Berlin Sunday Service: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor

12 July, 2020 – In Matthew 5, Jesus talks about how the Gospel fulfils the Law and he gives examples of an OT commandment and then puts the NT standard in contrast with it. We want to look at Ex 20:16 with Acts 1:8 because they are about our attitude to the truth and how we live in this world and how we should use the gift of language in relation to other people. Jesus says, we must receive the Holy Spirit, and in His power, we are to bear true witness for our neighbor, not a false one against our neighbor.

In John 16:12-13a, Jesus says to the Twelve, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” If we are in Christ, his Spirit is in us. And his Spirit is the Spirit of truth. We are a creation of truth. Truth is at the core of our identity in Christ, it is to be in our heart and it is to be spoken out. Christianity has a strong commitment to truth because of how essential it is.

And truth is one of the first things that is broken. In Genesis 3, the beginning of sin is in a lie. In John 8:44, Jesus calls Satan a liar and the father of lying. He is a liar, but also a father of lies. In Genesis 3, the ancient serpent lies to Adam, ‘you will not certainly die, but when you eat from the fruit your eyes will be opened and you will be like god’. And that lie then fathers a lie in Adam, who eats of the forbidden fruit, and when God asks him why he ate it, he doesn’t tell the truth, he blames God and he blames Eve, in Gen 3:12, Adam answers to God, “The woman you put here with me-she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” It’s not my fault, you put the woman here, and she gave me the fruit. And so at the core of lying, there is self-protection, self-centeredness. Adam failed to love God, instead he blames him, he failed to love his wife and he makes excuses.

We lie because we fail to love God and we fail to love our neighbor, we are self-centered, we need to protect ourselves, we reject our responsibility, we pass the blame, we make excuses. We exaggerate, and we distort the truth so that we can make ourselves look good and that we can win the argument. We use the mixture of truths and half-truths so it’s hard to separate the true from the false. In Matthew 5:37, Jesus says, “do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

So a big part of our fall in sin is our lack of concern for truth. We say what benefits us, we are more concerned with ourselves than with the truth, and so we ‘bear false witness AGAINST our neighbor.’ We are not supposed to be against our neighbor, we are supposed to be FOR our neighbor, we are meant to love our neighbor, but we use the precious gift of words against our neighbor, we lie, we gossip, we slander. And so because we rejected God who is the truth, we departed from the truth. Romans 1:25, 28-31.

We were given the gift of language to praise God and to bless our neighbor, but instead, we use it to give false testimony, to slander, to deceive, to hurt, to destroy, and we could make a really long list how we break the Ninth. Any kind of use of language coming from malice and ill-will towards our neighbor is breaking the commandment.

Exodus 23:1-3, 6-8. Spreading falsehoods, following a crowd instead of seeking the truth, perverting justice, showing favoritism, prejudice, twisting other people’s words, seeking our own benefit rather than the truth, making false promises. This sounds like everyday politics, this doesn’t read like a 3000 years old outdated book, this sounds very much like our problems today.

Galatians 5:19-21 …hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy… I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Matthew 15:19-20b “For out of the heart come evil thoughts-murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person.”

It is out of the heart that comes hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, envy, slander, gossip and the like. We must not take part in such things as Christians. These show our lack of true love for others, if we love our neighbor as ourselves, we can’t bear false witness against our brother in any way.

In verse 20, Jesus says there is something really troubling about sin. It defiles the person. We are betraying our own self because we are literally created to love others as we love ourselves, so when we break the commandment, we break ourselves, we defile ourselves. This is what sin is, it’s not something outside of me, it’s not some record in a book of an angry God, it’s a mark on my own soul that I have to bear. That’s why Christ is called a Healer, he is not just the forgiver. It’s not that I only need to be forgiven, the record of my trespass needs to be erased and that’s it, no, it is I who needs to be healed, the mark, the scar of the sin on my soul has to be healed, I need to be washed because the sin defiled me. The sin of lie defiles myself, it defiles my relationship with God and others, because God is truth and I am made in his image.

Let us then fulfil the Ninth, by bearing witness to Christ and his character, bearing witness to the one who loved us and laid his life for us, bearing witness to the truth and the life that is in the gospel of Jesus Christ.