Catechism lesson 39: Respect for truth (LD 43)

God is truth—and Jesus said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. It is no wonder, then, that Christian should also be truth-seekers.

LD 43 q&a 112

What is required
in the ninth commandment?

I 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, I must avoid all lying and deceit
as the devil’s own works,
under penalty of God’s heavy wrath.

In court and everywhere else,
I must love the truth,
speak and confess it honestly,
and do what I can
to defend and promote
my neighbour’s honour and reputation.

The ninth commandment is about holiness of our speech. What we say (or write or otherwise communicate) has powerful impact.

Read James 3:1-10. In your own words, what point does he make about the role of our tongue as part of our body?

Words are not only words. That is certainly true for God. When we says something, it is not only true; it becomes true. The creation story shows that clearly. Psalm 33:9 says: “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” Our words cannot create physical things out of nothing, but they certainly have power. Our words can encourage others or hurt them. Our words can promote their well-being or ruin their lives.

No false testimony

What is the basic idea of “not speaking false testimony against your neighbour”?

Think of a court of law. Someone you don’t really like is on trial. He is accused of robbery, or murder. But there is no decisive proof that he actually did it. The prosecutor calls you as a witness. They put you in the witness box and you promise to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And then you are asked: “Did you see this person do it? Did you see him at this place, at that time?” You are now in a position to make or break this person. It is easy to lie and see him put in jail, or even sentenced to death.

In this situation, it is obvious how much power words have. Speaking false testimony against your neighbour could, in some cases, kill him.

Can you think of people in the Bible who were killed because of false testimony against them?

Again, the commandment “do not speak false testimony” is only the tip of the iceberg. We can commit this sin on a smaller, less official scale.

Read q&a 112. What is meant by (a) twisting someone’s words, (b) gossip, (c) slander, (d) condemning someone rashly and unheard? How does it hurt a person?

It’s only words—but they can have the same effect as actions like stealing and murder. Sin against the ninth commandment can be just as bad as against the sixth or eighth.

If it was discovered that someone had given false testimony in the Israelite court, what punishment did he get? (Deut. 19:15-21.) Is that fair?

The ninth commandment is often summarized as: “Do not lie.” Is lying just as bad as giving false testimony?

The positive commandment

The opposite of false testimony and lies is sincere testimony and the truth. The catechism says: We must love the truth. When you speak the truth, you are “in sync” with what God has created and spoken. There is something beautiful and right in it, when our words match reality.

Jesus said: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” He is the true light, or “sincere” light, says John 1:9. He shows us the world as it really is. He shows us right and wrong as they really are. He shows us the true nature of sin, the true source of salvation, the true purpose of our life. As Christian believers, it is our task to speak that truth and to live it out.

Is it always right to speak the truth?

If you think of truth in a limited way, as “facts that are so”, then speaking the truth is not always right. The truths we speak are never the whole picture. We can distort things by being selective about the truth. We must also be careful with the truth about wicked things, especially the faults and sins of others.

The ninth commandment must bring us to the same priority as the sixth and the eighth: use our truth-telling ability for the good of others. The catechism says: “Do what I can to defend and promote my neighbour’s honour and reputation.” Sometimes that means telling the whole story. Sometimes that means keeping our mouths. Sometimes that means saying just a few kind words to, or about someone.

In that way, our words become a blessing to others, just as our Lord speaks his blessing over us.

Discussion

  1. Is all lying equally bad?

Homework

All: Memorize q&a 112.

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