A Faithful Witness

(Text: Exodus 20:16)

The ninth commandment, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor” is very specific. Overall, this command deals with lying. But, as with the other commandments, this addresses the worst kind of sin in a given topic. The worst kind of violence is murder, forbidden in the sixth commandment. The worst kind of relational betrayal is adultery, addressed in the seventh commandment. And the worst kind of lie is one that puts another person’s life in danger, in this case, a Hebrew accusing his neighbor of a crime he didn’t commit.

  1. A Faithful Witness Under the Law

nder the law of Moses, the role of a faithful witness was crucial. When it came to holding the guilty accountable, especially of a serious crime, God’s law required two witnesses…”On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness. The hand of the witnesses shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 17:6–7)

At this time in history, they obviously didn’t have the technology to use fingerprints or DNA or camera surveillance to catch those who broke the law. This new legal system God is setting up for Israel was based on the honesty of truthful eye-witnesses.

So, this commandment against bearing false witness was not just about lying, although that’s part of it. This command was life or death. If you lie about what you saw or didn’t see your neighbor do, your words could result in another man losing his life! And if you were caught lying and bearing false witness, the punishment that would have been done to the accused, would be done to you instead.

So the person who chose to be a false witness was not only a liar, but in some cases, would be a murderer as well.

On the other hand, to be a faithful witness took great courage. If one witnessed a crime, the easier thing to do would be to keep silent, to say, “That’s not my business”. To come forward would mean you could be putting yourself in danger. Maybe the guilty party would seek revenge on you or your family. Maybe you were the only witness and the guilty person wouldn’t be charged anyway. That meant to be a faithful witness required courage, but it also required faith in God, trusting in His commands, trusting in His power to protect the innocent and bring the guilty to justice.

2. The Faithful Witness of Christ

Jesus was the perfect reflection and embodiment of the justice and truth of His Heavenly Father. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

He wasn’t just truthful. Jesus IS the truth. And as the truth He only spoke what the Father gave Him to speak…For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49–50)

That doesn’t mean that everyone liked what Jesus had to say. In fact, His words made some angry enough to kill Him. But He always spoke the truth.

Jesus was a faithful witness, speaking the truth from the Father. He never contradicted Himself. He never used His words to harm the innocent or to spread gossip. He never accused someone falsely, but only spoke what He had seen and heard from the Father.

In the Book of Revelation, when John is writing to the churches, he reminds them whose words he is delivering. And in the beginning of the letter, John refers to Jesus as “…the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth” (Revelation 1:5). Jesus is THE Faithful Witness. And Jesus taught His disciples to walk in the same way.

The Law defined what sin was, and exposed the depth of sin in every person. That lead to the sacrificial system of shedding blood for the forgiveness of sin, preparing God’s people for the coming of Christ, the Savior who would shed His own blood for His people. He would accomplish what the law could not, and what the blood of animals could not. Through Jesus, the hearts of God’s people would be changed.

3. The Faithful Witness of God’s People

I’ve noticed through the years, what the media deems “news” is often nothing more than gossip and slander.

Which celebrity cheated on their spouse, who divorced who, this pop star is arguing with that pop star. Or even when there are news stories, it’s no longer just reporting facts, but it’s speculating as to who is guilty, whether there is evidence or not, digging into people’s private lives and destroying their families.

Trial by Twitter and social media lynching. People seem to care more about being first to share an opinion, first to accuse, first to slander, without waiting on facts. Bearing false witness includes other more common deadly sins of the tongue, like gossip, slander and libel. This is the world we live in. We are in the world, but we must not be of the world. We are called to live differently. The summary of the Ten Commandments is to love God and love others. That’s the law of love we are given in Christ. If we love God and we love others (more than ourselves) then we won’t try to hurt others with our words. Instead, we will want to build up, and edify, and bless, and encourage with our words. We will love because we are loved.

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:9-10)

For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit. (1 Peter 3:10)

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:1–3)

You and I are called to be faithful witnesses. That means more than just not lying or not gossiping. It means faithfully telling others what we have seen – namely who Jesus is and what He has done for us. We are His witness. That’s who we are.

May we not be false witnesses. May we not be silent witnesses. Instead, may we be faithful witnesses, joyfully spreading the good news of the gospel to see one person, one heart at a time, brought from death to life in Christ.

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