THE SIN OF FALSE WITNESSING
Sermon Text: Exodus 20:16
The decalogue contains ten commands which are the ten fundamental principles embracing “the whole duty of man.” On these ten precepts “hang all the law and the prophets.” The Law is an abridged edition of the Bible, and the Bible is an unabridged edition of the Law. The Scriptures are an unfolding of the principles enunciated in the Ten Commandments. Therefore the Decalogue is the standard of right conduct and will be the rule of judgment. Ecclesiastes 12:13, 14; James 2:8-12. Our words and actions must be in harmony with the law because we will be judged by the law. The ninth commandment is the only one of the ten that deals directly with our words.
The transgression of any of the commands of God’s law is divinely designated as “sin” and “the wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sinneth it shall die” is heaven’s decree. The penalty for sin is not the ordinary death; it is eternal death. The penalty therefore for bearing false witness against another is eternal death. The seriousness of a crime is measured or determined by the severity of the penalty. The death sentence always indicates a terrible crime. Bearing false witness must be a terrible thing from heaven’s viewpoint. In human law, false witnessing is a crime known as “perjury” and carries with it a heavy penalty. “Love” is declared to be “the fulfilling of the law”, and the measure of love is contained in the statement: “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” The person who reaches this standard will not bear false witness against another because he would not bear false witness against himself. He treats his neighbor as he treats himself and as he would like to have his neighbor treat him. He obeys the Golden Rule. This is the standard demanded by the law. Matthew 7:12.
False Report. Exodus 23:12
“Receive” (Margin). “Take up” (R.V.). “You must never repeat a baseless rumor.” (Moffatt). This command is a further explanation of the ninth commandment of the Decalogue. It forbids originating a false report, or repeating one that is brought to us, or even receiving or believing it. This would be “talebearing” which is expressly forbidden in Leviticus 19:16. “You shall not go up and down slandering people.” (Moffatt). A “tale-bearer” is defined as “a meddling informer; mischief-maker; scandalmonger.” He is a news-carrier who delights to pass on information of the rumor-variety without any inquiry as to whether or not it is true. Tale-bearers find but little satisfaction in repeating rumors that reflect another’s honor or brings him credit. Their specialty is rumors of the scandalous and slandering variety.
The Severe Penalty. Deuteronomy 19:15-21
This is a divine rule given to guide the Hebrew judges in dealing with false-witnessing and false-witnesses. It is another application of the Golden Rule. It will be done unto us as we do unto others. What we mete out to others will be meted out to us; as we judge we will be judged. False witnesses were to be given the same penalty as would have been visited upon the accused if the accusation had been true. If the penalty was death, the false witness must suffer death. The purpose of this severe penalty was to stamp out this terrible evil from among God’s people. It was to cause people to think before they speak. If this penalty against false-witnesses could be visited upon transgressors today what a change it would soon bring about.
Before a person has a right to sit in judgment upon another because of a report or rumor, he must make “diligent inquisition” as to whether or not the report is true. Its truthfulness must be established by more than one witness. There must be at least two witnesses to corroborate the report before we have a right to form our own opinion or render a decision if that is our prerogative. No person ever has a right to pass on or report a rumor about another until he has run down the matter and found out by diligent inquiry that it is true and then he must report only to the proper persons who will be able to correct the wrong. In this matter we all stand guilty before God. But genuine Christianity demands that victory be gained over this grievous sin.
Duty to Report
But while there is a terrible penalty against bearing false witness, we cannot altogether ignore reports and rumors which reflect on the character of our neighbor or brother and bring reproach upon God’s work. If the report is untrue we have a duty to help stop the circulation of the report. We will do this if we love the neighbor as we love ourselves. If the report is true we have an obligation to help the neighbor or brother correct the wrong and if it is not done the matter must reported to the proper persons. It is a sin to overlook and wink at wrongs which should be known and corrected by the proper authorities. The standard must not be lowered. The person who knows that another is a criminal and does not report it becomes a partaker in the crime. This is true also regarding sins. Leviticus 5:1. We must not be guilty of helping a sinner to keep his sins covered.
The sin of false witnessing has not been confined to any specific age or generation. It is the universal sin of all ages. Proverbs 6:16-19. Five of the seven sins that God especially abominates are different forms of false witnessing. Proverbs 19:5. Because this sentence is not executed as soon as the sin is committed has made tale-bearers bold in their character-assassinating work. Ecclesiastes 8:11. The sentence for talebearing is again stated in Proverbs 21:28. Complete victory over this sin is one of the qualifications for entrance into the heavenly Canaan. Psalm 15:1-3. Margin. It was necessary in the apostolic church to warn against this terrible evil. 2 Thessalonians 3:11, 12; 1 Timothy 5:13. False witnessing is an evidence of idleness; that the persons do not have enough to do to keep themselves busy so they seek to attend of other people’s business.
The Advent Movement. Zephaniah 3:8, 9, 13, 20
“A pure lip.” (Margin). “A clean speech.” (Moffatt). “Telling no lies, uttering no fraud.” (Moffatt). The application of these texts to God’s remnant people cannot be questioned. Those who receive the latter rain and have part in the final gathering under the loud cry will have a pure language and a clean speech. Their language will be free from slang and the “foolish talking” and unclean and filthy jesting mentioned in Ephesians 5:3-5, as being unbecoming to saints. The victory of the remnant will be so complete that they will not “do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth.” There will be no false witnesses among them; no talebearers or gossipers. The perfect control of speech will be the evidence of their perfection of character. James 3:2.
No Guile. Revelation 14:5
Guile means the same as “deceit.” The remnant will be like Jesus in this respect. “Neither was any deceit found in His mouth.” (Isaiah 53:9) Guile also has the meaning of “ferment” or “fermentation” because that which produces fermentation is called “guile.” A tongue filled with guile or deceit causes fermentation in the church. It spoils the sweet spirit that prevailed and produces bitterness. It causes fermentation. Here too, complete victory over lying and false witnessing is the evidence of their perfection. “And no lie has ever been found upon their lips; they are faultless.” (Wey). “In their mouth no falsehood was found; they are spotless.” (Fenton). “And on their lips no lie was ever detected; they are stainless.” (Moffatt). Three times the Revelator declares that no liars will enter into the celestial city or the kingdom of glory.
“It pains me to say that there are unruly tongues among church members. There are false tongues that feed on mischief. There are sly, whispering tongues. There are tattling, impertinent meddling, adroit quizzing. Among the lovers of gossip some are actuated by curiosity, others by jealousy, many by hatred against those through whom God has spoken to reprove them. All these discordant elements are at work. Some conceal their real sentiments, while others are eager to publish all they know, or even suspect, of evil against another.”—Vol. 5:94. We are told that these gossipers make trifling and unpremeditated remarks that are “unworthy of notice” and view the faults of others “through Satan’s magnifying glass” and ponder and repeat them “until molehills becomes mountains.”—Ibid., p. 95.
“Wrong prevails, man is made an offender for a word, and suspicion, distrust, jealousy, evil-surmising, evil speaking, and injustice reproduce themselves even in connection with the cause of God. … The persecution that is carried on among church-members is a most terrible thing. It is true that some have committed errors, and made mistakes, but it is equally true that these errors and mistakes are not nearly as grievous in the sight of God as is the harsh and unforgiving spirit of those who are criticizers and censors. Many of these who are free to pass judgment on others, are committing errors which, although not made manifest, are tainted with deadly evil that is corrupting their spiritual life. … Many are making manifest that they are not controlled by the Spirit of Christ, but by another spirit. The attributes they display are as unlike the attributes of Christ as are the characteristics of Satan.”—T.M. 186.
“If Satan can employ professed believers to act as accusers of the brethren, he is justly pleased; for those who do this are just as truly serving him as was Judas when he betrayed Christ, although they may be doing it ignorantly. Satan is no less active now than in Christ’s day, and those who lend themselves to do his work will be manifest in spirit. Floating rumors are often the destroyers of unity among brethren. There are some who watch with open mind and ears to catch flying scandal. They gather up little incidents which may be trifling in themselves, but which are repeated and exaggerated until a man is made an offender for a word.”—T.M. 504,505.
“We think with horror of the cannibal who feasts on the still warm and trembling flesh of his victim; but are the results of even this practice more terrible than are the agony and ruin caused by misrepresenting motive, blackening reputation, dissecting character?”—Education, p. 235. “How many families season their daily meals with doubt and questionings. They dissect the characters of their friends, and serve them up as a dainty dessert. A precious bit of slander is passed around the board to be commented upon, not only by adults, but by the children. … The names of God’s chosen servants have been handled with disrespect, and in some cases with absolute contempt, by certain persons whose duty it is to uphold them.”—Vol. 4:195. No wonder it is impossible for ministers and other church workers to help the children in some homes. Their confidence in church leaders has been destroyed by gossip.
Refuse to Hear
“Speak evil of no man. Hear evil of no man. If there be no hearers, there will be no speakers of evil. If anyone speaks evil in your presence, check him. Refuse to hear him though his manner be ever so soft, and his accents mild. He many profess attachment, and yet throw out covert hints and stab the character in the dark. Resolutely refuse to hear, though the whisperer complains of being burdened till he speak. Burdened indeed with a cursed secret which separateth very friends. Go, burdened one, and free yourselves from your burden in God’s appointed way. First go tell your brother his fault between you and him alone.”—Vol. 2:54. “Gossipers and news-carriers are a terrible curse to neighborhoods and churches.”—Ibid., p.466. How quickly this method would close the mouths of gossipers and tale-bearers. Another good plan is to ask them to write it down and sign their names to it. Still another is to insist that the person involved be call in to hear the story.
Those who receive the latter rain and are translated will be complete victors over this terrible evil. Dan was a back-biter and no Danites will enter the kingdom of heaven. “He that will love life, and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips that they speak no guile. Let him eschew evil and do good; let him seek peace and ensue it. For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, and His ears are open unto their prayers.” Psalm 34:12-15.
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