Exodus 20:16 & Matthew 5:33-37
Flourishing – Bearing false witness in court undermines society by causing the innocent to be convicted and the guilty to go unpunished. This has knock-on effects, encouraging others to sin. False witness also refers to lying in general: lying affects people’s ability to relate to the world accurately, undermining their freedom and the cohesion and prosperity of society. However, there is deeper reason why false witness, especially against people, is included in the ten commandments. Lying in court also implies something bigger, that God will not hold us to account. Words don’t just communicate true or false facts, but they tell bigger stories too, and these bigger stories (or meta-narratives) have the ability to profoundly alter the way people see the world around them for good or evil, when the way we see the world changes it changes the whole way we think about God and the way we behave. God made us in his image to tell the bigger story of his love and thus respond with love in return in lives of righteousness and beauty. But when we lie we tell a bigger story that God is either either not real, or not who he has said he is. This leads to evil, sin and chaos. (Rom 1:18-32) This is why lies are condemned not merely as wrong, but as an abomination (Prov 12:22). Of all the “bigger stories” we tell with our words, the ones we tell about people are most important. Since people are made in the image of God, the way we treat people most profoundly affects our view of what God is like. Thus the greatest false witness is to speak of or treat other people as not made in God’s image. The Bible speaks consistently and clearly about the the sacred power of words, in its advice about how and when and how much we speak, and especially about how we speak of others.
Fencing – We must never lie, but rather avoid all falsehood as of the devil. We must rejoice in truth. We must not give false testimony against anyone, twist no one’s words, not gossip or slander, nor condemn or join in condemning anyone rashly and unheard. Rather, we must love the truth, speak and confess it honestly, and do what we can to defend and promote our neighbour’s honour and reputation. (Prov.19:5, Prov.21:28, Ps.15:3, Ps.50:20, Rom.1:29, Rom.1:30, Matt.7:1-2, John 8:44 , Prov.12:22, Prov.13:5, 1 Cor.13:6, Eph.4:25, 1 Pet.4:8.) We must speak openly of the truth about God, giving testimony to the Lord Jesus when we can. We must be aware of the contingency of our own understanding ,expressing our opinions with humility and reserve, for fear of leading others into error or of cementing our own folly. We should be slow to speak and quick to listen, using our words carefully with an awareness of their holiness and power. Bad company corrupts good character, we should exercise moderation in our consumption of media and social media – since these mediums shape how we see the world and thus how we see God.
Freeing – THe command reveals to us how much lying is a part of our nature. Each of us gives in to the temptation to disbelieve God and to lying to ourselves and others so that we can control other people and follow our own desires. We find it almost impossible to think well of others. We do not talk about people as if they bear the image of God, but are ready to dismiss them as worthless (“Raca!” Matt 5:22) Our lies twist our view of the world and we live in suspicion and fear of people and circumstances, instead of the peace that comes from trusting God. Jesus breaks into the darkness, at the cross he reveals the folly of our lies and the depth of God’s love. Through faith in him, he forgives our sins and gives us power to live in truth through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Fulfilling – God will judge the world perfectly through Jesus Christ on the day of judgement (Acts 17:31) On that day there will be no false witness, only truth. Every sin will be judged, every righteous act rewarded, every truth will be vindicated, every lie will be confounded. What is whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops. (Luke 12:3) Everyone will have to give an account of himself before God (2 Cor. 5:10). On that day God will himself stand vindicated as the good, loving and all-powerful God. We will see how – just as he did at the Calvary – he has turned every evil to good, how every rebellion against his will has served his purposes. Every mouth will be stopped, every knee will bend and every tongue will confess the truth that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.