The Ten Commandments – Ninth – No False Witness

Title: The Ten Commandments - Ninth - No False Witness

Bible Book: Exodus 20 : 16

Author: Paul E. Brown

Subject: Lying; Commandments; False Witness



The sixth commandment protects a person’s life; the seventh protects his marriage; the eighth protects his property; and the ninth protects his reputation. The ninth commandment, recorded in Exodus 20:16, reads as follows: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” This commandment, along with the others, makes up the glue that holds society together. By means of this brief statement, God has something vital to say to every last one of us.

I. The Meaning of this Commandment

A. False Witness Defined

To “bear false witness” means to tell something which is not true. The Bible emphatically forbids all lying, of course. However, this ninth commandments addresses one specific facet of the matter, and that is lying about other people. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

B. Our Neighbor Identified

Who is our neighbor? In Luke 10:29 a certain lawyer asked Jesus that very question, and in response Jesus related the story of the Good Samaritan. In that story Jesus made clear that our neighbor is anyone we encounter who needs our help. Since everybody needs help of some kind, that means that ultimately everyone I have any contact with is my neighbor. Some obviously are closer neighbors than others--but all of those we encounter are our neighbors in the strictest Biblical sense.

II. The Importance of this Commandment

A. Emphasized Throughout Scripture

This prohibition against bearing false witness is reiterated throughout the Scriptures. For example, Exodus 23:1: “Thou shalt not raise a false report; put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness.” Proverbs 24:28: “Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause; and deceive not with thy lips.”

B. Why It Is So Important?

Whenever a person bears false witness he is aligning himself with Satan, who is spoken of in John 8:44 as “a liar, and the father of it.” Revelation 12:10 refers to Satan as “the accuser of our brethren.” In Proverbs 6 we’re given a list of seven things that God hates and one of those, named in verse 19, is “A false witness that speaketh lies.” Dennis Marquardt has correctly said, “No society will long endure, nor will any human relationship that is not founded on truth.”

III. The Breaking of this Commandment

Yet, sad to say, this commandment is broken over and over again--it is broken in a variety of ways-- and the effects are grievous.

A. Broken In Courts Of Law

For one thing, it is frequently broken in courts of law--sometimes with deadly results. Justice is based upon truth. If a man lies on the witness stand, he may rob another man of his property, his time, his reputation, or even his life, and it is alarming to realize how widely this commandment is broken today in our courts. Some years ago a judge of the New York Supreme Court declared: “We have reached the point where we merely try to find out which side is lying most!”

The most abominable example of lying that ever occurred is recorded in Matthew 26. In that chapter we read that two false witnesses testified against Jesus, the one perfect person who ever walked the earth and as a result of their deceitful witness, Jesus, the Son of God, was condemned to death.

B. Broken In Other Ways

But bearing false witness isn’t confined to courts of law--it also happens in everyday life. Whether we realize it or not, we are always bearing witness either for or against our neighbor--and it’s mighty easy to slip into the sin of bearing false witness.

1. Flat-Out Lies

One way to bear false witness is to tell a flat-out lie on somebody. That grieves the heart of God, and arouses his anger. Proverbs 12:22 says, “Lying lips are abomination to the Lord....” Proverbs 19:9 says, “A false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish.” Psalm 101:5 says, “Whoso privily slandereth his neighbor, him will I cut off....”

2. Indirect Lying

False witness may also take forms other than direct lying. We can slander by relating information which is technically correct, but relating it so as to create a false impression. A sailor who was responsible for making daily entries in the ship’s log got angry at the First Mate, so that night he wrote in the ship’s log, “The First Mate was sober today.”

3. Lying By Silence

We can also bear false witness by silence. When we hear somebody being falsely maligned and we fail to speak up and defend that person’s reputation, our silence amounts to giving consent. It is true that silence is sometimes golden--but there are other times when silence is just plain yellow.

4. Gossip

One of the most common ways that we bear false witness is by means of gossip--passing on information which is negative and which we don’t know for certain to be accurate. So far as that goes, even if we do know it to be factual, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s right for us to pass it on.

Some things are better left unsaid, even if they are true.

But one of the big problems with gossip is that so often the information is not true. Falsehood seems to travel faster than truth. Cordell Hull said, “A lie can get up and go half way around the world before the truth even gets its britches on!” That’s one reason the Bible warns us against the sin of gossip. In Leviticus 19:16 God says, “Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people....” 1 Timothy 5:13 warns against being “idle” and “wandering about from house to house;  and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.” Someone has said that a lot of people are guilty of making mountains out of molehills--and they do that by adding more dirt.

You don’t have to go physically from house to house to be a tattler and a busybody--you can do it by telephone--and that’s equally shameful and God-dishonoring.

Another thing to think about is what Jerry Vines reminds us of: “...what you enjoy hearing will inevitably come to you. It does not compliment you that people feel free to share their gossip with you. Let me remind you that those who gossip to you will gossip about you.”

Bearing false witness is ruinous. It is the ruinous, of course, to the victim. When you steal a man’s property, that’s bad enough--but when you steal his good name by slander, that’s even worse.

Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches....”

A gossip-monger was convicted of his sin when he learned that the man he had lied about was dying. This liar went to the dying man he had slandered and asked his forgiveness. The victim said, “I do forgive you--but I want you to do something. I‘d like for you to cut open this feather pillow, go the window [they were on an upper story], and dump all those feathers out the window.” The man was puzzled, but did so. When he had finished, his victim said, “Now I would like for you to go and gather up all those feathers.” The man replied, “Why, that’s impossible. The wind has blown those feathers everywhere. There’s no way I could ever retrieve all of them.” The dying man said, “You’re right--and in like manner, it’s impossible to undo the hurt you’ve done to me with your gossip. I do forgive you-- but my reputation has been irreparably damaged.”

Proverbs 18:8 says, “The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.” There’s no telling how many people have driven to defeat and despair by gossip- mongers. Homes have been wrecked, people have even been driven to suicide by slander.

C. What Bearing False Witness Reveals
1. In Some Cases, Lostness

Lying as a pattern of life reveals that a person has never been saved. Revelation 21:8 says, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” In that same chapter, verse 27 says: “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie; but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” When considered in the context of other Scripture, those verses clearly refer to people who have never been born again--people for whom lying and/or the other vices named are a part of their basic makeup, their basic nature. In other words, sin is on the throne in their lives.

2. In Other Cases, Backsliding

Is it possible for a Christian, a truly born-again person, to backslide and bear false witness? Unfortunately, yes--it is possible for a genuine believer to Temporarily fall into the sin of lying. I say “temporarily” because, according to the Bible, the Lord will not let a Christian go on indefinitely in any kind of flagrant sin without chastening that person and bringing him back into line. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

The apostle Paul gave this warning to believers, in Colossians 3:9: “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.”

It is imperative that we avoid bearing false witness just as fervently as we would avoid a dread disease. Proverbs 10:18 says: “He that hideth hatred with lying lips, and he that uttereth a slander, is a fool.” Thus, we ought to heed what the poet said:

“A good thing to remember, And a better thing to do,

Is to work with the construction gang, And not with the wrecking crew.”

III. The Obeying Of This Commandment

How can we avoid the sin of bearing false witness--or overcome it, if we’re already guilty?

A. Get Right With God

Warren Wiersbe told about looking around in the theology section of a book store, when he saw on the shelves a book on interior decorating. At first he started to call the clerk over and tell her that the book was in the wrong section, but the more he thought about it, the more he decided that it was in  the right place after all, because that’s what God wants to do in our lives--he wants to renovate us within. The writer of Psalm 51:6 said, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts....”

So, that’s the primary step to take if you want to avoid or overcome the sin of bearing false witness. Get your heart right with God. That’s where the trouble always starts--down inside. Jeremiah 17:9 declares, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jesus said, in Matthew 12:34-35:

“O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things.”

How do you get your heart right with God? If you’ve never been saved, you need to repent of your sins and by faith receive Jesus Christ into your heart. Romans 10:9-11:

“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”

If you’re a Christian, yet have temporarily fallen into the sin of bearing false witness, face up to your sin, confess it, ask God’s forgiveness, and rededicate your life to him. He will cleanse you and give you a new start.

Ephesians 4:23-25 says: “And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.”

B. Grow In Christlikeness

But God’s goal for each of us is not only that we be saved, but also, as already noted, that we grow spiritually and become more and more like Jesus. Romans 8:29 says that “whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son....” So, that’s the second essential for avoiding the sin of bearing false witness: having gotten your heart right with God, then from that point on in life focus on the Lord Jesus Christ as your example and your inspiration.

In 1837 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a short story entitled “The Great Stone Face.” On the side of a high mountain nature had caused an enormous formation, visible for miles, resembling a human face. It was a noble, inspiring countenance, and people who lived in the nearby valley often gazed admiringly upon it. There was a prophecy, believed by the people of the valley, that someday an actual man would appear on the scene whose face would resemble that noble face on the mountain. A little boy named Ernest was one of those who often looked admiringly and longingly at the great stone face, and yearned for the fulfillment of the prophecy. Ernest was a hard worker, kind to his family, and considerate of all his fellow citizens. As time went on and Ernest grew to be a man, he became widely known for his wisdom and benevolence. People came from afar to seek his counsel, and the people of the valley loved him and looked to him for guidance.

One evening, when Ernest was well along in years, the people had gathered to listen to his words of simple, sincere eloquence, as they did at the close of every day. As Ernest was speaking, one of the crowd--a visitor to the valley--threw up his hands and with tears shouted, “Behold! Behold! Ernest is himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face!” Then all the people looked and saw that what the insightful visitor had said was true. Ernest had looked admiringly at the Great Stone Face for so long that he had taken on its likeness.

That story, of course, is a myth. But it illustrates a wonderful reality. Hebrews 12:2 tells us that we’re going to run life’s race victoriously, it can only be by “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith....” In John 14:6 Jesus said: “...I am the way, the truth, and the life....” Jesus is the very embodiment of truth. Thus, just as Ernest looked at the great stone face and became like it, as you and I look to Jesus daily we will become more and more like him--not physically, but in terms of attitude and character--and thus will be more and more victorious over the sin of bearing false witness--and, indeed, over all sin.

C. Pray Daily

On a daily basis, pray specifically for God to help you guard against the sin of bearing false witness against your neighbor--indeed, against the sin of lying, period. The inspired writer of Psalm 141:3 prayed, “Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.” The author of Psalm 119:28-29 said: “My soul melteth for heaviness: strengthen thou me according unto thy word.

Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me thy law graciously.”

The poet said: “Lord, cleanse my heart of all deceit, And teach me what is true; Help me to have integrity In all I say and do.”

D. Read God’s Word

Read the Bible daily, that will increase your spiritual strength and enable you to overcome the temptation to let your tongue get out of control. In John 17:17 Jesus prayed to the Father: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” Listen to the admonition of 1 Peter 2:1-3: “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby: If so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”

E. Love Others

And of profound importance: determine within your heart that you will, by the Lord’s help, love your neighbor. Here’s what Romans 13:8-10 says:

“Owe no man anything, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbor: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”


Max Lucado tells of a time when his daughter Jenna was a toddler, and he took her to play in a nearby park. As she was playing in a sandbox, an ice cream salesman came along. Max bought her an ice cream treat, but when he turned to give it to her he found that her mouth was full of dirt. Max said:

“Where I intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt. Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way. I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth? Why? Because I love her.”

Then Max went on to make the point that God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain of his grace and forgiveness and says, “Spit out the dirt--I’ve got something better for you!” Then he cleanses us of our sins--including the sin of bearing false witness.

Let the Lord have his way with you today. Confess your sins. Commit your life to Christ. Let him remold you. The song-writer put it this way:

“His power can make you what you ought to be;
His blood can cleanse your heart and make you free;
His love can fill your soul, and you will see
‘Twas best for Him to have His way with thee.”
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