Bearing false witness is a sin against the person whose reputation is destroyed thereby. Jesus said, “Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets” (Mt. 7:12). Surely among the violations of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is included the violation of bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.
The false testimony in court can result in serious consequences ranging from imprisonment, to punitive damage, and even death. False testimony told around the kitchen table can destroy a person’s reputation, his ability to earn a living, his family relationship, his relationship with his friends, etc. Surely one who gives false testimony against his neighbor is guilty of sinning against him.
Bearing false witness is a sin against the person who hears it. The one who hears false testimony will have his opinion of the one spoken about shaped by the false testimony. He will conduct himself toward a person based on the false testimony. Frequently, he will hold as an enemy the one slandered.
Sometimes, the hearer has a kindred spirit with the one giving false testimony (“birds of a feather flock together”). They are attracted one to another. We frequently describe such people as gossips or those who are gossip mongers.
Bearing false witness is a sin against the society in which it is tolerated. A society is rooted in justice. When justice is removed the society crumbles and falls. The same is true in the church. The church (society) that tolerates men who bear false witness against each other will be destroyed by the alienation, division, and separation that comes therefrom.
Ways in Which One Can Bear False Witness
Bearing false witness in giving court testimony. We call this crime “perjury.” The Law legislated that the one who bore false witness against a neighbor was to receive the punishment he sought to have brought again his neighbor (Deut. 19:16- 20). Here is what the Law said:
If a false witness rise up against any man to testify against him that which is wrong; then both the men, between whom the controversy is, shall stand before the Lord, before the priests and the judges, which shall be in those days; and the judges shall make diligent inquisition: and, behold, if the witness be a false witness, and has testified falsely against his brother; then shall you do unto him, as he had thought to have done unto his brother: so shall you put the evil away from among you. And those which remain shall hear, and fear, and shall henceforth commit no more any such evil among you.
Malicious attacks against one’s character. David’s enemies were not so much those who took the witness stand and gave testimony as they were those who de- famed him before King Saul (Pss. 27:12 f; 35:11). There are many ways that people can give false testimony against another: (a) Speaking lies (Prov. 14:5). (b) Gossip: “to indulge in idle talk or rumors about others.” (c) Slander (Ps. 31:13 f; Prov. 10:18). Slander is “the utterance or spreading of a false statement or statements, harmful to another’s character or reputation.” Legally, slander is spoken and libel is written. (d) Whispering (Ps. 41:7; Prov. 16:28; Rom. 1:29; 2 Cor. 12:20). The word “whispering” emphasizes the hidden manner in which the malicious speech is spoken. (e) Evil surmising (1 Tim. 6:4). This kind of attack against a man’s reputation gives the worst possible construction to everything he does. (f ) Innuendo. Innuendo is “an indirect remark, gesture, or reference, usually implying something derogatory; hint; insinuation.” (g) Fault finding (Mark 7:2). Fault finders are like buzzards who fly across a field looking for a dead carcass. They are oblivious to the green pasture, the farm lands, the cattle, and other good things that are there, for they are searching for something rotting. Some look at another’s life like the buzzard searching for something rotten.
In spreading reports without verifying their truthfulness. The reputation of many a preacher has been damaged by loosed tongued brethren. Someone hears something about a brother, perhaps even a brother who has been a friend for years and whose life has been above reproach. One’s first reaction is to believe the report and that without doing anything to verify its accuracy. Particularly gospel preachers need to beware of falling into this sin of bearing false witness against another.
A person has a moral responsibility to accurately represent the position of the person whose doctrine he is reviewing. If he does not correctly represent that brother and then attacks the misrepresented position, he has destroyed a straw man. But what is worse is that he has slandered his brother and, slander is a sin. Sometimes those who are so concerned about preserving the purity of the church seem to forget that slander will send a soul to hell just as quickly as false doctrine will! How tragic that one who is so concerned about protecting and defending the purity of the church would lose his soul by slandering his brother, misrepresenting the beliefs that he holds!
Bearing false witness involves these sins: (a) Telling a lie. What is represented as the truth is not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. (b) Repeating a lie without being sure that it is true. Sometimes men repeat things that they have heard without making any effort to verify the truthfulness of what they are repeating. Their repeating a lie, however innocently done, still produces the same damage to its victim. (c) Malice (Rom. 1:29 ff; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; 3 John 10). The motive behind false witnessing is evil. (d) Hatred (Ps. 25:19 ff; 109:3; Gal. 5:20).
Conclusion: People today think it a light thing to lie against their enemy. They think it a small matter to lie against a politician or especially their leaders (Rom 13:1-9). They think it is their right to lie against anyone to get ahead in life. Brethren, think again! Is it any wonder why brethren attack fellow brethren with lies and half truths as if God is not keeping track of their evil deeds? All such who do such things are guilty of bearing false witness and are in danger of hell fire (Rev 21:8). “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another (Eh 4:25).