Skip to comments.The Rev. Samuel Edwards: "On False Witness"
Posted on 02/25/2006 6:45:28 PM PST by sionnsar
From the Rev. Samuel Edwards of the Anglican Church of the Holy Comforter in Alabama, we have his second in the series on the Ten Commandments. This one is on the Ninth Commandment:
Sermon on Sexagesima Sunday (2006)This is a good sermon, and I have thought in the past that if it is true that "the pen is mightier than the sword", the tongue is more powerful than either of them. May God indeed help us to use this power to His glory and the advancement of His Kingdom.
Countdown to Godliness
Sermon II. On False Witness
God spake this word, and said: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
The last six of the Ten Commandments are concerned with our life together as human beings particularly with our life as Gods own people. Until I began to reflect on them in preparation for this series of sermons, it had not occurred to me that there is a very logical order in the arrangement. As we progress from the injunction to honor our parents through the prohibitions against murder, adultery, theft, slanderous lying, and covetousness, the behaviors to be done or avoided become less and less natural to us in our fallen state and the commandments consequently become more and more difficult to obey.
In contrast to covetousness, which we saw last week so thoroughly infects all of us, it is not at all difficult for most of us to honor our parents (given a sufficient degree of maturity on our part), nor is it difficult to refrain from murdering anyone. It is not that hard to avoid committing adultery. Not stealing is often more of a challenge, but what is really hard is not bearing false witness against our neighbor.
Im not talking primarily about the kind of perjury that is committed in courtrooms or otherwise under oath, though that is included, and there is far too much of it, and it is not prosecuted or punished as vigorously as it ought to be. But the knowledge that it can be and on occasion is prosecuted and punished is enough to keep most people from committing this form of false witness.
However, there is a way of violating this commandment that rarely has legal consequences but regularly poisons the lives of people and of the communities of which they are a part. The Offices of Instruction (found in the BCP on pages 283-295) cover what this involves in their summary of the practical meaning of the Ninth Commandment: My duty towards my Neighbour is To keep my tongue from evil speaking, lying, and slandering.
Gossip is the way this sort of thing usually shows itself in ordinary life, and if you doubt its popularity and profitability, just have a look at the magazine racks by the checkout aisle the next time youre in the store. If my intuition about the arrangement of the Commandments is correct, only coveting is harder not to do than bearing false witness against our neighbor. Why is this so? It is very likely because it is parasitic on something in our essential nature something that is the perversion of a good.
Remember that we are made in the image of God. We are made to be as much like him as our creaturely limitations allow. He is the maker and therefore the owner of all things and we under him are to be sub-creators and stewards. We are to be Gods viceroys in his creation, and our deepest desire is to do this. Trouble comes when this desire, placed within us by our Designer, is perverted and we buy the Satanic lie that we can have it all to ourselves that what we desire, what we hold as our precious, we must have by any means necessary and that no one else should have it, not even God. This kind of spiritual insanity is what is at the root of covetousness, with which we dealt last week.
A similar aspect of our essential nature as human beings is our having been made for speech. God places within us the image of his Word the Word who was from the beginning, through whom all things were made, by whom all things were made, for whom all things were made. It is through the Word of the Lord that the heavens and the earth were made. And God said let there be light, and there was light. We have within us an orientation to be sub-creators and stewards of Reality. The primary function of the power of speech with us is to set forth and spread abroad Gods praises in creation to praise him, to bless him, to worship him, to glorify him, to give thanks to him for his great glory and so long as we are doing that, wonderful things happen within us and around us.
Problems begin when we buy into the notion that we can make our own reality, one that is separate, distinct, and different from that God has spoken into being through his Word. We then use our power of speech to shape that reality according to our private opinions concerning the way it is and the way it ought to be, just because we say so. We do this because we know that words have power power to destroy as well as to create and because were pretty sure that whoever it was who first pronounced the little rhyme about sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me either had lived a very sheltered life or was just trying to convince himself it wasnt a lie.
The shameful fact is that we gossip basically because we enjoy it. Just look at the excuses we come up with if we are challenged. Perhaps the most popular is, well, its true! This conveniently ignores the fact that Gods word tells us not only to tell the truth, but in what context to do it and for what reason: The scriptural requirement for truth-telling is that it be done in love. This does not mean that it shouldnt be done if doing so would offend the person to whom it is told rather it means that the telling of the truth cannot intentionally be used as a weapon to tear down (as opposed to a tool to build up) its hearer. In other words, if its true, its still gossip if it is being told for malicious and self-serving reasons.
Saint James addresses the root problem, its consequences, and its cure in his letter to the first generation of Christians, chapter 3:5-18. It is as relevant today and here and to us as it was then and there and to them. (I read from Eugene Petersons good paraphrase, The Message.)
A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything or destroy it! It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue--it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you? Do you want to be counted wise, to build a reputation for wisdom? Here's what you do: Live well, live wisely, live humbly. It's the way you live, not the way you talk, that counts. Mean-spirited ambition isn't wisdom. Boasting that you are wise isn't wisdom. Twisting the truth to make yourselves sound wise isn't wisdom. It's the furthest thing from wisdom--it's animal cunning, devilish conniving. Whenever you're trying to look better than others or get the better of others, things fall apart and everyone ends up at the others' throats. Real wisdom, God's wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. [James 3:5-18]
This is indeed hard work, but it is the kind of hard work that builds strength and sinew, both with each of us and among all of us. It is not beyond us if we accept with a good heart the food and drink here given to us by him who speaks the Word so that all our words may resound with his praise and let the world know that here among us he truly dwells.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
What does this mean?--Answer.
We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, or defame our neighbor, but defend him, [think and] speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.
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